Horse people are everywhere.
I’ve been home now for about 36 hours, locked fiercely back in the fist of a western New York November — a few inches of lake-effect snow in the forecast with a cold blast of arctic air. The memory of sitting ringside under a pair of towering palm trees in a warm seaside breeze watching my friend’s lesson at the beautiful Del Mar Horse Park as the sun slowly set, just a few days ago, feels almost foreign already, like a scene out of someone else’s life, a mental snapshot I’ll probably recall again in a month or two when the snow is blowing in drifts and I’m chipping ice out of the waterers.
But yes, I was there, happily enjoying a mini-vacation in sunny San Diego with friends, staying with our generous hostess so we could attend the Breeders’ Cup championships: the World Series of horse racing, so to speak. With just a short drive to both Del Mar track and the neighboring Del Mar Horse Park where our hostess’s horse lived, we spent time literally every day of the trip indulging in all things equine.
From the perspective of one who keeps her horses on the East Coast family farm, turned out to be wild and woolly and fat on green pasture, I loved exploring the Horse Park: horses lived in shedrow barns with airy, open fronts over which they could nod to passersby; the grounds included plenty of rings so multiple trainers out of the various barns could be teaching at once. Each row of stalls had everything it needed, from wash stalls to crossties to tackrooms and feedrooms, and the little courtyard in the middle made me feel like I was lounging around in someone’s horsey hacienda. Southern California in November is still awash in blooming flowers.
I peppered my patient hostess with questions, wanting to learn everything about horse life at Del Mar: horses were fed hay by the Horse Park staff but fed grain by the individual barn groom; my friend had to be affiliated with one of the resident trainers to board there but she did her own hands-on work including daily grooming due to her personal preference. The groom did ensure that her three-year-old Hanoverian got some daily turnout time in the dry lot set aside for that purpose. My friend worked hard to make sure her youngster got ample exercise in addition to his turnout time, revolving her schedule around the four-lane San Diego commute to make sure he was ridden five or six days a week.
I’ve had a fairly varied horse life: I worked for years on a guest ranch in Wyoming where the ranch’s 140-horse herd lived out on a mile-wide pasture at night and stood in a single corral together during the day; I worked for years after that at an East Coast private university barn, where some horses lived for their day turnout on pasture and others for their twenty minutes of romp time in a small arena; I traveled to many other university show barns in California, Texas, Tennessee and the northeast where horses all lived in different configurations depending on their environment.
That’s the key word: environment. Where I live in rural New York, it’s normal to see horses turned out on rolling green pastures where they can graze to their heart’s content. In the high desert, grass is a rarity; on the coast of Southern California, open space is a luxury. Horse lovers and equestrians are not bound by geography: where there are people, there are horse people, and they will find creative ways to keep their horses happy and healthy.
There are more ways to keep horses than turning them out in green pastures. I was lucky enough to meet a stable full of happy, healthy equines who are clearly well-cared-for, much loved by their groom, trainer and lesson students, and apparently well adapted to life at the horse park. It wasn’t the kind of barn environment I was used to, but that didn’t mean it was wrong.
Much like the people who own and love them, horses are adaptive — and horse are individuals. We’re all in this crazy equestrian world together, no matter where we and our horses might live.