Horses: Boarding or Homeschooling?

WMYoungSpiritDodgerThis Halloween was the 14th anniversary of moving here to Infinity Farm. In the beginning I called it the Howlin’ Cowgirl Rancho. Old friends still like that name better. And the first few years, I did a whole lot of howling at the sky. Moving here was a strategic retreat, a witness protection sort of escape, from a life that was falling apart quicker than I could duct tape it back together.

I signed papers on the farm late in the day. When the dogs and I arrived, we stood on the front porch of our new(?) fixer-up and watched a full moon rise, as the sky lit up with stars. Euphoria. When I looked down to catch my breath, my eyes fell to the flower bed at the edge of the porch. There were probably 20 broken beer bottles sparkling in the moonlight. I burst into tears. What had I done?

Before moving here, I had a cool, urban artist lifestyle. I boarded my horses in wonderful barns with indoor arenas with lots of like-minded friends. My income afforded me nice riding breeches and boots, lessons and clinics.  There were no chores to do, it was the muck less and ride more reality. And that’s just what I did: I rode both horses, every day, like clockwork. My horses progressed, we had success and fun, and everything was perfect. I wrote a big check every month, and was happy to do it. Is this what a country club is like?

That same income did not afford me even a marginal horse property of my own.

I wasn’t naive about living in the country. I grew up on a failing farm, and even now it isn’t an easy life to romanticize. What can I say? I ended up with more farm vision and work ethic, than money or common sense. I turned the open garage into a barn, and brought the horses home the next month. The world might have been crumbling around me, but my animals were safe. Did you have a mid-life crisis? Then you know it’s more than a figure of speech.

Which brings me back to my expensive breeches, I trashed every pair I owned the first year. I’d go outside to ride, and instead throw some hay, pull the hose to water, repair a couple of fences, drag some trash to my personal dumpster, muck the barn, and by then it would be time for dinner. I’ve never ridden less than my first couple of years living with the horses.

There were plenty of disasters. On the third day of a blizzard with the power lines down, I learned that my well pump was electric. Who knew? How can you run out of water during a blizzard? I already had a hypothermic donkey in the house. He will vouch for me- I’m just one inch more stubborn than a donkey in a blizzard. Those first years, the concept of 24/7 got redefined a dozen times: no rest, no break, no shortage of death and destruction. I got hurt, I got sick, I was lonely. Is this what pioneer life was like? Can I have my country club back?

Clearly, I needed some new friends. Llamas and goats seemed the obvious choice.

But I could go to the barn before dawn and turn the horses out. By then the coffee was ready, and I could take a cup into the pasture and wait for the silhouettes to come out of the shadow. Wait for the moment white horses turn pink at sunrise. Another thing I didn’t know. Eventually we all grew into a new name, Infinity Farm, other words for heaven.

Back when I boarded my horses, I never found a perfect barn. Some had better runs, some more room for tack, some closer than the usual 45 minute drive. None had enough good turnout, or fed often enough, or had enough acres to ride on. It’s always a compromise. It’s a compromise to board at my barn now and I own the place!

Is there an easy way to own a horse? No, not for most of us. We rearrange our lives for horses, whether we board them, or keep them at home. Even if it’s all going right, eventually horses need to retire, and that changes everything. What works for you? How do you prioritize? Would you do it differently if you could?

It took me a mid-life crisis to find it, but I’m home now. The time change is this weekend, and we lose light during the winter months. Soon, another blizzard will be blowing hard and I’ll wait up till midnight to throw extra hay to keep the horses warm till dawn. I’ll be bundled up thick, trudging through snow banks, only to find a tank heater out. Or a goat will trip me and I’ll land hard. It’s then that I think about how supportive it is to board my horses, and what a comfortable life I had, back before pink became my favorite color.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

11 thoughts on “Horses: Boarding or Homeschooling?

  1. Interesting; I’ve never had the opportunity to be a “country club” horse owner; we’ve always kept horses at home. Oh, there was the occasional period when my horse was boarded for a month or two or three so I could continue training through the winter for some particular reason, but there were still chores to do at home for the other horses. Now that I have an almost-all-season arena at home, life is pretty good. Yeah, it would be nice if it was covered so I didn’t have to try to plan my rides between rains in the winter, and there used to be a LOT more riding available on the hill where we live, before it was developed so much, but I try to remind myself daily how blessed I am to have this little acreage, and my horse, and my life.

    1. I have a great outdoor arena, so I don’t miss the indoor either. We are blessed. I have a client who has it both ways. She keeps her horse at home, but a couple of times a year, she visits us here for a month. I make her a good $ deal, and we all like the company.

  2. Sandra Murray

    We know that the rest of the world considers us certifiable, but so what?!? The satisfaction, the joys, the close bonds that come from caring for our own horses make it all worthwhile. As long as the aging bones will allow us to get out to the barn to feed and do chores, we’ll be there.

  3. Only managed “urban” for 13 years! Thought I had the life I wanted in London, but it couldn’t include horses. Only when we found our house deep in the French countryside, did I feel “Home”, and so lucky to have the space to have horses outside the window. Yes, better facilities, company and someone to look after them so we can get away occasionally woud be nice; would like to try it out sometime! A very happy anniversary!

  4. Never did the country club horse thing? Though, wow, visited an upper eschelon hunter barn that felt like another planet!
    Did do a do-it-yourself co-op barn with mostly good folks, but all it takes is a couple of people not participating and you have a mess. Did the horse at home thing with disastorous results (the exception to total disaster: becoming owned by Mr. Chips) because horses require backup, and I did not have reliable back up.
    Now boarding in a low-key, co-op spirited boarding barn, where absolutely everyone will pitch in if they can, and do. I’ve now known some of these fine folks for close to 20 years, and can’t imagine a horse life without them. For me, being the only horsey person in my family, I need the “it takes a village” boarding barn to adequately provide for my horse and me. But. I do love reading/feeling the beauty of your living intimately with the fine critters of Infinity Farm!

    1. Jane, I have two boarders right now, and I am always trying to build the barn family you have (with haul-in clients included.) It’s precious, and you are right, easy to upset with the wrong balance of people. But riding and owning in a ‘village’ is the very best way and we need horse friends as much as horses.

  5. Anna Worley

    Six years ago, as a fifty-something retiree, I leased my first horse. One year later I removed myself from that lease and found another a few months later, only to have the owner sell the horse. Thus, I began a search to purchase my very own horse so that I could be the one making the decisions.

    So 4 years ago, I bought my TB mare and had her delivered to a run down place that I “could afford.” I went out daily to muck, ride, & check on her, but after 3 weeks discovered that the manager was not feeding my mare the feed that I was supplying. The next day, we hitched a ride over to another horse barn that had room and, of course, was more expensive. I was suddenly faced with the thought that I might never trust another person to care for my horse the way that I would. Yes, I had become a horse parent, not just a horse owner.

    Last year as hay prices were skyrocketing and boarding would definitely do the same, I was lucky enough to find a small private barn that needed a boarder who wanted to work off board by doing feeding, turnouts, mucking, etc. for three mornings and three afternoons each week. The schedule insured that I would see my horse six days or more a week. It has been a great bonding experience for us and the mucking, etc. is like meditation for me.

    Then 6 months later I just chose to get another horse because my TB mare was not becoming the dressage horse that I had dreamed of but we are bonded so I am trying to find an appropriate new parent for her. The horse market has continued to plummet as the hay prices have gone up and, thus, I have not found a new owner/parent for my aging child who is about to turn 20.

    Like you, I am now tempted to trade our large in-town 2-story home for a small fixer-upper ranch with an even smaller barn and some pasture to insure that I will have a place for my horse or horses to retire.

    Reading your blog, I know now that I should have started this journey a long time ago, but my motto continues to be “it’s never too late.” At 63, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to ride and/or take care of horses but I’m really enjoying this experience. And I really enjoyed the story of how you transitioned to farm life. I can’t wait!

    1. Well, moving to the country is nuts, and I highly recommend it. I am writing a memoir about it (apart from this blog) and looking back… Well, it’s never to late for an adventure!

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