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Spotlight: The Red Barn Cats

I’ve given a little love to both the bunnies and the goats on this blog already, so I figured I’d dedicate a post to the two animals who are the longest-standing tenants at the Red Barn: RC and Xena!

We’ll start with the gentle, old King of the White Barn, RC (a.k.a. Rafter Cat). RC was actually born on the Red Barn property, and has lived here for all 14 years of his life. The O’Neal family used to own the White House that the Barn recently acquired after Debby moved out, and I’ve been best friends with Joy’s son Jared since we were in preschool. Through that friendship, I visited the White House and its accompanying barn plenty when I was younger. Perhaps my most vivid memories of those visits are playing with a litter of kittens that had been born to a pair of barn cats inhabiting the upper barn.

Amazingly, nearly 15 years later, one of those kittens is still kicking. RC has seen a lot of change through his lifetime, including the entire development of the Red Barn property. But he has remained the same old sweet cat through it all. He tends to be the first animal to greet us every morning, running up and meowing until we refill his food. During stand-up, which is what we call our post-lunch planning period for afternoon lessons, RC affectionately strolls from person to person, bumping his head against their hands and occasionally crying out for attention.

He’s gotten friendlier with students as well. When I first came to the Barn, he usually hid away in the hay room except during morning and evening feed. But now he enjoys laying out in the hallway and purrs whenever a kid stops to pet him. He still loves alone time and napping on hay bales, but he’s adjusted and leads a happy life in a busy barn.

Xena (a.k.a. the Warrior Princess), on the other hand, barely needed any sort of adjustment to this type of life. She was originally adopted from the Humane Society four and a half years ago to live as a barn cat down in the red house area. A student went with Joy to pick out the cat, and he was drawn to Xena. He ended up carrying her like a rag doll, and amazingly Xena had absolutely no qualms. In fact, she was purring and seemed happy to be receiving any sort of attention at all. That sold us on adopting her.

Xena still loves attention. Whenever we have a tour or work group around she makes sure to greet everyone and that she is smack dab in the center of whatever is happening. She’ll even jump the fence into the goat pen if it means she might receive a bit of affection from a crowd of people. She can be a bit finicky, and I think anyone who has loved on Xena a few times has received at least one of her warning nips. But generally she is one of the sweetest cats I’ve been around. It takes a little time to learn her sweet spots and where not to pet her (she especially hates having her belly touched). Plus, she usually follows of those little nibbles with a lick, as if she was apologizing for acting out.

So if you ever see either of the cats roaming the Barn, feel free to love on them to your heart’s content. They want that more than anything else in the world, and will gladly offer their own love in return if you’re patient with them!


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Winter has come

It’s official: the page has turned on the 2016 Fall chapter at the Barn. This past Monday not only marked the first morning our staff came shuffling in bundled up from head to toe (Except for me. In my stubborn denial that winter is around the corner, I will probably wear shorts until temperatures plunge south of freezing), but also the first week without riding lessons since August. Luckily, we still had a couple of camps and clinics, so the Barn wasn’t completely deprived of kids.

For the remainder of November and all of December, we plan on holding several camps. The camps will all be unmounted and vary from theme. For example, in the “Pioneer camp”, students will make their own butter and flatbread as well as learn how to square dance. Other camps include arts & crafts, a pajama day, and even a birthday party for all of our horses. Click here if you’re interested in learning more about the camps.

It will take some time for us to adjust to not having our students here on a regular schedule. Horses have also rotated to being in the barn overnight and out in their pastures during the day. That means the stalls are a mess when we arrive in the morning. Even with four or five staff members here, it can take a couple hours to have all sixteen stalls cleaned and rebedded. However, that does make things much easier in the evening, as now all we have to do is dump feed and bring the horses back into the barn.

We’re still hammering out the schedule, but we’re planning on having some students come out for riding lessons starting in January. It can be tricky though. We don’t have a crystal ball telling us which days will be too cold to ride. If the temperature is below freezing, we don’t want to push our students or horses through such miserable conditions. On those days, we may try to do an indoor ground lesson or even cancel the lesson altogether due to the weather. But that’s life when you live in a climate with four seasons. We enjoy having our kids here no matter how hot or cold it is, and work our hardest to ensure they always have fun and learn something.

There will still be plenty of activity and good times at the Barn over the Winter. For example, the Barn Christmas Party/White House Open House will be on Saturday, December 17th. We hope to see many of you there, and wish you all warmth and wellness as we enter these colder months!


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Friday Work Group

Since last June, the Barn has been having our students Nick and Lee out every Friday morning during term to participate in a work group. For those of you who receive our newsletter, you may recall a “Student Spotlight” article was written about the two teenagers. The duo took a break this past Summer, but picked things back up in September. I’ve been so thrilled to get to work alongside them again that I can’t help but write about their progress and the fun we’ve shared.

A typical morning begins with Lee refilling feed buckets while Nick sweeps and does other daily chores. Lee often uses this time to regale us with the ever-evolving plot and characters of the movie (and video game spinoff) he is planning: “World War III: Global Terror”. Nick enjoys taking a moment to greet his buddy Shiloh.

After the buckets are full of feed and the floors pristine, we usually gather together and set out to clean and refill water troughs. Nick and Lee have mastered this chore. They’ll guide our super amazing volunteers Becky and Melinda through the steps of dumping the dirty water, spraying the trough with a bleach/water mixture, and then scrubbing, rinsing, and refilling the trough.

Other days, we will go to see the goats or bunnies and do chores pertaining to those little critters. Lee, being a huge cat lover, also ensures that we check Xena’s food and water bowls. We may tidy up the trails as well.

The hour of hard work is followed up with a riding lesson. Lee has been riding at the Barn for a couple more years, so he often serves both as an example and an assistant to Wyspr’s instructing during the lessons. Nick does a good job listening to his friend and has steadily improved throughout the term. Back in September, he struggled to stay on his horse for more than 10 minutes due to leg cramps. On his final lesson for the term, Nick managed to ride Elvis for nearly 45 minutes.

Their friendship has also blossomed over these Fall months. Back when the work group first began, Nick and Lee would only speak a couple sentences to one another before moving on from the conversation. Now they joke back and forth, as Nick often asks Lee if he has ants in his pants or Lee pretends to be a hitchhiker when Nick rides back to the white barn to dismount. I can’t help but laugh along with them, partially because how genuinely funny they are and because of how happy I am to see them feeling comfortable enough to come out of their shell and show their humorous sides.

Working with Nick and Lee is always one of the highlights of my week. I’ll miss them next month as the Barn takes a break between Fall and Winter terms. But that just means I’ll have something else to look forward to in the coming year, and I’m very excited to a part of their journey through life. As much as they have grown over the past year and a half, I feel as if working beside them has allowed me to grow a near equal amount.

– Connor

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Student Interview: Lance!

Last Monday, I had the honor and privilege to sit down with our student Lance (aka Courtney’s son), (aka King Blaze), (aka Mario), (aka Harry Potter). Lance has been a student at the Red Barn for a few years now, so I decided to pick his brain for a window into a student’s perspective of the Barn!

Connor: So Lance, how long have you been riding at the Barn?

Lance: I’ve been riding at the Barn for about….. like 5 years. Or maybe even 6.

C: Who is your favorite horse to ride?

L: Well it used to be Red Flight but then Red Flight died. I remember this other horse but I forget the name, I think it was Daniel? Wait I know, I meant to say Derrill.

C: If you could have a conversation with one animal at the Barn, who would it be and why?

L: Wait it can only be one animal? Probably……. Gadget!

C: Do you prefer riding in arenas or on trails?

L: I actually like both. But maybe… trails.

C: What is the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do in a lesson?

L: Hmm….. The day it rained and we played Quidditch in the barn. Are all these Red Barn Questions?

C: Yep! You’re going to be even more Red Barn famous. Alright, so what is your favorite thing about being at the Barn?

L: I get to ride horses AND it’s kind of like interesting because my Mum works at the Red Barn and I get to be a student there. Is one of the questions what level I’m on?

C: No, but I can include that if you want.

L: I’m on level 3.

C: Awesome! What are you looking forward to in the next term? Do you have a new theme you’d like to incorporate into your lessons?

L: We actually didn’t finish Minecraft yet. I don’t really want to do Minecraft anymore, I’ve kind of outgrown it. Either… Disney Infinity or continue with no theme.

C: Any closing words for the readers at home? You’re good if not.

L: Not really.

C: Alright cool, thanks dude!

There y’all have it! I thought this was an interesting first interview and was both surprised and pleased with Lance’s answers. His response to the favorite horse question was especially insightful to me, as he provided a glimpse of how much of a lasting impact our horses can have on our students. Also, I loved how he pronounced “mom” in the British fashion of “mum.” So that’s a wrap on our first student interview. I look forward to doing more of these in the future and gaining a stronger understanding on how some of our students perceive the Barn.

Also, I’d like to apologize for the delay in posting. The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy as the term winds to a close and we’ve had several staff members out sick. I hope to get back on a regular schedule following this post!

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Awesome Volunteer Groups!

Last week, we were blessed to have a pair of amazing volunteer groups come out to help with a big project around the Barn! The upper barn we recently acquired is actually the oldest barn on the property, and as a result requires a bit of renovation. This includes making sure all of the stall floors are smooth and even. So on Monday, Leeds High School’s Key Club came out to help move out stall mats and level the stall floors in the upper barn. And on Saturday, UAB’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Delta, the National Pre-Health Honor Society, assisted us in finishing prepping half of those stalls for horses.

About 30 or so kids came out with the LHS Key Club, and we needed every pair of hands to help move the stall mats. Typically it takes about four people, one per corner, to lift and carry the mats. We ended up hauling the mats outside of the upper barn and laying them in the grass so they could be washed. Once that was taken care of, we set out raking and tamping the mud in each stall until they were as even as we could make them without adding more dirt.

The UAB AED group brought around 20 volunteers with them. With the stall mats out, we were able to shovel in dirt to fill all the dips and holes. We then added a layer of crush and run on top of the dirt and raked it smooth. Both groups worked so hard that they finished earlier than expected. The extra time allowed for them to meet all of our horses and even get some quality time with the goats.

We can’t stress enough how much we appreciate their hard work and how important having these volunteer groups out is to the Barn. Having the help of 50 extra people enables us to tackle bigger projects. This would have taken weeks to accomplish with just our staff alone. Thank you so much to both LHS and UAB, and we look forward to working alongside y’all in the future!