Horsey people are a very special breed. Anyone who lives with them and yet isn’t involved with the sport themselves will acknowledge this. For the majority of equine owners, livery yards are a necessity as, despite common belief, most of us don’t live in halls with the ponies in the back garden. Livery yards are much more than “a place to keep the horse” at best they are a microcosm of human society and at worse, a social minefield of cliques. At a later point, I’ll discuss the horse owners themselves (only the ignorant can place them all into one category, those involved in the equestrian world know that mostly, the different “types” of owner are in a permanent state of war with each other). For now, we’ll focus on those individuals at the top of the ladder in terms of the social structure that is the livery yard; the yard owners.

The Old Families

Equine Equivalent – Irish Draughts

You get the hands on owners who have clearly spent a life time with horses and not always for the better. These people are often afflicted with a permanent bow legged state. They’ll proudly proclaim how they were born on a horse! Yes, they often look like they were! You’ll find them at all times of the day or night with bits of straw and shavings stuck to their hair (frequently hard to spot as often “hair” is used in the loosest of terms to describe a kind of evolutionary reaction to being outside so often, in which the hair takes on the resemblence of straw itself. Make up is often replaced with random smudges of dirt or worse. Manicures are replaced with a thick layer of horse-coat grease which is penetrated by no substance known to man but sadly, turns the nails a slightly yellowish colour rivalled only by the nicotine stained fingers of chain smokers; no need for a Chanel nail protector here. Perfume is simply out of the question through fear of confusing the horses as to who the person is.

Frequently behind the scenes will be a very horsey family; usually a mother that puts the fear of God into everyone who meets her and has an opinion and a method for every horsey related issue. Often also a father resigned to a retirement spent dealing with all odd jobs that may crop up on the yard. How successfully these are dealt with varies greatly but regardless, hiring in professional help is not an option. Liveries soon become used to light bulbs taking months to replace, water taps not actually connected to the mains supply, fencing in dire need of repair and yards resembling ice rinks because “salt will crack the concrete!”

These families usually all live in the same house despite the daughter (and now owner) usually being well into her 30s or beyond. The mother usually takes on the role of accountant and has the job of chasing the wretched liveries for payment. Frequently their are arguments within the family that everyone liverying on the yard gets dragged into.

As riders, these people usually have a style all of their own. They have a stickability earned over years of badly behaved horses and can arguably sit on anything. Riding it is a different matter. Flatwork is often deemed as over rated nonsense for those with no guts to jump. Show jumping requires talent but over fences that “fall” where as in “my day if you hit a fence you would no about it!” No, often the only disciplines deserving of respect are eventing, hunting and point to pointing. These people naturally went through the Pony Club and have frequently taught as part of them in adulthood.

The Reluctant

Equine Equivalent – Thoroughbreds

At the opposite end of the scale are the yard owners who delogate everything, very efficiently, to a member of staff; thus avoiding every minor duty. They’re rarely seen before noon most days, at which point they daudle onto the yard looking for a horse to ride and acting shocked if the staff have already ridden them all by this point (despite the fact that they’re under the strictest instructions to begin the exercising at 9pm sharp.) These yard owners often live either offsite (they need a life you know!) or have a yard manager and staff living onsite to ensure that they aren’t disturbed out of hours. In hours are arguable also as they have often retreated to their santuaries prior to most of the liveries arriving to tend to their horses and, as was mentioned before, are rarely seen on the yard priot to around lunch time. If living onsite, notices can often be found pinned to their doors informing people not to disturb them and respect that they are allowed a life away from the yard! These yard owners are frequently not seen firsthand by the liveries for months on end and become as mythical a creature as a mountain dragon. Tales of their adventures are frequently recounted by the staff, but rarely seen by anyone. They are, of course, amazing riders of international standard if only they had the a) money or b) time to concentrate truely on their chosen discipline.

The Farmers

Equine Equivalent – Cobs

A further type of yard owner are the farmers or retired farmers. Frequently these are gentlemen of a certain age with an excess amount of land, unused cattle sheds and no real use of them. Being the shrewd business men they are, the natural conclusion is to open a livery yard. Often these people have no experience with horses but assume as they have four legs and hooves, they should be close enough to cattle for there to be no problem. As such, stables are often assembled by tying five bar gates together with wire and propping them up inside large cow sheds. Sileage would be the usual forage of choice and it is nothing but an annoyance to them that those damn finicky horse owners seem to object to it, prefering instead the more expensive options of haylage and hay. This, of course, doesn’t prevent them from at least attempting to pass sileage off as haylage to any unsuspecting owners. Their four legged boarders are usually referred to as “oss” or on some occasions “mare” (if approproiate sex of course). In recongnition of their four legged boarders being flight animals, they duely equip themselves to handle all possible reluctance by said animals with the phrase “gerrup there oss!”

Occasionally, these people do indeed have a history of an involvement in horses, frequently with the chosen discipline being show jumping. They can regularly regail their liveries with tales of competing against Harvey Smith and frequently, solutions to various ridden problems are accompanied by “‘Arvey once ad an oss just like that un and ee’d….” followed by long detailed instructions involving cattle prods, spiked jumping poles or lunging whips. Vets are a rareity on these yards with 99% of all injuries being dealt with by salt water and antiseptic cream. They prefer feeding straights, many of which might be home produced as you never know what is in these new fandled foods! Supplements are unheard of with the exception of perhaps a tea spoon of epsom salts to aid digestion. They are firm believers that their liveries should be fed and mucked out before daylight and anyone failing to do so, regardless of the reason, just isn’t dedicated enough.

These yards are usually patrolled by at least one boarder collie and a number of jack russels, most of which are usually very vocal, frequently anti social and are often seen stealing grooming brushes, gloves and other miscellaneous objects left within reach. As with the other livery type, these yards often feature a battle ass wife with a limp to match her husband and who’s wrath is feared countywide.

The Nouveaux

Equine Equivalent – English WBs, Irish Sports Horses, Anything Native Crossed with a TB

This is a relatively new form of livery yard owner. These are the people who believe a livery business can be run as a profitable organisation and intend to apply everything that they earned at business school. Often, these people are in charge of huge, modern establishments; frequently specialising in equine rehabilitation of all kinds (spiritual, physical and schooling related). These premises will play home to equine hydrotherapy units, equissage machines, swimming pools and solariums. They have multiple arenas, trot up areas, assessment rooms and smithing areas (fully equipped with a very threatening looking forge and farrier specialising in corrective farriery). These places smell more like surgical units than stables. Every strand of hay or straw and spec of dirt or dust is swept away multiples time a day to ensure no area is harbouring bacteria. Where as most stables are stained with years of the unfortunate things that horses do, these stables are amazingly white.

They are usually associated with the most prestigious equine surgeries in the area manned by vets that can find something wrong with any presented animal. Livery owners frequently find themselves in fear of riding their horses incase passing members of staff spot a bi-lateral lameness or mechanical problem that they never knew existed. Horses are turned out into individually sectioned paddocks of small sizes to minimise the amount of running around they can do – afterall, this could lead to unnecessary injuries or lameness. All horses are equipped with professional sports medicine boots on all four legs and over reach boots on the front. Any advancements in body armour will be seen here first.

Grooms will perform even the most mundane tasks strictly in accordance with the BHS guidelines. Turning out horses requires a hat, gloves and suitable footwear and only one horse may be led by each groom. The yard is fully equipped with machines that lift and transport shavings bales (dust extracted of course) and feed bags while staff attend monthly staff safety courses.

Livery contracts resemble the yellow pages and cover every possible eventuality from death of the horse owner through to nuclear attack of the country and there is a thorough and practiced plan for all.

The Modern Competitive

Equine Equivalent – Danish, Dutch, German Warmbloods

Another quite recent edition to the livery world; these owners are frequently either foreign or trained and highly influenced by foreign riders. These places are run like military regimes with their equine residents daily routines planned down to every last detail. Here, equine nutritionists design individual diets to cater for the residents and the feed room resembles a tackshop display of supplements and additives. As such, making feeds can take upto an hour out of a groom’s day, but these yards follow a strict 1 groom to 2 horses ratio so there are staff aplenty to cover this problem.

The tackrooms resemble bondage stores with an astonishing number of leather straps designed to tie, raise and fix any part of the horse. Here you will find harbridges, pessoa systems, bungees, draw reins and side reins (both fixed and elasticated of course)They have enough bits to open a bit bank all of which are polished daily by the army of staff (twice daily if they misbehave). The saddles can all clearly be identified as Prestige, Pessoa or Passier and any “new” range of saddle will be met with scepticism unless it has a suitably foreign sounding name.

Here you will find horses and ponies worth more than most peoples’ houses. All of these undoubtedly have a track record as long as your christmas card list of countries they have represented, teams they have been in, nationals and internationals they have won and riders they gave their “break” to. The horses go out in individually fenced paddocks of post and reil fencing protected by electric cords, for the maximum of an hour per day. They’re booted, bandaged and rugged to the extent that bar areas of these horses are rarely seen (keep in mind sun bleaches coats, mud irritates skin, weeds can cause skin allergies, flies bite, and dirt and grass both stain). All these horses have headcollars with name plates displaying their competition names and matching day rugs made in the yard’s official colours.

The staff on these yards are highly trained and are far more likely to be physically beaten if they perform a mistake than their much more irreplaceable steeds. These people are a catwalk for pikeur and cavallow. Breeches (no jodhpurs here daaaaaaaahrling) are coordinated with gillets and matching knee high socks, Konig boots are worn on a day to day basis and spurs are a permanent attachment to these. Their clothes posesse a certain mystical mud repelling property found nowhere else in the equestrian world and which are the wonder of every other horse owner. They can name every muscle in both the equine and human body by its most technical term and know exactly how each of these should be acting during ridden exercise.

Most of the horses will wear more jewelry than your average person owns with diamond encrusted browbands, bandages, side reins and saddle cloths all being common place. The yards all play home to equine masseurs, chiropractors, physios, osteos spiritual healers, whisperers, podiatrists, farriers, nutritionists and vets; many of whom, like the yard owner, will be foreign.

Screams from the arenas of “Leg leg leg GUT!!!! Ja gut!!!” are commonplace to the point of becoming background noise and you certainly can’t be considered anything more than a novice until you can conduct all your lessons in fluent German.