Addicted may be a strong word choice but you ARE on a website called “Horse Junkies United” so I’m guessing you can relate.

Growing up on lesson horses, I (im)patiently waited for my lesson days. I’d bounce around the car the entire way, my stomach in knots trying to guess which horse I’d be riding. I’d draw out my barn time as long as I could.  As soon as I was old enough, I started helping out at my lesson barn.  I volunteered for any and every event I could, and the amount of time I spent at the barn was probably only rivaled by the amount of time I spent in school.

Going to a strong equine undergrad only fueled that fire; the barn was now right off campus, and being part of a very involved team and majoring in equine pre-veterinary sciences ensured that now school was all about horses, in addition to the barn being all about horses, and I was surrounded by people who shared this passion to the same degree that I did.

Getting my own horse was the final straw. Now I had a reason to spend pretty much every waking moment in a barn. I needed to take care of/ride/brush/see/blanket/give a treat to my horse.  When I returned to school after a summer of practically living in the barn, lessons and time with my team and classes just wasn’t enough.  My mare came to school with me and hasn’t left since.  In undergrad, I was able to balance my schedule enough that I could usually spend time riding and with my horse every single day.

Now in vet school, my free time is extremely limited in a way that is hard to appreciate unless you are in vet school or another type of rigorous academic/professional program (For instance: I can be in lecture from 7-8am until 4-5pm, and then come home and have hours of studying to do. So I’m lucky if I get meals at regular times or more than 6 hours of sleep…and then factor in a horse). Currently, I am aiming for 4-5 days of riding, and 2-3 days off, depending on my exam and work schedule (I work at the barn where we board).  I try to group together her days off so that her work is as consistent as possible, too.  Usually, I try to coordinate the days that I work with her days off, so I can at the very least see my horse on her days off. But occasionally, I just need as many hours as I can to study, and I need to forego riding on a day that I don’t work.

In those 2-3 days where I’m not actively doing much with my horse other than looking at her when I turn in/out and throw hay and grain–or I’m not there at all–that’s when I realize I’m most likely addicted to the barn.

I get cranky and more irritable than I ever normally would. I get sore and achy (sitting in a lecture hall most of the day, and then coming home and sitting and studying is worse than any No-Stirrup-November ride). I get jittery – maybe a lecture will get cancelled (hah-fat chance that’ll happen) and I can go ride.

And after those few days, I rush to get my breeches and boots and head out to my favorite place.  It’s been iterated many times that the barn and horses are good for the soul; and when I leave all my vet school problems at the door, I see how true that statement is.  For a few hours while I’m getting my barn “fix”, I smile more, relax more, and have a place where I can enjoy myself and my horse.

I know that I’ll have to pick my problems up again when I leave, but for a little while each day (ideally), I am able to get that weight off my shoulders. My time at the barn and with my horse gives me the fortitude and clarity so when I walk back out the door and have to pick my problems up, they feel a little lighter than when I got to the barn.

In the grand scheme of things, there a lot worse things to be addicted to than the smell of pine shavings and the feel of pony whiskers.