Our main barn worker retired a couple weeks ago. Laura is a tough, gruff, wiry lady, the kind you’d expect to see working as bartender at a biker bar or something. She doesn’t take shit from anyone, but at the same time she’s incredibly kind and caring. Originally Laura worked in corporate America, at a big company where she got up every day, put on her suit and heels, and played the 9-5 game. Then one day she looked around at her life, realized how deeply unhappy she was, and walked away from it all to pursue a career that would make her feel happy and fulfilled.
First she worked at the race track, as a hot walker, then a groom. She worked longer hours and more days and made less money, but her heart was happy. Every single day she felt like she was making a difference in the horse’s lives, and every single day she got to enjoy being outside and moving around instead of chained to a desk in a cubicle. I can identify with that part of Laura in a major way, and I admire the courage that it took for her to walk away from stability in favor of something more satisfying.
Eventually Laura made her way to my barn, which is of course where I crossed paths with her. When Henry moved in he was fresh out of rehab for his saucer fracture and required a pretty strict routine for his first month or so. Laura impressed me right away with her dedication to making sure that he was taken care of appropriately. No matter how inconvenient, she did it all to a “T” with no complaints.
It didn’t take long for Henry to become one of Laura’s favorites. She thought his cheeky personality was quite funny, and I was getting texts in the middle of day asking something like “Can Henry have banana?” or “Henry wants some of my Bugles, can he have some?”. She shared all of her snacks with him, but his particular favorite was her extra salty sunflower seeds. Eventually she got to where she would buy two bags at a time, one for herself and one for him.
Laura also knew the behavior of every horse, inside and out. When Henry colicked last winter, she called me and said “Henry is half-heartedly eating his breakfast, and every once in a while he stops to paw. I’m worried he’s colicking.”. And she was right, he was. But she caught it so fast that a little bit of Banamine and a 20 minute walk fixed him right up, and for the next few weeks she soaked his hay every day and gave him alfalfa, “just to be sure“.
Henry isn’t the most maintenance-free horse to take care of. In the summer he really can’t stay out past 10am or he’ll sweat to death, and in the winter he requires close attention be paid to his blanketing needs. Laura had no problem with any of it though, always stopping in the middle of chores to bring him in, or coming back down to the barn late at night to put his blanket on. I never had to worry about whether my horse was too hot or too cold. And she always tossed him extra hay.
If she saw me packing up my trailer to go somewhere, she’d stop what she was doing and help me pack, despite my protests. Before I could even turn around she’d be tossing hay up in the bed of my truck or packing Henry’s grain. That’s just her nature. It didn’t really matter if you needed the help or if she had other things to do… she’s a helper, and she was going to help. And every single time we got back from the show, she was the first one asking me to see pictures and video. She thought Henry was just a blast to watch. But really, that shows you how invested she was in “her” horses, and how much she genuinely cared about them. Laura even asked about Presto all the time, and became deeply invested in his journey too.
Laura’s husband had a stroke a few years back, so pretty much every spare minute she had was spent taking care of him. They lived in a mobile home on the property, and she would buzz back and forth from the barn to the house, making sure everyone was taken care of. That was her job, 24/7. But eventually her husband required more and more care, and she decided to retire and move closer to family so she would have some help. A decision I totally understand and respect, but I miss Laura a lot, just the same, and I think Henry does too. If nothing else, he’s wondering where the heck the nice lady with the sunflower seeds went. I still send her texts and pictures, because I know how much she’s missing the horses, too.
Barn workers in general are overworked, underpaid, and a lot of times very under appreciated. Because of that, good ones can be really hard to come by, yet they have one of the most important roles in our industry. They’re the ones that interact with our horses the most, and they’re the ones that are entrusted with their overall health and well-being. So if you have a good one like Laura, make sure they know how much you appreciate them and everything they do for you and your horse… I guarantee they will be happy to hear it.