Why Are Barns Made of Wood?

Seriously. You take a couple of 1000+ pound animals with sharp tools on their feet and put them in a structure made of wood and held together with a few thin pieces of metal, and there are going to be incidents. Take our adventure a few weeks ago, and then what happened last night.

Our barn is about 100 yards from our house, and we’re fairly deep sleepers. Luckily for us (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), we have three canine sensors with keen hearing who aren’t afraid to let us know if something is amiss, at least in their tiny little minds. Like at 4:00 this morning, when Jack, the oldest, went nuts barking. Usually this means that the neighbor dogs down the hill, who live outside, are barking – why we need to know this, I don’t know, but he doesn’t like to miss any opportunity to bark. But when he’s insistent, like he was this time, we always check it out. Bill pointed out later that any good farmer would have been checking it out by standing on the porch with a shotgun in his hand, but we prefer to do it by peeking out the windows in our jammies.

On this occasion, there did appear to be something actually amiss – there was some loud banging coming from the barn. Bill looked out every window that offers a view of the barn, but couldn’t see anything, and that includes horses. There were no horses to be seen. Finally he ventured out on the back porch, sans shotgun, just in time to see the outer door of Valentine’s stall – which in addition to being latched is nailed shut – fly open and reveal Valentine on his back with legs flailing in the air. He ran back to tell me (I wasn’t fully awake yet) and we started pulling clothes and shoes on. I ran up to the barn to see Valentine standing outside his stall, looking pretty much normal, although a bit surprised.

Unfortunately, the outside door of his stall is surrounded by stuff – the tub to a utility trailer and a pile of fence rails. There is no way a horse can get out of there without jumping. He’s apparently not much of a jumper, and decided to turn around. I don’t know how he managed it in that small space, but he did. He went back in his stall and I followed him in. We checked him from head to toe, and with the exception of some bleeding from a pre-existing wound and being pretty sweaty and caked with what I’ll politely call “dirt,” nothing seemed out of the ordinary. We let him and the mare out into the pasture, 4 hours early, and investigated the area to try to figure out what happened.

The evidence: A dirty, sweaty but uninjured horse standing outside his stall; spilled water bucket next to stall door, still hanging on hook; open stall door with scuff marks and small gouges on inside; and stall door latch ripped off, found about 15 feet away from stall door. Also, Bill’s observation of said horse laying on his back in the stall with his legs in the air.

Conclusion: Valentine laid down and at some point maneuvered himself into a position where he couldn’t easily get up. This caused him to panic, so he flailed those long legs around so violently that he burst his stall door open. After it was open, he managed to get himself up, only to discover that, hey! There’s a door open! So he wandered out into the small space but couldn’t go any further.

So, we fixed the stall door, and moved the debris. Hey, if the mare can wander around in the middle of the night and eat grass, Valentine should too, right? Actually, we just thanked our lucky stars that he didn’t injure himself on the stuff out there, and moved it just in case it happened again.

This brought up an issue we’ve been wrestling with: barn security. A previous owner had, as I mentioned, nailed the outside stall door latches shut. This is good in a way, because it’s hard for someone to sneak your horses out that particular door. It’s also bad in case of an emergency – what if the barn is on fire and you can’t get the horses out through the inside doors? There is a fine line between keeping your horses (which are, let’s face it, valuable property) secure, and being prepared to get them out of the barn at a moment’s notice. A lot of people keep an inexpensive halter hanging outside each stall door in case of emergency. We find ourselves unable to do this, for fear of making horse theft that much easier.

For a future installment: Ways to protect your horse from theft and get it back if it is stolen, e.g. branding and microchipping.

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