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The Souls A Barn Builds by Kristin Carpenter

I think there is something magical about the souls that the barn builds. While there is magic made in the saddle, and horses have dramatically altered each of us for the better over time, I like to think that just being in the barn is enough to have a positive impact on anyone.

The barn teaches all the major lessons of life within its four walls and pasture fences. It doesn’t take into account age, gender, race, education or family history. It teaches with the severity and grace of life itself.

I remember learning about hard work. Two hundred bales of hay don’t unload themselves, and the incoming rain doesn’t care that your back hurts, you haven’t eaten in 10 hours, and your hands are bleeding from blisters. If you don’t finish, you lose the hay, and you can’t afford more. That’s hard work.

I remember learning not only a respect for what real manual labor is, but also a compassion for those who perform it. The workers in the bigger barns aren’t nameless faces; they are men and women with hopes, dreams, opportunities and dead ends like the rest of us. Their backs hurt by the 50th bale, too, but they keep going. Even though I no longer do the hard labor of big barns, I will never lose the respect and compassion for those that do, and never miss an opportunity to thank them and offer a helping hand.

I remember learning the value of a dollar. My dad gave me $500 for my first horse as a Christmas/birthday present when I was 9. I bought a 9-year-old unbroken Arabian gelding, still in a field with his mother. And that was it—we didn’t have anything left over for a saddle, so I rode without one for almost a year or borrowed them graciously from friends.

I fell off 78 times in the first year. Yes, I still have my diary, and I counted. I worked off board and lessons, and saved and begged to go to an event. When I got there, I jumped out of the dressage arena and eliminated myself—my hopes and dreams and mouths full of dirt culminating in disappointed parents and a lot of money lost. My dad then told me to get a job, so I did. I designed websites for money for shows during middle school, and went halfway across the country during the summer of high school to find a working student job with a stipend. While my income as an adult is vastly different, I don’t forget the feeling of never buying anything and feeling complete, because just having the horse was enough. Just having the horse was everything.

The barn taught me perspective. When it doesn’t rain, and the pastures don’t hold up, and you can’t afford more hay, it’ll be OK. The rain will come next year, and somehow this year you will make it. It might mean a lot of hard decisions and sacrifices, but that’s life.

The barn makes for a different childhood experience. When all the other teenagers are out partying on a Saturday night, you will be lying in the bed of a truck staring at the sky. You’ll get to see stars how they are meant to be seen—by the thousands—not just the few that shine through the light pollution of the cities. You will learn peace with the silence of the outdoors, and a kind of meditation that comes from hours of manual labor with nothing but wind and animals’ breath as music.

I remember learning that life isn’t fair. I paid attention to every hair on my first horse, but I remember sitting and crying in a wash rack as my horse colicked. I stared in horror as the oil and charcoal we pumped into him spilled onto the ground, and I grappled with the fairness of life and death. When, 10 years later, I sat next to my father as he was on life support, and I decided it was best to let go and take him off the machines, I didn’t need to struggle with the existential questions of fairness. The barn had already taught me: Life isn’t fair, and neither is death.

The barn has taught me about unconditional love. The barn doesn’t care what you drove to get there, or what you are going home to. It is a haven for those who give it their all, and it will take everything you have to give. It will take your immaturity and give you discipline. It will take your excuses and give you failure. It will take your dreams and give you opportunity. But it makes no promises, picks no favorites, and spares no hardships.

The barn taught me passion. Very few people get to experience passion at its core, in the way that it is meant to be felt. Not the passion of winning—that is superficial and relative. But rather the passion that you feel when you have nothing left but your love of something. The passion that is there when exhaustion steals your strength and frustration takes your hope. When all you are left with is this very moment, and yet you are at peace and fulfilled. That is passion in its truest form, and that is what fuels us in barns, and what sneaks into the souls of children and never lets go. That passion drives the thousands of adult amateurs to work 60-hour weeks and still ride, and the professionals to lose in grand fashion but show up the next day at 5 a.m.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the side of life fueled by possessions and titles and bank account balances. It’s easy to focus on what you don’t have and who you aren’t. But the barn will teach you better. You have what you have, and it has to be enough, so make do.

The barn will build your soul, and it will give you all the gifts you need to be a good, gracious person. It is up to us to keep these things when we pass through the gate. If you related to any part of this blog, you are lucky. Many go through life never really feeling passion; they only have material possessions to try to satisfy their souls. But to the souls the barn built, life is about sitting in a warm rain on a summer day and laughing with your friends. It is about lying on the back of your horse at midnight, in a field, and staring at the stars.

I love this piece and wanted to share it.  Kristin Carpenter owns Linder Educational Coaching in Arlignton, Virginia that works mainly with teenage boys with behavioral issues.  She grew up in rural Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  There is so much truth here and the effect that hard work and animals have on the soul is immeasurable.  

Coming Together, Tootie Boudreau and Zoe

In 2010, Littleton/Conifer local Tootie Boudreau heard of a mare in one of the many barns of a wealthy Manhattan man, who was about to be put down. She had been abused by an outside trainer hired to start her. Once the farm owner found out, the trainer was fired, but the damage to Zoe was already done. People at the farm tried to work with her again, but she was deemed dangerous, unhandleable and unrideable. Tootie bought the 8 year old Registered Irish Draught for $10, now named She’s Got Game aka “Zoe”. As a trained physical therapist and experienced horse trainer in several disciplines, Tootie felt she was up to the challenge and wanted to give Zoe one last chance.

Tootie was living in Massachusetts at the time and began working diligently to gain Zoe’s trust. At times, every aspect of daily life was a challenge: trailering; housing; health issues between the both of them; ground manners and even other handlers. But all of the experiences led to the unbreakable trust that they now share. In just a couple months, Zoe and Tootie were winning ribbons in the Jumper ring and soon after in Eventing.

Zoe turned out to be a natural and effortless jumper and Tootie had the experience and talent to hold on as the horse rose up the levels in Jumping and Eventing. As some Eventer’s joke, “I’m just here for the jumps”. For Tootie and Zoe that may have been their comfort zone, but their dedication to improve in all aspects of the sport has kept them progressing in their Dressage training and scoring as well.

As a testament to the versatility of this large Irish Draught mare, while living in Pennsylvania, Tootie and Zoe won the 2013 National Old People’s Riding Club Versatility contest by scoring highest in the Dressage test and Gambler’s Choice Jumper classes, out of more than 20 total entries, plus they came in second in the western trail, barrel racing, and pole bending classes that same day. When scores were tallied for over ~150 NOPRC clubs all over the nation, Tootie and Zoe were ranked number one in Gambler’s Choice Jumpers, Dressage and then they came in 4th in pole bending and 5th in barrel racing.  All without having any experience or e exposure to the Western events prior to that show day!

After a year of living in the Eventing mecca of Pennsylvania, Tootie and Zoe moved to Colorado to be with Tootie’s boyfriend Gary in October of 2013. Also a horseman, Gary had several horses of his own at his place. At her new home in Colorado, Zoe fell into a AEC14brinkman9-26xtt-10323 (1)mysterious cycle of colic episodes and strange health issues that several local veterinarians had difficulty putting a finger on. Possibly, along with some other east coast horses moving to Colorado, Zoe may have ultimately had a hard time adjusting to the climate, elevation and fluxuating temperatures. She was endoscoped once and no ulcers were seen, but later a second scope revealed that she did have significant ulcers, which helped to explain some of the problems.

With ulcer treatment underway, Tootie came to the realization that she was just not able to ride like she needed and wanted to at home and Zoe needed her own large area with shelter and free choice hay. Tootie found just that for her and moved Zoe to Jean & Skip Boettcher’s Meadow Ridge Ranch in Conifer. Zoe and Tootie have thrived there with excellent care and a great facility that offers an indoor arena.

Moving from Pennsylvania to Colorado has presented a stark contrast in local horse cultures, but the pair had an excellent year in 2014 – coming in 2nd place at Training Level at the Colorado Horse Park August 21st -24th and receiving 2nd place for the Charles Owen Technical Merit Award for Best Cross County Rider at the FEI level event. This qualified them for the American Eventing Championships in September in Tyler, Texas. Supported by the financial help of several new friends in Colorado and old friends and family back East, Tootie and Zoe headed to Texas and finished with a top 20 placing against the best in the country, jumping clear in cross country and double clear in stadium jumping.

This past Christmas, Gary gave Tootie the book How Good Riders Get Good by Denny Emerson. The book has been revolutionary for Tootie in her riding and personal life. It has helped her see where she can improve and identifies what she already has going her way. As with many, if not all aspects of living life intentionally, riding truths intersect, compliment and are in harmony with overall life truths. A couple of significant points of emphasis have risen to the top for 2015. 1) to set specific riding goals, and 2), to find an upper level Eventing mentor. Already in place are her persistence, a supportive partner and a job that allows her the flexibility to ride and compete. Tootie works as a Physical Therapist in the Jefferson County School District and enjoys a school schedule which allows her to ride in the afternoons, during breaks and to compete in the summer months. Of course having an amazingly talented horse partner is the icing on the cake!

Zoe and Tootie are spending the winter in the indoor arena honing their Dressage skills and preparing for the 2015 Eventing season. They have set their sights on seeking out sponsorships as well. Zoe still will only accept Tootie as her rider, unless it is to take a kid out for a spin!

Tootie has 33+ years experience riding in Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation, with an extensive list of accomplishments in the show ring, but she is also a student of Monty Roberts, Clinton Anderson, John and Josh Lyons. In 2004 she was chosen to work with Monty Roberts at the Massachusetts Equine Affaire. She is also seasoned in farm management, rehabilitation, breeding, sport horse evaluations and horse sales and fitting.  Tootie can be reached at 518-312-2947 or journeysendfarm.com@gmail.com.

Shannon Brinkman Photography.