Stalling in the barn
Everybody needs an escape. My daughter has a swing set with a lookout tower, a place where she can pretend to be Rapunzel waiting for her prince. My husband has a workshop where he can putter, dream and channel DIY icon Bob Vila. And I have the barn.
When I was a kid, the horse barn was my escape, my hideout, my home away from home. So while other teens whiled away the hours lifting weights and running, listening to music in their bedrooms, or driving around for hours in their cars, I was at peace amongst the bales of hay and pine shavings.
I remember as a kid judging people according to how comfortable they were in and around a barn. If they pulled their coats tight around them, jammed their hands into their pockets to keep them clean, or — heaven forbid — crinkled a nose or complained of the smell, they were relegated to the scrap heap. Love me, love my barn.
They say the more people change, the more they stay the same. And for me, my love of the barn has never waned. In fact, I’d forgotten just how much I missed it until we got a pony a little more than a year ago.
The arrival of Teddy, a 31-year-old bay, meant barn chores. I’m not going to lie: the thought of carrying water buckets, tossing bales and shoveling stalls was a little intimidating at first. After all, I’m not 16 anymore. So now that I have reached (OK, passed) middle age, would I still have what it takes?
Fortunately, the answer was yes. And not only are the chores still do-able, they are a pleasure and an escape, even in sub-zero temperatures. The barn, once again, is my haven. I love it out there, and the sounds, the sights and the smells all remind me of a happy childhood spent mostly around ponies and horses.
To me, our old barn is beautiful, day and night. In the morning, the sun streams in, casting long shadows, illuminating a stray cobweb here and there, and lighting up the beams and six-paned windows. After dark, it’s a cozy retreat from the elements — a safe and welcoming place with overhead lights casting a warm glow on rustling hay, plentiful grain and fragrant peppermint candies — Teddy’s favorite.
Time stands still in the barn, at least in my mind. And yes, this can be a problem, particularly when it is a work day. I go out in the morning to feed my daughter’s noble steed. (Why am I doing the chores, and not my daughter, one might ask? She’s 6, so she helps, but it usually falls on the grownups. And, in case you haven’t figured it out, right or wrong I want to do it — alone.)
On wintry school days, I feed young Elizabeth and then don my barn coat, boots, hat, and gloves. I am lucky that our barn is attached to the house, so getting there really couldn’t be easier. In fact, some mornings I just wear my slippers and pjs and hope for the best.
In the barn, Teddy is ready and waiting for his morning or evening meal. At the first sound of my footsteps he gives a low nicker or a high-pitched whinny, depending on how hungry he is and how long he’s been waiting. I get a nuzzle and before I can get to the grain bin he already is pawing the floor of his box stall impatiently. It’s his way of saying, “Faster, faster! Can’t you see I’m starving?! I’ve gone a full 12 hours without grain.”
Once the grain is in his bucket, however, he is all business. I no longer exist. His head is buried in the feed bag and visiting hours have ended, just like that.
This is the part that can make or break me. The only things I really need to do is toss him some hay, fill his water bucket and make sure the stall is clean. Then I really should dash back to the house, pack lunches, shower and get my daughter to the bus stop.
But my tendency is to want to stall around the stall, if you’ll pardon the expression. I can find a million reasons to stay in the barn. Even if his bedding is clean and dry, which it often is (he spends most of his time outside, by choice), there are countless imagined projects to be done. Pine shavings can be inspected and rearranged with the shovel and manure fork, his glossy black mane and tail need brushing (and braiding?), dainty hooves should be picked out, and that shaggy coat really needs a good currying, I tell myself.
And there’s the rub. I’ll admit it: I’m playing. I might as well be holding a Barbie doll in one hand and a Breyer model horse in the other, pretending they are galloping down a racetrack or flying in the clouds. I am still a horse-crazy 10-year-old girl, only now I’m in a grown-up’s body.
And so I putter. It’s a meditation of sorts. The barn is quiet and warm. The sound of Teddy munching and grinding his grain mesmerizes me. It lulls and takes me back to that fond place of my youth where time had no meaning in the barn. I could stay all day, grooming, riding, cleaning tack, lazing around the hayloft, sitting in the grass with my friends and their ponies, and doing whatever occurred to me next. It was a carefree time, and even if something was wrong — even drastically wrong — the barn represented a huge, safe haven and the horses were our therapists.
In the past year, there have been a few mornings when I’ve awakened with a headache and dragged myself out to the barn, fearing I was going to spend the day with a migraine. But by the time I left 20 minutes later, I was cured. How is that possible? Was it the exercise, the fresh air, the relaxation, or seeing my therapist? I have no answer for that. Maybe all of the above. All I know is the barn is my retreat. So if you ever call my house or knock on the door and I don’t answer — and you know I’m home because you see my car in the driveway — try the barn. I’m meditating.
And the beat goes on.