Last year, right around this time, I moved Tucker to Riverview Stables in Hillsborough NJ. I had a friend boarding there already, and while the facility was a very "no frills" place, it was adequate for my needs and the care (at the time) seemed really good, based on what I was told when I toured the place. The footing wasn't great in the rings, but it was rideable, and since the board rate was so affordable (for our area, at least), I figured I would make do. As my readers know, we had a great group of boarders and we had a lot of fun. On balance, it was a good place for us for the better part of this year. In hindsight... well, that's another story.
At some point this fall, a few odd things happened that made me a little concerned. A horse was left out until late one night because they "couldn't catch him." You can imagine by that time of night, all by himself, the poor thing was frantic. A horse was found at night in his stall with a halter and lead rope left on him, the chain still over his nose. A horse that was on stall rest wasn't getting wrapped and getting meds as promised. I walked in one day and our barn manager was smoking a cigarette while he was mucking stalls. (The idiocy of that. I just can't.) I could go on, but you guys get the idea. (Note that I'm only reporting what I have first hand, eye witness knowledge of. It is not my intention to spread rumors.)
These little things (along with a few others) start to add up, and while none of them had happened to Tucker or me personally, I felt like maybe it was time to start looking around. Then the bedding started getting skimpy, free choice hay turned into a hayloft with a padlock on it (nope, not kidding), the barn was a mess all the time, and my request to do something about the footing in the indoor went ignored for weeks. I don't know what caused the change in care, I have no idea what's going on in the personal lives of our barn managers, and it's none of my business. But, in my opinion, my list of complaints was too long for me to reasonably ask barn management to fix, so I found a new place and gave my notice at the start of this month.
I had planned to leave on good terms. I sent a very polite text when I gave my notice.
And this is where our story takes a turn.
Since Tucker is a bit of a special snowflake in the feed department, I pay for my own grain. Historically, the barn was buying my grain with their grain order and billing me for it. I usually texted the barn manager asking for the cost each month and then left a check at some point during the second week. Sometimes she had to remind me to leave a check, cause I get distracted when I'm at the barn and on pony time. (These details will become important later.)
This month, the barn manager (we'll call her Kelly, because that's her name), gave me the total for grain, and I forgot to leave the check, so she reminded me again. Then I got a text mid-week that Tucker was out of grain. At which point I surmised that they had decided not to pick up grain for Tucker this month until they had my check. Whatever, I'm leaving and they want to make sure I don't owe them anything when I go. I get it. There are other horses in the barn on the same grain, so there's really no emergency. Just replace whatever we used for Tucker for a couple of days. No biggie.
So, last Friday morning, I was able to go into work a little bit later and I picked up my grain, and stopped by the barn to drop it off. When I creaked open the feed room door, I was met by a roaring chorus of whinnying. I looked around and saw the horses' breakfast buckets still stacked in the feed room. It's now 9:30 a.m. I had to get to my office, so I dumped my horse's grain (I still feel horribly guilty for not feeding the rest of them, the thought comes back to me all the time during the day and I will probably always regret that), and sent the following text:
At this point, acceptable answers would have been: "Sorry, at the emergency room, I think they may have to amputate" or "I am at [insert loved one's name here]'s funeral and [insert name of responsible party] was supposed to feed the horses" or possibly, "I've been kidnapped, please send Liam Neeson to help." Instead, this is what I received:
Okay, so my response was less than measured. But what other possible reaction could I have when I learn that the only reason my horse hasn't been fed is because it's cold out? Now, at this point we know two things: 1) There is absolutely no good reason the horses haven't been fed; and 2) Given the reaction wasn't even a measly, "oh man I overslept I'll be right there," we know that this probably happens all the time. OMG. We were told they feed around 6 or 7 am, and yet my poor ulcer prone horse was getting fed hours later. That's not breakfast, that's BRUNCH, PEOPLE. Let me ask you something. When you're cold, do you stand around doing nothing to keep warm? Do you deprive yourself of food for hours on end? Does that keep you warm? No?
Side note. I was voluntarily outside in this same weather dropping off my grain, dressed for work. It was cold, but definitely not Antarctica-too-cold-to-go-outside-or-risk-hypothermia cold. Definitely cold enough to cause colic if the horses are standing around with empty bellies for hours, however. I just couldn't help myself, I had to ask:
Okay, so I exaggerated here a little. The sun had been up for two and a half hours. It was an estimate.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Kelly stops responding, and I start getting texts from the other barn manager, whose family owns the property. We'll call him Randy, cause that's his name.
Now, I take full ownership of the fact that I was absolutely livid at this point so I wasn't being very nice. There are definitely more mature ways to handle this. You all might have handled it better than I did. My horse hadn't been fed, no one seemed to care, and I was angry.
The check he's asking about is the check for my grain (don't worry, my board was paid on time as always). As I explained above, they usually picked up my grain for me and billed me. In case you're having as much trouble following this as Randy apparently was, this is the very same grain I had just dropped off. But he wasn't about to let that go.
First of all don't tell me I'm not "responsabile!" Second of all, don't ask me why I was even explaining it to him. Like I said, I was angry. Stick with me here, things are just about to get good.
Okay, I know, you're right. I started name-calling and that definitely didn't help matters. But can we please just for a second acknowledge the fact that Tucker the Wunderkind was just called a "piece of shit horse"? I'm pretty sure this guy deserves the moniker I gave him.
(If you need to take a moment to let your anger subside, I totally understand. Tucker is basically an internet celebrity, and you love him. I totally get it.)
Once again, I take full responsibility for the fact that I had to be reminded about my grain check twice. I totally did! I was there the prior weekend and I definitely forgot! Now, if someone could please explain to me how that somehow excuses not feeding a barn full of horses, I would absolutely love to be enlightened. I have to tell you as much as I try, I can't seem to get the correlation.
Also, I haven't heard "waaa cry about it Marissa" since at least 4th grade. Thanks for the throw back!
Now, at this point, I decided that the other boarders at my barn had a right to know what was going on. I thought that if this had happened to another boarder, I would want to know. And I would want to see management's responses for myself. So I sent this, to every boarder in the barn, along with the screen shots above:
Here's where Randy really goes bananas.
Just in case he wasn't unprofessional enough before... He went ahead and took that extra step:
I blocked out the other two boarders' names, because they really didn't do anything wrong. I'm not sure why he singled them out to be honest. The conversation deteriorates from there. I asked for my board back because I was now being evicted, his response was predictably offensive and ridiculous. I haven't decided if it's worth pursuing.
So, that's the story of how I ended up shipping four horses out last Friday night. I've been told more boarders are leaving or might leave, and I'm happy to hear that because I genuinely cared for each and every horse on that property and it pains me to think of them standing there hungry for no reason other than the fact that the people charged with their care didn't want to leave their warm cozy beds.
And just so we are clear. I know how hard it is to be a barn manager, and I know getting up early in the morning in the freezing cold day after day all winter kind of sucks. The days are long and tiring and sometimes it feels like a thankless job when you do a lot of work and there's no one there to say thank you for it. I know this because I've done it. I've worked in barns for almost my entire life. And I know that what gets you out and in the barn aisle when you don't feel like going is the fact that there are helpless animals counting on you for their happiness and well being. If that doesn't motivate you to get out of bed, you're probably in the wrong job.