Saturday, May 2, 2015


HORSES AT HOME                  
                                                                  Originally published in Horse Directory,  May 2015

By Tom Gumbrecht

Should I keep my horse at home? Many horse owners have considered that question at some point in their horsey 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 the first adjective that would come to the mind of most in describing me. This is just a story about my very unlikely journey from a green-as-grass newbie to a rider, horse owner and barn owner.

Dreamcatcher Farm.. before the bulldozers
 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, captained my own sailboat at age 29, and was into semi-extreme off roading at age 42. I had always jumped into my pursuits with both feet, became completely immersed in them, reached a certain level of competency and then began looking 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 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 jumpers, hunters, trail riders, reiners, barrel racers, dressage riders and most seemed to have found their way in the horse world. They were pleasure riders, competitors, those seeking to experience 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 horsey friend. I could identify with all of them, but since all of my acquaintances at that time were boarders at commercial barns, I had never met 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.
Riding ring base going in.
About a year and a half after my arrival at the barn, it was announced that it would be closing in a couple of months, being sold to a non-horsey purchaser, and the owners were moving out of state. The owners, touting the climate and value of the area they were moving to, sent me listings of horse properties in the area. While relocating was not a real possibility, my interest had been piqued, and at this 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 one 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.  After meeting an agent who was also a horseman, 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.

Beginning to look like a barn..
Being in the construction trades, the prospect of such a project was not daunting; rather 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 in western Suffolk County, Long Island while still being within reasonable commuting of our jobs in Nassau County. And we did buy it, and build it, and so was born Dreamcatcher Farm.

This summer will mark the seventeenth year from the time that I rode my first horse, and this fall the fifteenth year since we bought the 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.” 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.
Buddy, the first resident of Dreamcatcher Farm.. on his first day!
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 farm hand, a student, a competitor, a teacher, a groom, a physical therapist and a nurse. I have smiled much and cried some.  On the practical side, it has allowed me to keep three horses at once, which I could not do in a commercial boarding situation. Why three, 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. 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. It ended up being the right path for me. But, 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, but 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…
"If you build it, they will come".. The author with Buddy,
and a young Sam with Magic.

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