Horses are a time suck. As much as we love our noble four-legged companions, they require a time commitment beyond most hobbies.
Amy Tomasheski’s daily commute from Harvard, Ill., to her job at Boeing in downtown Chicago is a whopping hour-and-a-half train ride. Despite the three-hour round trip journey to work, Amy typically rides four times a week at the boarding facility where she keeps her horse, which is 20 minutes from her home.
Twice a week during her evening commute, she eats a sandwich for dinner, and then drives from the train station to the barn, arriving at 7 p.m.
“I have a game plan and can be home by 9 p.m. if I ride for about 30 minutes,” she says. Amy tacks up quickly and saves dawdling for the weekend, when she can be more leisurely.
During her brief weeknight rides, Amy makes sure not to “pick a fight” that could not be finished in about 30 minutes. If her horse resists her hands or otherwise evades aids, for example, she saves the training aspect of riding for the weekend. For Amy, workweek rides are meant for getting out and about and spending time with her horse, not seeking training perfection.
Ally Flick of northern Iowa has a full-time job in human resources at a company 30 minutes away from the farm she calls home. Ally’s companions include her husband Bo, two Belgians and three goats. Before purchasing their draft horses for logging, Ally, who grew up riding, made sure Bo (who was new to horses) knew the time commitment required.
“I didn’t want horses just sitting out in a pasture and never worked,” she says. The couple handles their drafts every day, bringing them up to a converted dairy barn to feed morning and night. If there’s a particular day they are restricted on time, however, they hook their horses’ grain buckets on the fence and feed outside.
Ally believes a big part of time efficiency is organization: for example, knowing where buckets and rakes are by storing them in the same place every time they’re used. She also keeps a whiteboard on the wall of her feed room.
“Even though we only have two horses and three goats, I have the directions on how to feed all of them, what they get, what their supplements are, and where they’re located, since we have different pastures and we rotate them.” In the event Ally or her husband get delayed coming home, it would be easy for a friend or family member to know precisely how to step in to feed.
One time-saving device Ally has embraced this winter was an automatic waterer. Although hesitant to buy one at first, Ally researched and found a system that measures water consumption.
There is no indoor arena on their property, but the couple has two outdoor lights that enable them to work with their horses in the winter when daylight is fleeting.
“Any time we can save in the house is really important to us because we would much rather be out with the horses than in the house, even in winter,” she says. “The majority of our meals are made in a Crock Pot, and I use the biggest size I have so we can have leftovers. I cook meals at night while we’re sleeping so I can throw it in the refrigerator in the morning and heat it up when we come home.”
Working at the Barn
Julie Hughes, mother of three children ages 16 months, 7 and 10, merges her work life and horse time more easily than most. The Orange, Calif., resident is an assistant trainer at Le Cheval Sporthorses, which is a 15-minute drive from her home. She also has a side business: horse blanket cleaning and repairs.
Julie has found that having clearly delineated household tasks for everyone in the family works well. “My husband cooks and does the dishes; I tackle our 12-load-per-week laundry schedule. The kids vacuum and sweep some of the time.”
Julie says balancing her job, her own horse, and household is a juggling act, and on occasion she’ll forget to send in a field trip permission slip or pack her kids’ lunches. “Sometimes you have to cut yourself some slack and ask for help.”
When Katherine Szafran of Washington, D.C., wraps up her day job responsibilities working for the federal government, she drives an hour to ride her three off-track Thoroughbreds, who are field boarded 55 miles away in Loudoun County, Va. She fits in two or three nights a week during the summer and once a week during the winter. The long commute to her barn is the reason Katherine owns more than one horse.
“I decided that if I’m going to drive all this way, I may as well ride more than one horse,” she says. “It makes the commute worth my while.” Although the drive to the barn is a long one, Katherine doesn’t mind. “The fact is I like going out there. The horses are always a treat.”
Katherine owns horses to ride (she events locally when time allows), not as a social outlet. “I’m very workmanlike,” she says. “I show up, I change, I catch the two horses I’m riding in the field, toss one in a stall, and tack the other one up. I run my hand down their legs. I blanket and sheet them not because I think they’re going to get cold, but because it keeps the mud off so I don’t have to spend 15 minutes trying to get them clean enough to saddle.”
Katherine could board her horses closer to the city but chooses not to because she knows she will not be riding every day. “I have family responsibilities other than my job,” she says. “Plus, my barn does not have an indoor arena. We have an all-weather arena with lights, which allows me to ride at night. But if the weather is truly horrific I don’t go out there. It’s just easier to have them on 24/7 field board.”
Katherine’s horses are brought in twice a day for feeding and to be checked over. “They have shelter out in the field, which is fantastic because they really don’t care if I don’t show up. They are perfectly happy out on their 20 acres grazing with their friends.”
Whether readjusting riding expectations to fit time constraints or simply going easy on ourselves, we can gain from knowing what works for fellow equestrians who, like us, live a time-pressed life.
Susan Friedland-Smith is a middle school history teacher who blogs at Saddle Seeks Horse (www.saddleseekshorse.com) about her off-track Thoroughbred Tiz A Knight and the everyday equestrian lifestyle, which is always short on time.
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!