There is the house that love built, and then, there is the barn that necessity built. I had no aspirations of having a boarding barn. In fact, if memory serves, I recall saying on multiple occasions, that I knew how much work it was and I had ZERO desire to ever take on that responsibility. But, spoiler alert — life had something else in mind. Well played, life. Well played.
This past spring we learned that the boarding facility where we were happily keeping our ponies was selling at auction. It was the perfect scenario… minus that one small detail. We had a barn family that got along, a trainer we loved, and a strong desire to stay together as a group. With limited time to work with, we could not find another facility where we could all go and bring in an outside trainer.
With some fear, another ponymomammy and I joined forces to find a facility to lease. We needed a place that could house all our respective horses, had housing for our beloved barn help, and a riding ring or jump field. We needed a certain size and budget, but lady luck must have been on our side because we did find a place and Black River Show Stables was formed. Through this new venture, I’ve learned a lot.
I’ve learned that having a boarding barn is more expensive and more work than I ever imagined. I have no idea how anyone turns a profit doing this. If me or my business partner are in it for the money, we’re in the wrong business. Doing right by someone, human or equine, almost always trumps expense.
I’ve learned that fences have to be repaired a lot. My pony is excellent at giving me ample opportunities to practice my newfound fence repairing skills, which include running a line of electric fencing around the top of the paddocks. That worked great for 30 seconds. Then I learned that said pony realized electric rope is just at the top, and can bend through the bottom fence boards enough to eat outside the fence. This taught me that a second electric rope on his paddock is a necessity.
I’ve learned that I can drive a tractor, and that I like the feeling of being in control of such a large piece of machinery. I can build jumps (thank you Pinterest), and operate a drill press to make holes for the jump cup pins. I’ve learned that a drill press capable of going through a 4×4 is stupid expensive, so I figured out how to rig up a less expensive one to work. In addition to making power tools bend to my will, I found out I’m capable of climbing onto the roof to fix a leak before a hurricane hit.
I’ve learned that I can move a literal ton of hay, and that moving said hay will make my body more sore than a month of no stirrup work. But, my body is stronger than I give it credit for and I enjoy the feeling of coming home with sore muscles and dirt under my fingernails.
I’ve learned that good stall fans (that don’t pose a fire hazard) are expensive, and the warranty for them is a sound investment. Every time I go into a hardware store, I’m bombarded with men asking if I need help… and not just from employees either. The world doesn’t see that a 5’4”, 115 lb woman is capable of knowing what she is doing in the lumber department. I’ve learned that I can blow their minds when I know what I’m talking about.
I’ve learned that yes, my husband does use his tools from our garage, and he has learned that the answer to the question “Did you take my ____ to the barn?” is almost always yes.
I’ve learned that it’s ok to set goals and crush them. But it’s also ok to set goals and fail miserable. The latter is the more likely outcome.
I’ve learned that I don’t always know how to get something done, but I am pretty good at faking it til I make it. Most things can be fixed (or at least rigged) with duct tape, baling twine, bungee cords, and WD-40. I think outside the box to find a solution, but sometimes a “fix” exceeds my capabilities. In those cases, I’ve learned it’s best to ask for help.
I’ve learned that my kids are willing to work hard. The have moved heavy jumps, scrubbed stalls, painted anything needing painting. They spent most of their summer outside at the barn where I learned that one can build a giant slip n slide out of 100 ft length of plastic sheeting. It’s a fun way to cool off in the August heat, even if the ponies find it a little alarming… My children have taught me that when given a task, they can put their own spin on it to make it fun. They created a contest to see who could paint the most fence boards. I came out to find them rocking out to some music, and painting their hearts out. These are the memories they will hold onto about this past summer.
I’ve learned that you can mix friendship and business. Sometimes I have to remember if I’m wearing the friend hat or the work hat, and that there is a wide gray area in between, but we can make it work. The people I’m lucky enough to work with have seen me laugh my loudest and cry my hardest, but they still like me. Pouring actual blood, sweat and tears into something with others creates a bond that not enough people get to experience.
I’ve learned that it takes a village, and that I have one amazing village. Every “I” in this post refers to not just myself, but my business partner, trainer, stablehand, and entire barn family. They are in it as much as I am. When I sent out texts to friends saying I needed help because we had 48 hours to get the entire barn, house, and paddocks ready for a move in, every single person I asked showed up to help. They brought tools and food and water and smiles in 100 degree heat. I’ve learned to appreciate the people who show up. They are life-long friends.
Most of all, I’ve learned that I am incredibly lucky. I am lucky to have the people to do this with me, because they are the glue that holds our barn together. Lucky we have a great group of boarders who all get along and pitch in wherever they can. Lucky to have a family who supports my crazy ideas (even when it’s amid eye-rolling). Lucky our horses and ponies are good sports and made the transition smoothly.
Mostly, I am lucky to have a passion so big that throwing caution and fear out the window, and doing it anyway, is a viable option. Necessity may have started the barn, but it is my privilege to keep it going.
About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, and perpetual amateur in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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