A Legacy of Homegrown Ingenuity and Bull-Headed Confidence

I am the great-granddaughter of pioneers. They traveled far, mixed their blood with those not like them, and built lives out of thin air and hard work. My farm needed a storage shelter. Not big, and a tarp would do for a roof. I saw small Quonset huts online. They were reasonably priced and just about right, but they all had marginal reviews. As I pondered which might be the best not-near-five-star shelter, my eyes fell on some fence panels beside my barn. They were made with heavy stolid iron rods, not those new-fangled hollow pipe kind. A normal woman doesn’t build shelters, but I’m special. I have horses. 

I am the granddaughter of a man who built roads with a horse-drawn road grader with a home-bred six-up team, and a woman who bragged she’d delivered more calves and foals than any woman in North Dakota. She was whip-smart in her eighties. I dragged the fence panels to the desired spot with the ATV while making sure to not tear out any fence or let the horses out, but my real superpower is truly understanding that brains and the right tool will do the task better than brute strength. Besides, out-thinking a fence panel can’t be that hard. 

I’m a daughter of depression-era parents. Farmers invented recycling. We are stewards of our farms and the earth. We do what needs to be done, taking pride in wasting nothing. I tied two panels up with twine, perpendicular to a previously standing panel fence, set at an angle that won’t fight the prairie wind. Three walls; it might work, I thought, and drove some t-posts in to anchor the panels. Now to get the last panel on top for a roof. Did I mention the solid iron part? I’m no frail flower but it was all I could do to stand one up. There was no way could I lift one over my head. Here’s where being of the “weaker” sex starts to pay off.

It would be totally reasonable to ask for help, but so many times things go wrong. Sometimes the muscles come with egos. Or the project goes slow and helpers get impatient and “emotional.” Some part needs finesse, and instead of slowing down to consider options, the energy gradually gets aggressive, until suddenly it’s a life-and-death fight with gravity. Fingers or toes get smashed, profanities screamed to the heavens, and worse of all, the animals look at us squinty-eyed. One other thing: I’m told the first thing I ever said was, “I’ll do it myself.” That was right before I started pretending that gates were horses and riding them with saddles made from twine.   

I’m a woman with negotiation skills. My first idea was a pully but I couldn’t relieve enough weight to make it work. So, I wedged the panel up from an inverted bucket to a muck barrel, to an upside-down water trough, each time shortening the twine that was a safety catch against it falling on me. Slow and steady, a few inches at a time, using balance and leverage. Mostly, using my brain. I didn’t hurt my back and this new shelter is sturdy and perfect. Bring on the wind. 

This is the secret to building a recycled shed or working with horses: Change your energy in the moment of resistance. You can’t force a fence panel into submission, but you can dance it there. After all, that the fence panel isn’t your enemy, it’s doing you a favor. You can’t intimidate a horse into partnership by treating him like an enemy, but you can control your emotions and make a better choice. You can be calm and negotiate a safe place for the horse. Then watch the trust grow.

The moment you don’t know what to do next; when you are about to snap and resistance sits heavy on your chest, flattening your heart, is precisely the moment where fundamental change is possible. At another time we might have thrown a hammer or picked a fight with a horse, but now we slow down, breathe, and realize the strength in having nothing to prove. Just then a better idea pops up. The strength we are building has a softness because it begins with first making peace with our own imperfections and vulnerability. We look within and make the best of what we have. Miraculously, it is plenty.

Our ancestors were not perfect, but they got us this far with homegrown ingenuity and bull-headed confidence. We are their legacy and not to be underestimated. Remind yourself that you are on your side. You’re on your horse’s side. If you look at it right, there is only one side. 

Horses know humans are all born predators, but some of us are in recovery. When we know better, we do better and this is how it happens. Our motto has matured to “I do it my way, without apology.” We’ve learned that we have all we need right here. We are works of art in progress. 

Perhaps we each pioneer our own lives. In the beginning, we’re disoriented and without balance or rhythm, but we don’t back away from hard tasks. Some of us work in untraditional jobs or face resistance in relationships. We didn’t start out this tough but we’ve been work-hardened by life. Given the choice of becoming bitter or using our gifts, we found our true height. We replaced impatience with cool planning and the stubbornness of a longear. We don’t like being told what to do and that gives us a head start understanding horses. Realizing we have more in common with them than we thought, especially when the going is tough, we know we’ll be fine. Our vulnerability is strength; we may bend but we don’t break. We have our wits, rely on the Golden Rule, and trust horses to let us know where we need work.

Meanwhile, I have a new shelter and a little extra hay money going into winter. I could have bought an online Quonset hut and it might have been prettier. But I’d have to replace it every year after it shredded in the wind or flew off to Texas. I know this because of the number of buckets and lawn chairs that have already headed across the prairie in that direction and because I know what I know. I’m special. I have horses. And a donkey.

Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward 

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Anna Blake

49 thoughts on “A Legacy of Homegrown Ingenuity and Bull-Headed Confidence”

      • Makes me remember being at a horse pull at the barn where I boarded & seeing a pony meandering up the road – a woman who was watching the pull yelled at me & said here – pulled some baling twine out of her purse!! and said she never went anywhere without it! Needless to say – I took the twine & caught the pony! I used to keep some in the console of my car at one point in my life. Hadnt thought about that in a while.

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  1. This goes straight to the top of my favorite posts list — love it!

    Also descend from farmers, am loathe to ask for help, way too stubborn to quit, and haven’t found many challenges that a dose of patience (plus some baling twine) can’t fix. Around here, we call it “cleverage.”

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  2. Always wise. Always articulate. Your writing is so valuable, both as reminder of what is valuable in life and as an impetus for renewed hope and positive action. Thank you.

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  3. As a single, woman of a certain age, I appreciate all you said about asking for help. There are some things I won’t tackle, bu putting up rafters inside my barn to make a ceiling for an insulated(someday) tack room, was an exercise in MacGyvering. I got them up, nobody died((always a plus), and they’re ready to have the roofing put on. I’m learning to breathe for my mare. She’s a quiet soul, and calm. I’m, however, coming from severe ptsd from my previous horse, which sometimes causes her anxiety. Stopping and breathing, or just walking next to her and breathing has been beneficial to both of us. Our relationship is taking off at last.

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  4. 100 bales of hay, waiting on the trailer, and I politely tell the teenage boys I can do it. May take me 5+ hours, but it’s done my way, on my own time and space continuum. 5 stars on this, my pioneer friend.

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  5. This is great! Your words sculpted me into someone anew as I read along through the process. It just got better and better and then…And a donkey!! Ha hah!! Awesome!! Artistic brilliance!

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  6. You nailed it! So true. I just built one,in my mind, with RR ties and old doors. Roof was as to be salvaged corrugated metal languishing behind the old juniper lo these many years.
    Plan was usurped by well-meaning construction partner. Now I have a handsome 4×6, 10×12 with a corrugated roof pounded on by a non-horse handyman with nails sticking down inside. Remediation required.
    I am ok with the result but think my horse and I would have been just as happy with old doors.

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  7. My favorite line: Our motto has matured to “I do it my way, without apology.” I might have built fenceline with baling twine and an old rubber hose once upon a time. My hay hooked memory swears this is true.

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  8. Wanted to build a studio within the barn walls. Complete with “ Mister Ed “ door. Started with 12 foot 4x4s ,a ladder, some tools and hardware. And of corse bailing twine. Then barn siding and 2x4s and the magic of a Phelps head drill bit and dry wall screws for the studio tables and interior walls. The Mister Ed door installed. Opened it and Parker , as you can imagine, dismantled everything he could reach on my hand built furniture. Close the door…….
    I think patience and ingenuity go a long way. You have to have to also have fore thought …

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  9. Your description of the energy getting aggressive and profanities erupting gave me flashbacks of working on projects with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. I had no idea the level of stress I was enduring till it was gone. And as it turns out, I can do it all myself anyway 😉 Slower for sure, but smiling all the way.

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  10. I loved reading this, your writing is always such a blessing and often just what I needed to know in that moment. My horse and I thank you.

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  11. “This is the secret to building a recycled shed or working with horses: Change your energy in the moment of resistance.”

    Anna I think this might be the secret to life itself! Along with avoiding those ego-laden muscles 😉

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  12. I don’t necessarily dislike asking for help, the trouble is I want it NOW, not when askee has time. So I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself, not always conventional but they get done.

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  13. After reading this Anna, I thought I should check ancestry.com to see if our bloodlines have crossed at some point in time. However, after reading so many comments that echoed my own observations of similarity, I came to the conclusion it must be a common trait among a certain kind of horsewoman. I think that it is interesting that one of the Spanish words for horsewoman is “Amozona”. I think of strength as good, but balancing it with softness is perfection, and the challenge that keeps me in pursuit. Great read, Anna.

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  14. Great post, Anna! I happened to chat with the equine specialist for the veteran’s program at the riding center where I volunteer (the owner put on an appreciation dinner)…she was asking me about CH and we talked about affirmative training and changes in the horse training world. Without prompting she said she just read the most profound essay. She brought it up on her phone and made the owner read it, right on the spot. THIS essay! I might have a new resource… Thanks again for your words of wisdom.

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  15. There’s nothing much I can add to this awesome essay with accompanying comments. So much wisdom to be had if
    we only allow ourselves to alter our way of thinking.
    I applaud your use of the resources you had on hand to make your storage shed. Years ago while on one of those obstacle trail ride competitions, one such obstacle was “your horse has a stone in his hoof. What do you do.” I had a hoof pick in my fanny pack, pulled it out to use to get the “stone” out. I got 10 points. My husband did not have a pick, so he scoured the ground and found a small, stiff piece of wood that worked perfectly. He got a zero! Of course we did not challenge the score, but I have often thought how unfair that score was. Besides which, in reality, a horse would care less whether it was a piece of wood or a store-bought pick. He/she would only care that the stone got removed!

    And then there’s this chuckle as I read these words: “Besides, out-thinking a fence panel can’t be that hard.” My husband many a time while confronting a difficult job has commented to the effect of “I can’t let a fence panel (box of nails, plumbing pipe, etc.) be smarter than me!”

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