Saturday, August 1, 2015

NEW BEGINNINGS: The Birth of a Horse Farm

NEW BEGINNINGS – The Birth of a Horse Farm        

Originally published in Horse Directory Magazine,  AUGUST 2015

By Tom Gumbrecht

I like my job as a self employed electrician, I like horses, and I like helping people. Occasionally I get to put the three of them together, and that, I love. It's the most fun part of my job. When someone hires me to do a job, I become part of their life for a period of time, which depending on the size of the project could be hours, days, weeks or months.

Recently playing a small part in having a new barn owner
realize her dream of a beautiful new horse facility.
We have occasionally in the past used these pages to lament the closing of horse farms on Long Island, and the mixed feelings generated by being both a horseman whose passion depends on preservation of open space, and a tradesman whose livelihood depends on progress and development. But sometimes, development comes in the form of creating a new horse farm. When that happens, I feel no inner conflict. It's the best of both worlds, and I'm in my element. As a professional electrician, I have acquired the knowledge and experience to properly advise clients on the unique electrical requirements for horse barns. As a equestrian who evolved from student to rider to competitor to horse owner, I made the leap to barn owner and horseman. It was more than a new title, it was a totally new lifestyle and I know really well the mental gymnastics that go along with taking on such a life changing commitment.

I've been around the electrical trade for over forty years so I'm ok with being called an expert in my field.
Putting the finishing touches on a new
barn as its first occupant moves in.
I've been around horses for seventeen years this month, not a long time in the horse world by any means, so I don't consider myself an expert in the world of horses. What I do have is experience, the willingness to share it and a true desire to have others learn from my mistakes. That puts me in a unique position to sometimes be able to be of help when someone makes the leap from being a rider and a horse owner to taking on the role of barn owner/ manager, horse caregiver, groom, chauffeur and vet tech, not as an expert so much as a coach. When I get hired to wire a new horse barn for a first time barn owner, I frequently also become a de facto backyard barn consultant.

I look at your eyes when you begin to speak of your horses and the prospect of having them at home, and maybe I see the same sparkle that I had at that point and I share in your excitement. You are a sponge for knowledge and we will likely speak of things like grading and drainage and proper access for hay suppliers and farriers and veterinarians and the management of manure.  We might touch upon arena construction and maintenance and tractors and trucks and trailers.  A million things that never needed to be thought of but now demand to be addressed: stall footings, bedding types and storage, lighting, ventilation, water service, plumbing, snow removal, handling of sick and injured horses. These are the things we rarely needed to think about as boarders: hay and grain storage, fencing types, fence maintenance, gate placement, hot wires, stock tanks and heaters, blanket changes during the day, management of meds and supplements and special equipment and secure storage for tack. The list seems endless and the details can become overwhelming.

A decrepit swimming pool is transformed
into a riding arena at the author's barn.
There are a million places to get technical advice online today. Everyone has an opinion and some are convinced that their way is the only way. I try not to add to the confusion because I’m just sharing my experience. By the time I get to see you, generally your mind has already been made up.  You have made the commitment to keep horses at home, and are now getting caught up in details, perhaps second guessing and experiencing self-doubt. What I try to convey is my belief that if you have the commitment, you have it all. When things turn difficult as they inevitably will, commitment finds a way. Commitment doesn't think twice about spending a night in the barn to make sure an ailing horse is all right. Commitment happily makes personal sacrifices so that the horses don't have to. Our horses grow older but they never grow up. They never outgrow the need for our commitment. If you have it, you have everything it takes, for everything else can be learned. If you don't have it, even with the best horses in the most well-appointed stable, you don't have much at all.

When I sense that commitment, I use the opportunity to offer my hope, confidence, and an underlying assurance that everything will be all right. The naysayers and fear-mongers have all taken their best shots at you, and you have decided to do it anyway. Now you need to know that you can do it, and I offer myself as living proof of that: an ordinary person with ordinary skills, ordinary athletic ability, ordinary finances, and perhaps a level of commitment that's a little above average. I share the fears I once had so that you know you are not alone when you experience them. Sometimes, I get to be there when your horse comes home for the first time. You can't believe that this is actually your life and all the planning, paying and working has now culminated in you having your own farm. It's a privilege to be able to share in that, and it’s one of the best parts of my job.

Sometimes when the struggles of working and being in business occasionally wear on me and I wonder what
Nothing like bringing a new horse home to a new barn.
Here, the author's mother-in-law Connie welcomes Magic.
life would have been like had I made different choices, I remind myself of the benefits of the opportunities that sometimes cross my path: I get to provide a needed service, for people I enjoy being around and share a common interest with, and perhaps pass along some of the passion I've acquired for the horsey lifestyle.

I got to see for myself how horses could transform a life from the average to the passionate and committed. To witness that phenomenon in others is especially gratifying.

We don't get to speak "horse" on the job
all the time, but it's fun when we do..

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