Monday, September 28, 2009

Barn trouble

I mentioned in Friday's post that I am seriously considering leaving the barn where I'm at. In less than a week, I'll have been there an entire year — the longest I've been at any one barn.

And actually, for the first five or six months, I was pretty happy with the place. I felt like the barn owner wasn't really a horse person, and therefore didn't seem to catch on to certain things, but the horses were always well fed, their water was clean, and the facility and location suited my needs better than any barn I'd boarded at before.

Unfortunately, the care seems to have gone downhill. Here is a list of my major complaints:

1) Late morning feedings

Back in June I had to talk to the barn owner about feeding the horses their breakfast a little earlier — the gradual sliding of their morning feeding seemed to be coinciding with the more often I saw him drinking. After I talked to him, it got a little better for a while, then started sliding again.

In July or August, he realized I was often coming to the barn early in the morning to feed Panama myself so that he'd be done eating by 10:30 or 11, when I usually rode. He claimed he usually tried to feed around 8:30 am (it was all I could do to keep from laughing at him when he said this), and for a while he was feeding around 9:00 every morning. But of course, that only lasted a few weeks.

Feeling like I have to babysit the barn owner's feeding schedule is excessively annoying to me. I considered telling up, straight up, that with him losing half the property there isn't much of a reason for me to stay if he's not going to keep up on the care, but what's the point? He might shape up for a little while, but how long will it last?

2) My stuff getting used

This one is excessively annoying too, mainly because I never had this problem at the bigger barns I boarded at. You might remember my post with the tantrum title (MINE), where I talked about discovering (not for the first time) that someone was using Panama's stuff. It's happened several more times — I noticed I was going through fly spray awfully fast, and then one day found my fly spray in the grooming tote that is used for the alpha and the barn owner's mare.

I talked to pretty much everyone I could think of — the neighbor girl's mom, the instructor who gives lessons on the mare — and none of them were using my stuff. It turned out to be the barn owner's daughter, who lives with her mom but sometimes gets a wild hair and decides to ride her horse.

Every time I found my stuff being used, I complained to the barn owner, and he claimed he'd told his daughter not to. After this last time, when I found my fly spray in the other box, I complained again. On Saturday when I showed up, she was doing a lesson, and I noticed she had her own fly spray. But on Sunday when I came, at a rather unusual time for me, I discovered that she was riding and had left my treat container standing open.

So that's why I'm going through treats quickly, too.

I didn't even say anything to her or her dad. I am just so sick of having to complain. I mean, seriously, why should I have to tell them on every little individual thing?

3) The foreclosure

I've posted already about the barn owner losing the neighboring property, which he uses for the horses, to foreclosure. He hasn't offered to drop the price any, and initially I was thinking I wouldn't ask, since I didn't want to do anything that would encourage him to board too many horses on half the land. But with the quality of care a constant challenge, why should I continue paying a premium price for something that doesn't offer me the same amenities?

Part of the appeal of the place, when I moved Panama here, was the fact that there were two pastures. The second pasture — the one on the property that was foreclosed on — provided a place to ride without the other horses around. I was also able to set up a makeshift wash rack — there was a good, solid post over there to use as a hitching post, and the hose hookup was inside the pasture, so with the addition of a rubber mat I was able to pull together a pretty decent place to groom or hose down a horse.

But soon we'll lose that, and I'm not optimistic about how it will affect us. After my fall on Friday, I hosed down Panama's leg where I've been tying him lately, by the tack room, and the barn owner complained. When I pointed out that pretty soon that would be the only place, he got annoyed with me.

I suspect that he is not really taking the foreclosure seriously. He claims he wasn't given an official eviction notice, that only his tenant was. I wonder if that's true since he's using the land, too. But in any case, the deadline is October 29th, yet he told me that he'll continue keeping the horses over there for a while longer. His reasoning: They won't be able to sell it right away. Absolutely no respect for the fact that the property doesn't belong to him anymore. Or that he could be putting people's horses in danger of being taken my animal control, if they are on the bank's property and the bank doesn't feel like playing nice.

Finally, after overhearing him on the phone talking about the foreclosure, I check the county's website and discovered that the foreclosure process was started on all three of his properties last October (he owns another house a few blocks away, in addition to his residence). Sure, with the other horse property gone, he has fewer monthly expenses — but he also has less income, since he no longer is getting rent (which he obviously was not using to pay the mortgage) and he doesn't have room for as many horses.

So my personal feeling is that it is only a matter of time before he loses his other properties, as well, including the horse property. And I'd rather not be there when he does, since I already know that he won't be forthcoming with that information.

4) A general feeling of unease

All of this has helped to contribute to my feelings of unease, but there are other things too. Over a year of boarding here I've come to realize how much the barn owner is NOT a horse person. He doesn't make much of an effort to learn or retain anything pertaining to what he ought to be viewing as a business. For example, he asked me earlier this year what brome hay was. Admittedly, I didn't know either, so I looked it up and then passed the information on to him. But then, several months later, he asked another boarder the same question. If you were in the business of buying hay every few months, don't you think you would want to learn — and remember — these things?

And of course, at least part of my unease is fueled by his drinking. For a while after I talked to him back in June, I noticed that he was sharper when I'd talk to him. But I think he's sliding again. He doesn't come around me carrying a drink in his hand anymore, but the signs are still there: several huge trash cans full of beer cans on trash day, for example, and I've even found beer in MY mini fridge that I bought to store Panama's colic shot in the tack room. And since I went the very next day, I also know that he drank six of those beers that night, after returning from taking his boys to a beer festival downtown (where I'm sure he had at least a few).

There are times when I talk to him and I'm pretty sure he's drunk. For example, just last Thursday when I was tacking up, he came out to talk to me. He's kind of a stumblebum, so there's not much of a difference when he's drunk — it's more of an impression, and I definitely got the impression this time. Also, I'd thrown some hay over the gate to save part of Panama's dinner for him, and when I came back from riding I found the hay thrown back over (even though he should have known what I was doing, as I've done it before with him around), and the gate left unchained.

So there you have it: why I'm looking for a new place for Panama. I've given this barn plenty of second (and third and fourth) chances, and the only reason I can see staying longer is because of the difficulty of finding a new barn. But ideally I'd like to be out by October 29th, so that I don't have to worry about the consequences of him violating the eviction deadline.



At September 28, 2009 at 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like it's time, and you don't want to be on a property that's foreclosed. If someone comes to take possession, you might have to move your horse without any notice and you might be forced to prove that the horse belongs to you rather than the owner of the property, and that could be hard to do if he isn't microchipped. Someone who's that pressed financially may also not be buying the best hay, or adequate grain, or paying the water and electric bill . . . And then there's the drinking . . .

At September 28, 2009 at 4:51 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Kate, you're right about trying to prove ownership. I've been needing to get his brand inspection done -- I'm going to do that ASAP, before I move him, just in case.

I buy the grain, but you're right, he doesn't always get the best hay. Two loads ago, the stuff he got had gone to seed and had cactus in it (!). He's not too bright about choosing hay, and I think it's partly because he's buying the cheapest instead of the best.

And yes, the drinking is definitely a concern...

At September 29, 2009 at 10:26 AM, Anonymous Jackie said...

Wow! I'm impressed you've stayed this long. It definitely sounds like it's in yours and Panama's best interests to get out of there. Somebody that troubled will find all kinds of creative ways to make trouble for you if he goes down. The stuff you can think of is scary enough.

Hope you find something soon!

At September 29, 2009 at 8:21 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...


Mostly I've stayed because it's such a fantastic location -- close to my house (making it easy to keep an eye on things), great trail access, etc. Also I really love the smallness -- there's rarely anyone around to bother me. But yeah, I've put up with a lot for these conveniences.

I think for me, the foreclosure was the last straw. Not having the other pasture will change my riding routine too much to be worth the (rather high) monthly board anymore. Also it indicates that he is going under... slowly but surely.

However, I don't think he is a deliberately cruel person. He wouldn't do anything to intentionally bring anyone else down. However, I do think he is disorganized, irresponsible, and somewhat selfish. For instance, if his main property was foreclosed on, I could see him waiting until the last minute to tell me so that he could continue charging me board.

But don't worry, I'm definitely going! I've decided I need to be out of there before the eviction deadline -- October 29th -- to ensure that nothing bad happens if he tries to ignore that little piece of reality.

At September 30, 2009 at 7:44 AM, Anonymous Jackie said...

Location is definitely a big thing for me too; it's so much nicer to have a quick trip to your horse. Makes it easier to get out every day, or even multiple times a day if your horse needs any kind of special treatment.

Unfortunately I don't think there's such a thing as a boarding barn that is completely ideal. I always have to remind myself that no matter where I took Ace, there'd be things I didn't like. I guess it's all a matter of prioritizing what is most important to you.

I don't think it sounds like the barn owner would intentionally do something to hurt you; but he certainly has some issues that could indirectly cause problems.

Sounds like you have some interesting choices in the barns you visited. I'll be looking forward to see where you end up and how it goes. Post pictures for us if you can when you pick one!

At September 30, 2009 at 8:59 AM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Jackie, I'm only looking for places that are relatively close, most being not all that much further than my current barn. Maybe I'm a bit suspicious but I worry that if I can't be there every day or close to it, I won't know if my horse isn't getting the care he should be.

I know what you mean that no barn is ideal, and that's another reason I've stayed so long where I'm at. I worry about giving up something that's manageable only to discover the new place is worse in some ways. The devil you know, right? But unfortunately (or fortunately?) the situation has progressed beyond what I'm willing to put up with, so even the risk of enncountering other problems elsewhere seems worth it to me now.

At September 30, 2009 at 5:29 PM, Blogger Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Argh. What is it with horses and alcoholics? The lady who broke Bombay for me was a drunk. Unfortunately, I didn't find out until her last week on the job. I always wondered why she didn't want me around when she was working with him. I thought she just didn't want distractions or for me to be judging her, but I think she didn't want me to see the huge bottles of beer she kept on the ringside. On the other hand, Bombay was such a handful that maybe he drove her to drink.

I couldn't trust a drunk to take care of my horses either. The whole thing with all your stuff being used without permission is just flat out disrespectful. Better to bail now than when someone calls and says the jig is up, come get your horse.


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