On Barn Closures due to Quarantine Orders

In the past few days, many states have announced stay-at-home orders. In many places, this has meant that equestrian facilities, as “non-essential businesses” have had to close, cancel lessons, and most importantly, tell boarders that they can’t come visit their horses for the duration of the lockdown. This has caused a LOT of grief and outcry on horse groups. I’ve seen people demanding prorated or refunded board, saying they want to move barns because they don’t believe it’s “legal” to tell them they can’t visit their horses. I’ve even seen some sketchy logic claiming that “horse boarding isn’t a business” which shouldn’t be covered by the orders. Wow.

We horse people love our horses like family, the same way we love our dogs and cats.  But unlike our dogs and cats, most of us can’t keep our horses next to us in our homes.

Instead, we have to rely on boarding our horses at facilities and we rely on barn owners to do the daily work of caring for our horses and maintaining a facility with barns, tack rooms, cleaning equipment, lights, indoor and outdoor arenas, performance equipment like jumps, fencing and gates, water systems, feeders…and they source (or grow), store, move, and feed the hay and grain and often the supplements and medications we add to our horses’ diets, and on and on.

In my experience as well most of the barn owners (who are, according to statistics, 90% women) are also doing all this while managing families, children (often as single mothers), and chronic health conditions.  

If we’ve learned nothing else from the Covid-19 pandemic, have we at least learned that there are a lot of people and privileges that we take for granted?  Grocery store workers, healthcare professionals at all levels, food service workers, bus drivers: We take these people for granted and we allow a system to exist that values their labor and their lives so little that they can’t live. 

Can we appreciate the great blessing of horse ownership?  How many of us could really own horses without the labor of barn owners?  Do we also appreciate that barn owners don’t really make money off our board checks? 

Can we also take a moment to appreciate natural areas, agricultural land, and greenbelts?  My particular barn is located in an area of preservation farmland where several farms are surrounded by new housing developments, literally 2 minutes from the developed city area served by the bus line and 10 minutes from downtown.  This important natural space might not otherwise exist without the labor of the farmers who manage these lands.

Many of the closures have also affected public park and recreation facilities.  National Parks, city parks, Metroparks, etc., have become overcrowded. One of the only things left for people in suburban areas to do is go outdoors and walk in their neighborhoods and nearby undeveloped land. People in urban environments do not have this privilege, and especially not now that public transportation has been shut down or severely limited.  

Fear makes us do mean things.  Fear makes us become resource guarders like horses who have become food aggressive because they were malnourished or pushed out of food by herd dynamics.  

The events of the past few weeks are unprecedented and things are happening so fast, it feels like every day something new is being taken from us.  The barn and our horses are a major part of our support system and our mental health and it is absolutely a difficult and sad situation to be told “stay home and don’t come see your horse until the stay home order is lifted.”  That feels like the rug being pulled out from under you, I know. I KNOW. I can’t go see my horse either and he lives 3 minutes down the road from my house. 

Coping with Separation from our Horses

Don’t deal with the grief and fear by lashing out at the people who make it possible for us to have horses in our lives.  A spiritual best practice (regardless of what your actual religion might be) is whenever you feel a sense of righteous indignation, anger, entitlement, or “me-ism” to talk back to it and do things that counteract that narrative in your head.  

Fight back by taking a moment to remember what a blessing it is to have horses at all.  Then think of all the things your barn owner has to do and maintain and spend money and energy and time on to make sure your horse is healthy and safe.  Think of all the ways it would be hard for you to do that.  

Then fight back by forcing yourself to reach out and GIVE rather than take.  

  • Send some supportive texts to your barn owner/manager.  Tell them you appreciate them. 
  • Check on them and ask if there’s anything you can do to physically help them, especially if you know they need to self-quarantine and/or they’ve lost their help.  With many people being forced to stay home with kids out of school, or they are self-quarantining because they are high risk, it’s possible that your barn owners/managers are working with little or no help. 
  • Lessons are canceled in most places as well which means your barn owner/managers and trainers have lost money and they might not be eligible for unemployment benefits. So:
    • Find ways to help out remotely by sending them gift cards for take-out food.  
    • Pay your FULL board amount and don’t demand a refund. 
    • Seriously, if you can, try to throw in some extra money to your board amount. We’re all on tight budgets but maybe the $50 we’re not spending on lessons this week, the $20 we’re not spending on gas to get to the barn, or heck even $5 with a nice note.
  • Pray for them. They are part of your horses’ family (and hopefully your friend and community too) and they deserve for you to mention them in your prayers.  

Finally, many of us women fulfill our needs to be caretakers by lavishing that care on our horses.  Many of us are middle aged, have raised children who didn’t (or still don’t) always appreciate our care.  Caring for our horses makes us feel competent, appreciated, and special. We can care for our horses from a distance by:

  • Brushing up on our horse care knowledge.  Some ideas include:
  • Researching our next supplement or tack purchase
  • Plain old window shopping online or in catalogs 
  • Watching videos and learning how to train our horse to do something new when we are reunited (I recommend The Willing Equine!  https://www.thewillingequine.com/)
  • Sewing or crocheting a fly bonnet or costume item for our horse
  • Creating a photo book or other project made from pictures of our horse
  • For those of us with Off-Track Thoroughbreds, researching their race history, finding their race videos, and trying to track down track photographers and former trainers if we haven’t already, and building a memory book of our findings. 

We all know that horses are a tremendous blessing.  We all know that NONE of us has horses for the money.  We all have horses because in some way we rely on them as much as they rely on us.  Extend that mutual reliance and love to the people who are part of your horse’s family.  

#spiritualhorsemanship

29 thoughts on “On Barn Closures due to Quarantine Orders

  1. Barn owners could help by letting boarders know that their horses are doing well, hooves cleaned, exercised, and doing well. A quick photo with a text message occasionally could help. I am lucky that I am at a small private barn that should not be closed down.

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  2. Beautifully written. Seems like we are making a life change. And for the better I hope. All you hear is how we should be kind. Let’s hope it continues!! I thought my only escape from working at home was to see my horse on the weekends. A safe place. Who thought last week I should have worn gloves to run the water pump or clean my halter after the workers take my horse in/ out, then touches another halter then the owners come who maybe infected. Now it’s spread from halter to halter. Lead line to lead line. We pray our workers don’t get sick & if they did would they say, not to loose their job. Keep them safe. Horses don’t live on a time clock. We do and yes we miss them they give us the best feeling in the world when we see them ride them groom them. So when this is over clean your halters , leadlines, buckets stall handles

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  3. Very well said and I own an equestrian facility. We allow owners one at a time to come see/groom/ride as the horses need their owners to work them or they will do self injury with no exercise. Stay smart and stay healthy. Thanks for the recognition of work done at facilities!

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  4. A note to my clients, Although the neighboring states are shut down with a shelter in place order ,my services are deemed essential. NAICS Code 115210 ( North American Industry Classification System ) states that the care of feet among other services are allowed. I will be following the protocol of keeping social distance. I will also disinfect my tools, between stops. And I can bring a handler when needed. Please let me know if there is any sickness in your family !. We can do this and beat this thing !

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  5. Outside or in a well ventilated breezy barn there is little chance of catching anything from anyone. It’s indoors in rooms and buildings we transmit infectious disease .

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    • Boarding barns are not excluded from the shut down order. Whether or not to shut down a boarding barn is not an option for the business owner. Given that the virus can live on surfaces for at least 72 hours, the virus can still easily be transmitted in a barn environment. If the barn employees or owners get sick, who will care for your horse?  It is our responsibility to come together to abide by the order and lower the curve to shut down the Coronavirus. The sooner we do, the sooner we can return to a new normal. 

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      • It depends on what your state details as essential or not. Also, you can submit a request to your government to add your business as essential. So, yes, it is an option for business owners right now. I believe the boarding barns fall under the farm and livestock category. Also, shelter in place does not mean people cannot be enjoying the outdoors. The virus can be killed with a cleaning solution. If you are worried about it living on surfaces for at least 72 hours, are you still going out shopping, ordering take out, stopping at gas stations? Our horses and other pets need us as much as we need them.

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  6. So well said! I run a horsemanship lesson program in Maine and we just had all non essential business shut down. It’s a really hard time for equine business right now!

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  7. Very well written. I agree barn owners do not get the recognition they should. This is a 7 day a week 24 hrs a day job. When our horses are not feeling well they are there to keep them safe. They can’t just up and decide to take a day off or go away for the weekend without a lot of planning to make sure they have coverage. With this covid epidemic it is even more difficult for them. We have to remember it isn’t just their safety it is ours as well. I am thankfull for all the care my girl gets and know that although I am not able to see her that she is in good hands.

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  8. I was a barn owner and manger for many years so I understand both sides of the aisle. However all barns are not created equal and levels of care vary as much the color of the horses they house. For instance, in the barn I currently board at the manager feeds, cleans and turns out. She does a great job at that but no other services are provided. ALL other care is the owners responsibility. About 5 of us are active boarders and the rest not so much. We tend to look after each other’s horses. Even with 5 of us there at the same time we are quite far apart. What’s my point? If my horse was in a good full service facility with a reliable owner/manager I’d gladly stay home and pad their pockets with cash and what ever else they needed but I’m not. Many people are not. Horse people are usually not a wealthy group, we love our horses and often work off expenses. I’m cutting my time, being extra dutiful about cleanliness and staying away when the barn manager is there. If i do not take of my horses daily needs no one else will. Be kind to all of us we are all just trying to just get through this.

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  9. While we closed as it was the correct and legal action to take , the hard part are those barns that feel they are exempt to the Michigan EO 2020-20. They cite the “ Golf Course “ exemption which has been closed. The barns that are open in defiance of the law hurt our community and potentially their clients . They are also the barns that don’t pay payroll taxes and employee illegals. We will not base our enterprise on being illegal. We will open the instant it is legal to do so . Until then we will attempt to love your horse almost as much as you do!
    All the best!

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  10. It says be grateful and pay and stay at home – great ! How long stay? few months , year ? and than money will come from which place – heaven ?- wake up !. Is close our country indefinitely will help economy – NO , than how you will pay for boarding or training ? For example California is a sun state , virus is not living long enough in exposure to sun, my answer to this all is stay safe don’t run around use all maintenances you need to stay clean and do what is essential. Be responsible. Horse places are outside a lot of barns stays open and some are closed. As many people we have this many opinion we will have . I honor other opinion then mine but I know as below stays most of people can’t afford to pay any additional costs how you expect them to be push away and pay all expenses ? . I m happy for that one who can afford it but major of this owners don’t have much money. Horses are mental helping, in a lot of cases taking them from owner is bringing huge abuse to the owner. Some people here can say so let’s them take the horse to other place – yes they can do that but it is also a nonsense, people have rights, there is a lot animal lovers, I can only assume what it will bring after shut down . All of us should Work together not against and respect other feelings and needs .“ Horse people are usually not a wealthy group, we love our horses and often work off expenses. I’m cutting my time, being extra dutiful about cleanliness and staying away when the barn manager is there. If i do not take of my horses daily needs no one else will. Be kind to all of us we are all just trying to just get through this.”

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  11. It has hurt our facility greatly. Thank you for this great and well written piece. We can only pray peoples eyes will be opened and realize God is the real choice in all of this. It is amazing how much businesses like ours as well as other small businesses will suffer so much.

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  12. I board at a stable where the owner takes great care of our horses by feeding and cleaning. But the rest is up to us. Ohio rule says you can leave your house to care for pets that live elsewhere. So our barn is open to boarders who need to clean, turn out, change blankets and even ride for exercise. Horses can’t live in a stall 24/7 without goiung crazy. We have to take care of our horses.

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  13. I dont board anymore but everything said is so true good from someone’s heart. We really do forget all the people who have no choice to go to work cause they are essential…not only sending extra to your barn what about tipping that sackerr or checker…they are tired and exhausted too but they are there to make sure you can survive a quarantine period. Also let’s not forget the kid loading your horse feed, hay, whatever it is so your horse continues to have what they. A tip to them is always greatly appreciated too. In this time of crisis if nothing else please remember to say thank you to the essential people they are there for a reason they are essential

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  14. If your fear is coming in contact with the virus that’s fine, and it’s your prerogative.But don’t hide behind the essential / nonessential order as the reason people can’t enjoy the outdoors with their animals. It is written in our order in NH, as well as in other states, “organizations and workers responsible for the care and custody of animals, pets and livestock” are essential. Furthermore, a shelter at home order is not a mandate that one cannot leave their home. I’m sure you could find a way to allow the owners to responsibility visit and work with their horses without adding any more risk than you’re already exposing yourself to when you grocery shop, or buy gas, or order take out. It’s disappointing to see the restriction on an activity that can be done independently in the great outdoors.

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    • I work at a barn, and I take care of the horses that board there. We (barn owners and workers) are the ones responsible for your horses. You pay us to feed, turn in and out, clean stalls and many other duties. If you don’t know you have the virus, come into the barn, touch things, and don’t disinfect like you are supposed to, you will have an impact on what happens. If the workers become sick, there is nobody to take care of the horses. Please understand, we love our boarders and their horses. It is our responsibility to ensure that boarders and horses are well taken care of. If we start to get sick because protocol is not followed, we start to have bigger issues. We will not be able to train someone else to do it, because we are quarantined for two or three weeks.

      We want you there. You are our other family, but we also your horses, that depend on us. They don’t understand that we got sick. They don’t understand that we can’t come in. We aren’t doing this to torture you, we are doing this to ensure that when you come back, it is like you never left.

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  15. Likewise (having been a barn owner & now a boarder), I would expect the same grace and understand that is being asked of boarders be extended to boarders who find themselves unemployed by waiving late-payment fees for board.

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  16. I am lucky to live in the country and have my own horses at home but was curious about why people cannot see their horses? Could a barn set up different time slots with each person who boards with them to visit their horses. I don’t know how that works just know that seeing my horses keeps me sane in all this madness

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  17. I own a small private facility, and we too have struggled with the definitions of shelter in place. It is my responsibility to insure the safety of our staff, the horses, the vet’s and farriers as well as boarders, and myself. Actually, now that any one of us unknowingly, have the power to infect those around us, what to do? It occurs to me that every living breathing human on the planet now holds a responsibility to everyone else. What we have decided here is we are legitimate exercise, as well as livestock, and you may leave your house for exercise, and to care for animals.. We asked our clients for a time out, and cleaned our facility top to bottom, every door nob, every stall latch, light switch, every surface. Floors were washed down with soap and bleach. We removed our coffee service and there is no eating or drinking in the stable. Every person here is issued their own spray bottle of rubbing alcohol, and asked to purchase rubber kitchen gloves. Every person in the stable is responsible for sanitizing their “footprint” out of the stable after their ride. We have a tub of water/bleach/soap mixture changed daily, for rinsing any commonly touched item in the barn like feed bins and water buckets. Everyone wears gloves in the stable, removed only to wash their hands. We have installed cleaning products at strategic places like the wash bay, bathroom, entry door, sink. Rides are by appointment only, no more than 2 people can be in the stable at a time, observing the 6 foot rule. While this is not perfect, really, nothing ever will be until this virus is defeated one way or the other. Our protocols are pretty stringent. And we did interview everyone involved here, and people with high risk exposure for whatever reason, have simply not been invited to participate. BTW, you can use the rubbing alcohol spray on your gloves, mail, steering wheel and groceries, if they concern you, R/A evaporates quickly, killing the virus as it does. We use inexpensive mint mouthwash and water in a watering can on the floors every other day, also a high alcohol content for pennies. Plus the barn smells lovely. Ours is a small stable, and everyone here is diligent and responsible, so this can be done, I’m not sure how this might apply to a larger stable, it is pretty labor intensive, but we are making it work. Good luck and God bless horse family, we’re going to get through this together.

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  18. thank you for your supportive comments. it is really tough right now. down to a skeleton crew of people and doing what we loved to care for theses horses…hard for boarders to stay away..
    but I just cant let my crew get sick! hopefully will end soon

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  19. thank you for your supportive comments. it is really tough right now. down to a skeleton crew of people and doing what we love to care for theses horses…hard for boarders to stay away..
    but I just cant let my crew get sick! hopefully will end soon

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