COVID-19 with Horses: How Are We Doing?

If horse people know one thing, it’s that it’s never just one thing. Having horses also means we partner with the land. Sometimes it’s hard to tell us from our land; we bear the same scars. Colorado is in a drought, as many areas of the world are. We have the two largest wildfires in history just ten miles apart. Friends are evacuating and while currently, no fire is close to my farm, it’s impossible to not feel the loss and devastation of homes and lives, tame and wild. My little pond tells the story of this year as well as I can. Birds are gone, the ground hard and dry, the air stale. And we do what we can do.

At the beginning of the pandemic back in March, I was asked about how the pandemic was impacting my horses. We live on a dirt road. The suburbs are much closer than twenty years ago, but it’s a quiet life and my herd does well. I’m sure they feel the drought more than COVID-19, but life is good here if you’re a horse.

Horse people, as a group, are politely reclusive introverts. Social distancing is our lifestyle, we all joked about how lockdown wasn’t much of a challenge. I also notice that we stayed in touch with our friends on social media, filling the feed with pictures of horses. Now it’s deep into fall, and I asked my online group, The Barn, how it was going. I’m very proud to share their comments.

Some of us got more horse time: “Just spent plenty of time chilling out with my equine’s. Live life to the fullest as you never know what is around the corner. Also making the best out of a situation that you can’t control.”

“Because of this year’s unique conditions, I’ve spent more time away from others at the barn, and have spent time with my horses in the way that I want to.”

“I definitely spend more time with Raymond. It’s one place I can just BE without politics, news, or noise.”

“I adopted my first horse in over 30 years just a month before this all started. There is a local dressage trainer I had planned on working with… The pandemic stopped that when she rightly stopped visiting area barns. This has left me to learn to work with Bella on my own. We could only be at the barn one at a time for months, so I didn’t even have my friends to offer pointers. … It has been lonely at the barn but all the one-on-one time means my attention has been on her and I think has actually helped our bonding. I have Bella and my dogs and only miss people occasionally, lol.”

Some of our horses got a break: “We are lucky enough to have not been too affected, things have changed in a lot of ways but for me, my job became a lot more hectic which meant a little less horse time… Probably just what my horse needs at the moment.”

“I am so crazy busy at work and with moving and other family issues that I haven’t had/made the time to ride or interact much. Probably better for the horses because I don’t believe my emotional state is optimal right now. On the other hand, knowing that they’re there and that I’m working towards a goal for all of us is keeping me going.”

We found less was truly more. “I think motivation has been the biggest challenge for me. That lack of motivation… is because all of those other emotions, responses, intentions come together in a huge tangle. My horses are, fortunately, doing well but I don’t want to share this murky, uncertain energy with them. So we don’t do much in terms of what I would really like to do. The upside is that I’ve learned to accept that. Today, for example, I just sat around in the pasture with the horses. It was comforting and required nothing of them.”

We noticed other benefits: “… in some ways I have enjoyed the “Big Pause” the world had in the beginning of the pandemic. A slowing down. Less running to and fro to shop or whatever. Being more mindful of each and every purchase as each foray out seemed risky.”

A pandemic doesn’t give a pass on the usual challenges. Cancer, injuries, and the loss of parents, family, and friends. Nothing reminds us of our fragility like the loss of a good horse or a sweet old dog.  “… it’s given us extra time with our 15 yr old pup as she nears the end of her time with us.”

“It’s been really up and down. At first I was pleased that I could be more home-based and have time with the horses, then in the first two weeks of lockdown I had the vet out twice – one with laminitis and one with a chest infection. I was grateful I was home for all the extra care and soaking and dunking of hay, but it wasn’t how I had hoped it would be. A month later we said goodbye to our old greyhound- which was sad but the right time for her.

“I think the pandemic has hit me in a similar to having a bad fall off a horse when post-menopausal. It’s made me realise that I no longer bounce or bend, and can break when things go wrong. The realities of life during the pandemic are showing our weaknesses — food scarcity and the anxiety that causes, our reliance on natural resources which are under intense pressure because of climate change, our reliance on communities which we’ve generally not tended and so our ties to each other are tentative at best.”

Inconceivably, many of us made friends with technology: “I learned that I don’t really want to be a hermit as I previously thought but have learned to truly appreciate the relationships in my life, both in person and virtual. I’m thankful for a husband with a heart of gold and technology that has proven crucial in keeping us connected to the outside world.”

“Really thankful for the technology that facilitated that and the lessons with Anna and the BITS course. Very grateful for this group and the online like-minded horse companionship.”

Horse people know their first job is to buy hay. Some of us struggled as our income changed. “As a small business owner (and sole provider) who was impacted by COVID financially, the biggest horse struggle I have had has been keeping my boys fed. I am grateful to report that my community has been supportive…”

“I’m separated from my horses by 1000 miles [for work] and haven’t seen them in person for nearly 5 months due to state border closures here in Australia. I’m lucky my hubby is looking after them and my friends, vet and farrier are all supportive. It pulls at your heartstrings. Must be similar for our defense servicemen/ women who have to leave their families and animals for extended periods of time. That’s what I keep telling myself.”

There is unrelenting stress. “It just seems to be life. This pandemic, uncertainty that our democracy maintains its root structure. Can I keep those I love safe? Adaptation, reinvention, compassion, contempt, civility, anger, prioritizing. I am worn out, depleted, and devoid of goodwill. Then the woman filling her water jugs turns to me and we both smile with our eyes…”

It called for the best in us. “My time with my horses has sadly decreased. As a veterinarian, I have not been asked to stop working. My staff and I have powered through restrictions on materials we use, never-ending phone calls, and stressed out belligerent people that refuse to protect others by wearing a mask. I have never worked harder in my life. I’m not a fearful person as a rule. I’m more of a “fixer” that will gladly step into a problem to find a quick solution, but I’ll have to say fear has crept in around the edges on more than one occasion during this year. The pandemic in the US has also become an all-encompassing political battle. I have never been a political person, but am now forced into it on a daily basis. Disappointment in my fellow Americans has also been on my mind. I’m trying very hard to erase that feeling, but it is persistent. I truly believe we are better than this. We can do better and treat each other with love and compassion.”

We’re a herd, having each other is a lifeline of support, each in our own individual way. We weighed mortality against the quality of daily life, planted our noses deep into a friendly mane, and held it together. Because even over a mud puddle, a sunset reminds us to look up and count our blessings.

 

 

With gratitude to The Barn members for their honesty. I’m lifted and humbled and more grateful than ever to be part of this tribe of horse people. Thank you.

Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward 

Want more? Visit annablake.com to find over a thousand archived blogs, purchase books, schedule a live consultation or lesson, subscribe for email delivery of this blog, or ask a question about the art and science of working with horses. The Barn, our online training group with video sharing, audio blogs, live-chats with Anna, and the most supportive group of like-minded horsepeople anywhere. Courses and virtual clinics are taught at The Barn School, where I host our infamous Happy Hour. Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.

Anna Blake

29 thoughts on “COVID-19 with Horses: How Are We Doing?”

  1. “worn out, depleted, and devoid of goodwill” Tears threatened when surprisingly, those words really resonated with me. Yes, I need to go bury my face in a friendly mane and let out a huge sigh of release. And no more feeling sorry for myself because I drive 200 miles round trip every weekend to be with my horses….how can I after reading the comment from the Aussie separated from hers by a 1,000 miles and months of time?! Yes, I remind myself, it can always be worse. Thanks Anne, for being a calm port in the storm that 2020 is.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your Barn members’ perspectives. Each seem to be affected in different ways, with the horse being the one common thread that is the link.

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  3. Anna,
    I hope your birds return and that your farm stays safe from any threats.
    We work at home, see just one friend on Saturdays for dinner and a film.
    All other contact (except for groceries, etc.) is mostly virtual presently. Everyone is tiring of the situation
    and my professor friends do not enjoy virtual teaching. Without the interaction, in person, with students,
    it’s just work, grading, and many hours sitting at the computer.
    We spend almost every day at the barn for 3-4 hours — work in the morning, barn in the afternoon.
    Our time with the horses has improved bonding and we play games in the arena. The horses are happier
    and they wait for us in their stalls (even though they are not closed in and can stay in the pasture) at
    2:30 daily, the time we normally arrive.

    We have coffee afternoons with the barn owner and one other boarder, suitably distanced. There are only a few boarders
    so it’s not a problem there. The standing rule: if you feel under the weather or even just very tired, don’t come to the barn.
    We use only our own rakes/tools, and disinfect door and stall handles.

    I am always been heavy on the extrovert side, but Corvid days have quietened me; I am usually the one organizing social events, but our ladies no longer meet at Starbucks for the bi-weekly lattes. We miss our gatherings, and I definitely miss the musical gatherings I normally hold at home, and our poetry evenings.

    The warm breath of the horses and the sounds of the barn are calming; the air is fresh and we notice the tiny details we didn’t always observe, the lifespan of insects, the old female cat, who is very social but now losing her hearing. Like someone who doesn’t hear well, the old cat purrs very loudly, celebrating life, unaware of the level of her purr. She greets us warmly and I pick her up so that my Thoroughbred can nuzzle her; he likes her. More time with the horses equals calmer and more content horses.

    At home, we read, write, garden and we just built a small greenhouse which I have named ‘Hatters’, after the Mad Hatter, as I have a miniature bronze sculpture of the character en route from England. I find that time at home is also preparation time for the next day with the horses: cleaning tack, cleaning and repairing halters and leads, organizing little containers of treats for play and exercise sessions, reading my Cavalletti and games books to make their days more fun. Jack has taken to the equiball — I thought it might frighten him, but the first day I took it out (it’s a wild purple), he loved it, and followed it in the arena.
    A few mints later, and day 3 and he’s pushing it around. He’s now doing his exercises at liberty for part of the time and following my every step. I think this is a good time to work on ground games and exercises, as it keeps you both fitter and happier.

    All we must do at this time is (as the British WWII saying goes): ‘Keep calm and carry on’. We are very close to a vaccine, and Remdesivir is now available for mild-moderate cases. We must not give up at this time, though it’s wearing

    I find the best thing is to plan small things: I am splitting a riding session in two and I do half-riding and half-ground exercises.
    Try this to see how your horse likes it; I think many will find the horse is much more engaged, and more relaxed. We are also riding/exercising and doing some dancing. I am teaching Jack to step back and forward, and will find suitable music for that dance.

    Some friends are also studying equestrian books and we test one another. All things move forward.

    Blessings and love to you, Anna — keep the Faith, the birds will return.

    Love, Nuala
    up

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  4. Thanks for being the calm, friendly oasis in the viral desert Anna!! Your posts and online groups are refreshing! I always look forward to your inspiring words and the feeling of friendship from all involved. We are all in this together, and we all bring something unique and wonderful to our interactions. How lucky are we to have found each other?!?!

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  5. I think this is a timely post… a bit of a recap over the past 8 months, take a deep sigh, and carry on… it’s not over tho’ we are all weary. Stay safe, Anna !!! We sure need you. I hope your pond and the whole area gets some moisture very soon.

    I was just telling someone this morning how fortunate I feel to have the Barn and this horse community.

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  6. It certainly has been a trying twelve months. Here in Oz, we had massive fires around us which began in September and didn’t end until the end of January. Being on constant alert the whole time, waking and sleeping to the smell of smoke. Then came the ‘C’ virus which threw everyone out of kilter. It’s changed the way we live and socialise with others. In my case, life isn’t so bad, but I can’t visit family interstate. A new grand baby born a couple of days ago will have to wait for Nana/Grandad cuddles. Fortunately my horse life is no different and we live a secluded life anyway, so all is good. I hope the rains come for you to put out the fires and fill your pond. The sunset image is beautiful 💜

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  7. Generally, my default setting has been “there are others who have much worse burdens to bear.” The school of suck-it-up-buttercup, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

    I’ve had to reassess that perspective since March, because it really isn’t fair. Everyone we know – everyone on earth – is suffering to some degree. The repercussions of this pandemic, climate change, and the current instability of leadership in this country – are overwhelming. We are ALL experiencing anger, despair, grief – and I suppose ultimately PTSD.

    My sincerest hope is that we realize how unifying this experience could be, as we strive to move forward. We have so much more in common than we have differences.

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  8. Anna,
    Though it’s validating to read so many views that reflect my own, it’s also disquieting to witness so much collective angst. For the first time in my life, I am afraid for my country, my planet, and those I care about, and those I don’t even know. I’m waiting to take that elusive sigh of relief (calming signal), and sometimes it feels like a race to the finish line that never draws nearer. But here, I am so grateful to have this venue where I can share common ground in these divisive times.
    Thank you Anna for bringing us together.

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      • Just FYI, I am following a historian who has been relating today’s events to what has gone on since the founding of this country. She is the Anna Blake of the political scene. I smile as I think of us together here every time she admonishes every one to take charge of this moment and breathe!

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          • Yes, Kate! What Heather says sometimes relates to our horses and what Anna says sometimes relates to our politics!

        • Have signed up for Dr. Richardson’s letters. Thank you for the name! Still struggling to get thru Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the US. After learning about June Nineteenth in Tulsa, something that I never learned in school, obviously nor the massacre in NC and I’m sure there are many many more not covered in the history books, I picked up his book at the library. I do have to admit that I’m reading parts of it, then switching to one of David Baldacci’s or Margaret Mizushima’s, or John Sandfords. I am so grateful that one of my favorite things is to read which is fortunate right now.
          Any way – thanks for yet another “outlet” – someone who feels as I do.
          Incidentally, Axel is settling in and doing great! Had vet visit yesterday(checkup) & everyone there loves him too.

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          • Boy, Maggie, you’ve got quite an “arsenal” of reading to get through!
            Glad to hear about Axel. Always good when the vet likes his/her patient!

  9. I am grateful to have horses in my life. During lockdown, every day I had horses to go take care of, at two different barns, 45 minutes apart from each other. Necessity called and that kept me grounded. I had to cancel lessons, eventually sold the equestrian center at a great loss, and retired. I sent one dear lesson horse to Arizona, kept one along with my ‘love of my life’ horse at the farm, and sent my dream horse to Washington state to a matchmaker. I don’t think I have ever had so much change and loss all at once. Yet. I have horses to take care of and they bring me joy. Yesterday, riding out on a path, with sun peeking through the trees, cold crisp air on my face, I felt completely at peace regardless of all that is happening in the world. It was the best moment of my day. When there is little I can control, it feels good to just do what is needed and call it a day. It doesn’t hurt that the horses come running, or whinny and toss their heads when I come. They are gifts.

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