It should come as no surprise that horses don’t care that much about COVID-19. While the world outside the farm is changing in unimaginable ways, life here at SAFE remains pretty much the same. The horses go about their day as they always have, with certain expectations firmly in place: They will get fed at every feeding time. Their stalls and paddocks will be picked daily without fail. Water troughs will be clean and full. If they need to see the vet, the vet will come. The horses don’t need to remind us that our services to them are absolutely “essential.” They know, and they know we know. End of story.
Right this moment, residents of the state of Washington have been ordered by the governor to shelter in place. Officially, this order went into effect late yesterday, March 25, 2020. But in truth, we’ve been preparing for this for the past several weeks. We started by defining policies and procedures here at the farm to prevent the spread of the virus. We asked volunteers to stay home if they or anyone in their household were exposed to the virus or experiencing any flu symptoms. Those who chose to continue volunteering were asked to maintain their personal space, wash hands frequently, and sanitize their tools before and after use. Like in workplaces across the county, a culture of caution was born here at SAFE.
When Washington’s Shelter-In-Place order was released, we made note of the fact that providing care to animals was included under “essential services and activities” permitted during the crisis. But in anticipation that more of our volunteers may feel more comfortable staying home during this time, we made some adjustments at the farm so we can operate with fewer helpers. The biggest change was our decision to leave all the horses outside in the paddocks 24/7, rather than bringing them into their stalls at night. We’ve got enough all-weather turnout space here at Safe Harbor Stables that all the horses can live outdoors in paddocks with shelters and slow feeders. This save us having to bring horses in and out every day, and cleaning paddocks is much easier than cleaning stalls. The horses sure don’t mind be out with their friends all day and all night, just as long as we get their hay out fast enough in the morning!
The bottom line is this: SAFE has been preparing for an emergency like this one for several years, so we feel we’re as ready as we can be to weather the storm and keep ourselves going. We are not worried about how we’re going to buy hay or pay our bills, even if donations slow down for a while. We’re not laying off staff members, and we’re keeping everyone busy and engaged whether they’re working from home or out at the farm. We can operate successfully with fewer volunteers if that becomes necessary, but we can also offer our volunteers an opportunity to get outdoors and get some exercise out here at the farm. In times when people feel locked down and isolated, it’s good to be able to get out and do something for the more vulnerable beings around us. The horses may not know what’s going on in the world, but they always know when they’re being treated well and cared for. That kind of positive energy can go a long way to making all of us feel better.