The Fragrance of a Horse Barn


One of my favorite bloggers, hensteeth, had a post recently about the smells of different kinds of food and the memories they invoke.  (Be sure to read through the other posts on her blog – she writes so well and comes up with unusual topics.)

This made me think of one of my favorite smells, which is not related to food.  I love the smell of a horse barn – the combination of straw, horses, dust, even a little manure.


My father spent his childhood in various horse barns since his father was a blacksmith and made part of his living traveling to county fairs to shoe the harness horses that were there for the races.  This is a ca. 1914 picture of my grandfather and my father in the doorway of their horse shoeing shop.


My father had been one of the youngest harness horse drivers in the area but gave up working with horses when he married and had two daughters to support.  Of course, we always went to the county fairs and spent most of our day hanging around the horse barns, talking to the owners, trainers and drivers.  One of my earliest memories is sitting on a big trunk in a barn, collecting pennies from the horsemen for singing, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”.  I loved listening to the conversation as I took in the ambience of the dusty barn with the plaid blankets hanging on the wall, the sharp smell of the Absorbine used on the sore muscles of the animals, and the horses snorting, neighing and kicking their stall doors.


When I was very young, people would ask me what I was going to do when I grew up.  I always said I was going to get a job and help Daddy buy a horse.  Within months after graduation and getting my first job @ $30.00/week, my father told me he had a horse in mind and was ready for my contribution.  This is one of our early horses winning a race in 1955.  I made the jacket and cap my father is wearing.


I owned shares of my father’s horses off and on for many years until he was better established and my own expenses with four children didn’t leave enough to support a horse.  My father continued to be a top driver/trainer in the southwestern Ohio area.  In 1978, at age 66, he was driving a horse called Peter Horn at a track in northern Kentucky.  After finishing second in a photo finish, he died of a heart attack.  Our family said they knew if he died on a track, he died happy except that he would have wanted to be the winner.  This is a winning photo of my father and Peter Horn in 1975.


A few days after his death, I was at work when I suddenly got a whiff of a familiar smell – straw, horse, barn, tobacco – the unforgettable essence of my father in his plaid shirt and twill pants.  I turned around quickly, wondering who had come into the office directly from a horse barn and, of course, no one was there.  Or maybe someone had been there and walked briskly off, as he always did – always in a hurry to get to some horse or some fairgrounds or some barn.

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Lillian Applegate Westfelt was a mother of 4, grandmother of 6, and great-grandmother of 3. She was an 86-year-old widow living in a nice little bungalow with her oldest daughter and a beagle-dachsund named Addie. She passed away in November, 2018.

10 thoughts on “The Fragrance of a Horse Barn”

  1. Beautiful story! Just last night I started reading God of Animals by Aryn Kyle, a story about a family on a horse ranch (loose description). What a good daughter you are! I doubt I bought anything for my parents when I got my first job.

  2. Oh, Lillian, what a magnificent story about your family and the love you have for each other. You have such a big heart, Lillian.

    The thought of you breathing in the smell of your father and the horse barn after your father passed is haunting.

    The horse people, especially, in the town I grew up in kept our smithie busy. I spent many an hour watching the men in his shop working in front of the fires on sweltering summer days. I know intimately the smells of the stable as well. Those two places, always twinned in my mind, are probably only experienced by country folk these days.

    (My father loved the track too, but he was betting man. I was often his companion for the afternoon. It’s a little different from the other side of the rail.)

  3. Hi! I found your blog by googling “harness racing and warren county, OH.” I had a goal, but got sidetracked with your wonderful stories! Thank you.

    My goal was to find someone who has been involved in harness racing at the Lebanon Raceway, possibly in the 1960s and 1970s. I know that your Dad has passed, but do you think anybody else might remember a man who “attended horses” there for many years? His name was Cornelius Healy, also known as “Red.” I am a genealogist who is trying to help a man in Ireland. His uncle, Cornelius Healy, emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s and the family lost touch with him shortly after that. They just want to know what happened to him, did he have a good life, etc. I believe the man who worked at the Lebanon Raceway is the correct man, however, I need to confirm a few things to be sure. His death information, obituary, cemetery records, and funeral records do not give any family-of-origin information. He apparently never married or had a family. Do you know anyone who can help me with this? Many thanks, for any possible leads, and for an entertaining hour with your blog.

  4. Lillian Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories what a life you have lived 🙂 and the Food on this page oh goodness looks delicious. I got side tracked I think you read this often I was looking for photos of Carthage fairgrounds Hamilton County Ohio and stumbled on to your blog.

  5. I was wondering how much is the candles coast I use to work in the horse stables and I miss that lovely smell of the barn. If thier really a candle out thier I definitely want a few?? Thank you and God Bless.

    1. I don’t know of any candles that smell like a stable – if I did, I would have them burning all the time.

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