Yes, I was raised in a barn...
... and I turned out just fine!
A barn full of horses is a great place to learn valuable (and funny) life lessons. Here's a list of my favorites - what are yours?
There are bogeymen under the stairs, but you can get over your fear of them. Since horses are naturally prey animals, they're always on the lookout for things that are unusual or potentially threatening. However, horses have a remarkable ability to learn and accept scary things when they're helped by a strong, confident leader. If a horse can learn to walk calmly past that flapping windsock that just might be a hungry mountain lion, then surely we can face up to our daily fears.
You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Out in the pasture, horses practice "reciprocal grooming", where two (or more) horses pair up and nuzzle each other's hard-to-reach itchies with lips and teeth. In fly season, they often stand head-to-butt and swat each other's faces with their tails. They create simple, mutually beneficial partnerships that make each day just a little nicer.
Trust your true friends to look out for you. One of the sweetest moments I've ever experienced involved two horses out in a small field together. One horse was fast asleep on his side, all legs splayed out, snoring away, while the other horse stood quietly a few feet away, not eating, just calmly watching me. It's rare to see horses truly sleeping, as they take most of their rests in little naps, which is a habit left over from centuries of being prey. The sleeping horse could relax because someone he trusted completely was watching over him.
Don't cover your mouth when you sneeze. It's much more fun to let the boogers fly out of your nose and spray all over the person next to you.
Body language is just as powerful as spoken language. Horses are creatures of movement, and exert dominance over each other by controlling who goes where in a given space. They do this with minimal noise, relying instead on the pinning of ears, the tightening of muscles, the swish of a tail... and they respond to our body language with the same subtlety. If you're saying one thing with your voice and another with your body, horses will always choose to obey what your body language says, even if you don't know what your body is saying!
Mud is good for you. Deep mud, sticky mud, watery mud, clay mud, half-dried mud, grassy mud, poop-filled mud, mud right after a bath - it doesn't matter. It's fun to roll around in. Try it sometime!
There are sounds in the silence. At the end of the day, when I'm tired, hungry, and dead on my feet, I always take a long, deep breath on my way out of the darkened barn. Layered into the quiet are a hundred little sounds: teeth chewing hay, legs shifting weight, a tail swishing, lips dunking into water, little birds stealing straw for their nests... The sounds in the silence calm me down, make me smile, and finish my day on a peaceful note.
Work can be fun if you're doing it right. Most horses' job descriptions require movement, and lots of it. I believe that horses willingly partner with us clumsy humans, no matter how much we jounce around, because they love to move, and because they know that someday, we'll figure out how to help their movement instead of hindering it. It's beautiful to see two athletes working as a seamless team, one horse, one human, sweating hard but loving the pure joy of movement.
The best things in life come wrapped in crinkly plastic. Horses are intelligent, sensitive creatures with excellent hearing. You can prove this by walking into a barn and rustling a plastic carrot bag or crinkling a peppermint wrapper. Neigh! Nicker! Stomp, stomp! They know want what they want, and they're not afraid to ask for it.
Be nice to people who give good massages. One of the best ways to bond with horses is simply to groom them, rubbing loose hairs from coats, brushing off dust, and combing manes and tails. You can tell when they like it, because they'll close their eyes, lean into your pressure, and lick their lips. If you please them enough, they'll even return the favor with their soft (but strong!) noses.
There are hundreds more lessons to share, but the horses can keep track of time better than me, and they're out there in the barn telling me that dinner is late.
More by this Author
Father issues stink. I'm working on mine.
Follow these tips to help survive your first horse show and improve your performance at any level.
Being a therapy horse is hard work. Does your horse have what it takes to keep special riders safe, happy, and learning?