Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What goes on at the barn when ya'll aren't here?

Whenever I have a chance to talk to folks about my job —I'm the Equestrian Director here, by the way, I usually hear one of two responses. Sometimes both.

One, "That sounds like the greatest job ever."

And two, "So what do you actually do when you don't have summer camp / a retreat / trail rides?"

Well, let me tell you!

CFA currently has twenty-four horses. To my knowledge, that's more than we've had in quite awhile and besides feeding them, there comes a lot of maintenance with our herd who varies in age from 15 months old to 30 years old.

Obviously, the horses have to eat each day. Every horse has access to hay 24/7. Total, the herd goes through almost 4,000 pounds of high-quality Coastal hay each week— which is a lot, but it makes up most of their diet. We put out hay at least once a week and each horse spends 8 - 16 hours a day eating.. Which explains why we need 4,000 pounds of the stuff! Besides hay, each horse receives a ration of grain. In some cases, for some of the fittest and fattest horses (like Pumbaa and JB and Rue) that means only a couple of handfuls of horse feed. The oldest and skinniest guys (like Charlie and Dixie and Puzzle) get pounds and pounds of feed generally twice a day, soaked in water, so it's easier to digest.

Whenever the horses come in for grain, they also get checked for any wounds they may have picked up playing in the pasture, or any signs of sickness. Part of my work is using basic veterinary skills to patch up scrapes and bites and scratches, and making sure everyone is healthy. We keep a big cabinet full of first aid supplies and medicine, but anything truly major is addressed by our wonderful veterinarians in nearby Kerrville.

The younger and more excitable horses also need exercise in the form of arena work, trail rides, and "groundwork"— working with a horse while not being mounted in a saddle. That falls to me, too, though everyone at CFA enjoys a horseback ride on occasion! We also have two very young horses who have, at this point, never been ridden yet. They are in training to become saddle horses too, and that takes plenty of groundwork several days a week.

For most of the fall and spring, CFA welcomes retreat groups in the form of Girl or Boy Scouts, YMCA Adventure Guides, church or youth groups, and other groups of people. Many groups choose to ride horses, so a Wrangler and I saddle up ten or twelve horses on Saturday and Sunday and lead trail rides on Santa Fe Trail, the Enchanted Forest Trail, the BB Trail, and the Fiesta Trail.

Also during the off season, when there isn't a retreat group here, I teach riding lessons for the Adopt-a-Horse Program. Currently, Hannah, Missy, Dolly, and Karat are all in the program, and we're expecting more sign ups in October. Lessons are a lot like Saddle Club rides on a smaller scale— horsemanship is taught in the arena through exercises and practice, and we break it up often with games and trail rides.

Besides the barn stuff, there's always plenty to do in the office and often with the San Antonio Y.. And now, apparently, writing blog posts once a week for CFA! (I love the idea, Ryne.) A lot goes into taking care of a herd of camp horses, but the reasoning behind it is easy. I think camp is incredibly important and, working here at CFA, I have the very lucky opportunity to give lots of people a chance to ride for the first or thousandth time. Being around horses can teach a person many things about themselves, and it is certainly one of my favorite things to do in this beautiful Hill Country setting!

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