Amateur Hour

What It’s Like to Keep Your Horses at Home

If you built they will come! ©Thomas Gumbrecht

Should I keep my horse at home? Many horse owners have considered that question at some point in their lives.

To those expecting an in-depth analysis of the financial and practical pros and cons of keeping horses at home, I apologize. You won’t find that here. I am a fairly practical person in other areas of life but when it comes to horses, practical is not an adjective that most would use in describing me.

This is just a story about my very unlikely journey from a middle-aged newbie to a rider, horse owner and barn owner.

When I was first introduced to horses and riding at age 45, I had been through a few hobbies already. I was a private pilot at age 20, downhill skier at age 25, learned to captain my own sailboat at age 28, and was into semi-extreme off-roading at age 42. I had always jumped into my pursuits with both feet. I would become completely immersed in them, reach a certain level of competency and then begin to look for the next challenge.

I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s the way it always seemed to happen.

I experienced probably all of the frustrations that an adult beginner rider experiences, sometimes thinking that it would be prudent to just give up, but I never seriously considered that.

I investigated many disciplines along the way in an effort to find my niche. I met and rode with hunter/ jumper riders, trail riders, reiners, barrel racers, dressage riders and most seemed to have found their way in the horse world. They were competitors, pleasure riders and those seeking to achieve their personal best with their equine partner. Some no longer rode at all, and just enjoyed the social atmosphere of the barn, and the bonding that takes place while hand grazing and grooming and just being with their equine companion.

I could identify with all of them. But since all of my acquaintances at that time were boarders at commercial barns, I didn’t meet many people who had the aspirations that I did: to have my own barn and have horses at home.

Oddly, this wasn’t a dream that built up slowly over time. I realized it as soon as it seemed that my interest in horses was more than a passing fancy. It was reinforced when, several months into my training and to the shock of my friends and family, it seemed quite sensible for me to lease my first horse. Still, the idea of owning a horse property on Long Island seemed unattainable.

Then, something else happened…

About a year and a half after my entrée into the horse world, I was knocked off of my pink cloud when it was announced that the barn would be closing in a couple of months, being sold to a non-horsey purchaser.

The owners were moving out of state. Touting the climate and value of the area they were moving to, they began inundating me with real estate listings of horse properties in the area. While relocating was not a real possibility, my interest had been piqued, and at this point in time the real estate business was beginning to have a big presence on the internet.

Looking at properties, once an arduous process of endless rides with agents on weekends, had now been streamlined to the point where I could sift through a hundred or more properties or more in a single evening on the couch.

And so it was that I began a “just for fun” search for horse properties on Long Island, NY. After meeting an agent who was also a horseman and some preliminary searches, the idea was planted to search for, rather than established horse facilities, properties zoned for horses and properly laid out to accommodate a barn, paddocks and riding ring that we would build ourselves.

Being in the construction trades, the prospect of such a project was not daunting—it was kind of exciting. We made a list of things we needed to have and things that we wanted to have and within a couple of months found a place that met just about all of our requirements.

What started out as not much more than a lark ended up in the realization that by doing a large amount of the work ourselves, we could actually have a horse property on Long Island while still being within a reasonable commute of our jobs.

And so we took a breath, bought it, built it, and so was born “Dreamcatcher Farm.”

Dreamcatcher Farm before the bulldozers. ©Thomas Gumbrecht

This summer will mark the 19th year from the time that I rode my first horse and this fall, the 17th year since we bought our property. There have been many challenges that we have faced since then, but the underlying theme for our experiences here has been, quoting from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”

Riding arena base going in. ©Thomas Gumbrecht

Many incredible people have come into our lives since we created our little farm, and I remain convinced that raising a family in the company of horses is how I was meant to live my life.

In working with horses, I have found my proper place. I’m no longer looking for the next challenge because each horse presents a new challenge on each new day. I have been a farmhand, a student, a competitor, a teacher, a groom, a physical therapist and a nurse. I have smiled much and cried some.

Beginning to look like a barn. ©Thomas Gumbrecht

On the practical side, it has allowed me to keep multiple horses, which I could not do in a commercial boarding situation.

“Why?” so many, non-horse people seem to always ask. Simple: the up and coming youngster, the dependable and confident middle-aged guy, and the one who has done it all and is now mostly retired. Oh, and of course the one that just seems to find a way into our barn.

Buddy, the first equine resident of Dreamcatcher Farm, on his first day. ©Thomas Gumbrecht

I love being able to jump on a horse and ride, having the flexibility to work with a young horse and having the ability to care for a senior.  I love them all for some of the same reasons and some different reasons.

Is keeping horses at home for everyone? I’m sure it isn’t.

I probably get to ride less than my friends who board. But, in my case, it was the path that I was always drawn to follow.

Assuming that most people who keep horses at home don’t employ staff to provide the support and care for them, it is a major lifestyle change and commitment. Some can’t provide that level of commitment, other won’t. For me, it just seemed to fit perfectly. It can be a lot of work but as the saying goes, if you’re doing something you love, you won’t work a day in your life.

At this point, I have amassed many thousands of days that begin and end with caring for horses. Since the beginning, that has always been the best part of most of those days.

About the Author

Thomas Gumbrecht began riding at age 45 and eventually was a competitor in lower level eventing and jumpers. Now a small farm owner, he spends his time working with his APHA eventer DannyBoy, his OTTB mare Lola, training her for a second career, and teaching his grandson about the joy of horses. He enjoys writing to share some of life’s breakthroughs toward which his horses have guided him.

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