When my grandparents introduced the idea of giving me a horse of my own, I tried to work out a negotiation. My Papa had just informed me of the fact that if I had a horse, I would be responsible for feeding it, exercising it, mucking its stall, and all of the other chores that mark the life of an equestrian.
“Well, Papa,” I began in my best grown-up voice, “I was thinking that I would be the trainer, you know? So I’d get to work and train the horses, and you’d get to do the feeding and mucking stalls and stuff.”
As amused as my Nana and Papa were by this proposition, they didn’t give it too much consideration. For the last fourteen years of my life, I have been a proud and happy stall-mucker. It didn’t take long for me to get into the routine of rising before the sun every morning, throwing on a pair of boots and a jacket, and making my way groggily out to the barn.
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The barn has been standing in our backyard for so long that I can’t even remember what the property looked like without it. It was built by my Papa and some of his friends when I was just a baby, and though it’s needed a few touch-ups and repairs over the years, it is still the same familiar, welcoming place in which I spent so much of my childhood.
In much the same way as the rest of my home, little remnants of my Papa’s life are everywhere in the barn. Though he passed away nine years ago, I can almost see his face every time I go up and down the stairs to the hayloft. The stairs are a result of his handiwork, and the cause of many twisted ankles and “close calls” of falling down the stairs. They begin with four steps, then a little landing, then a longer set of steps perpendicular to the first set. The problem is that the first set of steps are awkwardly close together, like they were built for a small child or perhaps a midget. The second set of stairs is quite the opposite, with so much space between each stair that you have to lift your knees up to your chest to ascend them.
“Gives ‘em character,” my Papa used to say when Nana or I would complain about his carpentry. Of course, whenever he had to use the stairs himself, each step was accompanied by a colorful slew of curses. I learned a new variety of vocabulary during my time spent at the barn- a hearty mix of “horse lingo” and swears.
Of course, this wasn’t the only thing that I learned, growing up as a “horse kid.” I was actually intimidated by horses when I was younger. The sheer size of them made me a little uneasy. Now I’m the type of person who looks at the largest of draft horses and proclaims, “Well aren’t you just adorable!” When I began my responsibilities as a “horse owner,” I thought that horse manure was disgusting, and 5am seemed like an absurd time for any creature to need food, horse or not. However, it wasn’t long before hungry horse whinnies became my favorite kind of good-mornings, and I discovered that nothing could cheer me up like a fuzzy pony kiss. Cleaning several stalls wasn’t nearly such a chore as cleaning my own bedroom, and tiny hooves against the concrete barn floor produced a more beautiful sound than any music I had ever heard.
The only thing that’s changed about my barn since then are the horses who reside in it. The barn currently houses four horses, one of which is mine. However, we have had as many as seven horses at one time. My Nana has been known to convert the tack room to a horse stall to accommodate her collection of horses (“A tack room is a luxury; it’s just as easy to keep the tack on the porch and put a horse in there!”). By my count, we have had somewhere between fifteen and twenty horses over the years, each of whom has contributed to the barn in some way. Back when we had our first pregnant mare, we decided that we needed a foaling stall and some sort of a system to monitor it. To this day, one of our stalls remains noticeably larger than the rest of them, and there is a video camera that looks into the stall and hooks up to our TV. We had a stallion who liked to rear up and show off for the mares in the barn, and we were afraid that he would get himself stuck over the door. Though we haven’t had a stallion in several years now, there remains a set of bars that can be put into place above the stall door, just as a precaution.
Even more than each horse has made an impact on the barn, the barn has made an impact on me. I value things differently because of the time that I’ve spent at the barn, and have learned to appreciate the small things in life. Being an equestrian has taught me to think on my feet, be adaptable, have patience, and go after what I want in life. I have gained a sense of leadership, confidence, and good old-fashioned common sense that I don’t think I could have achieved anywhere else.
The barn has stood strong against wind, rain, sun, and snow for as long as I can remember. Within those walls, it houses not just four horses, but my life story. Bits of my history are scattered about like dandelion seeds in the wind. Pieces of who I am can be found lying in the bottom of the brush bucket, nestled between bales of hay, entwined into a horse’s mane. The barn represents my past, encompasses my present, and is something that I hope will remain forever in my future.