There are many, many factors that go into keeping our four horses in what is essentially deemed our backyard. I know how glamourous this capability might seem from outside perimeters of social media, but rest assured, it is a lot of work. Physical and mental labor combined with long hours that I simply wouldn't trade even if you handed me dollar signs or a lavish item on a silver platter! Nothing is quite as rewarding like saying goodnight to your most prized possessions with a kiss on the nose before laying your head onto your pillow.
Overseeing the care for horses at home is not for the faint of heart. I'm no professional, but I never suggest this type of setup unless you are 150% qualified, plus capable, to handle anything that might be tossed into your lap. Not to mention, the requirement of adequate housing installed on your property. The pros most definitely outweigh the "cons," and I use quotation marks because truthfully, I struggle to name one surely negative point to this lifestyle. Everyone's preferences vary; there are peaks and pits for each scenario. For me, I'm not sure I could ever board my horse again if faced with the option. I've grown accustomed to managing all working parts of Leah's wellness like a perfectly oiled machine that relinquishing the control might be next to impossible! But, without much more introduction from a rambling Maddie, let's dive into my bullet points of backyard boarding.
• As I just stated above, housing horses at home translates into complete authority over their daily lives. This includes yet is not limited to diet and nutrition, body condition, exercise/training schedule, shelter, turn-out/bring-in if you own a barn as opposed to paddocks with run-in sheds, paddock rotation if applicable, hydration levels, grooming, fly/pest/weed/manure control, blanketing during the winter, medications, worming, emergency situations, routine veterinary care, farrier visits, "special needs" cases such as Tecate's navicular disease and right-sided congestive heart failure - so on and so forth. With great power does come great responsibility, but there is something vastly satisfying knowing that the gleam in their coat stems from your own hand. You are wholeheartedly involved twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week without missing much of a beat. It's a sense of pride that I struggle converting into words. I find this to be the most significant pro of horses at home... All the responsibility falls on my shoulders.
Barn chores made better by a cocktail and my Queen Locomotive.
• Because our horses are so closely monitored at virtually all times, this allows us to make necessary adjustments and changes in any area that might need tweaking, such as diet for example. Any facet that does not seem entirely right is often quickly caught off the bat as opposed through word-of-mouth from a third party or trainer. God-forbid there should ever be an emergency, Barrett and I are automatically on the front lines to decide appropriate judgement calls without outside influence other than veterinary guidance. That is a blanket statement for every choice that may cross our path when it comes to our horses.
• The costs incurred of keeping horses at home versus in a boarding facility are substantially less. I'm not going to dive into specifics of our finances because that would be overstepping major privacy lines, however the price is cut by more than half monthly without the "training/board" expense. Funds are put towards hay, grain, supplements, needed supplies like fly spray or other tack room staples, and property maintenance. We do not pay a shavings fee either because 1) no stalls and 2) natural footing in our paddocks/sheds. This also makes cleaning manure far more efficient! The money we now save is a small breath of fresh air and can be budgeted into other areas of our horsey endeavors.
• Speaking as someone who is very type A, I thoroughly love that our system is executed to our liking and not anyone else's preferences. My tack room is neatly organized without mysterious disappearances of items. If you've ever boarded before, you know what I mean. We don't have to ask for permission to ride bareback, nor do we have to conform to certain barn rules and regulations. If I want to drink wine in my Yeti tumbler while sitting on Leah without a saddle, I can! It is a type of freedom that I think translates into my partnership with our horses. Essentially, you are your own facility manager. Sure, I wholeheartedly miss having a set of eyes on the ground for our training sessions, but I also really find joy in riding alone... err, with Barrett but he doesn't coach me much unless I ask for pointers. The opportunity has given me the chance to trust my gut/abilities a little more than normal which serves as an appreciated confidence boost.
• My fifth bullet point is fairly obvious. Having the horses at home means ample opportunities to boop their soft snoots. I am spending more time with Leah than ever before because I have eliminated the daily 60 minute commute just to ride. There isn't a time crunch factor, either. Hello, extra gas money! This aspect is important on varying levels. I feel closer to Leah like our bond has strengthened since becoming her sole provider. Her personality quirks are shining through in ways they did not while living the training environment life. Barrett and I find her extra personable. She seems more relaxed, more content in herself without the stressors that do come with a large, bustling barn. It's quiet here, and horses need serenity just like humans. When you are emotionally and physically invested into the tiniest of details pertaining to the horse's program, the dimension it creates within your mutual respect changes your world. I can see Leah whenever I so desire, a serious comfort and blessing notably during uncertain periods like COVID.
• The only barn drama we have to hear about is Leah squealing at Tecate. Enough said.
The Gator and the manure spreader attachment. Blue and Smoke always act as cleanup committee when there are leftover scraps of hay in the back of said Gator...
• Barn, I mean paddock, chores! Correct me if I'm wrong, but there is nothing more therapeutic than putting on a good podcast or listening to uplifting music while cleaning stalls or in my case, the paddocks. I've done some of my best thinking and decision making while shoveling horse poop. You might agree to disagree, but manure control is never out of your job description no matter your skillset. Plus, I correlate our cleaning to an upper body workout the gym. Barrett and I hook the manure spreader onto the back of our Gator, an attachment my parents purchased over ten years ago. Our tool makes manure management simpler as we are able to dispose the compost on other parts of the ranch rather than letting it pile up in an unsanitary mountain. Our to-do list keeps us active and give an excuse to get outside. That's a win in my book.
I am convinced I could continue listing pros for days, but I know you'd find them excessive, ha. The points I mentioned are a pretty great general consensus of why I love having the horses 100 yards away from the house.
• Finding competent horse help when you have plans to leave town is a trying process. No one will ever care for your horses as well as you do yourself. Our location is fairly isolated which only makes the search increasingly difficult. When you are able to secure diligent assistance, cherish those individuals! One point for the "pro boarding" team. For me, this is the biggest downside to keeping horses at your home.
Smoke, you're not supposed to be in here...
• Emergencies. Nerve-wracking, panic inducing (which, you should never panic) situations go hand-in-hand with horse ownership. Unfortunately, it's not a matter of if but when. They're a con all around. However, should you decide to keep your horses at home, are you mentally and physically prepared to handle whatever scenario might come your way? I'm talking colic, muscle/tendon/ligament injuries, cuts and their ranges of severity, random lameness, casting in a stall, abscesses, swelling or edema - you get the idea. Or, when you find Leah and Smoke together in one paddock with the middle gate completely kicked open featuring looks of innocence abounding from every party involved... and a hearty slice on your mare's back left leg that warranted a farm call. I'm not bitter. You have to grasp a full understanding of how to keep your emotions under control while taking necessary steps in treatment or veterinarian help WITHOUT your trainer or barn manager present. A special area in your tack room should be designated for medical equipment and some sort of colic aid. Does the sick/injured horse need transportation to a clinic? This is yet another factor that should be heavily weighed. Bottom line, you have to be ready.
• Unless riding at home/without eyes watching is something you've become expertly comfortable with over the years, making the transition from training in a facility setting to training at home can be tricky. I don't need to harp on the struggles I've faced over the course of the last five months as I've written extensively about them through here and Instagram. Granted, my issues legitimately stemmed from fear/confidence. But, it is an adjustment. With Leah semi-retired, our everyday riding/lunge work is not as strenuous as someone who might be goal-specific like hitting a certain level next show season or improving a canter pirouette. Eventually, when another dressage prospect rolls around, my homework will refocus. Again, this will be an adjustment because all I've known for the last 7-10 years is a daily training agenda issued by my trainer. Riding alone means you are the boss... riding alone means the rate in which your horse progresses in their knowledge is your obligation. You do not have someone holding you accountable, the motivation stems from your desire to produce a capable horse in addition to furthering your education as an equestrian. It is up to you to take advantage of every resource you can from online articles to YouTube videos, masterclass type opportunities, clinics (auditing or riding), online lessons or trailering into your coach's stable for a lesson. Be proactive. If riding without others on the property is necessary, have your phone with you at all times in case of a fall or other accidents. No, this really isn't a con in the grand scheme of things, but it is something to take into consideration.
Working to feel safe while riding at home without the security of arena walls has been a humbling learning curve.
• You also need to remember one minor detail: when your horse is feeling frisky and sassy on a cold winter morning before you slip your foot into the stirrup, you are the only one who can work them through their shenanigans. A trainer isn't there to take the reins and ride the fresh away. God bless lunging, though. Are you capable of handling their less than flattering attitudes? Food for thought.
• Horses at home means zero days off. Your fur-babes simply do not care that you are feeling sickly, have come down with the flu, are feeling hungover from one to many glasses of alcohol the night prior, that it's Christmas morning or that you want to sleep in on Saturday. When you keep horses in your backyard, they rely on you for everything and they are a continual top priority. Yet again, not a con - just the truth.
Personally speaking, the cons can't compare to the pros. I'm hesitant to even label them as such because I would just call each indentation a matter of reality when it comes to living life with horses. Can't think of anymore points to add to that list!
Moving right along, Barrett and I frequently receive questions about our personal set-up with Blue, Leah, Smoke and Tecate living at home. I wanted to give each of you a behind-the-scenes tour consisting of the details that makeup our quaint facility. We do not have a traditional barn, an element we have actually come to accept and appreciate. The horses live outside 24/7 and have the option to escape the weather through run-in sheds. There is no true arena on the property, rather a patch of sand adjacent to the paddocks we've manicured like an arena that works perfectly fine for what we need. No cross-ties, no wash-rack, just the fence and the back of the Gator to transport tack. We love the simplicity... I think the horses to as well.
Originally, two roughly 100ft x 200ft paddocks were constructed using welded metal poles and horse/no-climb wire. Tecate lived in one and Smoke lived in the other. When Blue moved to the ranch permanently, he became Smoke's pasture buddy as Tecate does better with solo turnout given his age and health hindrances. Upon the decision to retire Leah, we opted to split Tecate's paddock directly down the middle to create two roughly 100ft x 100ft turnouts rather than build an entirely new entity. This saved on cost, our primary concern. The dividing fence is made from the same materials however if done differently, I would have picked a welded wire option because you can notice just how much Leah has bent the fence from her kicking in the right corner of the photo before we switched her to the middle paddock. We've never had issues with hooves getting stuck, so that's encouraging. We did run electric wire between Leah and Blue/Smoke's paddock to mitigate any potential kicking fits initiated by the Queen. The ground is natural sand - I do feed a SandClear Purge once a month. This supplement works for us and I've done my extensive homework, no unwarranted nutritional opinions needed.
Each paddock does have an impressive oak tree perfect for shade in the summer. Our feed troughs are oldies from Tractor Supply as we prefer to feed both grain/hay inside the troughs due to a more natural grazing position. Gates are secured with heavy duty chains and clasps. The water troughs are automatic and we do clean them monthly.
Our run-in sheds are pre-manufactured buildings that are installed onsite. Deer Creek Structures is the company we found for both buildings. I can't say enough wonderful things about Deer Creek, and if you are in the Texas area looking for horse facilities, I highly recommend their incredible business. The stalls are 12ft x 14ft with back windows my dad carved out himself. We also installed high velocity fans into each stall, Tecate's (not pictured) included. Tecate's shed is a single stall while Blue/Smoke and Leah's is cut in half with at traditional stall divider. Again, the ground is natural sand. Each stall does have a gate that can be closed. I am so impressed with the quality and sustainability of the little houses. They have not shown much wear nor tear besides chew marks from Tecate, but that's alright. Easily fixable. Anyway, we love them.
Say hello to our officially unofficial arena! This sandy spot is located right next to the paddocks. We do not know the exact dimensions but the area is conducive to breaking ground on a 20x60 one of these days. Our footing is natural sugar sand which is a finer particle more challenging to keep leveled and not too deep. It's taken us some trial and error to find a nice riding spot and this seems to be the best on the property. Rain serves as our sprinkler, and sadly, it does get pretty dusty between showers. We drag the area using a grate purchased from Tractor Supply. My cavaletti are $7 posts from Lowe's Home Improvement and do the job wonderfully! I'd love to create some makeshift dressage letters but for now, we are more than content.
Here's the "arena dragger," as I like to call it. We simply attach to the back of the Gator and off we go. Dragging is a thoughtless yet relaxing task, ha.
The Tack Room
Our tack room is located inside our tool/storage barn. It is climate controlled, a lovely additive when battling south Texas humidity. No moldy tack! Our saddles sit on generic saddle racks and all bridles/extra head-stalls and halters hang on a hooked rack we secured to the wall just by using bolts. Underneath that plastic table is extra buckets and miscellaneous items we've collected over the years
The purple rolling cart stores most of our medical supplies such as gauze, vet wrap, colic pastes, electrolyte pastes, Bute, thermometer, abscess care, etcetera. You'll notice a handful of grooming products in addition to wound-care ointments located on the built-in shelving unit. I utilize a shoe-closet-organizer-hanger-bag-thing as a place to put wraps like Leah's no-bow's, standing bandages and IncrediWear exercise polos. My favorite pro-tip, ever! You can find this style of hanger on Amazon for cheap. I've also used it during competition weekends.
Up close and personal with my organizational skills. We have everything from Vaseline to thrush eliminator, Clear Eyes eye solution, and multiple salves for every type of cut or knick.
Congratulations for making it to the end of this very detailed blog, friends! Ask and you shall receive, a post geared around my pros and cons of having the horses at home was the most requested write-up thus far. My inbox is always open so please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions regarding your own adventures or facility inquiries.
I am always happy to help you!