Friday, December 18, 2015

Nimo's Future Home, part 1

I've wanted to have my horse(es) at my own place for a very long time.  But, with the exception of my senior year in high school, when my parents had just bought a small acreage outside of town, I really haven't had the chance.  When my husband and I were looking for a house over 8 years ago, we discussed the possibility of buying land, but at the time, we were both working in DC 4-5 days a week at demanding jobs and neither of us could imagine having the time (or money) to care for many acres.

We did look at buying a one acre lot and building a home on it, but after more than one disappointment involving problems with septic systems and being outbid, we gave it up and settled on an existing home on about a quarter of an acre.  We love our house and our neighborhood and it is a great place to raise a child (kind of our intent when we bought it), but the dream of having a place for Nimo was getting stronger.

I've boarded several horses in three different states at 16 different boarding stables in the last 29 years, and I've just found myself becoming increasingly discontent with boarding.  To be fair, most of the places I've boarded at have really been nice places (including the one I'm at now).  Yet, I can't shake this desire to have more control.  Conditioning for endurance rides and the learning that has accompanied it have fundamentally changed the way I view horse ownership and care, and I sincerely doubt that there is a barn in the area that would accommodate all of my expectations. 

Barns in this area follow one of two models:  full-care with a lot of stall time, particularly during the fall/winter/spring, and field-board with varying degrees of shelter and pasture and horse-appropriate fencing.  I have luckily found a barn that allows me (and now two other boarders!) to deviate from the full-care model by allowing Nimo 24/7 turnout with a stall during the colder months.  The issue is that I still pay full board for what is essentially field board.  I do it willingly for now because I understand that the stall needs to be paid for even if Nimo doesn't use it (and boarding stable owners never get rich off of boarding).  But Nimo's field is a mud-pit for much of the year and grass only grows for maybe 3 months because the field is overstocked.  And this year was the first time that I realized how much that affected Nimo's ability to maintain his weight.  I rode quite a bit less to compensate for what was not the best forage situation, but when the barn finally put round bales out in November, Nimo's weight probably increased by 100 pounds in 10 days.  That was a wake up call for me in terms of how much he needs to eat.  He absolutely must have access to good forage at all times or I'm going to have trouble doing the amount of conditioning with him that he really needs, especially if we want to move up to 50-mile distances.

The solution to these problems is to get my own place.  But how?  We don't want to give up our house because as I said above, we are very happy with our neighborhood and if we moved any farther west, my husband's commute would become unbearable.  Yet, there is no way we can afford to buy an acreage of any size in the county we live in.  Land values are astronomical.  So, I came up with this scheme to keep our house and buy land in the next county over.  It would be close enough that I could go to the property every day to feed and check on animals, but significantly more affordable.  In fact, that is where Nimo is now, and I see him every day, so it didn't seem like much of a stretch to add in a self-care situation.  I do realize that there is a lot more to owning a horse farm than just feeding the horses, but I'll get into that later:).

I came up with this idea almost 2 years ago.  I spent a lot of time looking and thinking and finally over last summer, I hired an attorney to do some "scoping" for me on a piece of property.  It was not a great property in many ways (huge power lines bisected it and the soil was clay that drained poorly.  But, it had a lot of acres (almost 22, if my memory is correct) and it was in my budget.  Unfortunately, my attorney uncovered some huge legal issues with the property that would make it impossible for anyone to buy.  Why it was on the market and advertised for sale, I can't say.  And the sellers seemed to have no inclination to fix said legal issues.  And the listing agent was probably a shady character.  My attorney advised me to walk away, and I did.  But I was so disappointed.  Despite my best intentions to be practical and avoid getting attached, I really, really wanted that land and it broke my heart to not be able to get it.

So, I spent the next year licking my wounds and wishing and thinking, but not doing much.  Then, I saw an opportunity to lease a 3-stall barn in an elite (i.e. ultra expensive) equestrian community about half an hour from my house.  At the time, I had two friends that were also unhappy with their boarding situations, and I speculated that with the three of us, we could make the barn work.  The rent was quite reasonable, and I made an appointment to visit the barn.  It was cute but I could tell the property owners didn't know anything about horses (and the lease agreement reflected that) and the way the property was organized was kind of inconvenient.  But, it would be our own place and we had similar thoughts about managing our horses, so I tried to make it work.  And it just didn't.  Getting into a business arrangement with friends is probably not the best idea, but I really thought that it would work for us.  When my friends didn't agree, I was crushed, especially because I had already gone through a huge amount of work rewriting the lease and negotiating better terms.

And then I got mad.  I was angry with having so little control over my horse's care and angry about having to rely on other people to make things work.  (I didn't blame my friends for making decisions that they thought were best for them, but I was frustrated about some things that happened in the process.)  As luck would have it, a friend had recently given me a recommendation for a realtor.  I had gotten one the year before, but never called her because I honestly don't think realtors add a lot to the buying process, and I wasn't convinced that the realtor would be that great because the person I got the recommendation from knew nothing about horses.  I did all the leg work when we bought our house and while our realtor was very nice, I'm not convinced she represented us as well as we could have been represented during the buying process.  My preference had been to go with a real estate attorney, but one lesson I learned from the previous failure was that real estate agents don't play well with unrepresented buyers.

I decided to e-mail the realtor my friend recommended and ask her to help me find property.  Any property.  I'd already done my own searches and there was just nothing in my price range.  Over the course of just one year, prices had sky-rocketed and even 5 acres was not doable.  But I hoped maybe this lady was as good as my friend said she was, so I gave her my parameters.

She was fast and within the day, she e-mailed me three choices.  And I'll tell you all about them tomorrow!:)


  1. It must have been hard trying to be between two places at once so your choice to look for property with land is great. I agree that prices are astronomical and it can be really tough to find something perfect for you and your family. I look forward to reading about the three options that you have. I really hope you like one of them and can't wait to follow on the journey with you.