When one considers Chili’s open Places, we tend to think of our highly visible features: farmland, forest, and lots of swamp. This trinity of familiar landscape, however, neglects a Place that we tend to overlook – pastures. Horse pastures specifically.
Barbara Kiser, and her daughter Jennifer Bailey, are the proprietors and managers of Evergreen Stables. Essentially, they are stewards to twelve hay-gulping manure factories that can be saddled for fun. Since 1995, Barbara and Jennifer have boarded horses (sixteen at the most), and have dedicated countless evenings to riding lessons. “Horse” and “life” are interchangeable at Evergreen Stables.
“From five to eight [in the evening] we do lessons,” Barbara said as she described her daily routine. “Then Saturday’s we do lessons because kids are out of school.”
“That’s when people are out of work, so they can bring their kids,” Jen added.
When I asked how often they participated in horse shows, they both looked at each other and chuckled. “Enough” Barbra replied. “We bring our lesson students to shows…it is enough.”
Horse shows are probably the least time consuming compared to hours of mucking, grooming, sporadic farm maintenance and lessons. As long as there are horses on the premises, they have a lengthy and somewhat sweat inducing routine to fulfill. Yet, their vocation has benefits. “I don’t have to sit in an office all day, thank God” Barbra asserted.
“Other than having to feed and care for the horses, I can do anything in between all day long,” Jen stated.
“Our schedule can float…you feed at a certain time, you muck stalls at a certain time, and we teach at a certain time. Anything in between that, we can do whatever we want.”
However, as any farmer can attest, subsisting directly off a particular place has its limits, and those limits are often variable. Like crop farming, horse farming demands steadfast dedication and clement weather. For Jen, the biggest drawback is “Never being able to leave without having someone to take care of the horses.” To insure that the business is viable, you have to be present, constantly.
“When there are no lessons, there’s no money coming in,” Barbara elaborated. “We also don’t do lessons when it is extra cold or extra hot, and for a little while in the summer we won’t be having lessons because it will get to be over 85 degrees. You don’t want to be sitting on a 100 degree horse when its 85 degrees. Heat rises.”
But the indecisive weather, the back-breaking labor, and the uncertainty of horse farming are not driving Barbara and Jen out of Chili. Something is keeping them here. They are rooted to Place.
“I like it,” Barbara affirmed. “I like land. We came out here to feel like we had some elbow room. I’ve lived in suburbs all of my life…I want my space, I want my green….there is not a hierarchy of ‘do this or else’….people need head space….people just want to come and sit. Because they know that they’re not going to be disturbed. They can just…be. It is more peaceful out here because of the head space…when I live in a suburb, your own physical space is so small, that your thinking tends to get small; and when you live out here, you tend to open up your mind, your sights, and your feelings. It is something that feeds your soul.”
Out of context, this sentiment is slightly whimsical, an intangible idea that some readers may struggle with. I am writing about Place to create an impetus to find it, not to fill a void. Until we actually interact with Place, specifically open Places with minimal anthropogenic features, we cannot learn to appreciate it. From our conversation, my understanding of the place Barbara and Jen spoke of was not complete. I came back to live with them for a few hours, and in this case, I learned by picking up a pitchfork.
“I do this every day” Jen commented as we mucked one of twelve stalls in her large pole barn (for those unfamiliar with the term, mucking is removing the heaps of manure from each stall). “I can muck twelve stalls in less than an hour and a half, averaging around five minutes a stall.” Of course, as a novice, my pace would have required the entire afternoon. My technique improved after several stalls, with a few helpful pointers from Jen. “Here is one of my favorite phrases,” Jen remarked as I picked up a heap of manure and sawdust. “Less is more.” Apparently, it is easier to sift the sawdust if there is less in your fork. However, it takes a few minutes before you can stomach the intoxicating wafts of ammonia emanating from wet piles of sawdust. Soon, I thought I was becoming pretty adept. As we mucked another stall together, Jen looked at me and pointed; “You stepped on a pee spot.”
Of the open Places in Chili, it is easy to assume that they are either covered in trees, or blanketed by some kind of field crop. However, Barbra and Jen fall in the middle. Their land, for the sake of description, is open; yet, they husband no salable crops. Without the corn, the beans, or the trees, it is easy to overlook Evergreen Stables as a Place, but to do so would be a mistake.
Before we mucked the stalls, Jen released the horses into their large grassy pastures; one for the geldings, and another for the mares. Instead of leading each horse to the gate, she opened the stall doors at once, and suddenly, the path to the pasture would be akin to rush hour traffic. The scene reminded me of a garden hose; the pressure built up in the narrow path, and once the gate was cleared, a galloping echelon of horses spewed out. I watched one gelding roll around on its back, giving the appearance of a capsized submarine with legs. With twelve or more horses, you need copious open land to satisfy their natural inclinations to graze and frolic. As I watched each horse perform its own “release ritual”, Barbara and Jen’s affinity for their open Place lost some of its mystery. This is what they thrive on. And this is not the only interaction Barbara and Jen have with four legged creatures.
“Living here, I watch the wildlife” Jen described passionately. “Fortunately, because we keep our own place pretty wild…they go through my side yard…I am literally running into these deer all the time, which is not a problem.”
“One came out and watched me do a lesson last night,” Barbra added.
“They think it is very interesting that we have four legged creatures that we totally take care of,” Jen said amusingly.
This is what they have. In many ways, my experiences have ineffable qualities that words cannot satisfy, but those tend to be intimate sentiments that the beholder is very protective of. We all have intrinsic bonds to Place, and we (I assume) would rather not see them destroyed. I wondered if there was a perceived menace to Evergreen Stables. “Human population,” Jen declared. “Really, it’s just the human population. There’s no stop to us. We are going to need more and more and more, and the earth is going to provide so much….I fear for the extreme future of the earth.”
“That is kind of why we need farming protection because…it’s just going to get to a point where we will all live on postage stamp lots so that everyone can have a place to live” Barbra projected.
I wondered if other people fear a future so dire. Our open Places – farmland, pastureland, forest and swamp – embrace heterogeneity; indeed, that is what makes them attractive and valuable. Could we adapt to a postage stamp landscape, could we tolerate the stark homogeneity?
Place is not a matter of what you can reap in the present, it is a familiarization of its timeless voice – to observe the generations past, and prepare for those of the future. Barbra expressed this idea more poignantly.
“It’s important to know where you came from before you can go on into the future. Kids need to know the past of the area. If they don’t know the past, they won’t know what to do with their future.”
What do they offer?
Horseback riding lessons, private or semi-private, English or Western
Lessons are Monday through Friday from 5pm-8pm. Saturdays from 10am-3pm.
Evergreen Stables offers a full care boarding service.