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.