A Farm of Your Own
At one time or another, every equestrian has fantasized of owning his or her own farm. For some of us the dream has been realized for others it has yet to happen. In keeping with the theme of this blog “the aging equestrian”, in a short series of posts I would like to cover the pros and cons of farm ownership for our age group. I welcome all comments and recommendations you might be able to add that would be helpful to prospective farm owners.
The Reason Why
Out of the blue the mantra, need a farm, need a farm, need a farm is on a loop in your brain. You wonder, where did that come from? Why, exactly, do you want your own farm? Have you simply had enough of boarding stables or the care your horse is receiving? Maybe you are tired of the show circuit and just want to relax and enjoy your horses in your own backyard. Has the atmosphere at boarding stables (not to mention the rules) finally gotten to the point where you no longer enjoy the time you are at the barn? Whatever your reasons are, they are significant enough that you want to take on a completely new lifestyle. However, are you sure you’re ready to handle this huge change?
To be certain that the decision to own a farm is right for you at this time, you must consider all the aspects involved. Even if you believe you are ready for a place of your own, you have to ask yourself whether you are experienced enough to be responsible for everything it entails. It is a huge commitment and not one to take on without due consideration. Many questions need to be asked and answered before you contact a real estate agent. As always, you must be very honest with your soul searching about what kind of a farm you intend to own; without honest answers you will set yourself up for failure and heartache.
v If you plan to have a backyard set-up for your own horses, will you be doing the feeding and mucking? Can you afford to pay someone else to do it? Do you trust them? Good help is nearly impossible to find; if something goes wrong and you are temporarily without help, can you handle the farm by yourself for a few days or weeks until you find a replacement employee? When the farm is snowed in, will you be mucking all of the stalls and hauling all of the hay, feed and water yourself? If you are taking care of things yourself, what will you do if you are injured, get sick or want to take a vacation?
Having a single horse, isolated from other horses, is borderline cruel for these social animals; will you get your horse a companion; and, will you be able to separate them for your riding, or will you need three horses just so you can take one out to ride without the other getting frantic? Will you have enough space to accommodate the number of horses you plan to have?
If you plan to board a horse or two or are considering taking on friend's horse in a backyard situation, you’ll need to educate yourself about liability and how to protect yourself in the event a horse or rider sustains an injury while under your care. Friends are wonderful until something catastrophic happens to their horse, whether it is your fault or not.
v Do you want to try your hand at breeding and selling horses? Breeding is a 24/7 project - you do not get to go on vacation and you need a qualified knowledgeable person present at all times. Leaving horses unattended during the day while you are at work or running errands is out of the question; there is no end to the trouble horses can get into and someone needs to be on premises at all times. Is a full-time manager in your budget, or, if you take on the responsibility yourself, can you handle the physical demands of raising a rambunctious baby? Do you know enough to properly handle and train one from scratch? You must ask yourself if you are skilled and knowledgeable enough to bring quality horses into the world, train them properly and sell them to good and caring homes.
v How about a place for retired horses that need a place to live out their final days in peace and dignity. If you plan to run a facility for them, are you aware of the special needs of an older horse? Including specialized feeding, dentistry and veterinary care, proper turnout, and perhaps limited but correct exercise?
v Have you thought you could run a boarding and training facility featuring quality training, state of the art barns and riding arenas, shows and clinics, etc? Do you think you could make money doing this to pay for your dream of owning your own farm?
Legal matters may arise for any number of reasons, and you must be prepared to defend yourself and your farm from bogus claims. You are on call, similar to a doctor 24-7. Horses can get sick and need medical attention day or night. Again, good barn help is notoriously hard to find; are you prepared to deal with employees in a fair but firm manner? Will you have staff quarters on the premises? Are you well versed in the law pertaining to workers? Can you find a qualified barn manager and instructor(s)?
Starting a business is never easy, and operating a barn is one of the hardest types of business you can enter into and succeed. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that dealing with boarders, their horses, and their horse’s special needs, may find you at times feeling overwhelmed and lead you to believe having a degree in psychotherapy would be required just to get you through the day. What is more, people tend to think that owning a farm will mean more time to ride and spend with their horses, but often it is just the opposite; attending to the needs of boarders and their horses is a full-time job in itself, and leaves very little time for relaxation and fun with your own horses. My advice is unless you are knowledgeable enough to handle all (or most) aspects of the business, or can afford to hire those who are, you may want to skip this idea.
v Finally, being an older horse person, perhaps with the requisite aches and pains of aging, can you honestly say you are up to the challenge owning a farm encompasses. Will you be up for the physical and mental ordeal that greets you each morning at dawn?
Once you have a firm idea of exactly the type of farm you want to own, you can start looking for the perfect place to make your dream a reality. I will address this in my next post.
Until next time
Quote of the Day
Nothing moves me more than when on the way to fetching in my horses the sound of their neighing to me as I open the gate.