Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Word of Gratitude For the Tough Guys

Mike and Cliff unloading the last wagon
here’s a part of the horse life that a lot of horse owners, trainers, and barn owners take for granted.  When I first got “into” horses, I didn’t even think about what went into caring for them beyond which horse I’d be assigned for my lesson.  I didn’t know about farriers and vets and the rest of the horse professionals, just the horse under my butt and the guy in the red coat yelling instructions from the middle of the riding ring.  I was fifteen and nowhere close to owning my own horse, so I can be forgiven for my ignorance.

Later, when I owned horses but kept them boarded out, I learned about shoes and vetting and (eventually—which is a sad statement) about dentistry.  I thought I was really getting the full horse experience because I had to get my own horse out of the stall (or chase her around the pasture with a halter and a pissed-off expression).  I wasn’t even close.  

Eventually I moved to a farm where there was a lot more hands-on stuff.  That’s because it was, really, a farm, not just a bunch of stalls in a fancy barn in someone’s backyard.  It wasn’t a “stable” or a “facility”.  It was a working farm with cows and tractors and fields full of corn and soybeans and alfalfa and hay.  Until that point I’d had only a nodding acquaintance with such stuff.  My Cliff, a former dairyman from PA, tried hard to get this all through to me, but I didn't get it.  This was to be an enlightening three years.

The Hay Guy was omnipresent throughout the 50 years of my horse life, of course, and the source of much bad blood and target of criticism.  Whether the Hay Guy brought good hay or bad, on time or late, in sufficient quantity or short a few bales, cheap or high-priced was a topic of conversation akin to political discussions.  We owners weren’t directly involved with the ins and outs of the work of farming.  We rode horses and complained.  That was our job.

That last farm where I housed my horses was where I learned why the hay is sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes early or late, sometimes cheap and sometimes unaffordable.  And I learned to work.  I put my shoulder to the wheel and helped unload wagon after wagon of hay bales and stacked them.  And I loved it.  I loved it so much that, when it came time to buy a place of my own (when I had six horses boarded out seemed a good time to do that), I looked for a place where I could grow the hay I fed the horses, and from a 30-acre lot with a modular bi-level on it, my farm grew.
Down the Line:  Martin on the left, Tommy on the right,
Dean invisible in the stall or behind me...I lost track of him.

What an amazing experience it’s been to be able to plant and grow exactly what I want my horses to have, and I use my never-ending Xanax prescription mostly to get me through haying season twice a year!  The Weather Channel isn’t just 24 hours of droning to me.  It’s my lifeblood.  I wake up to it, go to sleep to it, and have the app on every piece of wireless and wired equipment in my possession.  Non-hay folks may think a 20% chance of showers is just a minor inconvenience.  Put 600 bales worth of hay on the ground, and it becomes a nightmare that leaves you sleeping with one ear to the sky…assuming you sleep. 

Eventually, and with a great deal of good luck, the hay gets made, and that’s where my gratitude for the tough guys comes in.  I’m not talking about the buff bods grunting at the local gym.  I’m talking about the nice guys who do real work for a living.  In my current gang of helpers there are three auto mechanics (including my man, Cliff), a contractor, a carpenter, and a US Marine putting jet engines together as a day job.  These are my Hay Guys.  I'm pleased as all hell that they're our friends. 
Ryan, catcher, on the stack

I’ve got to quote Mike, the mechanic co-worker of Cliff’s, who put it succinctly when he said, “I love this!  I get to come here and learn something new every time.  It’s physical and makes me feel like a better person.  It’s great!”   

Martin, a newbie, announced with a smile, "I could do this again."  That’s just how I feel about it, and the other guys seem to concur because they will show up, as they did last week, in 90+ degree heat and stack 673 bales of hay, cracking jokes and laughing all the while.  I pay them when they’re willing to be paid, which isn’t always.  Endless bottled water, beer, and sometimes pizza is part of the deal.  Camaraderie is key.  I laughed so hard I nearly fell off the wagon. 

No, I’m not in the photos.  That’s mostly because it’s my camera.  I love riding my horses.  I also love my job of “monkey” (that's my coined term--one guy called it “ballerina”, but I hate that), scaling the outside of the freshly-filled wagon to break apart the puzzle of bales and toss them down to the guys waiting below.  Love it.  Really love it.  Even in mid-chemo when climbing was out of the question, I couldn’t resist pushing the bales along the elevator.  Putting hands on fresh hay bales is somehow thrilling, and watching them stack up until every spare inch of space is full is what every horse-farm owner dreams of.  The weight of a bale has a certain power to it and lifting that weight is the best kind of affirmation.  What’s not to like?

And I get to be in the company of these wonderful, tough men who don’t ever get the credit they deserve for the kinds of work they do that keeps us all moving smoothly through our days.  These are my hay guys, the  mechanics, the laborers, the contractors, the Marine, and, at other times, the tree guy, the high school football players, the horse shoer…they’re my hay guys, my tough guys, and they're the real force behind a society that’s run astray following the guys in thousand-dollar suits.  How’s that workin’ for us?

Next time you saddle up at some competition and are totally thrilled with the gleam of your horse's coat, give a thought to these people and the ones that grow the grain and grind the sawdust and sweat bullets on a daily basis.  Thanks, Tough Guys, for all you do!

Leo and Duke say thank you, too.


The Dancing Donkey said...

This post certainly rang a bell. We did about 600 bales last week as well...

It is so satisfying and reassuring to see the barn fill up each year.

Joanne Friedman, Freelance Writer, ASEA Certified Equine Appraiser, Owner Gallant Hope Farm said...

I agree! And it's doubly satisfying when it's a do-it-yourself effort. Here's hoping we both do another few hundred in the second cutting! ;)