Why does leaving children in a barn full of half-ton animals seem so much safer than leaving them home alone or dropping them off at the mall? That’s the question that kick-started Stacie Rosenblatt’s exploration of barn culture.
Photo: Stanhope Stables
Driving a 12-year-old back to my house from the barn where her mother waited for her (shorter drive for mom that way) I was clued into another seemingly sport specific facet of the horse world. Coming up in casual conversation was that her mom had left her home alone at some age that made my raise my eyebrows (just a bit, not a lot). I told her to not tell anyone else that one, with a short laugh, and then realized that I don’t find anything odd about leaving a kid at a barn without a specific person watching them, but home alone, well that made a face akin to an emoticon (the 😮 one if you were wondering) grace my features.
My mother—who I will admit was fully aware of the consequences of leaving me, her clumsy, opinionated, always-thought-she-was-right daughter being alone anywhere, left me at a barn (always making sure people knew I was there) with friends, younger than she would have left me at a mall. I will also go out a limb and say that barns have fewer strangers, highways, and opportunities to spend money I shouldn’t have, than malls, but also have—well, horses, which are at least as unpredictable as strangers.
Why is this okay?
I think it comes down to barn-culture. There is an intense sort of bond between riders (even those that don’t like one another) that says, I have to make sure I do my best to keep you from getting hurt. It’s what makes us stop and tell someone “I don’t think that’s a good idea” when we see a small kid getting on a green horse by themselves, when we probably wouldn’t if we saw them getting on a skateboard we thought they might fall off of. Horse people walk over and hold the opposite stirrup of someone getting on without really asking if they need help, and we accept it with a small smile of I didn’t need that, I could have done it on my own, you really shouldn’t have done that without asking—thank you.
A family friend of mine has a disabled daughter who has a hard time communicating with a heavy speech impediment and is developmentally delayed. She’s playing with the idea of moving the girl from a disabled riding program centered barn to a public one with an aid going with her. She asked me if I thought people would accept her, and I said of course—she wasn’t convinced, and I told her she didn’t spend enough time at barns. Kids that would be bullied other places are systematically asked how their pony was today—whether or not the asker gives a damn about the answer, bridles are put on cranky horses for beginners who just can’t reach their noses, and halters are put on bridle hooks and off the floor no matter whose they are just because you walked by.
When I was barely a double-digit-aged kid my mother left me with an instructor, a good friend, and a small horse I didn’t own but said I did, at a barn, and knew I would come back safe, sound, and maybe a little bruised up. That’s just how it was, we ran down trails, and up to the picnic tables, and down to the ring where we got yelled at for running around the horses, and no one said a thing was wrong with it, though we got told we did a lot of things wrong depending on our sugar intake.
I’ve also noticed that in a world where people get yelled at by parents for telling a child that isn’t theirs to stop touching them, no one really yells at anyone for being mother to a hoard of barn kids whose names they barely know. Maybe it is because there are animals involved that could break toes, and ruin clothes without ill intention, or because a good three-forths of horses-moms are not horse-people. All I can say on it, though, is that I have never purposely kept track of a child, but when a mother asks me if I have seen them, I always know where they are, and I think most of the barn does too, and not just because they are loud.
I don’t think this is just my home barn, which is, for a shameless plug, Stanhope Stables on Long Island, New York, but all barns. There is something about horse people that makes them able to snicker, whisper, and ask why the hell that girl on that pony is winning everything because she rides as stiff as an 80-year-old man, and then walk over, help that girl up and tell her to make sure she tries again if she falls. We are the most heartless people I’d ever leave my (theoretical!!) kid alone with.
Stacie is a 23-year-old veterinary assistant and grad student. She used to ride in trying-to-get-out-of-showing-