On Building a (Second) Horse Shed

You would think building one horse shed and corral would be enough for two sexagenarians.

Two years ago last October, Henry and I spent a couple weeks planting railroad ties with a post-hole digger and a huge tamping bar into the rock-strewn, dead-dry dirt of Jaroso. Then we secured headers and rafters onto the upright ties, roofed our crude structure with corrugated tin, and then faced off the sides with slabs from a local lumber mill, all so that our horses, Esperanza and her daughter Cinnamon, could have shelter from the desiccating southwest wind, and the rain or snow we hoped would fall but rarely did.

But no, one horse shed and corral is apparently not enough. Now we’re building another.

Today we finally got out of the ground, meaning that we set the last two posts into the earth, again by hand with a post-hole digger and a tamping bar. Tomorrow, hopefully, we can actually build our structure. The ground here in our new little eight acre farm off a county road north of Mesa Verde is moist red clay with nary a rock to be found, probably why the ancient Puebloans excelled at making pottery here. It’s a pleasure after battling the baked and unyielding caliche of Jaroso. Unlike the materials we used for the Jaroso horse shed, most of which we had to buy, everything we’ve used so far here is scavenged right from the property. Old man Mahoney left us piles of lumber, some actually pretty decent and some not worth mentioning, much like what we left behind when we sold the Jaroso property earlier this year. Plus we salvaged lumber from an existing shed; we had hoped it would serve well for the horses but on closer inspection it proved to be not only too short but so badly constructed and deteriorating that we really had no choice but to knock the whole thing down, Tawanda-style. Typical. When working on your own place, don’t it always seem like two steps forward and three backwards?

Is that why this second horse shed seems harder?

For the last week or so, our sleep has been plagued by arms falling asleep, in Henry’s case just annoying numbness, in my case raging hot pins and needles that force me into midnight bed yoga searching for the exact position that promises enough relief so that I can fall asleep.

Not sleeping well means that after three or four hours of working, we start to drag our feet, our arms can’t lift anymore, and our brains can’t figure out the simplest things, like how to make sure we’re constructing something that will be square and level when nothing we’re working with is square or level. Including us, I guess.

So, as my cousin Kat is fond of saying, adapt and improvise. If a header is two feet too short to span the distance, why hell, scab an extension onto it. If a board is so warped it won’t even sit on the post, use a damn C-clamp to force it into place. If the corrugated tin is full of holes, use tar to patch them up.

Are we too cheap to buy new tin and fresh lumber? Well, yeah. I can’t speak for Henry, but I am guilty (at times) of being excessively thrifty. Certainly not always. But I confess to deriving a certain pleasure from making do with what you have on hand, thanks to Dick Park, my Yankee father; these are your genes speaking through me. And thanks for our formative years nearly thirty years ago when Henry and I lived in Darwin, a parched and isolated ghost town in the Mojave Desert which seemed to attract inordinate numbers of make-do-with-what’s-at-hand kind of people, all thirty of us. We HAD to make do. Who could afford to drive thirty-five miles to town one way just for some sixteen-penny nails when there were plenty lying around that could be straightened and used again?

Besides, new lumber is expensive and not very high quality, warped and wormy and pithy. Some of the old lumber we were able to salvage without splitting still has a lot of life in it, dense and fragrant and most likely milled from good-sized, healthy trees back in the day. As I handle each silvered board, I can feel its story: the nails that have been pounded into it and wrenched from it, the horses that have cribbed on it and rubbed against it, the birds that have perched on it, the snow and wind and stars that have witnessed the work it has done. Why not let it live on?

2 comments on “On Building a (Second) Horse Shed
  1. paperpelt says:

    Hi Kathy, Blogging. Well, people ask me if I have a blog. And then suggest that I should blog. I have lots of good reasons not to blog. Maybe I’ll consider following your steps of inspiration. Maybe. The people I used to write letters to are gone now. A blog is like a letter to the world. Although perhaps more polished and refined than some of my ordinary letters. Thank you posting for your Horse Shed experience. I can relate to making-do. I call it makin’-do-with-nothing and I learned it from Gene Luark. But enough of all that. It’s very late and I must be up very early. Love to you and Henry.

  2. I love that: A blog is like a letter to the world. You’re helping me understand why I want to do this

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