Killacky: Summer at the barn

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by John R. Killacky, executive director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. It first aired on Vermont Public Radio on Aug. 9.

In the summertime, daily life at the barn overflows with young children, ages 7 and up, terrified and thrilled simultaneously, up on their first mounts during pony camp. I love the end of the week “show” when everybody wins something and every child is successful.

As for the regulars, the teens and young women spend weekends traveling around the state competing in dressage and jumping events. I’m amazed at how fearlessly they navigate horses 10 times their weight over cross-country fences. One friend had what is called a “double clear” with no faults in either timing or jumping, but then a disappointment in dressage. Failures are almost as important as successes here – life lessons learned early.

The adult boarders prefer to acquire new skills at clinics or simply ride through the hayfields. In the world, they’re doctors, scientists, lawyers, teachers, veterinarians, therapists, accountants and administrators. At the barn we’re defined by our equines. Here, I’m Raindrop’s dad.

Mundane chores unite us: mucking stalls, cleaning water buckets, picking out hooves, and polishing tack. Grooming tips are shared. Then there are the fly masks and sprays to protect our loved ones while grazing – some have homemade “all natural” concoctions. I’m always learning: from teenagers to one friend in her 80s who rides her 24-year-old gelding every day.

The author and Raindrop.

Recently, my Shetland pony Raindrop and I went off-site to a driving clinic in Waltham. First though, we had to practice loading on and off the trailer, and then bring along buckets of her water. Anything new throws her.

Jeff Morse, who led the two-day event, encouraged us to “create the horse you want, rather than fix the horse you have.” He had me drive with my eyes closed to feel the connection of my hands on the reins to the bit in her mouth. It was transformative.

Back home at the barn in Williston, my eyes now open to where I want to go, I try to see the arena as my pony does. Human vision is focused straight ahead; horses see at 350 degrees, encompassing peripheral vision. I practice this perspective and vast horizons of fields, mountains, and clouds feathering the sky unfold.

My favorite time is after driving her on a hot day, when I rinse my pony down with cold water. This took some getting used to, but now Raindrop loves it when I turn the nozzle to a light spray, point it heavenward, and give us both a shower. We are giddy with delight.

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  • Luci Stephens

    I’m also a horse-lover, keeper and rider. My Morgan mare (I’m unabashedly breed-specific) ‘grounds’ me when all else is chaotic and surreal – thanks from this heart, Annie! I love horse-focus articles, and applaud this one… kudoes to Mr. Killacky and Raindrop!