If you’ve ever dropped your kids off at sleepaway camp, you’ll know how I felt how I felt when I took Zelda to the full care barn last Friday. “Look,” I said to her. “You’ll have your own paddock and a huge stall. There are lots of nice horses here — you’ll make new friends!” I was excited for our new adventure but also feeling bad about leaving her there. Unlike a kid, you can’t remind a horse that they will be fine or explain to them that you’ll be back tomorrow. Like your kid, you hope they don’t get too homesick.
When we arrived, Zelda toured the barn with a friend of mine who helped me with the trailering, then we turned her out. We sat and watched her for an hour or so and she was completely relaxed.
It’s true that the new barn is gorgeous. The stalls are enormous, the turnout is very nice and, most important to my healing ankle, there is a huge indoor arena where I will be able to safely ride when I’m cleared to get back on. The care is great and will get lots of attention even when I’m not there.
However, like many children who are excited about the prospect of going to camp, staying there is another matter entirely. I got a text the next morning that Zelda wasn’t eating. She was fine in turnout, but when I arrived that afternoon, she looked anxious. If a 1400 pound horse could crawl into your pocket, she would have been in mine in a New York minute. I think I underestimated how traumatic it was for her to move to a new place and be subjected to an entirely new routine without any familiar touch points around her. No Curly. No Freedom. No 24/7 turnout. And no personal human.
Zelda has always been glad to see me, but I mostly attributed that to the fact that I fed her. This time, she just wanted to be cuddled. She had some carrot snacks and then I pulled up a chair outside her stall and sat and talked to her. She calmed down, started to lick and chew we I stroked her face. Eventually, she gave a few yawns to release the tension that had been building up all day. By the end her eye was soft and she no longer looked so agitated.
The next day she was better. Still not completely sure that staying in this barn was a great idea, and wondering if maybe it was time to go home. Some nice alfalfa hay tempted her into eating, plus using her “own” feed pan instead of the shiny new one from the barn. By yesterday, she had finished her grain when I arrived so I think she has adjusted to the routine now and has been reassured that I haven’t abandoned her or sold her.
I so wish that I could take her out of her stall to groom her or walk around and explore with her, but I’m still not steady enough on my feet and she’s so big that one bump would send me flying. I have arranged for a nice young pro to take her out and ride her twice a week so that when I am able to get back on her, she will not have forgotten her job. Even after 7 weeks off, she was quite well behaved and walked around the indoor like it was nothing (she’d only been in one once before).
It’s been years since I’ve boarded at a place with an indoor and I’m looking forward to having good footing all winter. The last thing I want to worry about is having Zelda slip again!
As for me, I’ve started physical therapy and have been cleared to wear a brace now instead of the air cast. I’m not back in the saddle yet, but I can taste it. And even if Zelda isn’t revved up about the indoor, I am.
The new barn also has a lovely outdoor arena and access to trails. It is killing me to miss all this beautiful fall riding weather — even though I”m more than half way through my recovery. My next appointment with the doctor is on November 16th, at which point he expects I’ll be cleared for all activities, even riding.
How long did it take your horses to adjust to being in a new barn? I guess I’ve been lucky because I was at my last barn for 5 years and the one before that for `4, so not a lot of changes. And please don’t ask me what I’ve done with all my stuff because I’m still trying to figure that out!