Thursday, October 28, 2010

No good deed goes unpunished

As a barn worker I'm often asked to do things not part of my regular job -- usually they're small things, and I don't mind. But at times it seems no good deed goes unpunished.

All time worst incident
A year or so ago I was asked to watch a rehab horse on small paddock turnout. I took it seriously. In fact, during my break I parked my car on the grass adjacent to the field so I could watch him while I ate lunch. Normally I eat in the barn's heated lounge.

Turns out, a friend of the horse owner's noticed my car was not in the lot, and texted the owner that I was AWOL while her horse was turned out. The owner was very upset and confronted me. She didn't believe my explanation, or she wanted to believe the her friend instead of me (I suspect the latter). 

Most recent incident
I do barn work at several farms. A horse at a one barn, Buzz,  got kicked in the chest. It swelled pretty badly, and formed a hematoma, which was draining.  His owner Sue asked to turn him out in a paddock, bring him in and clean/ treat Buzz's chest injury with topical medicine, and dose him with meds. It was a one time favor to do at the end of the day.

In the days right after the injury Buzz was wearing a muzzle to prevent him from biting the wound, but at this point the wound was ten days old.  Sue  had been out to see Buzz earlier that day, and had left the muzzle off. Hours later I did my thing with Buzz and returned him to his stall, sans muzzle. Frankly I didn't give this any thought. Sue had left it off, so I left it off too...

Unmuzzled rage
Apparently I was supposed to put on the muzzle. Buzz chewed on his wound and it got inflamed. The next day, the barn manager called about a big note on the board:  "BUZZ'S CHEST IS RE-INFECTED BECAUSE SOMEONE LEFT OFF HIS MUZZLE." I told her what happened, and she seemed to understand. I figured she spoke to Sue. But when I saw Sue a week later she was livid.  Apparently she had left the muzzle off  to give Buzz a break from wearing it. It's true that I knew Buzz had been wearing a muzzle at one point, and immediately after the injury I knew he was supposed to wear it. The fact was, the owner had left it off, for hours, and I didn't realize I was supposed to handle him differently.

Sue did most of the talking, but when I tried to explain -- defend myself really -- she walked away. I go to that barn once a week, and for the past few weeks Sue's been giving me the silent treatment. As far as Sue goes, it looks like it's game over.

I know from my own experience -- when my horse is injured, I'm obsessed, and  I assume others are as aware of his care as I am.  Sue and I had talked about Buzz's injury in the past, but I wasn't involved in his care at the time, and didn't commit it to memory. From her perspective, I was careless and injured her horse. From my perspective she didn't give clear instructions.

The moral of the story...
The moral is, when you get help with your horse care: Write it down. Post a sign. Keep it simple. Don't assume.


  1. Oh man, more power to you. People seem to expect more the more you do. I have found that I can never do enough for most people. I do have a boarder now that is a dream. She never complains and is always ready to help out. If only there were more like her!

  2. Oh, my. Sue was decidedly in the wrong on that one. She needed to make it clear that muzzle needed to be on at all times and her leaving it off was an equally clear signal that it didn't really matter.

    One more reason I'm glad my Boys are home here. Any health care is all my responsibility...for good or ill.

  3. I find that a lot of people are so wrapped up in their own horse's care that they forget not everyone else is informed. As you say, simple and clear directions, in writing!, make it so others at the barn don't have to rely on their best guess and get slammed.

  4. Darn, my head hurts just reading all this. I HATE HATE HATE it when I'm unjustly accused of doing something, and I would be even more upset if it involved animal care. You are absolutely innocent in both matters, and had every right to explain/defend yourself. I also detest that icky feeling that someone is mad at me... hopefully, Sue will get over her snit eventually and the air can be cleared. As far as I'm concerned I think those people should all be extremely grateful that someone who cares as much as you is looking after their horses. Besides, anyone can make a mistake (in the first case you didn't even do a thing wrong). This really burns me up! I'm glad you were able to vent on this blog as clearly, you're in a state over it yourself. Don't blame you a bit. - Tracie

  5. I generally just read your posts because I enjoy having a link to real horses again. Mine had to be given away several years ago and miss it.
    I have a question. Do you get paid extra for these type of extra chores? If you don't, then I'd sure be tempted to say, 'Sorry, not in my job description', but I'll do it for extra if you give me exact written instructions about what I'm to do.
    Doing it this way might keep these incidents from happening in the future.

  6. The thing is, Sue knows it was her fault... people are never as nasty as when they know something is their own fault and don't want to admit it to themselves. Let's face it, if you truly were a careless and deceitful individual, all you would have had to do was say the wound was already chewed up by the time you saw Sue had left the muzzle off. What was she doing "giving him a break" without someone there to watch him anyway?

    Most people when they're in the wrong instinctively go on the attack rather than admit it - that's what you're seeing in both these cases.

  7. Horse at our barn with largely absentee owner and totally novice yahoo leasers. I leave town for 5 days. I return, head straight for the barn to check on my beloved( besides hubs, kids etc) and do usual once over at horses as I pass stalls. Aforementioned has dropped staggering amount of weight, stands by large, untouched pile of hay. I walk into stall, feel the heat emanating, grab thermometer from box, ascertain HIGH fever, commence calling/texting manager, leasers,owner. Drag poor sod out to hose down, carry on texting. No answers. Finally (45 minutes later) manager says owner will call vet.

    Owner never does. Self medicates.Fever breaks, eventually. Poor sod gains a couple of pounds, still not in good weight.No other horses get sick ( lucky day for you, BABE!) but owner now furious with me.
    Go figure.
    Truly, no good deed goes unpunished. No reason to discontinue the good deeds, though!!
    (Especially where the kids and the equines are concerned)

  8. No payment. Like me, Sue works full time in a job that includes some weekend/evening work, and I was more than happy to help out. The really maddening thing is that I'm going by WHAT I REMEMBER -- that's not the same as TRUTH although in this case I think they overlap quite a bit. Could Sue have actually said "put on his muzzle even though he won't have it on"? I really, really don't think so, but Sue isn't a jerk. What she is, is crazed about her horse's health as I am. And I think that's why I can't get this off my mind. I have a lot of empathy, but I am the sort of person that writes things down, posts notes, and repeats to ensure understanding -- much to everyone's annoyance. I think it is the oly way that works...

  9. This is a little OT but I think related enough: I've found that working with other people's horses is decidedly uncomfortable. People (myself included) are just a little nutty about their horses care, and irrationally quick to blame other people for accidents that are "nobody's fault." If it's not you handling the horse, you always assume it's something the other person is doing wrong and don't sympathize with human error at all.

    I currently exchange barn work for ride time at a small farm, and I'm always worried that if the horse comes up with any kind of injury--superficial or more serious--I might get blamed. To make matters worse, the woman who owns the horse said I coddle him a little bit (fine, I do) and kind of implied that I should step up our exercise and stop "being so nice to him" and "babying him" and that he needs to come home with a "wet blanket" (saddle pad). Now, yesterday on the trail, the horse slipped. It was a little wet outside and he just lost balance. It wasn't too serious, but I took him straight home. Today, he came up a little sore. We're giving him a couple days off--or as much time as he needs--and staying off the trail as it seems the rainy season has set in for good. But of course I feel responsible--and in a way, I am, and I feel really guilty (although it appears he'll be just fine, thank god!). She hasn't outright blamed me, but I just feel in an uncomfortable place. I baby him, no good, I try to not baby him, he slips. I think it's just time to get my own horse. The politics of being involved with other people's horses always land you in sticky situations. You follow your own instincts, you're in the wrong with the owner, you follow the owner's instincts, you're in the wrong with the horse, the owner and yourself! Oye...

  10. Writing it down is the best way to go. Even then, it doesn't always go right.
    I'm in that situation now...I'm caring for someone else's horse: I put exactly what she needs in detail on a sign, and have a clipboard with pen on the stall for people to check off what they are responsible for. It's to prevent confusion, duplication, or interruption of care. It's always worked quite well.

    The uncooperative person is the only one being paid. The trainer won't check the "exercised" box. She won't give days she plans to ride, and is furious if she comes to ride and someone else is riding the horse, or if the horse has already been ridden. She will ride the horse AGAIN, even if horse is exhausted.

    If it were up to me, I'd fire her. (Hang on, enjoying the visual...)

    Not up to me. Owner is far to sick to hear about the drama. So another useful tip: have owner give one person she trusts the power (written in detail) to make executive decisions, both so we know what she wants, and can carry it out.

  11. Yeah, my other trauma -- i was told to turn horses out in icy conditions -- they HAD been in waaay to long and had been out for the first time in about seven days the day before. Leading out one old horse, he fell on the ice, struggled to get up, and fell again. There was blood on the ice, and in a panic I laid on the ice next to him, held his head down, and begged him to "STAY." He actually laid quietly while I ran and got a load of sawdust, which I dumped on the ground. He got up immediately but was shaking violently (I was also shaking). I felt AWFUL. We think that the ice melted and refroze in front of the gate which is why he fell. A horrible feeling...

  12. Good gosh, I'm practically shaking just from reading that! Thankfully we almost never get ice here and on the couple of days a year we do the horses stay inside.

  13. I am very, very lucky - my yard manager has known me as a livery client for 12+ years and knows me and my horse inside out.

    So when I came down with appendicitis, it just took a 2 minute phone call from the hospital to sort out his care and exercise for the next two weeks.

    And then when my horse broke a back tooth 12 hours after my surgery he was on the lorry to the vets at the same time as they called my next of kin.

    You can't buy that kind of peace of mind.

  14. Those are some chilling stories. As a boarder, I try to remember that I am only able to keep my horse, because another person with a farm is willing to lease me space and their time for care. My horse has experienced some minor injuries and accidents, but I always try to keep in mind that these same things could happen if I owned a farm and kept him myself.

    I really feel badly that you were not allowed to defend your self by giving your side of the story. That just is not fair and like horses, I have a profound sense of fairness. I hope the boarder decides to apologize and learns how understanding you are of her situation, despite how you were treated.


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