They are our mascot, our loyal follower, the life of the party, the team’s cheerleader and companion. You’ll find them asleep in the tack room, under the truck (despite your repeated encouragement otherwise), or ringside in the shade…or anywhere you are, if we’re honest. They are the kings and queens of the rig, have their own personal seats and pillows, travel hours and miles beyond your average couch-bound canine.
This is my tribute to one of the universal favorites; the barn dog.
It is not uncommon on a groom’s endeavors to be the primary caregiver to not only vastly important equine charges, but also to a farm’s complete collection of pets and creatures. Some of the most incredible and smartest of my favorites has been none other than The Barn Dog.
When “they” say that pets are just like their owners, there is no truer statement than my experience with the dozens of barn dogs I’ve met over the years. From tiny Chihuahuas to Great Danes, you’ll always be pleasantly surprised to notice how the mood and energy of a stable is embraced by the barn dog. Is the Jack Russell the first one to the barn? Is there a Rottweiler guarding the feed room? Does a Corgi announce your boss’ arrival?
Some of my favorites are the veteran Barn Dogs who lumber happily to the barn lagging yards behind their owner, slow (but elated nonetheless!) from years of traipsing across pastures and arenas in pursuit of their fearless leader. I’m sure someone out there could do a Buzzfeed-style article about What Your Barn Dog Says About You with shocking accuracy (maybe that’ll be my next blog?).
From pound rescues to purebred and pre-ordered puppies, there is no limit to the love and care lavished upon The Barn Dog. Many a pooch I’ve met take more supplements with their specialized diets than I do on a daily basis. Their collars may be bedazzled with Swarovski—it isn’t beyond me to guess it may even match their horse’s browband!
In cold weather, they don their stylish coats and jackets. In summer, they may get their own personal swimming pool. The dog’s feather bed will never miss a horse show, peacefully resting beside us while we are on a sleeping bag in the neck of the horse trailer. From customized carts for the handicapped, to waiting in line for their favorite bank teller to share their personal stash of dog treats, you know they have the ability to redefine what our idea of true love is on a daily basis. Their companionship can relate to the bond of parenthood, challenging us to be observant and attentive to their needs; in return, we have a gift that smiles back at us, inspires laughter, and can sense and react to emotion with a clarity not measureable by science.
Their knowledge of when to move out of the way of their four-legged neighing superiors is obviously a learned expertise, and we know that if they could talk, they’d warn us of the dangers us humans can’t sense. They could probably save us hours looking for lost shoes in the pasture, and may or may not ‘fess up to a hidden stash of all the single bell boots, dropped hoofpicks, and tall socks that went missing.
I’m sure they could solve all our mysteries; who left the gate open, how are the mice still getting to the grain, and what maneuver the show horse did to injure himself in turnout?! They’d make honest souls of all of us, confess that perhaps they like bran mash way more than the horses do, and let us know that they’re thankful we don’t hide the treats very well.
They are our copilots, our horse show buddies, our “eyes on the ground”, our pillars of support, and our entertainment. Barn dogs are ringside for our training and shows, and have other four-legged friends, both canine and equine, on the circuit just like competitors. I’ve long been envious of the riders and grooms whose horse show dogs were loyal to their people, rode shotgun in the golf cart, and were so recognized and comfortable around the stabling that they often announced the presence of their owner before they even arrive.
Barn Dogs steal the adoration of the highest caliber of riders, pose for winners circle photos, supervise turnout for the top horses in the world, and even travel like royalty in planes, trains, and automobiles across countries and oceans to cheer on their riders as members of the family. Their stories of rescue, hilarium, recovery, weird quirks, picky eating habits, skunk encounters, naughty moments, and even near-death emergency vet trips are some of the most emotional pieces of their owners’ hearts.
From pups who chase the lunge whip in the middle of the round pen to horse-apple thieves and mutts who can’t help but stalk the farrier, you’re bound to meet and greet some really cool dogs wherever you go in the equine industry.
I’ve always trusted the opinion of a Barn Dog. As the kings and queens of the barn, they’re the ones who know a good hardworking soul when they see it. Looking into an old dog’s wise eyes can be the most miraculous way to spend some minutes, and it would take a tough cookie not to feel just a bit happier by taking just five minutes of playing fetch for an elated canine.
It was not uncommon for my employers to share their pets with me enough to fall in love with them. As the groom, I watched interactions between riders and their dogs that couldn’t help but ignite a smile.
Just as we are made whole and complete by the presence of our canine friends, their departures were often the experiences that rocked you to your core. Equestrians, who endure stomped toes, broken bones, horrific falls, monstrous vet bills, and tragic accidents, are brought frighteningly easy to their breaking point at the pain or loss of their beloved dog.
As a former student and frequent traveler, I have only recently been able to make myself a dog owner. My new lad “Tex” is well on his way to becoming my custom-collar-wearing, spoiled-to-death, golf-cart ornament and loyal barn aisle guardian. His ability to make me laugh until my sides hurt and shed tears over his pain has broadened my respect and understanding for the true nature of The Barn Dog and the definition of love.
Chronicle blogger Lauren Keeton groomed for Olympian Tina Konyot and was head groom at Jan and Amy Ebeling’s The Acres. She also appeared in a story “A Good Groom Is A Horse’s Home Base” in the Sept. 9, 2013 Horse Care issue of the Chronicle. Read all of Lauren’s blogs.