Rachael Walker: Eventing Down on the Farm

Here on EN, we love reading your stories of life as an eventer. Rachael Walker lives on a farm in Wisconsin and has a very unique perspective of being a "farming eventer." Many thanks to Rachael for sending in her story, and thank you for ready! Do you have a story you'd like to share? Send it to [email protected]

Rachael and  Liliana X, one of her rescue horses. Photo courtesy of Diane Stoffel. Rachael and Liliana X, one of her rescue horses. Photo courtesy of Diane Stoffel.

From Rachael:

My name is Rachael, and I am an eventer. I have been addicted for nearly ten years now, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much hope for recovery. Ha! But truly, anybody who events knows about struggle, both within our training and with balancing our ‘real’ life with our ‘horse life.’

Eventing is a very consuming sport, and it takes dedication, hard work, and (sadly) a bit of money to make it go. And probably some understanding family members, too.

My ‘outside life’ is a bit different from most. I am a farmer. My husband and I raise grass­based livestock, including (but never limited to!) cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, turkeys and ducks (and cats and dogs and goats and this useless mini­ mule, but we won’t go there!).

We are also a small boarding/lesson/training stable, and my hubby is a fabulous farrier (yes, this comes in very handy). We do some of our farming with draft horses: ­ four beautiful Belgian mares that do everything from plowing and planting to cutting and raking hay, plowing snow, and feeding round bales. In a word, we’re unorthodox. Eccentric. Even the farming
community thinks we’re a little nuts.

Getting some work done!

Getting some work done!

Kudos to me, since ­ because we are a boarding stable, I have my own indoor! It’s the size of a coaster, and on a good day with a horse that can turn, I can squeeze a one­-stride down the long side. It’s easy to get caught up in looking longingly at people who have a bigger, better indoor arena, especially in the northern Midwest where winter lingers forever and ever, wishing the money would just magically appear for me to increase the size of my sandy playland. But then I remind myself, “You have your own indoor, with your horses right outside your window.”

That’s pretty lucky.

My horses also live a bit different from most. They are outside all the time, 24/7. I have one stall for injured ponies (don’t make me use it!), but otherwise they live in small groups in their
paddocks, with shelters. They live right across from the sheep and goats and hogs, and the chickens, turkeys and ducks run free and love to share mealtime grain. I have a pet tom turkey named Norton who likes to fan his tail and gobble around all day, meandering between paddocks and fluffing himself at whichever horse comes closest. I think that’s called ‘desensitization
training.’

On any given day, I’m as likely to be slopping hogs or delivering lambs as I am practicing the dreaded ‘stretchy trot circle’ or jumping through a gymnastic. I might be wearing insulated bibs and driving a team of horses, or I might be wearing full seat breeches and working on my sitting trot leg ­yields (or better yet, wearing full­seat breeches while driving a team, as I am in the photo!). I butcher chickens, I teach beginners how to post the trot. I braid horses to earn money for show fees, but I can’t shear a sheep to save my life.

I love it. It is unorthodox, and sometimes a bit crazy. I’ve had sheep, cows, pigs and turkeys all run past my indoor while I’m schooling. In the spring, everything stops for a couple weeks while lambing is going on, and I get to deliver so many cute little sets of twin lambs.

The chickens get quite mad when I use the indoor for riding.

The chickens get quite mad when I use the indoor for riding.

Three times per summer, we butcher 100 chickens. When a critter is sick, well, of course everything stops for that. I’ve waited for the vet for pretty much every species of animal we have, I’ve had to haul carcasses to the University for necropsies, and I’ve had to end the suffering of more than one duck, chicken and cat in the last ten years. And then I turn around and teach a no­stirrups lesson or put a session on a training horse. It’s never dull.

Farming teaches a person how to ‘make do’. I don’t have a lot of money. My job has the potential to stretch into any of the 24 hours in a given day, but it usually takes up at least 14 of them. Once I tried to figure out my hourly wage, but I think I fainted first.

That new Ecogold pad? Not in the budget. Expanding the indoor? Looking into lotto tickets. My horses? All rescues. Not pedigreed or even necessarily started under saddle. I can’t afford the experienced­ horse/­new­ saddle/­fancy­ gear package. A lot of us can’t. So, I make do.

One of my many farm friends.

One of my many farm friends.

I once traded my brother­-in­-law a couch for a giant piece of plastic culvert pipe (read: jump). When the hay is mowed off the fields, we go gallop. I frequent tack swaps and stalk Ebay. I occasionally drool at horse shows in the presence of ‘fancy’ horses, new saddles, people in F.I.T.S.

But at the end of the day, when everyone is fed and happy, it’s the most amazing feeling in the world to sit on a hay bale while the sun sets and watch the horses munch and the chickens scratch and peck, pet a kitten and listen to the ducks quack at me as they walk by.

I wouldn’t trade delivering lambs for any office job in the world, and I couldn’t imagine a day without a conversation with the hens (if you have hens, you know how much they talk. Sheesh!). There’s not a lot about my job that’s normal. ­ Heck, there’s no such thing as a ‘typical day’ when you’re farming! ­ But I kind of thrive on ‘crazy.’ Insanity in the middle…and sometimes everywhere else, too.

Go Eventing! Go Farming!

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