Book Review: ‘A Man Walks into a Barn’

by Chad Oldfather

The very beginning of this book — page six to be exact — starts with a funny story of a dad who takes his children to riding lessons. This book goes on to cover parenting and its challenges, life lessons, and the wonderful world of horses. Oldfather, a law professor, discusses how diving into the horse world with his children has taken him out of his comfort zone as he begins encountering and interacting with people who have different view points and socioeconomic stati than his own.

The novel is laid out in chronological order, for the most part. Oldfather discusses growing up and then moving into his role as a father. He discusses the different barns where his children took lessons, the different horses that molded them, and his daughters forming their family in to an equestrian family. Oldfather makes the statement that, “We calibrate ourselves to those around us. If I’m with a group of high achievers, I’m going to be motivated to try and keep up.” He then goes on to discuss growing up as a farmer’s son with minimal expectations, performing side jobs such as baling hay, and his schooling experiences. Being on a working farm, he interacted mostly with cows and sheep but horses were never an interest. It was a whole different learning perspective taking the girls to riding lessons and moving barns to continue their growth in the sport.

The use of humor in the book makes it fun to read. While explaining the hunter/jumper world, he tells a story about how he made a social media post about his daughters. One of his friends commented that they thought he was talking about an event that included guns and jumping on trampolines. He uses this story to dive into the different disciplines offered within English riding. Oldfather educates the reader on hunter/jumper, dressage, and eventing. He also discusses the different ranks of showing starting from schooling shows and working up to regional and national level shows.

There are so many different scenarios that Oldfather presents in this novel. One I particularly liked, as I’m currently laid up with an injury, is a memory of his children’s trainer — Bernadette. In this story, Oldfather warned his children that they may not be getting lessons for a while as Bernadette had broken her leg. To his surprise, within the week, Bernadette was instructing from her wheelchair and was soon riding on a timeline “not consistent with her doctor’s orders.”

In this book I also enjoyed a parent’s perspective on children. Oldfather does an exceptional job explaining what new parents think having children will be like versus the reality of children. He thoroughly explains with stories how each child comes with a mind of their own. Oldfather reminisces on the good and bad times during his children’s riding lessons and how it molded them as children as well as him as a parent.

Oldfather’s wisdom throughout the book is what I enjoyed most. He provides motivational feedback for the reader and encourages critical thinking. One example of this is when he makes a statement that eager advice givers are “people with limited capacity for empathy, who, as a result, are unable to appreciate that others may have different priorities and perceptions than they do.” I had never considered this but, in every example I have applied it, he is correct.

One last part of this book I enjoyed was Oldfather’s list of lessons he’s learned while having his children in riding. They include topics such as living a fuller life, how life can be unfair at times, price is not the same as value, steering clear of gossip, the difficulty in choosing goals, someone will always have more, relationships with horse trainers are different, and you will make mistakes. His elaboration on these lessons, and others, really hit the nail on the head in the equestrian world.

I read this book twice. Being completely honest, I did not like it the first time and put it back on the shelf. The second time I read it, I could relate to it more and thoroughly enjoyed it. I may have shed a tear towards the end — however, I cry at the back stories on America Ninja Warrior. If you’re a parent with children in horses, this book is a must read!

If you’re interested inĀ A Man Walks Into a Barn, you can find it here.