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Second place winner Shannon Murray Schoharie Central High School

Morning at the Barn

There's a strange feeling, coming back to a place like this after so long: that old, blue barn, left in shambles. It's a void, emptiness. Zero remains of where the stalls had once been. The remaining structure is worn, vacant; it's just a dry thick sludge of mud beneath my feet as I shelter inside. You'd never be able to tell now, but it was once a warm place. It was filled with noise, the stray scents of wheat and grain, and fourteen lanky thoroughbreds tilting their heads in greeting.

Most of them were breeding mares, and I remember my younger days on what was once called "High Prospect Farm." They were racehorses, ready or retired from the track. I remember one horse specifically, Pistol Packin' Annie. Long gone, and in those days, already retired, she was by far the alpha of their pack. She wasn't mean — in fact, far from it. She was one of the sweetest mares we'd had, and had proved to be both a great riding companion and mother. She'd nicker as I approached, adoring the attention as the soft brush bristles combed through her thickened black mane. I could buckle her up for any sort of riding, my mother often trotting her around a makeshift English arena or taking her for western trail riding down the slopes to the lower field. She was sweet; her offspring all seemed to pick up that trait. I remember her racing son, Annie's Wheel, fondly. He was a calm stallion, and I can still visualize the auction where we bid him goodbye. I could feel the contempt as well, at the thought of the owners keeping his info from us after three decent races. Even in track records, he just disappeared.

It wasn't about the racing, though; it was about the horses themselves. With their original personalities, their behaviors, it was hard not to love them. Yes, there was a bitter one once or twice, such as Georgina or the ironically named Sweetie-Pie. There were devious ones, such as fence-busters Pippin and Rainy. There were even shy ones, taking form in Grace and Polly. Altogether, though, almost all were so gentle and kind, and a big piece of my childhood.

There came a time when such a little farm could no longer support horses anymore. Money was tight, especially when keeping up with large animals, but my mother clung to her horses through all times of trouble before. It wasn't until one day on a whim of a decision, all the horses had to go, every single one. For budgeting, this was almost necessary it would seem, but it took only one day to know that everything would soon be gone. It was quick, too, and as the numbers depleted, so did the condition of things. The fields, torn up, tightly weeded, no longer sustained the rich long grasses the horses fed on. The inner stalls of the barn were worn and collapsed. My mother pulled the spare remaining planks down as they soon were burnt in the fire pit nearby. I watched, capable of saying and doing nothing as slowly it was all fading to memory.

The emptiness of this place now is haunting. It's mucky and cold, the warmth all dispersed so rapidly, to make me wonder if it was ever even there. There's something comforting, however, to know that those were some fond times. Horses are costly, hard to take care off, but many a girl dreams of being around them. I grew up in that dream, and even if it's long gone, at least it was there once. Charles Darwin once said, "It's not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change." With that said, change is such a frequent part of life that adapting to it is essential. I'd like to think, that with the lingering memories I have, I can overcome these changes myself. There's a different feeling, another comfort in the thought of how the place had been, compared to how it is now. Perhaps, a bit of warmth can be found in that as well?