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As The Barn Turns

Posted on | September 29, 2013 | 2 Comments

ScanP.H. Garrett

I came late to the world of riding. Dragging a borrowed saddle, a history of dance injuries, sweet dreams of cowboys, and a bucket full of shiny new brushes, I claimed my own small piece of the wild west: a young golden Dun with a hay belly, a sweet eye and not much of a tail to speak of.

We were a perfect match. He was smart, well trained, a real character and considered not much of a show prospect. I was past the half-century mark and then some, had never had a riding lesson, was ignorant of most things horse, and surely not headed to the show ring anytime soon. But I was determined to be a cowgirl.

The mere thought of him, my very own horse, set my heart to racing. We were partners, he and I. And I was suddenly part of ‘a barn’. Of course I had to immediately reconfigure my mind to think barn, not stable or ranch—or, I figured, all the folks that came and went on a daily basis, comfortable in their cowgirl skins, would know how green I really was.

‘The barn’ was a mysterious new culture for me. Everyone else was confident and comfortable in the dusty barn aisles. They wore big spurs that jangled when they walked. They’d argued, given advice and helping hands, ridden together and gossiped about one another for years. They were a tight group of seasoned horsewomen. I was the new kid on the block.

I was also madly in love with my own first horse and acted the part, kissing his delicious soft muzzle, playing with his face, letting him pull my jacket zippers down, and my hats off my head. Worst of all I fed him treats from my own little fingers while he was confined in the cross-ties. Any fool could see that I was a novice.

And if that didn’t tip them off, the ongoing and endless questions that flowed from my smiling lips surely did—from the right way to pick his feet, to how tight the girth should be, to the correct way to polo wrap his legs and put on a bell boot—I had dozens of questions and I wasn’t even astride him yet.

For a long time I felt like the Special Ed kid in a mainstream classroom, but slowly, one by one the group began to thaw. I don’t know if it was my ear-to-ear grin every time I climbed into my shiny new saddle, my obvious devotion to my equine buddy, or simply relief, as my ability to function in their world slowly overtook my interminable requests for enlightenment.

I became one of the gang, cherishing that good feeling of belonging. It was especially meaningful to be at last accepted by these veteran riders, these knowledgeable horse people, winners of buckles, ribbons and saddles.

But it was both a blessing and a curse, because suddenly I was privy to the dozens of opinions about who did what to their horse or someone else’s horse, and the merits of various farriers, trainers, and vets. With 60 horses in the barn you can only imagine how hard it was to absorb all this information and keep it straight in my mind.

Of course a show barn can also be a hot bed of amazing tales, rumor and innuendo. Why, every day at least six versions of the latest gossip about ranch management might whip around the arenas like runaway horses.

Conflicting information regarding the talents of various riders can fly down barn aisles faster than the birds that live in the rafters. Ongoing chatter about this trainer and that one, whispers about who’s leaving, who was asked to go, who’s dating and or marrying whom, and why they should or shouldn’t often permeates barn activities.

Imagine my surprise when a perfectly pleasant fellow rider suddenly sidled up to me and denounced her friend who rode beautifully in the arena and took buckles at many shows, accusing her with a sneer, of holding her reins too tightly—evidently a cardinal sin.

Uproars regarding the manner in which trainers ride certain horses are quite popular. Fingers are waggled in behind-the-back blame for improper longeing techniques. Mutinous rumblings about the terrible state of stalls and squabbling about torn blankets and missing lead ropes are rampant on any given day.

Because my brain is often on overload simply trying to remember all the riding tips I get from my barn mates, and the instructions I receive from my trainer and our assistant trainer, I’m unable to do my part in the barn game of telephone. And don’t really want to. So I learned. I learned to say hi to everyone, to saddle my horse, to listen and rarely put in my two cents unless asked, to trot and lope and turn on the haunches, to be supportive of my barn mates when they ride well, and when they’re having a hard day, to lend a helping hand where I can, to blanket my horse, to keep my heels down, head up and mouth shut.

I also learned a hundred other things that make the world of riding the special place it is. But, you know, I never did learn to put my horse’s treats in a bucket, so those tongues probably wag about me too.


2 Responses to “As The Barn Turns”

  1. Elyse Gardner
    March 18th, 2014 @ 3:50 am

    Love this. 🙂 See on down the trail!

  2. Manager
    March 20th, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    Thanks. Glad you enjoyed yourself. Barn culture is fascinating.

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  • About

    My name is Patrice Garrett. I'm a writer harboring the soul of a cowgirl. I have a penchant for the Old West. I believe, as do many others, that I lived another life and experienced the California Gold Rush first hand. My first two novels reflect my connection with the era.
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