An Outsider’s Inside View: A Horse Hangover

Photo by Leslie Wylie. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Horse Hang-over:


  1. The mind-numbing feeling a non-horse person has on Sunday morning after spending the entire 5-day event such as the Richland Horse Park Trials in the trenches with eventing friends.

Most lay-people can relate to this feeling by recognizing the following symptoms: Complete physical and mental breakdown. Looking at other non-horse people with a blank look on your face as they talk to you, with you nodding your head and then doing the sloooowww eye blink as your mind tries its hardest to figure out what gibberish they are saying to you since the words didn’t contain “nay,” “yea” or “hay.” Finally, when you realize you are nodding like a loose bobble-head, you say, “What did you say?”

When they repeat themselves, you try to squint and focus on their mouths with your droopy, blood-shot, sun- and wind-burned eyeballs since the path from your ears to your brain seem to be failing you; maybe you can lip-read instead.

You grab the muck bucket and the pitchfork, nudge the thousand-pound, ginormous non-stop poop-maker out of your way and begin sifting and shoveling. Those horses were so sweet looking when they arrived here Wednesday. Even Thursday wasn’t so bad, as you were thinking their digestive systems were just in overdrive from the traveling.

By Friday and Saturday, you start considering throwing all their hay out with the poop while mucking and not refilling. Maybe they would be able to refrain from having a bowel movement the instant you walked out from mucking the damn stall. You grab the pails of water off their hooks and begin filling the water buckets, not noticing that your hands don’t hurt anymore from carrying them since you have developed callouses.

You hang the pails back in place managing to not dump half of the water on yourself like you did the first two days you did this particular chore. The horses have long necks, can’t they just drink from a pail on the floor?! Giraffes can bend down and drink from a river for crying out loud.

Emptying the muck buckets is a chore that first day, gingerly tipping the cart to dump out the waste while trying to not step in it at the same time. By Sunday, it is a race as you walk right into the pile, dump the cart and are back in the stall within 90 seconds. Go you! PS – you’ll remember to take your boots off before you walk into the house this time around.

Then there is the food and snack set up. What is this tom-foolery? With so much horse stuff, the human food area is quite limited. Things are so packed in together, you have to move 10 things just to get to the cooler, not to mention once you open the cooler, you have to pull everything out just to find what you are looking for in the first place. Cooler-fishing is an event all in itself!

Speaking of eating, on Wednesday when you first start eating, you use a sanitary wipe to wash off your hands, after-all you did just put a cute, sweet, fury animal. By Friday, you realize that when you pet them, they had just rolled in their own poop, which they let go right after you finished mucking the stall; you know this as you saw the smile on their face and glint in their eye when you walked out of their clean stall and heard the inevitable “plop… plop”.

So you scrub your hands pretty well with that wipe since now you know what you were actually petting. By Sunday, you just grab a cracker and shove it in your mouth while moving the muck bucket around a tack box with both hands. Who the hell cares, the beast will probably step on you or bite you in any case, might as well get a last meal in while you can.

As for the events themselves, you feed and muck and water and wash and scrape and polish and groom, tack and wrap at all hours of the morning and night just for anywhere from 82 (or Sharon White’s  beautiful 78) seconds to 5 and a half minutes! Just to then work all over again- cool them down, take temps, cool, scrape, wash, cool, scrape, wash, and repeat until they are feeling great.

By the way, when was the last time YOU actually had a shower yourself or wore clean clothes for longer than 5 minutes, you equine scratching post you?

On Thursday, I felt so awesome being trusted to hold the lead rope on a grazing horse while the rider was nearby lunging another. By Sunday morning, I was given two horses on leads at once while they grazed, each going in a separate direction pulling my arms out to the scarecrow position, while the owner ran off to the far corners of the park to find her runaway dog. Trust me when I say don’t coil the rope in your hand as you see in Western movies. Definitely not a good move.

Yep, this is definitely the definition of a “horse hangover.” But it was so worth it. These creatures are smart and gorgeous and finicky and temperamental and all sorts of combinations of crazy psycho and so are their horses. But I loved it- every aching, mind-blowing second. The moments of comradery that are so very special to this sport, the assistance you get when you are up to your eyebrows in braids to meeting new friends, seeing old friends and getting to know your barn mates that you are crammed in with elbow to elbow.

I even over-heard one coach being nice enough to tell her girls, “Girls, you are both pretty.” Of course, that was during a tense moment of hard stares, loud mutters and some serious finger pointing, so, on second-thought, that might have been just pure sarcasm at its best.

People are in abundance at these shows, from vendors, animal rescues, veterinarians, volunteers, spectators, medical personal to riders, trainers, coaches and their superb supporters. Emotions and caffeine usage are high as are the stakes. Food and energy are low as can be the self-confidence after the difficult water hole combo during cross-country.

This Outsider’s Inside View: These rider and horse athletes are absolutely amazing. They do all of these things I noted above day in and day out during events plus much, much more. Then when Sunday is over, for most, it is back to day jobs and night training/coaching with no rest for the weary.

I was in awe to watch the Richland Horse Park Trials this year and honored to be part of the behind the scenes activities that go on. I truly enjoyed the moments of comradery and conversations and getting to know even more riders/sportsmen and women. Bob and Kay Willmarth, once again, you rocked it out this year. Best. Event. Ever.