Vacation Re-defined for Horse People

While they constitute a segment of the population most in need of vacations, horse people possess a gene that inhibits them from experiencing authentic leisure time. Let me explain this a bit further and perhaps you, gentle reader, can help me understand why the very thing that leads us to crave vacations (endless exhausting horse chores) causes us to miss out on the horseless luxury they offer. On one hand, we can’t wait to get away from the barn for a few days of solace and on the other, we don’t like being away from the barn. It’s a classic Catch-22. But for the purpose of further study, I’ve managed to divide equestrians into three basic vacationing groups.

  1. Those who plan vacations around horse-related activities, which might include a trail riding adventure in Ireland or a trek on mules through the Grand Canyon. Numerous butt-numbing hours in the saddle and a disagreeable spouse are pillars of these vacations.
  2. Those who plan trips to touristy resort areas with the intention of snorkeling, getting spa treatments, and eating seafood nightly. Upon arrival in their hotel rooms, however, they find themselves earmarking pages in the guidebook for nearby attractions involving horses. These might include a carriage museum, a beach trail ride, or an art gallery featuring equine specific artwork. Disagreeable spouse is guaranteed.
  3. Those who do manage to get away to exotic locations and avoid the sight of horses the entire trip. However, this last group of equestrians phones home at least three times daily to check on the well-being of his or her horses, get updates, and remind the caretakers about turnout schedules and supplements. In fact, several vacation activities are abandoned in order not to interfere with the schedule for phoning home. Again, disagreeable spouse is characteristic of these vacations.

Regardless of which of the above categories an equestrian occupies, he or she returns home feeling entirely refreshed, which begs the question: how can one be refreshed towards something one never took a break from? I believe we should blame faulty psychological wiring. However, I suppose what matters is that we think we had a vacation, never minding that our traveling companions and spouses will confirm that we rarely stopped thinking about horses the whole time and maybe should have just stayed home to begin with.

I’m no stranger to these tendencies. This past week, in fact, I returned home from a pseudo-vacation in Kentucky, a state I had never previously visited. Flying there, I thumbed through the guidebooks selecting all kinds of exciting activities in the Blue Grass state like touring historic mansions, bourbon tasting, visiting a Shaker village. Yet, immediately when I arrived in Lexington, I found myself posing for photographs with bronze horse statues in the airport lobby. Almost before I knew it, my itinerary changed to entirely equine activities. I awoke the next day to visit a race track in the early morning fog, followed by a tour of a retired Thoroughbred facility, and then a jaunt through the Kentucky Horse Park. The following day included a drive through the country (complete with posing for more photos, this time with Thoroughbred foals) and a visit to a bookstore that sold coffee table horse books. My three-day vacation was equine-centric to say the least, but somehow I came back feeling rejuvenated and refreshed for my horses and students at home.

The faulty psychological wiring I mentioned above is undoubtedly genetic, getting passed from pseudo-vacationing equestrians to their offspring. I verified this at an early age while spending some time in Amsterdam with my mother. A conference for ancient Greek philosophy was the context for our trip and most of our time was spent trolling libraries, meeting rooms, and archives in studious hours. One day, fully immersed in ancient texts in a tiny bookstore on a back street, my mom jumped off her feet as if lightning struck her. The next second, she threw the rare book she’d been reading to the floor and bolted out the shop’s door. Wondering if perhaps she had suffered a seizure of sorts, I calmly put down my study materials and followed her. Approaching the entrance of the store, I saw her already far down the street, running along a canal with her hair sailing behind her. Thinking by this time that the potential seizure had morphed into sheer madness, I began chasing her, abandoning our bags and coats at the shop.

I found her three city blocks later under a tree trying to catch her breath and thwart an asthma attack. After ensuring she could breathe fine, I asked her point blank if she had suddenly gone stark raving mad.

Of course not, she replied. Her dramatic departure from the bookstore could be explained by the fact that she heard hooves clip-clopping down the street and she wanted to see Amsterdam’s carriage horses pulling their fancy carts along the canals filled with tourists. Hence, she ran as fast as she could in the direction of the clippity clops, but alas never caught them. At a young age and perplexed at this point, I asked why she cared so much. I mean, how exciting could it be to see horses in a foreign city when my parents made their living with horses every day at home? When she heard clip-clopping seven days a week on our farm, what could possibly be so thrilling about that noise while on vacation to cause someone to run down the street like a crazy person? The validity of my questions brought her a sheepish smile. It was a little bit crazy, she admitted. And then putting her philosophical training to use, she pondered that equestrians probably just lack the ability to be fully entrenched in other activities without at least a small part of their minds still occupied with the thought of our beloved beasts. At my age, I didn’t get it. That all sounded like nonsense.

Now, a bit later in life, it’s very easy to imagine myself bolting out of a shop, museum, or other establishment in a foreign city to chase down a set of clopping hooves. And no doubt the sight of a horse, which describes every other day in my life, would indeed refresh me.