Christine: A barn doesn’t have to be fancy to be perfect. This episode of Barn Stories is a tribute to a humble structure that safeguarded one woman’s horses and happiness for years.
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Laurie: Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I'm Laurie Prinz, editor of EQUUS magazine.
Christine: And I'm managing editor, Christine Barakat.
Laurie: This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.
Christine: We've searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you're new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share.
Christine: A barn is more than a place keep horses and hay. For many horsey people—probably most of us—the barn is our happy place, where our hearts are full and our minds at peace. It’s no surprise, then, how much this story resonated with our readers when it initially ran in our print publication. Whether your barn is a fancy facility, decked out with heated wash racks and automatic waterers, or a simple structure with dirt floors and no electricity, it’s probably as significant a place to you as your home.
Laurie: In this story, a woman shares the history of the little barn in her backyard—how she and her husband designed, built and then enjoyed it for years. But her story is more than a description of the building process. It’s a loving tribute to the lives that were centered around that space. Her descriptions of evenings spent on the barn porch with her husband evoke the same feeling of contentment that her horses must have had while tucked into the familiar space on winter evenings, munching on hay.
Christine: Maybe you’ll listen to this episode as you drive to your own barn. If you do, take a moment once you get there to look around and appreciate what it means to you, as well as your horse. Let’s listen to “My Little Barn,” written by Tammalene Mitman and read by Taylor Autumn.
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Taylor Autumn, reader: Our farm is on the market. I’ve accepted an offer. When your spouse passes away, when you keep your horses at home, when you know you can’t handle your three-acre farm alone, that’s what you do. You sell.
It’s hard. I’m sitting on the barn porch this fine June evening, laptop resting on my thighs. The setting sun warms my side. The paddock lies before me, green grass cropped golf-course short. A bed of daylilies, their budded stems reaching for the sky, lies between the edge of the porch floor and the threeboard fence rimming the paddock. To my left, a wood thrush sings from the tree line on the far side of the property; a mourning dove calls from the apple trees to my right.
Casco Bay, our 25-year-old Arabian gelding, and his 26-year-old sidekick, a Shetland pony named Chewbacca, are grazing with single-minded focus, having just been turned out for their evening repast.
I will miss all of this, but perhaps none as much as I will the barn. It’s not fancy, our little barn. It lacks electricity and running water. It doesn’t have a tack room or feed room or a wash stall. Once the sale of this property is closed, the boys will probably be boarded at a barn with all of that stuff, and maybe brass finials on the stall doors, too.
Despite those bells and whistles, I worry about how my old geldings are going to cope with the loss of what they have here. Here, they can look out at the world from their stalls. They always have fresh air. On winter days they are protected from cold winds and bathed in the sun. In the summer, they have deep shade, away from bugs. When one of them is sick and confined to his stall, his free-roaming buddy can come and visit.
The little barn has done all that. We built it ourselves, 18 years ago. In our corner of the country, board rates of $1,000 per month are common. When my husband, Jon, and I settled here, we couldn’t afford to board two horses. Instead, we bought an antique house (for him) on a small piece of land suitable for horses (for me).
Our three acres lacked fencing and a stable. Our bank account was lacking, too. So together we designed a simple pole barn. We sited it with the help of a surveyor, pushed our plan through the town zoning board and secured a building permit. We hired a landscaper to prepare the site and a barn builder to erect the frame and nail down the loft floor and roof decking.
The plan called for a three-walled structure, open to the south. There would be two 12- by 12-foot box stalls to the north, a 12- by 24-foot run-in to the south, a hayloft above and a 24- by eight-foot porch outside the west wall (for us, to watch the sunset).
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Taylor Autumn, reader: The frame was so beautiful to us, just by itself, that it seemed a pity to enclose it with walls. The first job, though, was to give it a waterproof roof. Jon was a newspaper editor by trade, but his hobby was restoring old houses. He was handy. Up we went to that sloping roof, hot sun shining down on our backs and the smell of pine planks, tarpaper and shingles rising up. It was my first roofing job, and Jon taught me how to lay a straight row and properly nail it down.
Once the roof was on, we (well, mostly Jon) sheathed the exterior walls with one-inch-thick rough pine boards, bought from a local lumber mill. Then he created the interior stall walls using two-inch-thick boards from the same mill.
We’d confer. I’ve worked in many barns, but I’d never built one before, nor had he. So when one wall was to join another, or a door to a wall, or a wall to a window, we’d talk through the possibilities—the best way to build strong joints, avoid sharp edges, leave enough room. It was fun, joyful even, working together to prepare our boys’ new home.
Once the fence was complete (a three-board fence of red oak on pressure-treated posts), we were ready for the boys to move in. They’ve lived here safely ever since.
Of course, we have had our share of troubles here. Chewbacca endured recurring laminitis attacks that kept him stall-bound for weeks at a time. Throughout the pony’s convalescence, Casco Bay went out in the field each day as usual, often returning to visit his pal. The pony is healthy now—there he is, trotting across the field.
Winters can be challenging here in the northwest corner of Connecticut. On a Saturday morning last season, the porch thermometer read 18 below. For the first time, the boys wore blankets in their stalls. One particularly robust storm a number of years ago blanketed the farm in three feet of snow. The drift was even deeper at the edge of the run-in. We had a lot of shoveling ahead, so when I turned the boys out that morning, I just dropped hay from the loft above straight down onto the white stuff. Casco Bay and Chewbacca walked out and ate as if from a table.
Our simple little barn has protected Casco Bay and Chewbacca through the heat and the cold in illness and in health, but it has also provided my husband and me with a quiet and beautiful haven—the porch.
Although we designed the roofline to encompass a porch on the west side of the barn, we didn’t build the floor for many years. We were just too busy, with jobs and chores and other projects. The space was used for storage, first for excess lumber from our various projects, then for lawnmowers and other equipment.
Then, for my 50th birthday, my family came to celebrate, and with the help of my brothers, Jon put down the mahogany plank floor. That night, we sat out on our new porch and took in the sunset. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.
That’s where I’m sitting tonight, as I finish this little story. And this is where, on a beautiful Sunday morning about a year ago, a few days before I lost him, my husband and I played our last game of cribbage, cups of coffee at hand, smiles on our faces—a game he won.
Yep, our simple little barn did just about everything for us.
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