Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some Posts to Read and Thinking Out Loud

There's an excellent post over at the 7MSN Ranch about auditing a Mark Rashid clinic - it really captures the "feel" of the experience, in words and photos. I did a series of posts a while ago - see my sidebar - about auditing one of Mark's clinics back in July.

And Jill has just done another excellent post over at Buckskin and Bay - this one is on the concept of your horse being "with you". I found it very helpful - see what you think!

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The recent "kerfluffle" at our barn has gotten me thinking. I can be slow on the uptake, and sometimes I have to be hit over the head with a board (metaphorically) before I sit up, look around and realize where I am. What the upset made me realize is that the barn isn't mine - never has been and never will be - it's just a place where I board my horses. Now under the circumstances, it wasn't wrong for the others to point this out to me - sometimes I do act like it's mine in an unthinking way, but I think it's less about having things my own way (although there's undoubtedly an element of that) and more about the strong identification I have with the place and my dedication to the quality of care all the horses, not just mine, receive there.

But it isn't mine. And because it isn't mine and never will be, the things that are troubling me about the place aren't going to go away. I did a post a while back about my struggles in thinking about the barn - "What Do You Do?" Part of my solution to my problems taking care of 5 horses was to send two of them to a wonderful retirement farm in Tennessee - Paradigm Farms - where they are doing very well. But although it's a relief to only have 3 horses of my own to take care of, the other issues with the barn aren't getting any better.

But just dream with me for a moment - if it were mine, all 16 acres of it, and if I had the money, here's what I'd do. First I'd take a bulldozer and level the existing barn - it's a poorly designed and constructed wooden barn with extremely high maintenance costs - I'd replace it with a lovely steel Morton barn, on the highest point in the center of the property - and it probably would be a smaller barn just for the most senior and injured/ill horses. Then, I'd take out all of the interior fencing, and maybe the exterior fencing too (although a nice exterior board fence would be good) - our fencing is a huge maintenance cost as it was poorly planned and constructed in the first place and we've been replacing boards and posts piecemeal. I'd reconfigure the pastures so they were spokes leading from the barn, so access from each pasture to the barn would be easy and quick - so low time/labor costs for turnout/bring-in. The fencing would be lower cost and lower maintenance while being as safe as possible. I'd build nice loafing sheds in each of the pastures so most of the horses could be out 24/7, again substantially reducing labor costs. Where the old barn had been - a nice level spot - I'd build an adequate, not huge, indoor arena, with an attached tackroom/saddling area. I'd completely dig up and redo the drainage and footing in our outdoor arena, while is essentially a bunch of sand dumped onto dirt and has terrible drainage and poor footing most of the time.

Now, back to reality - those things aren't going to happen. Even if I had the money, which I don't, the property's locked up in a non-profit and can't be sold. There is also no way that we can afford the improvements I described - the barn lives hand to mouth as it is and higher board isn't an option. My husband and I have been doing excessive amounts of volunteer labor for a long time - many years - and doing it as a gift - there's no benefit to us from all of our investment of time and effort into the property. Although I love the community we live in, and having the horses so close to my house, we can't (and shouldn't) continue to do the work we do to keep the place going - it just isn't worth it and maybe it never was.

Now the options are - get our own place, either here in our area or elsewhere in the country, or find another place to keep our horses. Having our own place here doesn't seem like a really good option - we love our community. Also, if I were to get a place, it would be in a warmer climate. We're locked in place right now anyway due to the fact we have private insurance and my husband has some health issues that would prevent us obtaining a new policy in another state (hello Washington - how about some health care reform?) - so we need to stay put at least until he's Medicare eligible. And we're getting a little old for having our own place anyway, unless we can find something reasonably priced so we can afford to hire the labor we can't do ourselves.

Boarding elsewhere is also an option. There are lots of horse facilities in our area, although many are of the high price/low value (fancy for people but not so good for horses) type, and I also need a place that can accommodate my doing my own training, and a place with an indoor jam packed with kids taking jumping lessons isn't going to do it. The ideal place would be a small private facility that would allow me access to a quiet indoor in the winter, and with a decent outdoor arena for the summer, and adequate (or 24/7) turnout with safe fencing and quality supervision. I may just be dreaming when it comes to that too, but I'm starting to explore my options.

If there are options I haven't thought of, let me know - things are going to have to change soon, for the better.

12 comments:

  1. It's always frustrating having to board. Even if the place seems perfect in the beginning, you soon find things that could be changed to your liking.

    We also looked for a better option than boarding and rented a 16 stall barn for a few years and had a small boarding/lesson business. Unfortunately, the people we leased it from were...ah...jerks. And that's all I'll say about that, but there's a list as long as my arm about how they didn't know or care about the facility as long as they got their money every month.So leasing a smaller barn just for your needs might be an option. If you consider this at all, I'd say get a really good contract.

    The only way to have things the way you really want them is to have your own place. I know it's not always doable. We were lucky because after looking for many years we finally found a nice place. Good luck.

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  2. Financially having your own place is tough - our board is so low our actual board cost (minus cost for food) is just $150 per horse. And they do all the shoveling, feeding, etc. It would take a long time for it to "pay off" to have our own place.

    But I still want one. I've thought of trying a co-op approach, but I imagine that is frought with issues. If we do find a place, though, I'm inviting you out for design help! :)

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  3. Such a tough spot to be in. No boarding barn is ever going to be perfect. On the same hand even if you have your own place and can hire help, the help always is unable to come at the most inopportune times. Setting up a place is pricey as well. I know what my arena cost to build and I am so lucky to have it.

    We are having some loads of gravel delivered today to combat mud around the gates. I would have loved to have had it last year but we spent improvement money on other things. There is always something lacking even at your own place!

    BTW I love your dream layout of your current facility, I would board there! Jason is always wanting to do a spoke design for pasture/paddock layout whenever we finally find a piece of land that suits our wants and our budget, or at least is a reasonable compromise.

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  4. I'm sorry. That's a tough situation. I wish I had some sage advice, but I haven't had to change boarding facilities... I do a disproportionate amount of work (compared to the other boards) at the place we're at, but it's a work for board agreement, so it's not something that's going to weigh on me like your situation.

    Good luck, I guess. If you're not totally jazzed about having your own place, I wouldn't do it. It's going to be a huge amount of time and money and commitment that will become a burden if you don't absolutely want it.

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  5. Kate,

    Having been in a similar situation myself recently, I totally know what you are going through. I also identified strongly with that place, volunteered my time and labor (despite the high cost of board), and wanted to be able to control more than I could. In the end I, too, had to recognize that no matter how much time I put into that place, I just couldn't make it what I wanted it to be, simply because it wasn't mine.

    So I did what I never thought I would: moved Panama to a big barn. And you know what? It's not as busy as I thought it would be. In fact, it's pretty darn quiet. If I plan my visits for the morning or early afternoon (which I can do, being self-employed), there is rarely anyone there, so I have the facilities pretty much to myself.

    My advice is not to dismiss any of the big barns until you have been there to check them out. Go at different times of day to see if the activity levels are manageable when, say, all the kids are in school. I know a lot of big barns really are quite busy, but as I've learned, just because a barn is big doesn't mean it IS busy!

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  6. I have the Boys in the back yard after oover 25 years of boarding. I love it. It is a lot of work, but my place is small enough not to overwhelm. But, I was lucky in that I already had the land, so I just had to add the horses once I found out the zoning allowed me to. (Long story there....)

    It is hard to board, but the last place I was was close to perfect. Indoor and only about 6 boarders, most of whom did not ride all the time. I lucked out there until the owner decided to sell and that's when I managed the adventure of my own place.

    It was the only solution for me, so I totally understand what you are going through. Wish I had an answer for you.

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  7. I so identify with the feeling of "my barn!", and I, uh, don't even *own* a horse at my barn. I had to laugh, in a rueful and yet understanding way, at needing to be reminded one's boarding barn doesn't belong to one.

    This issue comes up frequently in many of the boarding barns at which I've been either a rider or boarder. On the plus side, it means people feel attached to and invested in the facility, and take some ownership of the barn and (hopefully) the barn dynamics and work flow.

    On the minus side, it can lead one to be unintentionally thoughtless of others, because I'm just using my barn, and yeah 3 new boarders came in and no new cross ties appeared, but they'll get used to the fact I leave Trigger to dry in the ones closest to the tack room. No one has ever cared before.

    Talk about set up for conflict!

    Fine line between a sort of mutual joint ownership that works for all, and an Ownership that starts creating problems.

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  8. Kate;

    Of course there is a lot more work beyond doing morning and evening chores to keeping one's horses at home as many of the other posters have mentioned. The question of whether to take the plunge or not hinges mostly on how you view all the rest of the work that comes with owning and maintaining property. Is it a taxing and labourious drudgery or is it a fun challenge ?

    Melissa and I both mostly enjoy doing the "other" work, but we recognize that not everyone feels this way.

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  9. I have always been able to keep my horses at home. I love to look out my window and see them in the pasture. I don't mind the feeding, shoveling manure and all the other hard work that comes with horses. The only downfall is that I don't have an indoor/covered arena, so living where I live during fall, winter and spring makes it very difficult to get any riding time in, all it does is rain. That is the only reason I would board, for the indoor arena. I have local barns I can trailer too, but have to pay a $10 fee each time to use the indoor, and right now that is something I can't afford.
    I hope things get better at your barn. Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

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  10. We have just bought 26 acres - blank canvas - nothing on it, not really any trees so we get to start from scratch. Yep it is going to be a long road of hardwork, blood, sweat, tears, screams but it will all be worth it!

    I have agisted at many places, we have rented acreage and none of them will compare to it actually being your own. It will take years because of money, time etc but I believe it will be awesome.

    We are going to have a green place - self suffient, solar power, tank water, compositing toilet, grey water, we are even going to try growing our own vegies and lucerne.

    We enjoy hard work but I think if you didn't then don't do it. Can you get maybe a small 5 acres near where you are?

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  11. Kate,

    Two years ago I was riding horses for people at a boarding stable. I was very surprised to see how few people were actually there. It was like I had the whole place to myself. You might find that if you plan to work in an indoor and imagine little kids everywhere that they just aren't there!

    My family had our farm and I couldn't see cutting all that grass and maintaining all the land without horses on it. So we took in boarders. I went through a horrific year similar to what you are going through and finally I realized they weren't my horses. Just as you said - it isn't your barn. That was so hard because I loved the horses and had spent so much time taking care of them, but it did free me to realize the fact that they weren't mine. Now, with the foster boys, it is so calm because it is our facility and it feels like they are our horses. Each day is not full of philosophical disagreements about horse care. I can't even tell you how nice that is for me to be free of that stress. It is more work because I am doing it all pretty much by myself, but physical labor is nothing when you compare it to nasty emotional turmoil. Good luck! I wish you lived around here. There is an empty horse farm adjacent to our property with an indoor. Our climate isn't warm though!

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  12. Kate, maybe a really small place (5 acres) near your current location might be a good option. Properly managed and set-up 5 acres would be plenty for three horses and not a lot of land to and fencing to maintain, especially when you factor in some room for house, barn and arena. It does sound like you live in a great community there but maybe being close by you could have the best of both worlds, your own place and still be involved in the community.

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