Equestrian Farms Rebuild a Broken Mind and a Fractured Heart

The need for an open mind and welcoming thoughts is great when walking into any type
of barn. If one walks into a barn with a mindset that is trapped and fixed, they are only going to notice the things they want to notice. They will not see what makes barns special places for the people in them or understand the reasons why these barns are so loved. If one thinks a barn is going to be dirty, then it’s going to be dirty. However, if one does not have premade notions before they enter, they may see the beautiful wonders I see. They may get a glimpse of how barns have altered who I am, and how barns in Hadley and Acton have taught me how to love and take care of myself. But for those things to be seen, a mind has to be kept open and ready for any situation ahead of them.

Some people will walk into a beautifully renovated barn and think, wow, everyone who boards here must be rich, arrogant “equestrians”. If that were the case, I would have walked right out. I would not have explored the dusty tack room up the still creaky stairs or the small office, with a window so large it does not seem to actually fit the wall, in which the atmosphere is warm and friendly with a hint of sophistication. If these people thought they were truly above the world, I would have turned around and never looked back. I would never have wanted to interact with riders who looked down upon me because I was inexperienced or be viewed as one of those ‘arrogant equestrians’ because of their upscale barn. Yet, what I saw were people who cared deeply for their horses and built strong relationships with them. I had always assumed that animals just lived in a cold and musty barn, but fortunately I was wrong and developed relationships of my own.

Acton is the home of a renowned dressage barn, and though it is not where I reside or come from, it is still a place very close to my heart. In this barn, only I can see the stains where tears dripped as Jigger was put down. Only I notice the small cracks in the arena mirror when Saphron threw Sally off and the steps I climbed to reach the saddle for my first ride. Others may be enamored by the intricate lights hanging over each horse stall or the ribbons on display showing only the prestige of the riders’ discipline. When I see the lights I notice the way they illuminate each horse and when I glance at the ribbons nailed to the wall I see each riders’ dedication. I look at them and they remind me of the kind of person I strive to be: persistent until I achieve my goals. I’ve reached my own goals of gaining self worth and understanding how to cope with things in a way that’s healthy and not destructive. It’s taken awhile, but my persistence and determination have gotten me there. I had heard about this barn in November of 2014 from a friend who suffered from mental illnesses similar to mine at the time. She said it had helped her and I told my mother, who then brought me to meet the barn owner, Jane, and the both of us thought it would be a wonderful idea to ride horses.

In this barn, I would learn about connections, boundaries, and esteem through the silent communication between a rider and horse. My journey began with a rescue thoroughbred, Tucker, and I rode him constantly. He was the one I had learned to communicate better with, but when I first met Tucker, he was stubborn and lazy; I had to show him what I wanted with my body movements while riding to tell him what I wanted him to do, as if I didn’t, he would do as he pleased. When we fell into one rhythm together, I was finally able to understand the importance of expressing my thoughts. I would relax and so would he. This way, he also taught me how to cope when I was tense and afraid. He caused me to be open and let my feelings out when I wanted to keep them locked up inside. We were beautiful together when we rode as one being.One day his owner decided to take him away. I never knew why and it was agonizing to say goodbye before I left for school. When I brought him back to the grazing field, we stood next to each other and he let me twist his knotted mane through my fingers. I gave him one last hug, allowing the warmth and love of his body to flood my own. In that field, unaware of what was going to happen, I gave him a soft kiss on the nose and told him he was the one I had grown to love. Saying goodbye was hard. This wasn’t simply because of my love for Tucker; it was because I was parting with the creature who had taught me how to speak again. I was cutting away a part of myself, the part of myself that was broken and never knew how to cope. I was leaving the destructive part with Tucker, the piece of me that had hurt myself and didn’t stop until he had taught me how to. Saying goodbye to him in that field was saying goodbye to the girl who ran away from her problems and fears and it hurt.

This barn was the first place I had to acknowledge my problems. Though I see the barn as a place to escape from the harsh world around me, I do not necessarily use it as one. Walking through the barn, I am able to compare it to myself. When workers are cleaning and tending to the horses, it makes me realize I need to take care of myself to keep a healthy state; the barn cannot run without people to maintain it and I cannot function without putting myself first sometimes. When the pathways are dusty they remind me of how I let my mind cloud sometimes and I need to clear it up so the reasonable thoughts can get through. Then there is the beauty of the barn. The beauty of riders and their horses dancing along to music in a freestyle. What I’ve always seen as ugly and horrid in the mirror was just like the dusty floors- a clouded view, yet this beauty of the barn has allowed me to realize there’s also beauty in myself.

Some people will walk into a barn that looks as if it’s on the brink of death and say to themselves, these people clearly don’t have money. I can’t believe they even own this place! If I continued to think disdainful thoughts towards the barn, as I originally had, I would be just like all of the other prejudicial people I deplore. But in having even a single faulty thought of the old barn, I had become one of those people. I had, in that moment, established a connection between themselves and me. The same people who disapprove and judge a barn based on its exterior solely are the ones who have not gotten the chance to see what its entirety is surprisingly about.

In Hadley, what people perceive is a barn barely salvaged or horses too stubborn and old to ride. I began riding here in the fall of freshman year. My first ride here took place in its indoor arena, which looks corporate at a glance, but I recall the time a horse threw me off and broke my back. He was the first horse I had ridden at Hadley and I had grown very fond of him. After every lesson I would thank him for letting me ride. He knew how to calm me down by leaning his head on my shoulder and though he was certainly not the easiest horse to catch, it was these times I knew he loved me like I loved him. When together, we spoke in head nods and whinnies, scratching, snorting and whimpers. It was a relationship I’d never had before and I felt loved. Sadly, he had lost my trust, but it’s making its way back. The fall had broken my back, but it also broke the relationship I had with Patriot. Most people would look at him after that and add their mislead image of the barn to decide to leave and go elsewhere, but I was not going to back out because of the bad situation. Because of that experience I’m learning to trust again in a new, cautious way. I do not just accept people into my life. I take a look and analyze their actions and how they speak before I make a decision to trust them. I have to know a person first, or even a horse for that matter, before I can open up and let them into my thoughts and feelings. I cannot develop trust with someone if I think they are going to break it.

These barns and the experiences that accompanied have changed my perspective on myself and the world. I realize now I must be grateful for the things I have as they could vanish in an instant. The world can be a devastating place or one of love; It’s how you choose to see it. I discovered that I have more love, forgiveness, and empathy in me than anyone thought.

Horses and their homes are the same as people and theirs when a parallel is drawn between a barn world and ours. Whether each barn prompts heartache or a small loss of certainty, they are a source of comfort in the least expected place. Companionship with a horse is a special kind of relationship you cannot find anywhere but in a barn. Horses are enchanting, elegant, forgiving, and judge me for who I am in the moment, not by the mistakes I’ve made in the past. They love me not for my appearance, but for how I speak to them with a soft, loving voice and pet them gently in between the ears. This companionship I had anxiously sought for and could not find with people is what drew me to horses and the barns I now cherish and adore. A barn that is new and a barn that is old- they will enchant and alter one’s perception if a moment is taken to step inside the wooden doors with welcoming thoughts.

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