Although our barn is very close to our house, we don't own the facility, and even if we did we probably couldn't afford to do the improvements and maintenance that the facility requires and needs. So we're boarders, but we do a lot more work than most boarders do. I work 7 days a week in the mornings at the barn, which pays for one horse board, but as I get older the work has become harder, and on some of those frigid winter mornings, really unpleasant. Our barn never has the money to do needed improvements - such as to the arena footing or the barn ventilation - and the facility is not designed with practicality or ease of work in mind - either for turnout or maintenance. As a result, we have a very high labor cost and constant expensive maintenance which we never keep up with.
There are trade-offs in every situation. I have had horses at supposedly excellent show barns where the turnout was limited and the horses were handled by a bunch of untrained barn help. The hay was bought based on lowest cost and was sometimes low quality. It was hard to arrange feeding to meet an individual horse's needs. And no one really watched the horses or their care - I would come to ride and find a water bucket filled with manure, or even worse come and find a colicing horse that no one had noticed.
So having the horses close by and with a big say in their care is a positive. I dream of having my horses at a place with reasonable costs, with people who care about the horses and are attentive to their needs, with an indoor arena (where I could actually ride all winter!) and adequate turnout meeting the needs of each horse. I also like to do my own training, and need the space and freedom to do that - so no large barn with a crowded arena full of lessons.
I suppose when I was younger the solution would have been to have a small farmette of our own. My husband and I are now too old for this to be practical - we have neither the physical ability to do the work nor the means to hire it done. And we're not getting any younger. I've been tempted by the horse properties that are for sale, until I consider the work required.
My two daughters are almost unavailable now to help with horse work - my older daughter has her own horse elsewhere and her own work, and my younger daughter is about to go to college and will be leaving her horse Dawn here with us - I will enjoy riding her and working with her while my daughter is away.
I'd love to have more time to spend working with Maisie and Dawn, who are our two riding horses, while being sure that our 3 others are taken care of - selling them is not an option for us. I've been thinking about ways to change what we are doing to make that more possible. I have some partial solutions - more about that later - but I'm still wrestling with the rest. Maybe a small private barn with an indoor, where the board would be reasonable - no trainers or fancy show horses - but the people concerned about horses and reliable. I don't know if such a thing exists, but I'm starting to look around.
What solutions have you come up with to balance the work/pleasure aspects of horse ownership, particularly as you and your horses age?