Early mornings find me at Windswept Farm in Williston, where I board my Shetland pony, along with 24 horses. Social distancing requires tight scheduling so that only two or three mask-wearing boarders are there at any one time and no visitors are allowed. Currently, the equines aren’t getting exercised as much and pastures are still too wet because of mud season but otherwise, the animals are happy to see us and appreciate the attention. I continue to learn from my pony, as well as from barn mates.
As we do chores and groom animals, passing conversations focus on how to rebuild our social, economic and civic lives post-COVID-19 with a disparate crew of discombobulated college students, working-from-home adults and a woman in her 90s. One of the owners of the barn, Tina Mauss, suggests reentry will be a lot like having an injured horse coming out of stall rest.
Horses are athletes, and sometimes bone fractures, ligament strains, wounds and other serious injuries require stall rest in order to heal. This is frustrating to horses who like to frolic with their herd buddies in the field and are accustomed to being worked strenuously by their owners. But stall rest is necessary to limit activity and encourage healing.
With veterinarian guidance, injured horses can slowly return to work. It may take weeks and sometimes months before they are in condition to play and be worked again. Dressage, jumping, eventing and carriage driving are endurance sports that require meticulous training. Leaving stall rest prematurely or shortcutting fitness often results in reinjury, a debilitating cycle for the animal and owner. Some never return to form.
Stall rest requires developing new relationships between equestrians and their steeds, breaking old habits to work more deliberately and creatively — oftentimes to nurturing and beneficial effects long-term. This is not unlike what we are experiencing, working and learning online while sheltering at home. Perhaps, we, too, can rebuild into a better normal.
Claustrophobia from the pandemic has us humans all itching to get back into our fields of life. Horse sense indicates to plan on an incremental transition with a strict rehab schedule. As at the barn, ‘too soon, too much’ could have dire consequences. While Gov. Phil Scott continues to open the societal spigot ever so slowly, patience and discipline must guide our graduated activities without risking and causing injury to ourselves and others. Our social, economic and civic lives depend on it.
Rep. John Killacky is a Democrat who represents South Burlington in the Vermont House. This was originally published in Horse Network.