Sunday, June 7, 2009

What Do You Do?

For a number of years now, I've been struggling with the question of how to take care of our 5 horses, particularly as my daughters grow up and move away.  I'm getting older, and my husband is older than I am.  Although we both can do some physical labor, there are limits, and those days when I'm too tired to ride after working at the barn are discouraging.  We have a couple of horses with special needs - Norman the pony is on dry lot for now due to his tendency to get fat, and Maisie with her recent bout of laminitis is also on dry lot, for now and perhaps mainly in the future.  Lily has heaves, and needs to live outside - lots of blanketing and unblanketing - but she ends up spending too much time inside during our severe winters.  Noble is elderly and gets cold easily, but is doing well in our current situation despite his advanced age.

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?


  1. Managing a farm and horses as we get older seems to take more time and energy. I'm lucky enough to have my daughter who does most of the work around here, that the 7 horses require. I'm sure you will come up with a solution. It seems we can always find a way to take care of the horses we love.

  2. That's a tough problem to solve. There probably aren't any perfect solutions. If I get desperate, I might just leave the manure clean up for another day. I won't kill the horses to have a little manure laying around. My kids do chores around the house, but when they both leave for college I know I will be struggling. I'll have to continue working fulltime to pay to put two kids through college, and take care of the horses, and cook meals, and do the dishes, and clean house without help. Right now my son washes the dishes, and before that my daughter did it. I don't think I've washed a dish in years.

  3. do you have some local "worker bees" you could hire p/t?

  4. There are many days when I don't ride because I don't have the energy left after everything is said and done. I love my gorgeous arena but even that takes work to maintain. I've made a real effort to hire very competent help that I trust to give me some more riding time. I'm such a control freak around here that it is hard for me to let anyone else aside from Jason do hands on things for the horses, even if I'm literally just one field away doing something else! I have learned to adore the two Amy's that help me even though I still feel the need to follow them around sometimes.

  5. Geez Kate,
    Tough call - a soul searching moment. I'm not in your shoes and nowhere near as experienced around horses, the only advice I would offer is asking you where you envision yourself, practically so, in 5 years? Work backwards from there.

  6. Hi Kate,
    I understand your dilemma, I also worry about how to care for several horses.
    Could you advertise for a young experienced person who would perhaps be willing to come and help in exchange for riding and some training?
    I know it's not easy, just a thought.

  7. I can see your dilemma - I agree with the suggestion of trying to find a keen student that could help with chores in exchange for riding time. That might help...

    Also trying to find a barn that suits your needs more might be good. I know around here sometimes people with their own farms advertise for a couple of boarders to help out with costs. So that way there aren't trainers or lessons all the time...

    I only have 1 horse, so things are ok for me. My barn owner (whom I trust) has started using my horse for a beginner lesson 1x a week - so that gives me a bit of a credit to collect for lessons, so that helps...

  8. I understand your worry. It is really hard when you don't have your horses at your back door. I presume you own your own home so I guess renting/leasing a property would be out of the question - then I guess you still have the problem of up keep. I wish I could help! I only have Sam at the moment but it won't be long until he has to be retired due to his joint disease and I will then have to see where I am at with being able to afford a second horse.

    I hope you are able to work something out. What about leasing any of your horses out?

  9. Thanks for stopping by my blog.
    I board four of my five horses 10 minutes from my house-my blind horse is retired in a special equipped facility an hour away. I spend every free minute I can with them. I am 50 and work full-time. Three of my horses have special needs. What I have had to do is make a schedule that builds in riding/training days for Jack and spoiling days for the retirees. I also have Mushboy to help out with the horses that are his.
    We also have weekly riding/play days scheduled at the boarding facility, where we all get together for three hours and work our horses.
    Have you thought about enlisting help from a youngster that wants to learn about horses.
    I do understand your dilemma...there are days I would love to be down to just our two riding horses. It would make more time and money to spend on them.
    If you come up with a great plan we will all be interested

  10. Thanks for all the comments - I really appreciate them! I don't have an ideal answer - there are trade-offs with every choice. I really like having a substantial say in how my horses are fed and handled, and all-day turnout is important too. I try not to hire too much labor to replace work I would do - money is tight with 5 horses! But it's not really about money - it's more about whether I feel I can take adequate care of all 5 of my horses - that's the hard part for me. Due to the training work I'm doing with Maisie and the work I will be doing with Dawn, having a share-boarder at this time doesn't really make sense - due to my tendency to own hot horses, we don't have any packers! Our facility makes some of these work issues harder, but then it also has real advantages!

  11. That's a tough situation for a lot of us, I'm afraid. My hubby and I are 59 and 49, so we're not exactly kids either. We have 5 horses and a llama and we both work full-time jobs. No help at all. We do keep our horses at our home, no boarding out. It's definitely a challenge, especially in the winter. Summer is a piece of cake and our take a break time. I have never been able to come up with an easy answer and there are days when I question our sanity. Mostly, we just take each day as it comes. We have a lot of faith, and when there are problems, we pray about it. Almost always, any problems that arise have a way of just working out. Our 2 older girls are 27 and 24, they will live their lives here, if at all possible. Our main riders are 12 and 13, they might be the last horses, or at least riders that we have...we'll see. I know it sounds overly simplistic, but mostly I make a conscious effort not to worry about most anything, and then just take life one day at a time. God-willing, everything will work out, and if not, all problems will be dealt with as best as we can when they come up. I am learning to realize that I am not in charge of anything, really. If you come up with something, please let us know.

  12. Owing horses put a large demand on both time and money, so I assume most of us struggle with problems on how to handle things the best possible way.

    Both my husband and I are working 100%.
    We have our horses boarded with our neighbour, so all feeding is included and they also let the horses out in the morning during the week. Mucking out and taking them in is our responsibility, as well as getting them out/in in the weekends.

    Compared to having the horses at home it makes it easier to get away over the weekend, or if you are to travel in your work, but it costs more.
    We had another arrangement a few years ago when we managed it ourselves, but it was so stressing to get the practical things to work so we had to change.

    We have a system here that is working were well.
    You share your horse with someone else, who then pays part of the cost.
    As my own horse is a youngster, I ride her myself 5-6 days/week and only ask for help (from someone I know) when I am away from home. But my daughter’s pony has a “sharer”. She rides him two days a week, and pays a monthly fixed sum for it. It works very well, she is both sweet and rides well.
    To get a “sharer” you either ask someone you now, or put out an ad.
    I believe it is a very good arrangement.
    The sharer gets a possibility to ride a better schooled horse than you normally get when riding in a riding school.
    In addition he/she often get a possibility to ride for an instructor, which makes the learning go faster as you are 1-2 on a schooling lesson for private owned horses compared to a riding school when it often is 8-12.
    He/she learns more about the tasks that comes with owing a horse without having the full responsibility.
    And the horse owner gets some days off, and also some financial help.
    So it is a win-win solution!
    If you have a horse with issues, it might be harder to find a suitable “sharer”.
    What I find is most important for me (being very meticulous about our horses) is that it is someone I can trust. If the riding ability is not quite what I have been looking for, they will improve if they get some lessons. If it is a knowledgeable rider, I prefer to get help even if I don’t get paid.

  13. Hi Kate,

    Read this post after your comment on my blog. I guess there are lots of things to balance! I've been catch-riding since I was very little, and was lucky enough to find people in your situation now and again who would let me ride their horses in exchange for doing barn chores. I hope you can find someone like me who would be willing to muck some stalls and help with turnouts etc. in exchange for a few rides!


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