Let me start by saying I’m not a rider (the picture didn’t tip you off, right?) but I am an enthusiast in other pursuits. I build motorcycles and spend an inordinate amount of time with my dogs. Building bikes has shown me the amount of money you can justify spending on gear when your heart is in it. My time with my dogs has given me a firm grasp on the level of satisfaction, love and respect you can share with an animal when you’re working together. My coworkers at SmartPak take all of this to the next level. When we say we’re enthusiastic, trust me, we mean it.
So, with that in mind, when I was approached to tag along and film the Stuff Riders Say video I was immediately excited to be a part of something so fun, and also get some first hand barn time.
Valinor Farm is an awesome facility, it’s clean, well organized and inviting. On top of that, there were the barn dogs, Zion (a Beagle-Lab mix who reminded me of my own dogs) and a gorgeous German Shepard named Lexi. Both of them were super mellow (until their owner Erin came in to receive a super-excited welcome). All of this added up to me being very comfortable very quickly.
I have learned a lot of horse-centric lingo in the SmartPak office, but never had any context to how it worked in the real world. And for those who don’t know, I’m generally louder than those around me. Once I realized how much terminology I knew (again, with no frame of reference) I asked more questions than I probably should have.
“So, how many hands is this horse?” (I can’t convey in words my pride in knowing the term ‘hands’)
“What is this weird table for?”
“Do horses like to jump over stuff?”
“Where do the horses sleep?”
“How much does this horse eat?”
“Is this a giant barrel of poop over here?”
Luckily for me, everyone at Valinor Farms was feeling extra patient, even in the freezing cold. The answers I got were excited and engaged, little did they know that just gave me the courage to ask more questions. I took my next set of questions indoors.
I regularly design parts of the SmartPak site that deal with tack. When I research them, I look at photography or product samples, but to see them in a tack room at an active barn is a very different experience. There are some things you can’t really get from a sample, the smell of the broken-in leather, the way the buckles sound when you take it off of the wall, the time people take to make sure everything is just right. It was really impressive to see the gear around the saddles as well, from the saddle pads to the coolers, everything had its place and was moved with such care.
Seeing the horses that had just been ridden, literally steaming in the cold air, and the sense of accomplishment around them, was very cool. Getting to use a curry comb and brush on Carpe Diem (the horse with a thing about his ears) made me feel tiny. That level of connection, the trust and understanding of such a massive animal was astounding.
When I first read the script for the video, I’ll admit I didn’t get the jokes. I thought maybe one of them might be worthy of a nose-laugh. After spending half of my day at the barn, around the people who live for this, after digesting the culture and understanding the commitment and sense of pride, I laughed at every joke.