More Than a Hay Loft

By definition, it’s the place you store your hay. In practice, it’s so, so much more. In our “More Than” series, we’re taking a more meaningful look at aspects of our horse life.

Jeffrey Montes/Flickr/CC

Flickr/Jeffrey Montes/CC

It’s more than a hay loft.

When you were little, just a baby barn rat learning the ropes, it was an uncharted frontier: a great cathedral with bare rafters exposed, the ceiling so high over your head it almost seemed to fade away into shadows. The stacks of hay stretched like skyscrapers, and when you could steal a few minutes with your friends you’d run wild, leaping from stack to stack like mountain goats, your fingers clutching at the strings and your knees rubbed raw. You’d come home with loose hay twisted into your hair, filling your pockets, buried down deep in your boots, your eyes alight.

As you grew older, with all your spare hours spent at the barn, the loft became a sanctuary, the place you’d meet your best barn friend and whisper your secrets. You hid evidence there of your mistakes: the pitchfork tines you snapped off, the polo wrap whose Velcro ripped off in your hands, the reins that broke when you weren’t paying attention and let your lesson horse step on them. When you were finally allowed the sacred task of throwing down the hay to the barn floor below, you made the most of it, emphasizing the importance of safety by shrieking “heads up!” for each and every bale that wiggled crookedly through the hole. That was the best part of throwing hay — letting everyone know that it was you who got the plum job up in the loft.

Your first job was as a working student at the barn, and the loft became a refuge — you’d take your lunch up there when you needed a moment or two of quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the barn below, the constant flow of activity. You shed a tear or two in the hay loft, like when you had the worst lesson of your life, or your best friend started to succeed at the level where you failed. Or maybe when your life outside the barn was too big, your first boyfriend or girlfriend broke your teenage heart, you failed an exam, you didn’t get into the college of your dreams. When the first lesson pony you ever rode had to be put down after hours of walking with colic, you watched through a knothole in the wall from the highest stack in the loft and wept. Everyone let you be.

You went away to college or your first big-time position at a major barn, and when you came back the loft seemed a bit diminished, smaller than you remember. You’ll tell everyone that will listen how awesome your new barn is, the fancy horses you get to ride, the shows you go to, but you’ll also sneak up to the loft when you think no one’s paying attention and inhale, just to smell that sweet scent of good hay, the scent of your second home at the barn, that smell that takes you back in just one breath to all those childhood days spent in this, your kingdom.

And when you’ve gotten your own place at last, be it an old barn full of history, a fancy modern equestrian center or a little backyard farmstead with just a couple of stalls, you stand in the loft as loose bits of hay and dust swirl and settle around you, the grind of the hay elevator finally silenced, the last bale in place. Your loft is full with the hay you so carefully put up, whether you shopped for the best you could find or spent long hours out in the field on your own equipment. As you catch your breath and let the sweat drip down your face, you look around you at this cathedral-like space, the rafters exposed, the light filtering through the window. The hay stack around you are a reminder that you’ve made it, you’ve filled your barn with feed for the horses you love that depend on you, that a lifetime of devotion has come together for this one moment of peace and satisfaction.

It’s more than a hay loft.

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