The thing I am most proud of last week is that I didn’t cry in a golf cart while being shown a beautiful farm in San Jacinto. I waited until I got into my car, and then had my meltdown on the interstate driving home like a proper adult.

I knew finding a farm near me in Southern California would be a challenge. Simon and I are both used to the wide open spaces of Texas. At his current barn, he gets anywhere from 10-14 hours of turnout in a semi-private paddock with grass and free choice hay. There are also multiple riding rings, dogs are allowed, there’s tons of crossties in the barn, a wash rack, places to store your tack & supplies and affordable lessons. It’s heaven.

Not being completely ignorant, I knew I wasn’t going to find anything comparable here but I wasn’t aware of just how different the options would be. In the last few weeks, I’ve looked at 3 barns that were all a bust for completely different reasons.

Barn One – Friend’s Barn in Orange County

Orange County is a little bit of a hike for me, but I’ve set myself with a 30-40 minute driving time for Simon’s new home and this barn was within that range. Since my friend boards there, I figured it’d be good to look at the place objectively as a future home for Simon. This was the first barn I visited in SoCal, and the difference was striking. Tons of horses with many different trainers were smushed strategically placed out in a fairly small facility. While I walked through this place with complete and total culture shock (turnout areas were about the size of a round pen back home), I noticed that all the horses were in great health. They were fat and happy and relaxed, and I saw a variety of riders schooling competently in their chosen discipline. What really put this place off the list for me were the prices, which seem standard for Orange County but were way too high for my little inland empire graduate school budget.

Barn Two – Budweiser Clydesdale Heaven

For my second barn, I went searching for space instead of training. I was connected with a local private barn owner through a friend at school, and she gave me a heads up that there was a 900 acre ranch about 30 miles from me that used to be a Budweiser Clydesdale facility. The website showed the place as a basic but promising facility, with grass and space and attractive horses schooling over fences. I drove out there enthusiastic that I found Simon’s future home. However, when I got the tour from the super friendly owners it was clear that the facility wasn’t as full of clients as it used to be. They did have huge 1/2 acre – 1 acre group turnouts that were very affordable, but I was worried about keeping weight on Simon without the option to be able to add extra grain. If I wanted to grain him, he’d need to be in a much smaller 24×24 private paddock. There weren’t any options in-between. And they had nice rings and jumps, but you were only allowed to use said jumps if you took a lesson with the trainer at $60/hour since she didn’t have enough current lesson clients to offer group options. That’s just not in my budget right now. If I wanted to store my tack, I had to bring my own shed out there from Home Depot or what not. There wasn’t a place to stash my tack trunk on the property. It was also a ghost town, with just the owners and a few clients who all liked to keep to themselves. All in all, the place was a really great option for a trail rider (amazing trails on the property) but I felt like it would be too lonely and too outside of Simon and my routine of hunter/jumper social barn fun.

Barn Three – The Barn Where I Almost Cried in the Golf Cart

After being really disappointed with the Clydesdale barn, I quickly made an appointment that afternoon to go see a Retirement & Layup barn that I was told occasionally boarded riding horses. The drive out was reasonable, 40 minutes in traffic and closer to 30 without, and as I pulled up I got super excited. There were grass pastures with horses grazing in the sun, covered in fly boots and sheets, and even the dirt paddocks were super spacious and clean. They had a small riding ring with good footing and crossrails set up, and there were several barns that looked clean and organized. So why was I crying? Mostly because the owner told me that there must have been a miscommunication, because she only did layup and retirement. I was so disappointed and frustrated I almost cried, but instead held my shit together and talked to her about the SoCal hunter/jumper horse scene and the services she did offer. If Simon ever needs a month of turnout vacation or layup for an injury, I know exactly where he’s going.

About that breakdown in the car…

Driving home, I cried like a child and realized I was not going to find what I wanted in this state. If an area has more space, they don’t feed grain or offer any of the basic frills that I’ve gotten used to. If it’s a hunter/jumper barn, there’s no space for him. I began to wonder if it was even worth bringing him here at all, and if he’d be happier being leased out in Texas where his lifestyle wouldn’t change. I pondered that for a long time.

After going around and around with my options, I decided that I still want to bring him here. The person that’s going to be the best advocate for my horse is me. If I lease him out for two years where I can’t check on him, there’s a lot of risk involved. While it could be fabulous, it could also end up giving us bigger problems than lack of turnout.

So now I’ve re-channeled my barn search for a basic hunter/jumper barn within 30 minutes of me. While I know I can’t realistically take lessons all the time and show on the A-Circuit, I do want to keep the training and the community I love. One of my potential barns has little schooling shows on the property with classes that include TIP points, and those kind of things might be an option for us (especially next year when I teach) on my budget. This kind of place is going to be an adjustment for Simon, and I’ll have to work new things into my barn routine to make sure that he does the best he can. Not working full time gives me the option to do things like go to the barn and turn him out for a few hours while I read a book.

This is still a decision I’m wrestling with, but I just think horses are too expensive to have at a barn where we don’t feel happy at. Riding is as much about a social life and physical/mental test to me as it is about the horse. Hopefully I’ll find a barn in the near future that will check off all of these requirements.

21 COMMENTS

  1. “I just think horses are too expensive to have at a barn where we don’t feel happy at.” This is so, so true! When I was struggling to find a place for Ax in MA, I kept telling myself this so that I didn’t settle—no matter how much I wanted him with me. You’ll find the perfect place soon!

  2. Hope you find what you’re searching for. CA boarding is kinda miserable unless you have a crud load of money. Those postage stamp sized turnouts and charging for all the extras is super common in Nor Cal. I only boarded at one nice, reasonably priced barn in So Cal in Santa Barbara but that was a million years ago.

  3. I’m a bit more optimistic than Nicku. I’ve never had a ton of money, but where there is a will there is a way and happiness can be found as well as knowing somethings are just out of your control.

  4. Hi Lauren, I moved from NC to MA last year and experienced many similar stresses looking for a home for my mare. She went from 16+ hours of turnout down to 8 (which I’ve learned is actually a lot by MA standards), and some days that still hurts my heart. The good news is that she has settled into her new home and is doing wonderfully. Her new trainer loves her, she’s made new horse friends and seems totally chill about the whole situation. It’s not the same as what we left but all is good. Best of luck finding Simon’s next home!

  5. wishing you luck in the search. as a lifetime east coast-er, i totally get the culture shock of a typical west coast boarding facility. and while i’ve observed the same as you — the horses appear well adjusted, happy, healthy and relaxed and riders still do all the same things — i have a hard time reconciling it with my own preferences, habits and ideas about keeping horses. all the same tho… i had to do a little adjusting of my own when i moved charlie from his cushy posh h/j barn to the slightly more… hands-off eventing barn. and it continues to be a bit of an adjustment for me. that said, tho? charlie for his part has been FINE. he goes with the flow. who knows – maybe Simon will handle the change more easily than you expect?

  6. Welcome to California; having a horse here sucks. I have been through everything you’ve mentioned. A lot of the barns near me have teeny tiny turnouts that are the size of round pens and horses only get an hour in them at that. The pasture board can be good, but in CA the shortage of actual grass means they usually get fed 2x a day in hay only and most TBs I know don’t do well on that. The hardy little QHs do fine though. A lot of barns don’t advertise so I would really recommend checking out local feed stores and asking them if they know of options. Or just brazenly stalk people at shows and ask them where they board/train. I found my barn through a random CL search. Good luck. You’ll find something.

  7. Good luck in your search! I know I love that our horses are able to graze on our 130 acre ranch/farm. Ironically, it kind of fell into our lap, so to say. So definitely the right place will show its self soon! Best Wishes!

  8. I live in North County San Diego and Show Hunter jumpers. Let me know if you think you’d like to chat. I might have some ideas. Originally from the East Coast it was an adjustment for me too.

  9. Barn hunting is tough. I haven’t made any big moves really, but as a kid I really wanted to leave my barn many times (it really wasn’t the best place at all…) but never did because there were no better options. Or so I thought. Now that I live out in the country, I’m learning about all these private barns. Maybe there are some places like that which you only discover through word of mouth in your area. I think Olivia mentioned above about stopping at feed stores and asking. That’s probably a great idea.
    I hope you find something soon. I’m sure Simon misses his mom!
    Also, you’re right. Having horses is as much about your own happiness as your horse’s. You both might need to make some compromises, but in the long run, I know you’ll both be just fine.

  10. It will be an adjustment for both of you, but I know having Simon nearby will help you so much throughout your time as a grad student. It might not be easy, but I know it will be worth it <3

  11. We used to take our horses to shows at Pepperglen Farm on Pedley in Norco. It is a nice facility. They had shows for hunter/jumpers, classic dressage, and western dressage. Of course, there was access to all the Norco trails too.

    Turnout will be an issue at any barn where people actually come to see/ride their horses.

  12. Yeah I can imagine it would be a huge culture shock trying to find boarding in CA when you’re used to TX. In my area of WA turnouts are usually small gravel paddocks and anywhere that claims “mud free” generally means ankle deep only in high traffic spots haha. But I have total faith you’ll find a place that meets your budget and Simons needs and that he will adjust to the changes just fine!

  13. Honestly as a Ca native, I was blown away by what other areas offered. I really thought those lush green turnouts were just for movies and the rich, not that most barns offered huge turnouts and multiple grain feedings. But our horses are happy despite there less than ideal settings and I am sure Simon will just by happy to have new horse friends and mom nearby.

  14. Come on all you CA boarders! You know it’s not that bad. :0)

    There are PLENTY of great boarding opportunities all around the state. Sometimes, you just have to get creative. I’ve sent a message to a friend who lives in your region (more inland though), Lauren. She’s well connected, so once I hear back from her, I’ll pass along her suggestions.

    When you live in an area that isn’t brimming with publicly available barns, you need to look for those smaller, boutique places. California is RICH with them. I’ve boarded at three private homes which has been a great situation. You’ll need to network a bit and probably move a time or two, but eventually you’ll stumble onto the perfect situation.

    Don’t be discouraged. Instead, be determined. Ask people to ask other people. Get your foot in the door. You’ll find something that will work great for you and Simon. If not, bring him to Bakersfield to hang out until you find something that will work. :0)

  15. God, I feel your pain. I’ve boarded at many, many SoCal places (all in the San Diego area) and nothing compares to what they have here in Texas. I’m to the point now where I’m actually considering trying to buy my Rosie back and ship her here to Austin. Even if I can barely ride her due to time, I dream of the life change she’d have at being in a real pasture again.

    My horses were always happy-seeming in CA though. It’s different, and it does suck compared to this. But Simon will be happy with you, and you’ll be happy having him!

  16. Temecula/Murrieta is where you’re going to find space, trainers, and affordability. I urge you to check out that area. I moved back down to LA from Northern California where my horse is in a 5 acre pasture during the day and a large comfy stall at night, I decided he would stay put. I completely understand the challenges Southern California presents but it’s possible if you live in the inland empire to find space, you will just have to drive for it. Also keep in mind that driving to OC from riverside will result in sitting through ridiculous traffic (oh 91 how you suck) best of luck!

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