The first thing I did in 2017? Worked an early shift on New Year’s Day. I can’t think of a better way to start the year off right.
In the months since I last blogged here on The Near Side, one of the things I’ve been doing is working at the barn where I ride. Essentially, I do a few hours of barn work in exchange for riding lessons a couple of days each week. Not every lesson barn can offer this kind of arrangement, but if yours does and your schedule allows it, here are a few reasons why I recommend you look into working off your riding lessons.
1. Get to Know Your Barn
2. Get a Workout
A large part of my time at the barn is spent bringing lesson horses from the pasture to the barn and back and bringing the boarders’ horses in to their stalls for the night. On a sprawling farm, that’s a lot of walking. I wear a Fitbit, which tracks my step count and heart rate, and while I know consumer grade fitness trackers aren’t entirely accurate on calorie count, you can still compare one day’s data against another. Below, you’ll see on the left a day in which I completed an 11-mile training run for an upcoming half-marathon. On the right, a day in which I didn’t lace up my running shoes at all but did work at the barn for a few hours. Guess which day was more fun?
3. Get Your Mind off Other Stuff
The past few months have been a political clusterfudge, and I’ve felt overwhelmed by it more than a few times. Even if you want to tune out, it’s pretty tough when your friends and family (and strangers on the internet) are discussing politics all the time. At the end of one day at the barn, I got into my car and the radio came on, broadcasting news about whatever insane thing had happened that day. I realized that I’d been upset about whatever that thing was that morning, and I was immediately upset about it again with this reminder. But for those hours I spent working at the barn, I hadn’t thought about it once. I’d thought about horses and taking care of the tasks that needed to be done. Whether your stress is related to your day job, your personal life, or national politics, your brain needs a break every once in a while, and staying occupied at a busy riding stable is a pretty good way to do that.
4. Get Outside
Okay, I’ll admit that we’ve had a startlingly mild winter here in Central Kentucky, so I’ve had it easy. But there have been a few very cold days where normally I wouldn’t have stayed outdoors any longer than necessary to take care of my own horse. Since I was on barn duty, I didn’t have the option of staying indoors, under a blanket, in front of a screen, and I think I’m better for it.
You don’t often get to take in sights like this while sitting at your desk.
5. Get in the Saddle
The previous four benefits are all fantastic, but let’s be honest, the whole reason I’m doing this is to ride. The more frequently you can get lessons, the more you’ll improve, but riding lessons aren’t cheap. Until now, I’d been an off-and-on student, doing bi-weekly lessons or taking months or even years off from lessons depending on what my budget was like at any given moment. Now I get two lessons a week (and occasionally practice some of what I’ve learned on my semi-retired horse in between those lessons) and on top of that, I get plenty of horse handling experience. I’ll be honest, I fall into bad habits working with that perfect semi-retired horse who lets me get away with stuff, and those lesson ponies remind me to stay on my toes.
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Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com