One of the first things I noticed about the new barn is that several horses have wooden stall signs hanging on their stalls. I’ve always liked the wooden signs that are handmade or handpainted… it might not look as uniform or professional as a traditional engraved plate, but there’s something very personal, genuine, and loving about them. It’s easy to buy something, anyone can do that… it’s a lot harder put your heart and soul and time into something that you’ve made with your own two hands. Maybe it’s because my mom used to paint a lot when I was a kid, and was always crafting, so stuff like that reminds me of her in a way and holds a lot of sentimental value.
I painted my first stall sign a decade ago. I was trying to come up with Christmas present ideas for all my barn friends but of course, as a 20-something horse owner, I was low on cash. I went to Hobby Lobby, bought some wooden plaques, a couple different paint colors, and spent the next few days handpainting those things in our barn colors. It was a labor of love for sure, because I soon found out that I was not a naturally gifted painter. After much cursing and even more trial and error, I was finally done.
While I was happy with the results, I swore up and down that I would never make another stall sign unless it was a) for myself, b) for a horse that I had no intention of ever selling. I’ve owned a lot of horses since then, and I’ve stuck to that. The only horse that has ever had a “fancy”, handpainted-by-me-with-love stall sign is Sadie.
So when I walked into the new barn and found myself smiling a little at all those signs, obviously handmade by people who loved the horse inside that stall, I started thinking about Henry. I had a lot of time to ponder our relationship while he was away at rehab… he was never meant to be a keeper. He was a project, a flip, something to keep me busy. Yet we all know that he’s a lot more than that by now.
I was talking to a friend a couple days later about his rehab process… how it’s gone so far, and what we still have left to do. I explained how I was taking the longest, most conservative route that the vet laid out for me, and what that entails. If it means we miss horse shows and clinics and all sorts of other fun things, so be it. This horse owes me nothing. He’s been giving me 110% of himself since day 1, and it’s my job to do right by him. And there it was, with those words: my lightbulb moment.
I went the very next day and bought a wooden plaque, some paint, and new paintbrushes. Last night I spent two hours (I told you I’m not very good at this) painting his stall sign. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s very “us”. Other people might look at it and think it’s silly, or childish, and that’s okay. But I hope at least a few people are able to see what it means to me: the sign of a horse that is truly loved, truly special, and isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time.