By Sarah White
Plans of 14-year-olds are seldom perfect.
A good deal of the logistical demands of the horse had been overlooked in my planning.
I forgot to budget for tack. I couldn’t afford a leather saddle, so I settled for a bareback pad, a sort of thin pillow with stirrups. I bought a bridle and a lead and some curry brushes and a hoof-pick and that was the extent of my equipment.
Another logistical demand I forgot to give serious thought was transportation. Winter was coming, and the horse must be tended every day.
There was a reason the horse farm boarded animals for only $25 a month. We were not allowed to keep the animals in the barn overnight. The family didn’t want the wear and tear on it. But they liked having us girls around – their own had grown and gone, leaving behind an old mare in the field like an outgrown nanny – so they settled on a low-impact form of boarding.
We boarders could ride all over the 80-some acres of the farm, and bring our horses into the barn to feed them. But then the horses had to be turned back into the field and the stalls mucked out. In the most awful winter weather we might come up to the big house, knock politely on the back door, and ask for mercy for the beasts, just this once. Otherwise the horses stayed outside, and we came every day to feed them and then clean up afterward.
Let me take you to the horse farm.
We leave Carmel headed east on two-lane Smokey Row Road along the bottomland of scruffy Cool Creek. Where that road ends in a T we roll straight ahead through big black iron gates pinned back against two scroll-shaped white brick walls. This lane leads through a maple woods past the Big House on the left, a white four-square with tidy black shutters. Christmas-y pines mix with maples on the lawn around it. The big white barn stands a short distance to the right and rear of the house, crowded by trees that let only dim traces of light through the high windows down either side.
We enter through a small doorway low and to the left of the west face of the barn. this leads into a tight and poorly lit gangway, which jogs right and opens onto a central hall. At the far end, big rolling doors open the entire hall to the paddock and fields beyond. Light pours in from the east and rolls in dusty shafts into the dark interior.
Blocking the rear of the hall is an old carriage, nearly invisible in the shadows. We have to sidle carefully past it to get to the working part of the barn.
Down the left runs a line of six stalls or so, big boxes walled shoulder-high, with vertical iron bars above and wooden half-doors just like in horsey movies. Back up the right side runs a similar line of stalls, interrupted by a tack room made by walling in two joined stalls, and beyond that other mysteries blocked from view by the old carriage. Midway down the hall are ladders on either side, leading to a pair of haylofts over the stalls where shadowy bales shed their chaff. We boarders are allowed to keep gear and feed in the tack room and hay and straw in the lofts.
The smell of dust and hay mingles with a light odor of manure throughout. The wood is satiny to the touch, worn by a hundred years of hands. But it is the sound of the barn that completes me, that transforms the pain of wanting a horse into the pleasure of being Horse People. Groaning boards when the wind blows, rattling corn poured into feed troughs, the shoop-shoop of horsey mouths scooping it up, the clinks and clangs of tack.
That is the barn. Outside, a fenced oval riding ring sits along the left side, just behind the Big House. Near the road to the left of the Big House is a smallish field with a pond. Directly behind and east of that enclosure the biggest field slopes down toward a creek, then rises beyond it. Sixty acres of grassland are dotted with prickly pear shrubs and this is where the horses live, getting their water from the shallow meander. A gate near the back opens into a woodlot filled with apple trees, ash, and beech. It is cris-crossed with trails, some of which lead back uphill to the barn. All told there are 80 acres of fields and woods and we have free run of it all.
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Summer was nearly over when my horse plot was executed. In those last warm days I started getting to know Cocoa, my treasure, my dream, my nemesis. I would ride my bike out to the farm, catch Cocoa in the field, and ride. I no longer had time for my friends from Audubon Drive; the other girls who boarded horses at the farm, Nancy and Denise, and their horses became my new crowd.
Every day, regardless of what else I and the other boarders would do, we brought the horses into the stalls, then amused ourselves while they ate. My life as a horse owner turned out to be more about people, and less about horses, than I had imagined.
Google Earth shows the Horse Farm outside Carmel today–yes, suburbs ate it too.