These days it’s pretty easy to become world-weary, and for many of us our respite is found in the barn, which can seem like an impenetrable world of peace and serenity in troubled times. But is it?

I believe in the magic with which the barn feeds the soul, but I am too protective of my peace to believe that it is impenetrable.

Is there a secret ingredient that exists in some barns that brings out the best in riders, boarders, trainers and even horses? I think there may be… and I think it can be called unity; in a classic sense, it occurs when we can put aside our personal differences and pull together toward a common goal.

This year especially, there seems to be a lot of disharmony in the air. I suspect it may stem from an unusually discordant political climate—I’m not comfortable with it, but it has triggered some self-examination. It’s easy to recognize dissension in others, but what about myself? Do my words and actions foster unity, or are they sometimes divisive?

Most of us have been at barns where, upon arrival, some outgoing and seemingly friendly soul immediately begins to give us the low-down on everyone else in the barn. It seems comforting. We’ve made a connection with someone who is looking out for us, but I’ve found that initial comfort to be mostly an illusion. Gossip is not about exchanging information, it’s about power. “I know what you don’t, and I’ve chosen to let you in on it. No need to form your own opinion, I will do that for you, and claim you for my team.” Environments such as this can leave us feeling suspicious, guarded and confused.

If we’re lucky, we’ve also experienced barns where there is no trace of a judgmental undertone. People are accepting, helpful, and mainly discuss concepts, ideas and events rather than people. When we find ourselves at such a barn, we are refreshed, encouraged and hopeful. These environments do not exist by accident; what is tolerated is perpetuated. The embers of gossip die out without the oxygen of an interested audience.

Unity is achieved when when we come together to respect, support and encourage each other. Photo provided by the author

In my life, I’ve been as guilty of these sins as anyone. My dad was a good man. He and I were both tradesmen and there were times in his life that we couldn’t relate on a lot of levels—gossiping about the different characters on the job was where we bonded. It was comforting, it was reassuring and it filled an uneasy silence.

It took a long while to let go of that false sense of security and realize that he was doing the best he could to connect, just like I was. But I no longer want to walk that path.

To keep myself on the path I would now hope to follow, I ask myself some pointed questions:

  • Am I a healing, unifying person or am I divisive? Am I judgmental of others?
  • Am I a peacemaker, or do I like to “stir the pot?”
  • Am I tolerant of those who rub me the wrong way, or am I abrasive?
  • Do my remarks carry an air of superiority about them, or do I remember where I came from?
  • Do I put down some equestrian activities as if I were a cut above for not participating in this or that aspect of riding?
  • Do I share my defeats as well as my accomplishments that others may identify and grow, or do I need to appear an expert?

I’m lucky that the very first barn I landed in radiated an attitude that was supportive, tolerant and patient, and would not indulge those with other agendas. It was the beginning of my own transformation.

I learned that while ego reacts, the spirit responds. Horses exist in the spiritual realm and showed me the way there, as they have for countless others. I now have my own barn and I have to always be conscious of the fact that, having been so educated, it’s me who sets the tone.

Just as the barn requires constant maintenance, so does the environment we have created here. It is maintenance of a more spiritual nature, and while our horses may create the need for much of the facility’s physical maintenance, it is our horses that provide the inspiration to maintain the spiritual environment. They deal with discord within the herd quickly, sharply and unmistakably and then the incident is promptly forgotten. Every member knows precisely where the others stand—there are no secret resentments.

Horses deal with discord in real time; issues don’t have the opportunity to become resentments. Photo provided by the author.

The barn can be a magical place. We’ve all experienced that.

How it gets to be that way isn’t magic. It is created and maintained through vigilance and unity. We endeavor to check our ego at the gate each day and dedicate ourselves to the wellbeing of our horses, making progress toward whatever goal we have in our riding and supporting and encouraging our fellow equestrians in their pursuits. When we fall short of that goal we forgive ourselves and attempt to do better next time.

If that sounds like a utopian plan…maybe it is. We are all one in our love for the equine and the lifestyle that surrounds it. We live and let live. It all starts in a barn with that often overlooked but vital ingredient—unity.

About the Author

Thomas Gumbrecht began riding at age 45 and eventually was a competitor in lower level eventing and jumpers. Now a small farm owner, he spends his time working with his APHA eventer DannyBoy, his OTTB mare Lola, training her for a second career, and teaching his grandson about the joy of horses. He enjoys writing to share some of life’s breakthroughs toward which his horses have guided him.