The Barn Rat Route

Unlike their furry grey namesakes, these barn rats come in various shapes, ages and sizes, the most common being girls between the ages of about ten or eleven to somewhere in the mid to late teens. They are reasonably easy to identify in their native habitat, which is any variant of horse barn.

Barn rats are the horse crazy kids who don`t want to be anywhere else. Not the mall, not the fast food joint, not even(sometimes) the Junior Prom, if there`s a horse show the next day.

Some barn rats get paid, but many trade work for the chance just to be in the general vicinity of horses. The parents of barn rats can`t be the obsessive kind who drag their kids from piano lessons to French lessons to figure skating lessons to soccer practice, because implicit in the definition of “barn rat” is is that they spend most free moments after school, on weekends, and on vacations, at the barn.

Barn rats are not the kids who arrive at the stable, take their lessons or ride their horses, get back in the car and disappear. A kid doesn`t have to be “from the poor side of town” to be a card carrying barn rat, because it`s  state of mind more than  socio economic status that differentiates the real deal from the pretender. True barn rats would hang around the barn and do manual labor even if they won the lottery, because that`s what taking care of horses really means.

What barn rats get in return, although they may not put a name to the concept, is that they learn by osmosis. By spending so much time with horses, and not just on their horses backs, they gradually learn what makes horses tick. They learn what horses eat. They learn what constitutes a clean stall. They learn about turn out, blanketing, and how to do it without getting kicked, about grooming, braiding, hoof care, supplements, medicines, tack care, types of bits, helping the farrier, the vet, the myriad small and large details that make up “horsemanship.”

Some, not all, get the chance to ride. The avid riders, especially those who show some natural skill, may get to ride lots of horses that the less obsessive customers don`t want to do for themselves. Some of the top USET riders in all the disciplines got their basic skills by the barn rat route.

In 2012 there are many pressures against barn rat-ism, a big one being the fear of the barn owner against litigation if the child should get injured. Parents may not think that it`s a good avenue toward college acceptance, letting their kids hang out all hours at the barn. But still,  for all the pressures against, being a barn rat is probably the surest way to gain the necessary skills that those we admire as “real horsemen and real horsewomen” all possess.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “The Barn Rat Route

  1. Kate Severson

    That’s me! Barn rat for life and certainly proud of it!

  2. Maddie - Flying Changes

    I learned more about being successful in life by being a barn rat (bonified specimen, identified at the early age of 7) than in all of my schooling (top high school graduate, private university educated, 2 BS degrees and a MA). Long live the barn rats!

  3. Susan Greeley

    I was a “rat” and my Daughter is learning to become one! It makes me Proud!!!

  4. Deb B.

    I learned many valuable lessons as a barn rat. My skills as a rider/trainer began on naughty ponies owned by weekend riders. The things we did back then while hanging out would never happen today because of law suits, but then, it was good clean fun. We were good kids who loved horses. Most of the rats I hung around with are still horsemen and horsewomen 50 years later. I now have barn rats at my farm, and watching them gives me hope for the horse world of tomorrow.

  5. Linnea Mathews

    Barn rats rule! I learned so much. It laid the foundation to be added to by Pony Club. I could even watch super riders (future Olympians and trainers of Olympians) work their horses. Recognizing a true rat, they would tell me what they were doing and why. I can’t think of a better way to learn horsemanship and riding philosophy.

  6. We use to spend long summer days at the barn. Those were wonderful times. We had a whole group of barn rats around the same age age. I was a few years older, but they were still my friends. We did tons of things together.

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