A phrase known to horsepeople throughout the centuries, 'barn blind' refers to someone's unreasoned pride in their own horse--regardless of actual condition or quality. I, however, use the term to refer to my single-minded focus that sets in when I am in the market for horse housing.
When I was a kid, sans checkbook and income, barns were simply what we had available. For most of my childhood, that was a ramshackle collection of buildings that had been added to and ostensibly enhanced over the years. No box stalls, just a couple covered sheds attached to a garage with room to store a ton of hay and some tack.
As a 6th grader, I convinced Mom that we needed a covered aisleway for grooming and tacking up (because I saw this in my magazines) and she obliged by hiring the local handyman to move a few partitions in the barn/garage and put up some cross ties. I didn't bother with the details, such as enough head space for horses: the Shetland pony fit fine, the Appaloosa was all right, but the big brown cruiser horse had to stand with his head no higher than level or risk beaning himself on a beam. No matter, I had my grooming area.
Next was a wash rack, needed in the worst sort of way according to my heroes in the magazines. This was accomplished with bricks, sand, and a little bit of cement to set the actual pipe rack into the ground, with a lot of labor from Mom and myself. Turns out that it's easier just to make a big slab instead of having to install a reluctant horse into a fitted frame at bath-time, but that's one of the things you learn by doing it wrong.
Then came the hay barn, not one of my ideas, actually. A friend and neighbor started growing hay, and, convinced of its value both nutritionally and financially, Mom decided to invest, big-time. This required constructing a building to store the stuff, ultimately twenty tons at a time. So a cement slab was poured and the corrugated roofing was attached, and suddenly we had enough hay to last our few horses almost three years.
It was fun having a big hay barn- generations of kittens were born and raised in the maze-like spaces between bales, and we certainly never had to hop in the Honda and run to the feed store for two bales of hay as in the past. But the horses and I were glad to see the last of the Great Hay Deal consumed, and go back to buying just a few tons at a time.
My next barn was a result of continued magazine reading and a bankruptcy auction. Married and far away from the family manse, I needed a place to store my three horses on the half-acre (yes, in Southern California that constitutes land) we owned. A local barn builder found himself in hot water and had to liquidate his assets, so once again the Intrepid Mom and I went in search of bargains.
We got more than we intended--enough pre-fabricated panels to build a ten-stall barn which would have covered every inch of our land. There was no roof, either, but that was a problem for later. I was able to trade off panels for transport, and ended up with a beautiful three-stalls-plus-tack-and-feed barn with a twelve foot center aisle. That aisle had lots of head room, by the way. When it was time to assemble the equine hotel, we invited friends over for an old-fashioned barn raising. This would have been more successful if a) we'd had any idea what we were doing and b) the friends weren't all engineers.
Ultimately, despite all the engineering talent involved, the barn was assembled and a roof was devised. I was away the day the roofing material was finally set in place and returned home stunned to find all the overhang was on the back side of the barn. When I asked about this seemingly obvious error, I had to duck a 22-ounce framing hammer hurled in my general direction by a very angry spouse. Maybe that's why we're not married any more.
The current barn is wonderful: smallish and easy to maintain with a wide and tall aisleway, airy large stalls with runs, a decorative cupola with weathervane on top and, that ultimate magazine-induced luxury, a hot water heater. The home rancho-a full acre which is considered vast by local standards- has enough room for a useful arena, some outside pens, a separate feed room, and even a little grazing lawn for the residents. Oh, and a house.
Our place is ideal for me and my non-engineer husband, and keeps our pets in splendor. Never mind that the barn was originally made with tiny dark stalls and a strange configuration to house llamas and a speedboat: being barn blind means being able to see what you can do with someone else's idea of a perfect barn!
? 2002 Suzanne Drnec
Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, www.hobbyhorseinc.com, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian. Comments? E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.