Friday, February 6, 2009

Closing down my boarding biz – clearing out & my donkey are the big priorities now

At the risk of repeating myself since I’ve posted about it here before… I have a donkey. (Gallery here; ) I took him when a friend closed her boarding situation down next door (where the therapy program now leases) after a decade long relationship ended and she didn’t have the means to keep her farmette/boarding op running where it was. The donkey “Gleep” came over with a boarder… a challenging horse to keep weight on and handle – for example he really liked to bolt off when being led – the donkey was like a giant mental anchor to him. I had hoped that if the boarder left she might take the donkey with her. That said, I always knew little Gleep would have a companion in my own horse (and hoped someday that would be plural horses) as they’d been together half their lives. The boarder did finally decide to move closer to home late last year (she lived/worked an hour away sooo it wasn’t entirely a surprise with what gas went up to) but Gleep stayed with me. Now that I don’t have any horse of my own for companionship it could be possible to keep Gleep with or alongside other horses.. but it’s a tad trickier than just that. Nevermind that he’s been alone since my horse suddenly got too rough/cruel with him a few months ago. Annnnnd now that I’ve decided to close down the boarding biz (more in a sec on that), he’s about to be alone potentially. He will be terribly distressed by that to say the least when the 3 remaining horses around him leave in the coming weeks. He is a rather unique donkey lacking the confidence they usually have. Most animals aren’t happy alone but most also don’t have the ability to alert people for miles around about it like a donkey does. Hmmmm… so I’ve been pretty much spending a great deal of my free time contacting a lot of homes & people who have suitable means to see if they are interested in a loud braying animal. It’s just time consuming really as there is a lot to explain.

Ok, the boarding biz. Well… I can honestly say to anyone considering it that unless you have great reasons (like I did with my semi-retired horse with turnout needs), AND the ability to make additional income elsewhere… it’s not going to make you more than a few dollars an hour at best (every year I’ve operated at a loss – I don’t give lessons and that seems to be key to making money around here). And you will find yourself drained not just financially, but emotionally, unless you’ve got a great reason to be doing so (on your own property or because you have several horses/breeding/training/showing etc). Now I don’t have any great reason except Gleep of course, who isn’t exactly happy right now .. being by himself. And since one boarder decided she’d move her horse home a few months early (was planning on late spring/summer) I suddenly found myself in a position where on March 1st I’ll be paying out of my pocket more than the cost of Gleep’s upkeep just to keep my doors open.. well, it makes just no sense for me anymore. To stay open for the remaining few boarders and solicit for new boarders (not easy and takes months), would mean I’d have to go ahead and buy hay now. Good hay is a disappearing commodity this year and I’ve wasted an awful lot of my hay funds buying premium in the last few months trying to get my horse to eat anything. I’d actually planned in January to get my shipment that lasts until mid-summer when new hay is typically ready … good thing I hadn’t. It’s several grand of costs up front that you hope and pray you make this money back on board. With all costs increasing so fast I’ve barely been able to make that back every six months… so it’s like I’m constantly coming up with the capital to operate the biz on my own (through art and part time work). Or before, it was like I was essentially paying for my own horse’s food in six month blocks, because I never made a profit over his own food costs.

Nothing clearly wrong has come up in the autopsy yet either. We weren’t exactly expecting it, given how bizarre it all was and how it didn’t fit most equine issues that cause pain and lack of appetite and changes in mental state. An obvious brain tumor would have explained some things but in horses I’ve seen get them they don’t tend to happen quite so suddenly. Also there was a distinct lack of some other very typical symptoms (lack of balance and symptoms like that). Cell changes and toxins are what they’re delving into finding now. If you’ve ever known a human to suddenly have psychiatric issues, you know how much of a challenge it can be to diagnose in them… the tests are extensive and not all are possible on horses (at least on dangerous ones) plus humans have the added benefit of being able to explain symptoms and say when it started usually. These contribute to why I don’t want to keep the farm open as well. When people ask me, I can’t say why or say with honest certainty there is no risk to their animals. Whatever happened to my boy was clearly a really unique thing.. but in staying on I’d be constantly paranoid of it happening again. Even though, considering the history and current herd’s health, it’s all very unlikely.

My I just say here too that I’m so tremendously flattered that all of my boarders stayed solely because of me. They all have closer and less expensive places to keep their horses at that they’re going to. It really does mist me up to know/learn of this. The new gal taking over the boarding operation won’t have immediate income though, and I’m sad for her about that, however she also won’t have the immediate challenge I did of paying several grand up front to take it over (and hope she makes the money back which I never was able to accomplish).

Why not stay is a question a lot have asked me… since eventually in a few years I’ll probably want to get another horse…Weeeeeeellll… It’s all haunted with my boy’s memory and will always likely be a big mystery to me. Very likely to have been a fluke that will never be repeated but still.. what would ease my mind and make me want to stay there is what I’ve been asking myself and researching online / via local agencies in all my spare time lately… Primarily #1 concern to me is that it’s not my land and thus the environmental testing costs to ease *my mind* in the absence answers would be quite high (more thousands I’ve learned). I’ve read a lot of research papers lately and the # of things to be testing for in ground/soil/etc etc or for the pathologist to try to find in certain types of tissues are huge. And the brain is a mysterious organ that can be set out of balance with pretty small changes. Environmental and genetic. A small blood clot for instance, endocrine changes in tiny amounts, a tiny group of plaques due to outside or inside influences..… all these are things they might find in humans because they’ll invest the effort on months and years of tests (like MRIs & EEGs for example) that they don’t or can’t do with large animals. I can’t expect something on the order of CSI devotion and depth being put into his case. :( I knew this before I put him down too… you can’t exactly put an animal in a psychiatric hospital when it gets dangerous to handle. Not a large animal anyhow.

No one else is really worried though, there really is no reason to be, and all of the other horses are doing great with no symptoms remotely like my boys. Whatever happened could’ve been the result of anything. I just will forever wonder. I do hope I get some closure on that. The horses have all returned to their normal vocal selves too – I hadn’t realized how quiet they’d gotten around feeding time, I guess out of consideration for him. None of them were any less enthusiastic about their food to eat, just no typical bellowing whinnys until shortly after I put him down. Isn’t that weird? I strongly suspect he spent his last month or so with a raging headache half the time though. –sighs- They’re a great bunch of horses too (not just because I suspect they were humoring him), I will miss them all. :(

Meanwhile, it all means essentially that I’ll be freed up to just work part time at the handicapped riding therapy center caring for their horses and have whole days off in my life in the future. And not have to worry about how to finance the next big batch of hay, shavings, grain etc etc. The relief over that stress was immediate and huge once I’d made my decision to close the doors in.. uh… 22 days now!
I won’t miss having my income so badly affected by the strange seasons we’ve had these past few years. That’s for certain. Finding quality food has been such an extreme challenge. Even storage has been a challenge with the freakish amount of rain we had this year. I sure have learned a lot though and when I’m ready to keep animals on my own property someday there’s a loooong laundry list of considerations I’ll have.

I will really miss just hanging out at the farm and enjoying sunrises and sunsets and picnics/parties and simply having friends over there. I’ll still be there with the therapy center of course but just those quiet and social event times alone will be gone. At least I get to do it gradually. And at least I get to look forward to going away to shows to see hobby folks again more in my future now.

And I have a couple of options of places to keep Gleep until I find the right companions for him to be turned out with… and just as this was being typed the best placement home option yet has come in. SOooo he might very well have a great loving home in short order. I’ll keep him around until the last horse leaves of course.

People always say boarding farm managers are crazies.. I laugh – it’s a chicken / egg scenario. I personally think someone smacked me over the head with a clue stick and gave me the blinding insight that it would be totally insane for me to continue on and shell out my personal artwork income to fund the next 6 months of it. It’s certainly ranking up there by being both one of the highest physical and financial risk way to be involved with horses. I can have more sanity in my life and appreciate them better other ways right now. Everyone tells me ‘things happen for a reason’. It’s a strange painful comfort but it certainly seems to be true in my case anyhow. :(

Annnnd looking forward…Later this year I might take up lessons or something to refind “fun” in horses and not just be cleaning after them still. A farrier who came by this week was trying to talk me into doing UConn’s polo lessons. I’d probably really like it. My boyfriend pictures all the snobs you see though in movies (like “Pretty Woman”).. had to remind him that the dressage scene is about as stuffy as you get (he said he was “trying to overlook that” – lol!). He reminds me that I was really fascinated by mounted shooting & archery (I don’t even know the NAME of what the archery sport is – it must have a specific one eh?). Ahhh well… someday. Right now I’m barely able to scratch another horse without tearing up so it’s gonna be a while before I’m even ready to ride others. I’m a one-horse horse owner kinda gal. Hence my old biz name (one horse productions). I don’t ride to ride. I like the bond.

Righto.. well some bittys have just come in and I’ve got to update my yahoogroup about that. Shipping to commence shortly!


Vanessa said...

Morgen, I think that you are very wise to quit the boarding business. I am taking an Equine Enterprise class and we are putting together a business plan as our project. The teacher has been bringing in various people within the profession and not one single person that does boarding makes any money doing it and the common advise is that you need to REALLY love it or else you'll be miserable. As much as I love caring for horses, I simply don't like people and their quirks enough to deal with them. There are so many other things you could do in the industry that would be just as rewarding and probably a lot less stressful! :) Besides, you put out such beautiful art and not too many people can do that. You have a true talent.


Morgen said...

Tx Vanessa. :)
To be honest, I do love people and the boarders who are leaving are just really awesome/helpful/decent to be around. And they pay promptly too and don't balk at increases when my costs increase.

That still doesn't take away the stress for me though.. right now my shavings source has dried up b/c of the building business (we got big truckloads).. so bags (at 5-8$ ea x min.15/wk) for instance are 3x as expensive to use. Hay that isn't dusty is getting harder and harder to find every year b/c of the wetter and wetter seasons.. Horses inside over the whole of the year more now (and not out eating grass) due to thunderstorms pretty much every day or night all summer.. it's all simply harder to stay on top of.

If I had my choice, I'd have run-ins and a few different logistical matters to simplify life and remove some costs.

On my own property too.

Honestly though it is hard to find good boarders too. I've had the gamut of issues, theft, dangerous/reckless riding behavior, horse abandonment, non-paying.. etc etc. Screening takes a long time and mistakes really haunt and loom over you daily in a smaller biz. So I seriously cherish the horse owners I have there now. At least I'm basically giving it up on a good note with them. :)

ps to that is too -> it sure has been a vast change in horse owning costs in the last decade too.. one that really makes me pause and I'll be thinking long and hard about getting another horse again. The average costs to keep have nearly tripled. Free horses are everywhere now but I can't feel comfortable taking one on. Looks like donating is still the way to go for me at the moment.