Monday, May 24, 2021

Barns I have known - part 1

Moving Yoshi made me think through all the places I have boarded over the years... 4 horses over 20 years at 12 different barns. None were perfect, some were close, and some were definitely unacceptable. 

Summer Song Farm (Fruit Cove, FL): This barn was my first instructor's and then my dad's place. I was with her from the time I started riding at 8 until I went to college at 18. She started out boarding at various barns, but eventually bought her own place. It was definitely horse keeping on a small acreage - just over 2 acres for 4-5 horses. She did a good job managing the place though. The horses spent the days in stalls and would get let out together overnight into the ring/dry lot. She didn't have footing, but brought in some clay to mix with the Florida sand and then dug ditches non-stop to keep it drained even in downpours. She also hand raked to keep there from being ruts on the rail. The ring was the size of a large dressage arena. We would set up courses of 5-6 jumps in there though, it definitely taught you to turn. We only occasionally used the back pasture as a jump field - we had a couple more solid jumps there (roll top painted like a log, solid panel). The front yard was occasionally used for supervised turnout, but it was also where people parked, and there were plenty of things for the horses to get into, so that was a once a week for a few hours treat. Every day for a few hours, everyone would get turned out on the grass out back. In the spring and summer it was longer periods, but in the winter it was definitely pretty limited so the horses couldn't overgraze it. The manure was hauled away by an organic farmer every 2-3 months from the pile in the back of the jump field. 

We had access to good trails, the neighborhood itself was pretty horse friendly, so you could hack on the roads (speed limit 25) or down a trail that ran along the back of properties with a drainage ditch on one side. There were also trails through many acres of woods out the back of the neighborhood. When I was in high school, they started developing these. I definitely didn't stop riding on them, because then the "trails" were even better - smooth dirt roads prepped for development - but I did get chased off of them a few times by men in pick up trucks. I was much braver as a teenager! Zinger and I also jumped some of the large plastic pipes (probably 3' diameter??) for fun. He was a great horse to explore on, he loved looking around new places and was actually so interested in exploring that he was totally unreliable to take us home if we got lost. He would just keep wandering with no plan of returning home. 

My parents got divorced when I was a sophomore in high school, my dad bought the property and moved into the mobile home so that he would still see my plenty. He was right there, I definitely saw him much more because he lived at the barn than I would have if he had moved somewhere else. My instructor continued to manage the place though, but she did stop teaching lessons and sold/retired her horses when I was in college. My dad eventually tore down the barn and built a house where the barn was. 

The small unlabeled rectangles are stalls

Obviously focused on Zinger in the picture, but you can see the arena and stalls in the background

My brother and I are on the back steps of the porch with the dogs while Zing enjoys the grass. This is facing towards the front of the property. Once my dad bought the place, Zing was the only one who got special turnout privileges. He bit my dad's truck and took paint off it one time, exactly the reason why no other horses were allowed up front, my dad was pissed at me, but would've been really angry if it were anyone else's horse. 

  • Great instruction and care of the horses
  • Jumper show rings always felt SO large and easy to turn in! 
  • Lovely trails
  • Large stalls 
  • Great barn family. There was no drama at this barn. My instructor just fostered a very positive, kind environment and didn't tolerate people who didn't have the same mentality. 
  • Very limited grass turnout
  • The ring would get deep/sandy sometimes when it hadn't rained in a while 
Set-up: In during the day in LARGE (I want to say 12'x18') stalls with a few hours of turnout on 1/2 acre of grass with 3 other horses. Out all night with 3 other horses in dressage arena sized dirt lot with hay supplemented. 

Reason we left: Moved to college 

Cost: $350? This was 14 years ago, so irrelevant now I suppose 

Friend's barn (Sarasota, FL): When I moved to college, Zing came with me and the first place he lived was a farm belonging to a friend I knew through Pony Club. I didn't visit barns in Sarasota, I'd never moved him and never boarded anywhere else, so I was in for a number of surprises over the next 4 years. I forget the exact terms of my boarding at her place, but it was clear it was not a friendly thing. Her family definitely wanted to make money off of having my horse there. Which is fine if it had been fantastic, but the whole thing wasn't great. The ring was a deep sand dressage ring, he went out into a sand pasture with no friends that turned into a mud pit when it rained, and I had to drive 50 minutes (one-way) every day to clean his stall. I had to pay for his grain and hay as well and pay them a not insubstantial amount for renting a stall/turnout and having them feed/turn in and out. This was my first experience with fitting bales of hay into my civic... turns out you can fit 3 in with the back seat down. There were trails, but it was paved roads around a fairly quiet neighborhood. This is also where he reared when I tried to force an issue of walking past a cow field on the road. He also broke my heart when we dropped him off there initially a few days before I moved down. When we went to leave, he ran frantically from one side of his pasture to the other, screaming. He'd never done that before, ever. He was a pretty well adjusted, calm horse. I still don't know what was going on, but he never showed that behavior again. I don't think I have a single picture from this place, and the hodge podge of barn, ring, and weird shaped pastures is not worth spending the time in paint. 

  • They were good horse people, so if something had gone wrong with him, they would have noticed and notified me immediately 
  • Some trails
  • Really expensive for what it was (also welcome to Sarasota though, nothing was cheap there) 
  • Terrible ring
  • Terrible turnouts 
  • 3+ hour commitment every day
Set-up: In during day, out at night in dirt lot (1/4 acre?? Very weird shape) alone. 

Reason we left: See cons 

Cost: $275 + buying hay and grain and cleaning his stall daily 

Something oaks (Sarasota, FL): I did visit this place, but apparently missed some red flags when I visited. It was a beautiful set up, large grassy pastures, nice breezeway 6 stall barn, grass pasture to ride in, and SO many trails. But it was executed poorly. Zing didn't get to go out in the large pasture out front, but instead was in a fairly wooded pasture with minimal grass in the back. He also didn't get fed fairly frequently... He was not a horribly hard keeper at this point in his life, but he started dropping weight once he was moved there. Since he had been at a set up without grass and kept weight on, I knew it wasn't that. It did take me a while to realize what was happening and move him though. He maintained okay since I was out there 5-6 days a week and gave him beet pulp + 1/2 scoop of grain every time I was there. The kicker was when he and the other horses got out and got into the grain. The owner was barely apologetic even though it meant an emergency vet bill for me and days of worrying about founder. I did LOVE the trails at this place. I didn't adjust that well to college, so instead spent hours and hours meandering the trails we could access. They were mostly dirt neighborhood roads, but some looped through cow pastures and other property we had permission to ride on. 

  • Trails
  • Price 
  • Uhmmm... you should probably feed the horses people are paying you to feed 
  • Crappy care in general 
  • No grass 
Set-up: In 12 hours, out 12 hours - I forget if it was day or night. Out with 2-3 other horses in dirt lot (maybe 1/2 acre?) 

Reason we left: Terrible care 

Cost: Couldn't even pretend that I remember anymore 

Barn in the city (Sarasota, FL): The name of this barn escapes me. The woman who ran the barn, Brett, did not own the property, she leased it from someone. She was a stereotypical hunter trainer - always had a cigarette in her mouth and always yelled at me about number of strides (literally never took a lesson from her, this was across the ring while I was riding independently). The barn was 10 minutes from campus, which made this one of my favorite barns. It was a hold out in the midst of suburbia, not a large farm, probably 10-15 acres. You could tell that there recently had been other farms around it, but they were all neighborhoods or in the process of becoming neighborhoods. It was partial care - they turned in and out and fed, but you had to pre-make grain and hay and clean your stall daily. There were no trails to speak of, but Zing was such a good reliable soul that we would meander through neighborhoods on sidewalks and then trot around retention ponds. It delighted children who lived nearby and he was always game to get pets or sometimes even get carrots if kids ran back in the house to get them. He actually had more grass here than at the two prior barns in spite of its setting in suburbia. A woman who became one of my best friends would seed her horses field, this was fortunate for Zing because he went out in that same field overnight, on the opposite turnout schedule from her horse. 

The barn certainly was not fancy, the stalls were small and the ceiling was somewhat low, but I loved it here. Meeting the above woman was such a wonderful thing for my college years. She became a great friend and we still keep in touch. She had a truck and trailer and would take Zing and I along when she went places. When she was going through soundness issues with her horse, she would sometimes ride Zing. 

Turnout with one of the retired lesson horses 

  • So close to where I lived
  • Getting to take care of him daily 
  • Grass turnout 
  • Jump field
  • Hunter trainer yelling things at me when I didn't want to be yelled at! 
  • No trails 
Set-up: In during the day, out at night with 3 other horses on 1.5 acre grass pasture

Reason we left: Brett stopped paying the property owner the rent money so eventually he closed the barn and kicked everyone out and sold to developers. I had gotten wind that this was coming so was able to set up a place to move Zing to, but it was pretty shocking for some people. It was pretty sad to see the last farm in that area shut down. 

Cost: $200? or $250.. + buying own hay + grain 

Julie's Barn (Sarasota, FL): I met Julie through word of mouth from someone who had been at the oaks barn that didn't feed the horses. Julie was fantastic. She and her daughters had done western pleasure and had a retired paint gelding. She boarded a few other horses to keep him company. She had a LOAD of grass turnout. No real riding ring, but only myself and one other boarder rode, so the pastures were fine to ride in. Her place was in an equestrian neighborhood with a bridle path around the outside - I think it was 4-5 miles total. She took fantastic care of Zing. I left him with her two summers while doing internships in New Mexico. One summer was right after his splint bone surgery. He was supposed to be good to go by the time I left, but after he stopped getting wrapped daily, his leg started stocking up some, so she wrapped him every day for the first month I was gone and hosed him daily when she brought him in from the pasture. 

  • Quality care 
  • Great trails, riding area 
  • 45-60 minutes one way from school
  • Daytime turnout, brought in during early afternoon due to heat in the late spring, summer, and early fall 
Set-up: In at night, out during the day alone in one of four pastures. Each pasture had great grass. She rotated who went where, but three pastures were each 1/2 - 1 acre. Then there was a 2+ acre pasture that had a large pond and some woods. 

Why we left: Offer to move in to Tranquility and work there 

Cost: $400 + buying own grain (hay was provided)

Tranquility Equestrian (Sarasota, FL): 

I moved here after graduation and worked off part of his board by living there and doing the evening chores. It was in the Polo Club in Sarasota and it was never quite clear if I was or was not supposed to be out on the trails without paying a membership fee. Either way, it had good trails, a footed jump arena, and a few cross country jumps. I was fully in charge of Zing's care, including turn in/out so I could manage him exactly the way I wanted to. 

  • Living with my horse again! Getting to do everything myself with his care. 
  • Trails, ring, turnouts
  • Quality hay - the owners were from Canada and always had alfalfa and timothy shipped down from up north, it was gorgeous. 
  • Cost
  • Lots of high maintenance clients - the apartment I lived in was in the barn so there wasn't really a down time when I was not accessible to people 
Set-up: In during the day, out at night by himself or with 1 other horse in 3/4 acre grass pasture. Supplemented with hay at times because there were horses in it during the day too, so the grass got eaten down decently. 

Why we left: I was living in China and the cost just didn't make sense, even with him half-leased I was still paying a substantial amount to board.

Cost: $800 when I wasn't working there. I forget the exact deal of rent + board that we had worked out when I did live and work there. 


  1. dude that perfect nirvana of location, facilities, care, training, cost.... ugh. why is it so hard to find *exactly* what we want in a barn??

    1. Definitely always a choose 3-4/5, never an all 5!

  2. It's really cool your dad bought that first place, would he let you retire horses there even though there is no barn?

    1. No, all the interior fencing is gone as well, and he's really not a horse person. But it was really neat in high school.