Sunday, February 21, 2010

From the Beginning

The long story: “I want a pony, I want a pony, I want a pony.” ~~ Lisa Simpson

Some years back Horse & Rider magazine had a short article focusing on whether it was time to leave your boarding barn or not. When the column was new, we were very happy in our current horse-keeping situation, but the previous boarding barn had five out of seven reasons to leave.

Our horse had not been happy there, he was learning some horrific vices, the barn manager pulled a bait and switch, the tension between some of the barn staff was not good, the barn manager would not let me know when the farrier was there, locked us out of the barn regularly, which prevented us from seeing our horse or trailering out, and in general came up with ‘rules’ that we were breaking. We weren't doing well there, either.

Happily we found a great place to move him quickly and got him out of a bad situation. And he really liked the new place. He flourished at the new barn and forgot all of the acquired vices; weaving, stall kicking, territorial lunging, etc.

A few years later a couple, five things happened in quick succession that had us again looking for a new place to keep our boys. (In the meantime we had gotten another horse):

1. Barn Owner sells 2.5 acres to Barn Manager’s parents – in the middle of the big pasture, without diminishing the size of the herd, builds 5,000 sq ft McMansion.

2. To accommodate County Greenway ruling, must set aside an additional 2.5 acres of pasture for trees with no horse access, does not diminish the size of the herd.

3. Skip gets kicked in the knee on a Sunday night, requiring emergency Vet visit. He received stitches and ordered stall rest for three weeks. After that it was the ‘hospital’ pasture for a week, then light riding – no running or jumping for another 2 weeks.

4. Board increases $25

5. Because of the diminished pasture and pinch-points around the new building site our horses get into scuffles while wearing their winter blankets: $300 + in replacement blankets in one month.

6. Barn Manager gets two more dogs while not being able to control the original dog.

7. Barn Manager changes the hours the arena is open for boarders – everyone must be gone by 9:00 p.m.

We had really enjoyed boarding there; close to our house and the hours were unlimited. Because we had two dogs of our own and work full-time we liked the flexibility of having dinner at home, playing with the dogs, then going to the barn to ride for an hour or so. From March to September we could ride off their property into the Park, taking the dogs along.

This barn also catered to and developed fearful riders. We were viewed as dangerous dare-devils and no one would ride with us. No one showed us the trails in the Park and we did get lost from time to time before we figured it out. Several boarders had trailers but never used them, never taking their horses anywhere, ever.

Some of the long-time boarders expressed objections to the things we liked to do in the arena, although we were assured that it was to be shared, even if lessons were being conducted because it was not a lesson barn. We found it was easier to wait til everyone cleared out to play ‘cowboy soccer’ or do our trail training with the ‘danglies’(cowboy curtains) or the blue tarp. We built and paid for trail obstacles for everyone’s use. When the hours were curtailed we found it impossible to take advantage of the amenities that we were paying a premium for. We started looking for an alternative boarding facility. This proved more difficult than expected.

We live in an urban/suburban area and acreage is gobbled up quickly to development and infrastructure. Typically horse people and computers/internet do not go together. Also websites, once launched, are never taken down. We visited ‘barns’ that were now religious retreats or cut up into house lots. It was very frustrating and we felt the urgent need to get our boys out of there. We were not getting our money’s worth.

Along the way we found a lovely boarding facility that had it all, not all that much further out, except no access to a Park. We would have to trailer everywhere. We got a multiple horse discount and cut our board bill in half. And at the same time we also found a ‘distressed’ foreclosure property that had so much potential AND had its corner touching a State Park.

Here was the dilemma we had to work out. Should we get out of our comfort zone and go into debt? Commute by car to work? We hadn’t done that in 26 years! Could we handle having our horses in the backyard? It was going to be hard work and more money than we had on hand. We had always done all of our own work. In the 24 years we lived in our old house we had ONE CONTRACTOR do work for us. Could we do the same here? I ain’t getting any younger, but if not now, when?

It had long been our goal to pay off our house, which we did, and save as much money as we could and hopefully retire at a decent young-ish age. We also are generally frugal, keeping cars for many, many years, paying cash for just about everything. We don’t live an extravagant life-style (except for the horses!). When we retired we would sell our house, flipping it for a ready-made farm further south, on a Park, away from any employment center. This was the plan until the economy tanked, we lost some of our 401(k), and housing values plummeted.

We know lots of horse-people, most are older than we are. One couple has a farm that they bought before they retired. They’ve also always kept their horses at home. When they retired they discovered that there was limited riding opportunities in that area and would have to trailer everywhere, even coming back down to where they currently lived. They never did move, they rent out the farm, remaining in their home where riding is better. I can’t live long enough to make all the mistakes myself; I have to learn from others.

Our new mortgage payment would be about the same amount we were paying in board for our two horses. It is also a popular belief that the vet bill for horses is high. This is a myth handed down generationally from fathers to daughters, because Dad can’t admit he is afraid of horses and even more afraid his child will be injured or killed. He puts a tourniquet on his wallet, end of discussion.

We know a woman that has had a horse for years. Her husband persuaded her to buy a farm so that she wouldn’t have to pay board any longer. She said she used to ride 5 or 6 times a week, but since moving she rarely got a chance to ride. They have a beautiful farm; 25-acres, 1880’s farm house, bank barn, outbuildings, on a Park – the whole deal. Everything needs work, and they also took in a dozen boarders, who in effect are paying for the house, but it’s a lot of work and no time to ride. Will this happen to us?

He admitted it would be like that at first, because there was so much work to do on the house, installing fencing, no barn, the house in seriously compromised condition. But we have a living quarters trailer, so we can shower and cook in there. We can do this, right? It is temporary; we’ll get everything done as quickly as possible, prioritize and get the boys moved to our own place. We’ll have the same vet, same farrier, same friends. We’re actually closer to lots of them geographically. It will be like camping out. We can do this, right? If not now, when?