Longer and hotter days, sweaty breeches, pink SWAT, the hum of stall fans—all signs that the summer vacation season is upon us.
For those of us who grew up in the horse world, there were never shortages of ways to earn some quick summer cash. You could work at pony camps, groom at shows, teach some lessons, muck some stalls, paint jumps and fencing, and eventually someone will ask you to watch their farm while they are away on an upcoming vacation.
They call it “farm sitting,” and it seems innocent enough; you basically get paid to be Kevin McCallister from “Home Alone,” but instead of hoodwinking suspiciously dedicated burglars, you get to hang out, parentless, on a farm, and all you have to do is eat your very own cheese pizza and watch their cute, well-mannered animals, right?
Sometimes it works out just like you’d envisioned: The farm is nice, the people are sane, the animals aren’t trying to eat you. But the truth is, some Horse-Humans tend to normalize a lot of really bewildering things when it comes to their creature counterparts. What seems like a perfectly safe and logical routine to them, might look a lot like child endangerment to EVERYONE ELSE.
Fortunately, it is customary for the farm owner to leave a set of helpful instructions for their typically 11- to 16-year-old farm sitter. During my own ill-fated horse-sitting career, I’d arrive on the first day, all bright-eyed and oblivious, only to find a note a lot like this taped to the glass of the front door…
Dear farm sitter,
Thank you for taking the position of… me… for the week. The farm house is never locked because there isn’t anything good in there, but if this makes you uncomfortable, feel free to take the black Great Dane “Hell Hammer” to bed with you. (He’s a snuggler!)
I know we did a walk-through the other day, but I wanted to leave a little schedule to help you out.
5:00 a.m. (sharp) – Hell Hammer will need to be walked and fed. He pees the bed if he has to hold it for more than seven hours. Additionally, if he isn’t kept on a rigid feeding schedule, he starts to hunt the farm help.
He gets one bag raw meat, all individually packaged in the refrigerator labeled “Hell Hammer’s Refrigerator,” three times per day. (Watch your fingers; he’s an excitable boy!) Feed him on the porch so he doesn’t get blood on the cabinets.
5:15 a.m. – “Hannibal Lecter,” the barn goat, will have heard you feeding Hell Hammer and will come running to steal his meat off the porch. To avoid conflict, intercept him halfway across the front lawn, clothesline him with your arm, and drag him by his bejeweled goat harness to the barn with you.
5:18 a.m. – Feed horses. Feed in order as follows; if you do not feed in the correct order, the stables will descend into chaos.
Sparkle-Dragon (18.5-hand gray Percheron mare): 3 scoops senior feed with all 14 supplements. She gets an entire tube of UlcerGard daily, which needs to be given orally via syringe. She doesn’t like it, so you will need to climb her neck like she’s a giraffe and really shove that syringe in there. If she bites down on your arm, play dead.
Princess Diana of Wales (16-hand chestnut Thoroughbred mare): 4 1/8 scoop high-performance feed. She just came off the track, and we’re letting her have some time off, so we make sure she’s getting tons of protein and plenty of sugar. She won’t eat supplements, and it will take her approximately three hours to eat because she needs to jig around the stall after every bite. She needs both her stall gate and wooden door closed because she can slither under them if not used together. If she looks like she might try to bite you, she is absolutely trying to bite you. Use a chain shank to take her to her field, but fill your pockets with mints and just jam them in her mouth every four to seven seconds until you reach her paddock. This will distract her from murdering you in cold blood. When you turn her out, just watch all of her feet, she is extremely limber and can kick you from all trajectories.
David (17.2-hand bay Thoroughbred gelding): 3 scoops anxiety health pellets with all 14 supplements. David was bred here. He’s never been to the track; he is green broke to lead at 19 years old. He has a phobia of anything at eye level. Try not to touch his skin. He doesn’t like halters, so you’ll need to hook a lead rope to itself and use it like a leash.
Prince Albert III (6-hand balding mini, shares stall with David): 1 pellet senior. Prince Albert III belongs to David. They must never be separated or David will have an “episode.” If you are uncomfortable leading two horses out at once, you’ll need to get over it. Also try not to stand between them for too long. David is extremely protective of his domestic partnership.
You’ll notice Prince Albert III has a skin condition; it’s not mange, but it is recommended you wear gloves to rub the ointment into his bald spots. Twice daily. You’ll need to crush his prednisone up like a seasoned street pharmacist, then mix it with strawberry yogurt and pour into a syringe. Due to his size, you won’t need to climb him like you just did Sparkle-Dragon, but you will need to put him in a half nelson to administer the syringe yogurt. He bites often. He wears a grazing muzzle for turnout, but David will remove it, so you’ll need to duct tape him into it. Additionally, he has very sensitive feet and will need to wear his Velcro booties when turned out. He will strike at you while you are putting them on. He also has an allergen mask (the mustard gas mask looking thing on the hook) that can be placed over the grazing muzzle, he will need to be taped into this as well.
Doctor Crackers (the barn cat) was born in 1853 and is a diabetic. His insulin and darts are located inside the refrigerator labeled “Cracker’s juice and employee lunches” located in the tack room. Help yourself to a boxed lunch. Mounted above the tack room door is a blow dart gun. I assume you know how to blow dart-dose a geriatric, feral cat from 22 yards or more.
It should now be 5:45 a.m.
If you have any questions or need emergency services, I have compiled a list of 37 numbers written on the dry erase board in front of David and Prince Albert III’s stall.
Best of luck.
If you do enough farm sitting, you may even make enough money to pay for all the therapy you’ll need! Like my dad always says: “What doesn’t kill you, builds character.” So keep on taking those odd summer farm jobs; think of all the great stories you’ll have to tell. Just keep emergency services on speed dial, and never let anything named Hell Hammer share your pillow.
Alice Peirce was raised as a self-described “feral horse farm child” in Howard County, Maryland. She’s made efforts to leave the horse world over the years but always comes back and has worked for a number of people in various disciplines. Currently she’s working for the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, attempting to teach her draft mule Olive how to jump, and training foxhunters in Monkton, Maryland, where she hunts with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt. Read all of Alice’s blogs.