July 7, 2024

Coming Home

We are moved. My horse and I are (basically) sharing an address for the first time ever.

This was taken from my bathroom window.

It has been a heck of a month. Every bit of free time I had was spent getting my old (and, it's truly old) house ready to be sold. Since we are asking finished home prices for it, I couldn't have any frayed edges showing that might make a buyer think it needed work. 

Absolutely unbelievable amounts of mulch. I was so tired.


But it paid off. This is my baby. Every bit of it completely transformed over the last nine years since I paid $80,000 for a long empty 3300 sqft house that looked like a haunted house from the outside.





As soon as the last task was checked off the list hours before listing photos were taken, I felt myself start to come back to life. I started seeing my horse again. Really seeing him. Brushing him. Doing more than just a quick hoof pick and cleaning his stall. I haven't swung a leg over since the endurance ride, but I can feel myself wanting that again.

I also started seeing - omg where did these weeds come from?! lol



And doing other farm maintenance chores I'd ignored like dragging and watering for the first time in a month. My fellow co-op members totally understood when I said that some things would fall by the wayside for all of June, and even picked me up when I needed it - I only had 11 feeding shifts in June (should be 14-17), and they occasionally also did my stall. This is the power of the co-op: everyone pulls their weight as much as they can all the time, but when one of us needs picked up, we've got her back. I am eternally grateful for these wonderful people.


Tractor driving skills test: made it!

But as hard as selling the old house is, there's no doubt in my mind that moving out here is the right call. For one - my neurotic special needs child Meatloaf is the happiest and most relaxed I've ever seen her.

She hasn't slept this hard this often in the four years I've owned her. It's incredible.

I didn't realize how anxious she was living in the city until we moved out to the farm, and instead of asking to go out every half hour to investigate something she heard outside, she's now sleeping. A lot. And only asks to go out once or twice a day, if that.

Our new backyard. No fence needed, because Meatloaf thinks she's the only dog on earth out here.

They are, of course, also getting a lot of exercise. To get to the barn, I have to walk from the back end of the farm property to the middle of it, which is about a quarter mile walk. I could drive, and I probably will when the weather is bad, but how could I say no to this commute?

The dogs absolutely love this walk


For another, it just feels right. I grew up on a farm, and it feels like coming home. It is home.

Home is where the heart is.

Now to get back to riding...

June 3, 2024

The One Where We Try Endurance

As if moving out of my house wasn't enough to do right now, Connor and I did our first intro endurance ride last weekend.



I've always wanted to try endurance - I ran competitively myself from third grade through my senior year of college, so human conditioning for long distance stuff is second nature to me. But there seemed like so many mental barriers to entry - time and effort spent conditioning, learning how/when to do vet checks and ride meetings and all that, and the fact that I 0% trust my hard-to-catch and mischievous pony to still be there the next morning if I tied him out or put him in a temporary corral.

I have no chill when it comes to bragging about my trailer backing skills, lol. I'm good.
 

So when new friend Barb told us about a local endurance ride an hour away that has permanent stabling and three intro options as short as 6 miles, plus is a charity benefit for that trail system, it seemed perfect. Yes, 6 miles is not really endurance, but what with moving out, I've ridden twice in the last month (although others have been riding Connor for me, to be fair) - a trail ride with a vet check was exactly our speed right now, and would help us figure out the mechanics of how the sport works without worrying about the distance.

In short - everything went perfectly. I camped in my truck bed tent and had the best night of sleep I've gotten in a long time thanks to perfect weather. Connor settled right into his stall without a care in the world. And the ride itself was a blast, with two of my barnmates joining me.

This setup was so incredibly comfortable, I can't even tell you.

The only hitch? I forgot my stirrups, which are on my other Dressage saddle (see previous statement about riding twice in the last month!) so Connor and I did the whole 6 miles stirrupless (and blockless, since I took the blocks out of the Patrick a while ago and never looked back).

Oops.

While I knew I'd be a goner if a deer jumped out at us, I also knew I'd be totally fine without them outside of that, and I was. Even on the steep hills, I just changed my balance to accommodate him and Connor dutifully put his hind end underneath him and picked his way up and down like he always does. I really could not love him more.

You could describe my not-planned-out color scheme as "10 year old girl"

He vetted in great, which was to be expected after mostly walking, and the vet had nothing but good things to say about him and said he could've gone back out. I was tempted to choose a longer ride at several moments, but it wasn't fair to Connor and honestly to myself, since I was heading back to get the keys to the rental house right after the ride.

It was our first time rolling with Scoots on all fours thanks to Megan K sending us Spicy's old pair of 4 slims, and Connor was so comfortable. It's not like he was uncomfortable without the hinds last time we did these trails, but he was striding out confidently and purposefully the whole ride this time.


Unfortunately the only slight downer was that we did experience some of that "intro isn't real endurance" attitude I've heard so much about. At the ride meeting the night before, someone asked the organizer how many were going out the next day. "8 in the 50 mile, 12 in the 25 mile, and 19 in intro," she said. I'm not going to try to quote the organizer or the participants, but there was quite a bit of shocked and displeased murmuring and feeble attempts to understand out loud why so many people were doing intro as opposed to the "real" distances. Finally my college professor, who knew we were there to do intro for the first time, shut it down by saying "And it's the most fun way to make a donation to the trail system, don't forget this is a charity ride."

It wasn't the only moment I felt vaguely "Uhhhh why are you here?" vibes when I would have expected "Wow, thanks for coming out, I hope you enjoy our sport enough to do it again!", which is unfortunate. It won't keep me from doing it again, because I did enjoy it, but I almost want to do only intros out of spite now, lol. 

Ivan the Wonder Pony and his emotional support tree branch. It was his owner's first time trying endurance after wanting to try it her entire life! (She's nearly 70!)

I do have to say there were also some wonderful people who put up with our stupid questions and general lost-ness when it came to vetting etc, so it wasn't all bad, but still. For a sport that requires so much to get started (time, access to conditioning areas, ability to travel and camp, and with no "lesson programs" to help you dip a toe in), they ought to be a lot more welcoming to anyone who dares sign up, no matter the distance.

He came home and promptly fell asleep.
 

So all in all, I had a blast and am looking forward to doing it again someday. I'm still so grateful to Barb for giving me the confidence to try it, and for my barnmates for being game to go with me! And with that, Connor gets to check a fourth sport off his bingo card (driving, eventing, Dressage and endurance).

May 12, 2024

Arena Mirrors and Feelings

Who knew mirrors could make you so full of feelings?


Mirrors in the indoor have always felt like an unattainable equestrian luxury to me, much like having a truck and trailer once did. Do I have the money for them, yes, can I part with the money for such a nice-to-have, especially as I face actually buying this facility, hard no. 

But when I came across a Facebook Marketplace ad for 256 square feet of 4x8 foot arena mirrors for $1,200 obo a couple days after Christmas last year, I said, "Oh no." I texted my barnmate and partner in crime: "Tell me this is a bad idea," and she replied "OMG I'll pay half! Merry Christmas!"

Since they had been listed for a while with no takers, I made a low-ish offer of $900, which was accepted, and in one night my barnmate's husband had built a custom mirror transport crate, procured some mirror moving handles, and the four of us (including my boyfriend) showed up to this formerly beautiful Dressage facility (being parted out and its indoor arena paved to make way for antique tractors - so sad!) looking like a surprisingly legitimate mirror moving crew on New Year's Day.

Custom 2x4 crate with plywood bottom ratcheted down onto the bottom of this box trailer, with 1" foam board on the bottom and 1/2" thick foam board between each mirror.

 

But it would be another five months before our schedules came together to where we could install the things - and we actually didn't know if the mirrors survived the trip that entire time since it didn't make sense to unload them until we put them up. Talk about nerve-wracking! I joked that if we got all that lumber on the walls and then had cracked mirrors to put up, I would be real sad.

Framing going up for the horizontal mirrors

 

Finally, last weekend, we did it. We are not pros, but as my BO adoringly said about my barnmate's husband and my boyfriend a few months ago, "This farm needed some mechanical engineers around."  Between the two of them, they created custom plans, a materials list, and everything went...absolutely perfectly.


 

 

In 7 hours start to finish, including a lunch break, the four of us got a bank of 6 mirrors installed on the long side, and two vertical mirrors installed on the short sides, with the vertical mirrors canted in by about 1.5" at the top to make seeing yourself easier as you come down the long side (and, conveniently, because a diagonal stud was located right there, we were able to achieve that cant without shimming it like we originally thought we would).


Part of our success and speed was admittedly the fact that barn is firmly in the country but is also FOUR MINUTES from Lowes. I could not love this location more.

 

I still can't believe this is our indoor.

 

 

And I also feel just so much gratitude. Two of the reasons I never wanted to own my own farm before were that I don't ever want to keep my horse without other horse friends around, and that I had a spouse before who never, ever would have spent an entire Saturday putting mirrors up, or doing any other facility work or chores. Believe me when I say I don't hold that against him, and in fact, I'm grateful for his honesty and conviction on knowing himself like that. But I couldn't have owned this farm with him. And I finally have the honesty and conviction myself to know that this - all of this - is me.

I don't know how to word this in a way that makes it not sound like I just want people to do work for me, that's not it at all, but it changes everything to have a boyfriend and boarders who will throw themselves right into the thick of things with me on the farm. To feel supported, and like I'm not doing this alone. I can't do this alone - I can't manage the farm alone, I couldn't have done these mirrors alone. I am so grateful for all of these people. And I will think about that every time I look at these damn mirrors.

We have MIRRORS!


April 22, 2024

Deam Lake Trail Ride

I realized yesterday that I've taken trail riding for granted. Both my access to good trails, and my solid little trail pony. But it crossed my mind as I cheerfully rode along in the sunshine on the buckle for two hours yesterday with friends on beautiful trails, and I was so grateful.

And this made me giggle too.

Yesterday FIVE of us (wow!) got together to do a 6 mile ride around Deam Lake State Park, which is about an hour away from the farm. Our haul-in endurance friend Barb offered to give the folks without trailers a ride and to be our guide since none of us had been to Deam before. 

Part of the reason we chose this place and this trail is that there's an endurance benefit ride there at the beginning of June that (according to Barb) is a perfect introduction to the sport for those of us who have never done it before. They have a 6 mile intro ride that is not timed, so you can walk it if you really feel like it, but you still get to do the vet checks and go out with everyone. If you know anything about endurance, you know 6 miles is laughably short, which makes it perfect for a first ride IMO - the distance won't be an issue so we can focus on learning everything else we need to learn about the sport.

This, but make it a sport

We ended up covering the 6 miles yesterday in about two hours, and that was with about 90% walking and 10% trotting. The horses were outstanding, including Ivan the Wonder Pony who went out with Mary partially because his owner was out of town and partially because I wanted to see how he was on trails with Mary before Deb took him out.


Turns out this was Mary's first proper trail ride EVER (which I didn't know) but she trusts me enough that when I was like "Hey, you're going to ride the new guy without a bit and in a treeless, flapless saddle on trails we've never been on before and I don't really know how he'll be but I'm pretty sure he'll be fine" she signed right up, lol.

Mary: "Okay, I never liked knee blocks before going down a steep hill on a horse for the first time but now I get it."

He was amazing, like a trail professor, gently guiding Mary to just the right spots on the trail and never putting a foot wrong. Can't stop being grateful to have him in my barn.

For my part, I was looking to just get Connor out, assess his fitness and do some minor gear tests. Everything passed with flying colors, including my saddle bag held onto my saddle with twine and his Scoot Boots.

Never been here before, couldn't care less

Connor is out of shape, but still covered the 6 miles no problem. He's just so good on the trails. This was the first trail ride I've ever not managed him at all, quite literally rode him on the buckle nearly the entire time, and he just...goes. Straight through creeks and puddles and mud, carefully picking his way around to find the best and safest footing on hills. Happy to lead, follow or be in the middle, not affected by what the other horses are doing. He's just...fun.


Pony in the lead

And pony not in the lead


So I'm excited for June. Excited to try a sport I've always been curious about. Excited to have friends to do it with. And excited to check another sport off of Connor's bingo card.



April 17, 2024

How We Run Our Co-op Boarding Arrangement

It seems hard to believe, but we are coming up on the co-op's third anniversary.

"You know," my barn owner said on the second anniversary, "I didn't say this at the time, but I had some real doubts about whether this arrangement would work or not. To my surprise, it really has worked out well for everyone."

 

He wasn't the only one with doubts. For a panicked month that year after my trainer announced she was getting out of the business, I wracked my brain for a solution - we had a facility, we had a non-horsey BO, we had a group of ladies who had only ever full boarded, we had no trainer, and we didn't have enough economy of scale (or money) to hire help at only 7 stalls.

Eventually I fought through the lizard brain panic and created a chore-sharing model that has worked incredibly well, and one that I think more barns around the country could adopt rather than paying criminally low wages to staff or closing entirely. 


In three years, we have had no missed shifts and no drama, both of which I am quite proud of. And it's in large part due to how well that model has worked that I finally gained the confidence to buy the place, so in that respect, the co-op has been life-changing for me. 

I could never run a 20 acre/7 stall/2 ring facility by myself, but with this group of women around me and with no one person being overloaded by chores, it feels sustainable in a way even full boarding never did, with its constant dance to find and keep good help.

So I want to (finally) share the details of how our co-op works in the hopes that maybe it will help some other desperate, lizard-brain-panicked googler someday. I am going to write this out in as much detail as possible, so it will look like a lot, but keep in mind that in effect it makes for about 10 minutes of chores for each person each day, and 30 minutes of chores per person 3-4 times per week.

Note: this post is so long, you may need to click "Read More" below to see the full post.