Kat O’Riley: Empty Stall Syndrome

What happens when, after years of living a horse-drenched life, the wellspring suddenly goes dry? New blogger Kat shares the story of her struggle.

From Kat:

It’s official-I have Empty Stall Syndrome (EES). After over two decades of caring for equines on my own small farm, the barn is echoingly empty, and I’ve lost the source of my primary identity (HORSES, rather than the poop they so prodigiously produce). Yup, although my non-horsecentric husband did concede he appreciated all my enthusiastic encouragement during those giddy years of building fences, barns, and harvesting hay, the Republic of O’Riley must go urban for a while.

Frankly, the ‘ol money tree has been losing a few leaves lately, and selling the farm enabled us to buy a modest house in the city-with cash left over to reinvest in the savings account that was drained desert dry by rural life. (This is not to imply we guzzled champagne as we dug post holes, or that I teetered around doing chores in my designer pumps; we worked darned hard to achieve our state of insolvency!)

For a while, ensuring the property looked worthy of a cover of “Better Barns and Pastures” for prospective buyers had me zipping around like a Horsey Heloise, but once the SOLD sign finally went up, I found myself with a little time on my Pine Sol perfumed hands. As it slowly dawned on me that my days were truly no longer defined by the routines of my hooved herd, I began to flounder. Like the fire hall Dalmatians of yesteryear who suddenly found themselves without horse drawn wagons to follow, I cast about, whining anxiously.

My restlessness was alleviated slightly by hanging out with my one remaining pony in her toney new boarding stable, but when I mentioned adding a little bunk bed to her stall, the owners seemed to find my suggestion highly amusing. As I belatedly joined in their hearty laughter with my own hollow chuckle, I realized I needed a more focused strategy to deal effectively with ESS. My personal action plan involved developing new interests, and meeting some of my fellow city dwellers.

My husband’s enviable qualifications had guaranteed him well paid employment, but my resume of weird jobs (puppeteer, ski instructor, magician’s assistant, painfully unsuccessful TB racehorse exerciser) made creative networking vital. I turned to an activity I’d participated in when young, and unable to fully indulge my equine inclinations-softball. In that distant past, I’d played at an elite level, so I took up my bat and glove with a casual confidence.

The warm up was okay, although it did seem the ball was being whipped around with perhaps a bit more zeal than I recalled. But when I got up to bat, I found the pitches whizzing past me with a distinctly alarming velocity; so much for muscle memory. All those years of grappling huge hay bales, and sitting horses that were spookier than your worst Halloween nightmare, suddenly seemed like a piece of [dark chocolate] cake.

However, instead of following my equus-like instinct to run very fast and very far from any unpleasant experience, I stumbled onward. As a result, I now have almost all my teeth, and a whole bunch of teammates turned friends. I’ve also done some volunteer work at a local school; when I recover from my latest cold courtesy of that petri dish of a classroom, I’ve got a few job interviews lined up. I still wake up occasionally in a cold sweat at seven a.m., thinking I’m late for morning feed, but I’m past the worst of ESS…as long as we can get back to the country in the next couple of years, I believe I’ll survive.

About Kat: I’ve heard that fortunate people have one great passion in life; aside from dark chocolate and my husband–not necessarily in that order!–mine has been “everything equine.” Beginning with lessons as a kid, I’ve been lucky enough to break a variety of bones riding a wide selection of breeds, in a number of disciplines–from TB racehorse (clavicle) to eventing Appaloosa (tibia) to endurance Arabian (ribs). It’s also been my privilege to play Ponybutler to my own hooved beasties on a succession of scarily rustic farms, over the past 20 [very] odd years. The dream continues!


Kat and her ex-hunter pony partner of 14 years (Provincial Velvet a/k/a the Amazing Velveeta a/k/a “Velvet, NO!!”).


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