Boarding-Barn Borrowing

I refuse to board my daughters’ horses at any barn that doesn’t have access to plenty of trails. The place can be perfect in every other aspect: price; cleanliness; condition; size of

I refuse to board my daughters’ horses at any barn that doesn’t have access to plenty of trails. The place can be perfect in every other aspect: price; cleanliness; condition; size of stalls; size of pasture; and niceness of people — but if those trails aren’t there, we’ll move on.

That said, I know from experience that just because the girls have easy access to trails, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll use them as much as they should.

This is true of horsepeople in general. Horsepeople are busypeople, and with the daily pressures of work and school, it’s not always easy to find time to ride. Sometimes the weather isn’t right or the horse isn’t right or there’s a compelling, must-see episode of Lost.

One common reason for not riding is, “I didn’t have anyone to go with.” To be sure, I prefer that my kids ride with someone, for safety. The problem is, the list of people who have horses and the list of people with whom they’d choose to ride don’t always correspond.

Borrower Beware

For help, I turned to The Great Book of Horse Knowledge. The Great Book explains a common practice in the horse community called “Ride Lending.” The idea is simple: If you can’t find someone you like who has a horse, then find someone you like, and lend them one of yours.

This, of course, goes two ways. That is, at some point, you may be offered the use of someone else’s horse. What should you do?

The Great Bookwarns that horse borrowers should be very careful. Despite what you see in the movies, you can’t just hop on a strange horse and gallop away. It’s not like stealing a car. It’s much more dangerous.

The Great Booksuggests that you first should ask the owner some questions. A lot of questions, such as, “How old is the horse? How long have you had him? Has he been professionally trained?”

And: “Does he have any trail experience? Does he have any dangerous habits?”

And: “May I watch you work him? May I watch you tacking him up? May I watch you ride him in the arena?”

And: “Why aren’t you answering me? Where are you going? What are you doing with that shovel? Why are you hitting me in the head? When will you stop?”

And: “Do you think I need stitches?”

Another Form of Lending

Horses aren’t the only thing being loaned at boarding barns. The Great Book tells of a parallel phenomenon known as “Male Lending.” This isn’t as interesting as it sounds. It’s simply the practice of one female lending a male — usually a husband, boyfriend, or father, but sometimes a son, brother, or uncle — to another female for the purpose of completing some task for another female.

In this sense, the male is regarded as a kind of asset the female can use to raise her political/social standing among her gender peers. This isn’t considered a blatant form of exploitation, because we usually get muffins (good muffins) if we do a good job and don’t grumble too much.

Barn Males can be divided into two broad categories: The Technically Capable and The Rest of Us. The Technically Capable know how to do things like electrical work, saddle repair, and stall construction. The Rest of Us are more likely to break things and start fires.

You’d think that in the world of Male Lending, the Technically Capable would have a higher value and thus be rewarded with better muffins. Quite the opposite is true. The Technical Males are always off doing technical things and are generally unavailable for mundane tasks. And, as we all know, Barn Life has more mundane tasks than people willing to do them.

The primary qualification of The Rest of Us — Well, You’re Just Standing There — is far more valuable in a barn setting.

The only way around this is to become unavailable. This is why I insist any boarding barn we get into has access to plenty of trails.

Bob Goddard is a freelance writer specializing in equine humor. He lives in Wyoming, Michigan, with his wife, Jenny, and two very naughty dogs, Jessie and Elvis. To contact him, send an e-mail to

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