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Equestrian In Lockdown
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   5th Apr 2020   •   1,090 views   •   0 comments
Equestrian In Lockdown

If you are currently a resident of literally anywhere in the world, you might have heard of a little thing going around called COVID-19, or the coronavirus. As it spreads, nations throughout the globe are affected differently and at different rates, but ultimately, the end result awaiting all of us (if you are not already there) is fairly similar: we will all be entering into some or other form of lockdown.

At the moment South Africa is in a full lockdown. This means that we are not allowed to leave our homes except for essential grocery shopping, medical care, etc.

We may not visit our friends and family. We may not walk our dog around the block or go jogging in the park and (unless we are lucky enough to live with them) we may not visit or ride our horses.

All non-essential businesses are shut down, and those of us unable to work from home (very much including myself, as a work rider and riding instructor) are unable to earn a living. Meanwhile, costs just continue to accumulate. It is a difficult time for so many, and in our poverty-stricken country, absolutely devastating for the vast majority. We equestrians are a privileged bunch, and honestly there are so many people out there who will suffer more from this than us, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are suffering in a way few of us ever anticipated. The emotional turmoil and sense of grief throughout the community is palpable. Our horses are our lives, and just like that, they have been ripped away from us. For now, we are counting down 21 days without our best friends. We are a week in already, but even now many of us fear that 3 weeks are going to turn into 3 months, and possibly even longer if things don’t change. We are hurt. We are lonely, and we are frightened. We don’t know what the future will bring.

Wikipedia 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic: The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic is an ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The outbreak started in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, in December 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and recognized it as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

But, if your country has been affected by coronavirus and hasn’t quite reached the point of lockdown yet, then as a fellow equestrian, I can bring you a message from your future. And if you are already in the same boat, then bunker down with me to hear my tale of solidarity. This is what it’s like as an equestrian in coronavirus lockdown.

On the evening of 23 March 2020, our South African president Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation to announce a full 21 day lockdown from 26 March to 16 April. We had 3 days to get our affairs in order, after which we would not be allowed to leave our homes. Already for the last two weeks, I had been going about my business cautiously. I had a bottle of disinfectant in my car and I sprayed my hands before and after riding anybody’s horse, or touching anybody’s tack. While teaching I avoided contact with my clients as much as possible. I had already started to lose clients due to the financial implications of the virus, and I was worried. When the lockdown was announced, my worst fears were realized, and worried immediately turned into terrified. With 3 horses in full livery and an income that is unreliable at the best of times, the idea of suddenly being unable to earn for 3 weeks hit me with the force of a young warmblood encountering a plastic bag for the first time. I collapsed on the couch, hysterically laugh-sobbing, while my partner flittered around with gin and chocolate in a futile attempt to console me. I began frantically messaging my nearest and dearest with a “what am I supposed to do?” that I knew they couldn’t answer, and silently calculated how many months of livery I could afford for my horses with my emergency savings.

When Moo died, we received a payout from insurance, which my mother told me to keep in full for when we really needed it. She told me to “think of it as Moo’s contribution to you and your young horses, to help rebuild your career”. Already some of it had gone to things like saddles, x-rays and ulcer treatments, but I do my best not to leave it alone for the most part. And in this moment, that money was the only thing keeping me from losing my 3 horses on the spot.

Check out Moo's (Moonfire) story on PonyBox Among The Stars

While he was alive, Moo saved my ass countless times. The thought of him saving me again from beyond the grave was more emotional than I can begin to explain. So as I sat and calculated, and sobbed, and took hysterical sips of gin, and cracked cynical jokes (because what else would a South African do in a crisis), and sobbed some more, my phone pinged with a message from the first of my clients, not five minutes after the announcement of lockdown. She informed me that during the lockdown period, she would pay me for my work as usual. I was so touched that I broke down all over again. For weeks already, our nation had been encouraging one another to keep paying gardeners and domestic workers while allowing them to stay at home, to consider those for whom a lockdown can entail a completely lost income, but I would never have dreamed of asking my clients (many of whom are also financially affected by this) to continue paying for services I can no longer offer. I didn’t have to ask. By the next day, two more clients had offered to continue paying me, and each time I was struck by overwhelming gratitude. It is a small percentage of my income, but it is enough to take away some of the pressure. Enough to support one of my horses... and more importantly than anything, in a time where we are all being forced to isolate, it made me feel like I’m not alone.

The equestrian community can be mean, but when it comes down to it, the sense of unity gained from working together with horses is unbelievable. We may be harsh and petty, but we are always there to support each other when it matters most, and to be reminded of this in such a real and impactful way was a truly humbling and emotional experience.

Unfortunately, the equestrian community can also be entitled, and selfish. We all love our animals, and when lockdown was announced, the first thing everyone wanted to know was “how will I be able to go ride my horse?” for which the answer was already quite clearly, “you won’t”. All shows were already cancelled, and now livery yards were ordered to close their doors, allowing only those living on the property, essential carers catering to the horses’ basic needs, and yard owners to enter the property. The equestrian community was reeling. Social media pages were blowing up with people asking questions in an attempt to figure out how they could “get around” the regulations to see their beloved horses, and the community was very quickly torn apart into those who wanted to evade government regulations to continue their lifestyles, and those who understood the importance of following the regulations, and quickly began to attack those who didn’t. It was like watching a herd of frightened animals fighting for their lives, lashing out at each other because they had no power to face their invisible enemy.



On the first day of lockdown, most of us sat in our homes. Silent, shellshocked, looking through old pictures of our horses and trying to come to terms with the fact that we had to be without them for 3 whole weeks. Worrying about them getting bored standing in their paddocks. Worried about them becoming rowdy and injuring themselves without exercise. Stressing about what to do when they are due to see the farrier, but no farrier is allowed to come out.

Meanwhile, the entitled few continue to drive to their stables. Tack up their horse. Ride to the beach. Because they are rich and privileged, young and healthy, and the virus can’t take them down.

Meanwhile, somewhere in our nation, immunocompromised people start to die.

Meanwhile, the first case of coronavirus appears in a township, where people don’t live more than 2 meters apart, and social distancing is impossible.

Meanwhile, the brave souls who need to continue working to care for our horses are put at risk by others entering the stables that are supposed to be in lockdown.

We miss our horses. We miss riding. Our competition schedules are ruined, our dreams are put on hold and we are left reeling with nothing on which to focus our ambition. It is difficult. We are suffering, grieving the loss of our lifestyles, but for us, this will eventually come to an end, and things will return to normal. Others might not be so lucky. Our precious horsey lifestyles are not worth the lives of others. Our nation needs unity. Cooperation. We need to stay alone, to stand together.

To those who have supported me during this time, I am so grateful. I will never forget your kindness. To those still ignoring the lockdown and breaking the law for the sole purpose of their own comfort and enjoyment; check your privilege. This affects all of us. The less we cooperate, the longer it lasts. There is no room for selfishness in our community right now.
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