I am a big fan of the Chronicle’s “Day in the Life” feature, which asks a well-known rider to talk through her or his daily activities. I’m sure none of us will soon forget hardy Boyd Martin’s declaration of an evening ice tub session! But increasingly I read “Day in the Life” the way I read Bon Appetit’s weekly menu suggestions: like a glimpse into a fantasy existence that interests me but has no real connection to my life. I thought it was perhaps a reflection of my own chaos, but I recently polled friends—admittedly a poor sample because they are my friends and thus likely afflicted with some of my poor traits—and they, too, enjoy the column but see little of themselves in it.
We recognize the long treks to horse shows, the very long training process, the importance of collaboration with other trainers, physios, farriers and vets, and the daily struggle to get it right. But we do not jive with the overall cleanliness that these people exude. We suspect them of having clean cars, and their highly organized whiteboards make us anxious.
So, in honor of the rest of us, here is a day in my life:
When my partner is not home, which is most of the week, I wake up between 3 and 3:30 a.m. I look at email first thing, even though this is stupid. You would be amazed by the number of things deemed emergencies in academia, a field in which emergencies are impossible. Then I turn off the internet and glare at my Word document. This is time I can either devote to working on the book that will never end or worrying. When I am not paralyzed by anxiety, I get a few pages of gibberish down. The rest of the time, my mind spins on its loop and very little key tapping is accomplished.
The dogs wake up when they wake up. Right now, they prefer around 5:30 a.m. It is my honor and duty to allow them to slap me with their tiny paws, scrub their squashy heads, and then carry them in pairs down the stairs. All but one have legs too short for stairs, and they did not hire me so they could stretch those adorable legs. After the first pair is released into the out of doors, I feed the cats. It is vitally important that I do this before attempting to bring the second pair down the stairs, or we will all perish in a feline-caused stair fatality.
Dog-feeding time follows hard on the heels of the second pair’s release. This involves the dancing, barking, leaping enthusiasm of five dogs (six when my partner is home) and then a feeding frenzy similar to a pack of lions settling upon downed gazelles. Time to head upstairs to read the New York Times while I get dressed. I have nearly learned to check that the buttons on my shirt are correctly buttoned before I leave the house. Nearly. I try to hit the dog rescue pages on Facebook in the time remaining before 7. Then I wrap my ankle, stuff it into a brace, stuff that into a boot and head out to the barn to feed the troops.
The troops are hangry. It is 7 a.m., and I am just bothering to feed them? Ridiculous breach of contract. I then dress them in various fly-related gear and am led by them to their fields. Eden, who works with me, undergoes the same process in the other barn. I set up feed—my own alchemical process—in both barns while he does water and hay. I had ankle surgery in July, so I have just been cleared to return to daily stall cleaning. Apparently surgeons value their own handiwork a great deal more than what I paid stall cleaners for six weeks.
Then the best moment of the day comes: coffee. That’s right. I finally get coffee. And if you get between me and my coffee in the 20 minutes that follow my receiving it from the amazing woman at the deli, I will hurt you.
The rest of the day passes. I ride, I teach, and, in between, I answer email and phone calls from a) colleagues convinced someone is out to get them because they did not get every single thing they wanted in a recent meeting; b) colleagues who think the university system is designed to ruin their happy lives through a ridiculous insistence that they actually teach their classes; and c) colleagues convinced the administration wants to give them COVID-19. One of these things is actually true.
When the horses deem the fly-to-grass ratio unacceptable, if I am not teaching, Eden and I bring them in together. We are badly outnumbered, so it is good when we can work as a pair. He then proceeds through afternoon chores, which I only do on Mondays. Don’t talk to me about Mondays.
I would like to tell you that I am always done by 5 p.m. But I’m not. Lessons are almost always done by 5 p.m. except when I am teaching clinics. I do always feed the dogs by 5, because they are small and loyal and fierce. It is better that they eat on time. Sometimes I have meetings during the day—Zoom right now, which makes life way easier—and things run late.
This is evidenced by the white board. I was so impressed by a recent white board featured in a DITL column. It was gorgeous, beautifully organized, and as far as I could tell, the lines had been drawn with rulers. Mine does not look like this, but it makes sense if you remember the following: the “days of the week” section is updated for this week, the list of dates at the bottom center (with accompanying arrows to fit in extra things) is usually for the next six weeks, the columns on the bottom left and right are med schedules for various horses, there are dates that seemed critical when I wrote them down, and things written on slanting diagonals are important.
I teach for the university at night, so I have to be clean, fed, and ready to be moderately articulate by 6:30 p.m. When we are not on Zoom, this means being clean and in the car at 4 on teaching days. In the new world order, I really like to be able to meet with anyone who needs a pre-class check-in at 6, so I leave the barn by 5:30. Right now I am teaching two fully asynchronous online courses, both of which have weekly short essays due on Sunday nights. The workload for those is heaviest on Mondays when I grade all of their essays, but I like to keep an eye on the discussion boards throughout the week and provide feedback or new sources as they work through their assignments.
I am also teaching a graduate course on Zoom, which really would be much more fun in person. But since the university’s classrooms are far from COVID safe, I am happy to sit this one out from the safety of my rural hamlet. Those students also have weekly short writing assignments that I try to grade on Tuesday nights but sometimes allow to bleed into Wednesdays if I fail at Tuesday-night efficiency. As students’ needs ramp up throughout the semester, I work hard to meet with them as needed, so I often have student meetings on non-teaching nights.
At night check, the troops enjoy their final hay, grain in some cases, water refills and treats. Then I return to the house, pick up a bit, do laundry, and carry the dogs back up the stairs. If I am not asleep by 10 p.m., I am not going to sleep. So I take a lot of magnesium and curl up with my novel. I fall asleep with the lights on most nights my partner is not home. The dogs are tolerant.
Each part of this likely seems familiar from the Day In The Life columns you have read previously on this website. Every rider’s story involves being tired, overwhelmed, disorganized, while balancing the priorities of teaching, riding, training and competing. But I guess I have fallen prey to the recently discovered “Facebook and Instagram phenomenon” of feeling inferior in comparison to everyone else’s organized and highly functioning lives. And, apparently, so have my friends. Because here are snippets from recent conversations with my tribe:
• “I do not know why this 6-year-old horse cannot move on from adolescence and become the strong adult body he needs to be to stop hurting himself every day; what am I doing wrong?”
• “Did you know today was Wednesday? I spent the first half of the day pretty well convinced it was Thursday.”
• “I took this photo [of a Kraken black rum bottle] for you… Yes, I was at the liquor store at 1:30… Why? lunch break.”
• “The dog still has kennel cough, and she can only sleep if you hold her upside down and don’t move… I have not been sleeping much”
Or maybe I just still think Pink has something to offer: We “nitty gritty dirty little freaks” get a lot done.
Allison Kavey, Ph.D, is a Grand Prix rider who enjoys bringing horses along from the breed shows through the FEI levels. She works with riders from dressage, hunter/jumpers, and eventing who love their horses and want to improve their foundation. She is a professor in the History Department and director of the Humanities and Justice Program at City University of New York’s John Jay College and CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of five books and many articles on topics ranging from books of secrets to viral pandemics.