Mar 31, 2021 | Ramblings

Roots…For the love of “Barn Rat”

Written by Jennifer Gebhart

In Ramblings

Where have all the “barn rats” gone? This is a question that has been asked many times, in many social media posts, and something that has recently come to the forethought of my mind.


“If you persevere long enough, if you do the right things long enough, the right things will happen.”

— Ian Millar.

In browsing Facebook, I came across a post from my first true riding instructor/second mom/life coach/mentor. She was talking about how the last animal she had bred/raised/trained had passed, and how sad that it was the end of an era for Roan Hill Farm. I grew up spending most of my younger years wondering around that beautiful property, tending to the gardens, grooming and riding the horses, watching new life as puppies were born, and becoming a “barn rat”. To hear that world was gone really hit hard. Could it be true, am I really that old? (Insert laughing face emoji) Then I remembered the true beauty of farm life. It’s being proud of a hard days work. It’s seeing the joy in a child’s eye when they experience things for the first time. It’s the hours of roaming the fields looking for a lost shoe like its a pirates treasure.  We like to complain about all the “joys” of barn life, but lets face it, with below minimum wage pay if we didn’t love it we wouldn’t do it. With the pandemic having paused the world and slowing things down a bit its a great time to look at this situation.

So, there are a few variables we can talk about that contribute to the lack of “barn rats”.

The first is the barn owner/head trainer. If this is you, do you have “working students”? Do you encourage clients to hang out and help out? Or has it become a liability as I’ve heard on some message boards. With SafeSport and a culture of oversensitivity, it can be difficult as a barn owner or trainer to want to put yourself out there, and be willing to spend hours teaching someone else to do what you can do better and faster. If you take a child under your wing and show them all aspects of the business, is it going to be taken in vain because that child had to work and didn’t have the same opportunities as someone who just got to show up and ride? Is it going to be construed as crossing a line when that “barn rat” stays at your house because they have to get up at 3 am to leave for a show? I know that when I spent time at “Roan Hill” there were things done that technically would have been SafeSport inappropriate. Not because I was ever abused in any way, but because the rules put in place in an effort to stop the bad in the world can end up tying the hands of someone trying to do the right thing. It is unfortunate that as we grow as a society so do the laws that govern it. If we live our lives with a strong moral code of doing the right thing, then we should not have to worry about SafeSport or the liability of taking on a working student. Along the same lines of moral code we should also remind ourselves to not take advantage of our help, and just because we work all day for little pay doesn’t mean that they will stick around doing your dirty work with no reward of riding or growth.

Next, we could talk about the “barn rat” themselves. Where are the kids who love spending all day at the barn? We know they are out there. What does that day at the barn look like? Is it sitting around talking to friends, posting on social media? Or is it cleaning stalls, doing laundry, etc., and taking pride that at the end of the day the barn looks better because you were there? Do kids even get the opportunity to be at the barn for hours learning, or are they too busy getting shipped around from one practice to another. If you are a young person who dreams of being a horse trainer or loves horses, reach out to your trainer or local barn and see what opportunities there are for you to learn. This might mean working for your lessons and getting dirty, but the reward is a work ethic and pride of a job well done that will be with you for life. It’s easy to get lost in the world of sensationalized social media. Who doesn’t want to have the fancy barn, ride the big eq horse, and wear clothes that are never seem to get dirty. Let me tell you those perfect people in social media don’t exist. If they have the horse, the barn, the clothes, etc. there is still something they struggle with that makes their life not perfect. Every time I read an article about a child saying how hard it was to be different from the other kids who could afford all the nice things, I think to myself not having all the nice things made me who I am today. If I want those things I know how to work to get them, because while spending all those days at the barn, I learned to never give up and work hard for what you want.

What about the parents? We all want a good life for our children. That’s a given. What does that world look like? Before the pandemic I know for me it was running the kids all over between friends houses, soccer, school events, and my kids don’t do half of the activities their friends do. I am all for being well rounded. As a basic horse girl anyone who knows me would say my life is horses with some other stuff sprinkled in, but even while doing that stuff I’ll probably still be talking about horses. As a parent if my child loved horses and wanted to ride I would find a place where they could become immersed in all aspects of the horse world. I am guilty as a parent of saying its easier to just do something myself than to have to redo it after my kids tried helping. I also look now at my kids and have said I wish they would have learned all the things I did when I was their age. It hasn’t been easy and its surely not something that is going to change here overnight, but in someways I am grateful that the pandemic slowed life down enough to show me the things that I can teach my children to help them succeed in life.


Steps forward… 

So where do we go from here? One thing as a horse community we can do is to celebrate not only the major competitors of our sport, but to showcase those that have taught or given opportunities to those just starting out. Now is a great time as we have already begun celebrating the diversity in the sport and have started discussions on how to make it even better. Take time to think about that person that first put you on a horse, check in with them, thank them. For them it may be the end of an era, and you could be the beginning of a new one…


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