First week of keeping ponies at home

While Johnny and I (along with the cats, dogs, and boxes) have been living in the house since late September, the horses have been living life as usual at the boarding barn next door. Moving is hectic, so it was easier to have my awesome barn owner (and new neighbor!) care for them while I got everything in order at my own place.

barn1

I made a trip to the local farm and ranch store and picked up some essentials for the barn- water buckets for stalls, small buckets to mix feed in, a sturdy pair of wire cutters, a couple of metal trash cans for feed, a wheelbarrow and a big trash can for waste. I also grabbed a couple of saddle stands for the tack room.

barn2

My barn owner gave me the name of a hay grower nearby, and I was relieved to find out he had two hundred bales of prairie grass hay at a reasonable price this late in the season. My relief was short-lived- the hay grower didn’t offer delivery.  After a week of trying to find any solution other than “borrow a trailer and haul it yourself”, I was able to find someone to deliver it for a reasonable fee.

hay

Once hay was sorted out, I set out to get feed. For now, I’m feeding the horses the same thing they’ve been eating- Heritage Performance. I’ve increased the amount they’re eating, and I’m still feeding them alfalfa pellets for the time being. The feed is pretty reasonably priced and easy to get, so we’ll see how Moe and Gina weather the winter.

With hay and feed sorted out, I was finally ready to take over caring for the horses! It’s been one week since I started, and I’m absolutely thrilled with how it’s been going. It takes me half an hour or less to feed them in the morning and evening; they’re fed in their stalls, since Moe eats a bit slower than Gina does. Their hay goes outside, and their stalls are left open for them to go in and out as they please. Moe sleeps in his stall sometimes- I’ve found shavings in his tail a couple of times. Gina spends all of her free time squealing at the gelding in the adjacent paddock.

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I really enjoy spending time with them every day, and I get a lot of satisfaction from caring for them. I’m also grateful I’m right next door to the barn where they’ve been boarded for the last couple of years. When I was working at a horse show over the weekend, my barn owner/neighbor fed and blanketed the horses for me in the evenings. (One day I’ll teach Johnny to blanket!)

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I still have a long way to go before my barn is fully kitted out, but for now, I’m just glad to be feeding my own ponies!

Outfitting a barn

My barn- photo from the real estate listing.
My barn- photo from the real estate listing.

The process of moving into our new place has been pretty slow; moving the horses has been an even slower process. I’m very grateful to have such a good neighbor and barn owner- she’s been completely accommodating and allowed me to keep the horses at the barn as long as I need to. Which, at this rate, is going to be until approximately 2017.

Aside from sourcing quality hay and deciding on a feed, there are a variety of tasks to be done and items to be purchased for my new barn. I’ve begun classifying these things as “Right Now” and “Sometime in the Foreseeable Future”.

Things I need to do/buy right now include:

  • Garden hose with attachment to connect dual spigots to single hose. (Who’s excited about hot water in the barn?!)
  • Bridle racks
  • Feed bin
  • Stall mats
  • Gravel screenings to put under stall mats
  • Cross ties for aisle and wash rack
  • Clean out stall feed bins

I’ve managed to purchase buckets and saddle racks, so I can at least begin moving some of my tack over.

Modular horse barns aren’t the most attractive structures, on my “later” list are a few aesthetic improvements. I’d love do a little landscaping around the back of the barn and spruce up with tack room with…something. The barn has a broad front porch, which certainly calls for some chairs and planters.

What have you used in your barn that works well? What doesn’t?

The process of property hunting

Over the last year or so, Johnny and I came to the realization that our lives would be easier if we lived in a place where the horses could live with us. The facility where they’re boarded is absolutely excellent, and they receive top-notch care, but it’s a 45 minute drive each way. I understand that for many of you, that’s nothing, but for me, it’s kind of a lot of driving for a hobby.

We waffled on the decision of where to live for months (and still do, some days). We looked at houses in cool neighborhoods in Tulsa and imagined what our lives would be like if we could bike along the trails bordering the Arkansas River or eat at some of our favorite downtown restaurants without a special trip. We briefly considered moving east of the Mississippi, as neither of us are particularly attached to Oklahoma. That idea fizzled and died when we thought about the logistics of finding new jobs that weren’t terrible and moving cats, dogs, and horses a thousand miles.

animals
Hiding in the bathroom with the animals during a tornado is what I imagine moving 1000 miles with animals is like.

Once we’d settled on the idea of staying in Oklahoma and living on enough acreage to support the horses, a whole new host of questions appeared. Should we buy undeveloped land and build something? Should we look for a property with structures (house, barn, fences) already in place? What length commute were we willing to drive? How much acreage did we need?

sunset
Plus, Oklahoma is sometimes attractive.

Neither of us were willing to drive more than 45 minutes one way for work, which restricted our search area. The search area combined with our budget answered the rest of our questions.

We decided we would look for a developed property on 10-20 acres. We were somewhat flexible- for example, if a place didn’t have fencing or a barn, we could possibly make that work if the price was right. We had vastly different opinions on a house; Johnny joked that I would happily live in a tent if the land was good, while he wanted a house with a two car garage and real closets. (True.)

I began the property hunt by using Zillow extensively, and had a few saved searches set up; Zillow would email me any time there was a new property listed that met my criteria or if a saved property’s priced changed. The first property we contacted a real estate agent about was a 40-acre horse farm. That wasn’t the right property for us, but the real estate agent added us to an email list that worked similarly to Zillow’s. I spent the next several months combing through those emails every time they appeared in my inbox.

I got a feel for what a typical price per acre was for which areas and what sort of structures seemed to add value to a property and which didn’t make much difference. I read through a lot of property records via county assessors’ office websites (available for free in many places), put my degree in natural resources management to work by interpreting soil data (also available for free via the NRCS’s web soil survey), and read a lot of information from the OSU Extension Service on pasture management techniques. I priced farm equipment, fencing, steel buildings, and made adjusted budgets that included those things.

This isn't all our place, but the soil map is more accurate at a larger scale.
This isn’t all our place, but the soil map is more accurate at a larger scale.

When the barn owner mentioned she thought the neighbors would be listing a small property adjacent to the barn, I kept an eye out for the “For Sale” sign. It eventually appeared, and I browsed the listing with mixed feelings. The list of pros was long: a relatively new house with modern closets and bathrooms; a 4 stall barn with a tack room, bathroom, and wash rack; an equipment/hay storage shed; covered parking for the horse trailer; proximity to Tulsa; proximity to the barn (and its arenas). The only real cons were the acreage (only 7 acres total, and only about 4 of that pasture), and my commute would increase from 5 minutes to 45 minutes.

I talked to my manager about working from home a few days a week. I don’t actually need to be in the office to do my job, so he was amenable to this arrangement. After that problem was solved, I tackled the next one. The native grass in Oklahoma is certainly not good enough to keep 3 or 4 horses on an equal number of acres, and I didn’t want to feed full rations of hay year round. I read a lot of articles on keeping horses on small acreage and techniques to maintain and improve such pastures. What I read made it sound doable, and after that, we pulled the trigger on buying the place.

Now I get to do this!
Now I get to do this!

The process of finding a suitable place has been, at times, both tedious and exciting. We’re now in the the process of packing, moving, and preparing our old place for sale. I can’t wait until we’re totally moved in, and I can do fun stuff like shop for the barn and see my ponies every day!