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April 2018 - Record Blizzard, Horses And What I've Learned

Yesterday I was doing chores as normal in the morning when I found myself becoming overly emotional and even teary eyed.  We had just experienced a full force record setting blizzard named "Evelyn" here in Wisconsin in April! We were thinking winter was long behind us.  Many people at our barn had been preparing for horse shows that are coming soon and we all could taste warmer weather in the air.  Then out of nowhere we were surprised by a record setting snowstorm for this state.  I have never experienced anything like this before and even a couple days later I still find myself looking at what happened in disbelief and exhausted at times both mentally and physically.  I am absolutely sure anyone that is taking care of animals understands what I mean.  I have learned a few things this weekend and the days following that I wanted to share in my  world of horse boarding and how it affected not only me but my boarders, neighbors and friends that own horses. 

You never know how you are going to handle a snow emergency until it happens and even then you may find yourself second-guessing many decisions especially if it has to do with your clients and their horses.  Taking care of other people's horses will have some added stress at times especially when an emergency comes.  I found myself in uncharted territory this last weekend when Blizzard Evelyn arrived.  As the snow and wind became increasing strong it was an easy decision to make sure all the horses were inside the barns.  Our farm is out in the open and the winds can be terrible and we tend to get huge drifts that make it impossible to get through with any vehicle or  4-wheeler.  The beginning of the storm was I must admit fun and exciting.  Like everyone else, it gave us permission to have a much needed day or two off from regular work and even allow us to be lazy in our homes with family.  I took full advantage of those parts of it.  I still had to do the chores with my husband and out we would go to feed and water the horses in both barns and make sure they were all doing good.  The barns were very quiet and the horses were very well behaved.   I thought to myself, "This isn't so bad" in the beginning.  Then the snow kept coming and things began to deteriorate and the real work was clearly ahead for me and especially for my husband.  

By the end of Saturday things started to become bad and I was becoming stressed with decisions I needed to make fast.  The snow was so high and the drifts so big and boarders were getting stuck in our driveway.  I was going to have tell our boarders not to come to the barn which I have never done in all the years we have been open for a storm.  I was communicating by emails and letting my clients know what was happening here and that their horses were fine.  I finally made the decision to close the barn and ask our boarders to please stay home unless they could walk in. No vehicles would be allowed.  You wouldn't think that would be a hard thing for me to do but I must admit it wasn't easy.  I don't even know why it was difficult after all, I have been doing this job for a long time, but I guess for me, I didn't want to disappoint people and I knew it would disappoint some of them.  

The storm ended by the second day and when we got a clear view of all the snow that was dumped, it was truly mind boggling.  How could this happen in April?  What was coming next was the clean-up and along with every other person in this beautiful state, the hard work was just about to begin.  The last two days have been exhausting for me but much more for my husband (along with so many other people on farms) as he tries to put a dent in all the snow that needs to be plowed around the building and barns while still taking care of regular chores.  

The heavy snow came with a high price for many people.  This storm brought added costs for us at our barn as we hired extra help with chores and snow plowing but that is very little compared to many people who had barns and stables where the roofs collapsed from the heavy weight of the snow.  It really hit hard when my dear neighbor's roof collapsed at her barn.  Thank goodness no one was hurt and the horses are okay but when I went to see her I could see the heartache and exhaustion in her eyes.  I truly ached for her and the work she had ahead.  I along with many other barn owners I am sure have worried over these last few days if their barn would also have issues and damage due to the heavy weight of all the snow.  It is a very real concern and worry and I know we found ourselves checking our barn for any signs of a possible roof collapse. It is truly a scary thing and with other people's horses it can increase the stress.  This is something I had never experienced before as well as many other barn owners. 

It is very easy for people who have never experienced a true snow emergency and running a business to be quick to judge (and even add their opinions) what a barn owner or barn manager should do for the barn and horses as a whole but you need to stand strong and follow your heart in your decisions for your business.  

I have learned a few new things about this snow emergency along with other tips that I wanted to share. 

  • It is okay to close your business during an emergency. It may seem uncomfortable telling your boarders to stay home but it is okay if you need to do that.   

  • I have come to realize through the years that with weather emergencies will come many extra costs and you should make sure you have an emergency fund because it can get expensive very quickly as you try to clean up and repair the damage. 

  • Keep a generator on hand especially with animals because if the power goes out you want to make sure you can get water to them and have light. 

  • Communication is huge!  With email it is so easy to keep your boarders updated on what is happening at your barn if you have closed the barn.  The more you communicate the more they will relax.  It can be equally stressful for some of them. 

  • It will be an emotional roller  coaster.  You will go from excited and even happy because life has slowed down  and you can even rest as you wait out the storm to assessing the damage and becoming overwhelmed at the clean-up. You could find yourself becoming exhausted and that is when the tears may flow as they did for me. 

  • Not all your clients will be happy with all the decisions you make at your barn and it is okay.  Keep doing what you need to get done and things will usually work themselves out during this stressful time.  Don't give into pressure to do things you don't want to do.  Emergencies come with added stress and the best thing you can do, is to do what is best for your barn at the time.  

Hindsight is always 20/20! It is normal to look back and wish we would have done some things different and that includes our attitudes.  I learned a lot about myself with this blizzard and when the stress level is high it is easy to be short-tempered when it seems people don't understand  what you are going through.  If you are feeling this way, take a moment to rest and breathe.  Don't become overwhelmed by people or the clean-up job ahead.  It will all come together and if I can say one positive thing about having a record-setting blizzard in April, it would be that at least we all know that warmer days are just around the corner here in Wisconsin and that makes it a little easier to take.  

To all my friends who are taking care of horses, I pray your barns and horses are safe and the clean-up goes smoothly.  Just remember we are all in this together and we are here to support each other in this chosen career we have with horses and running a business.  It's not easy at times but we will get through this.  

Side note- cover image is a friend of mine at her barn.  Love the smile Kari!!  Also a huge thank you to my boarders for being understanding and supportive during this time.  

Wishing you many blessings in your horse business,  ​Sheri Grunska

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