California Riding Magazine • May, 2012

It's The People, Stupid!
California Riding Magazine readers share their barns' best features.

by Kim F. Miller

Rockstar enjoying Ride America's giant grass field.

When we asked readers to tell us their barn's best feature, we expected answers involving equipment, manure management methods, snazzy fly control systems, etc. Wrong!

People were the common denominator in most of the replies we got. Be it boarders, stable owners, ranch managers or maintenance teams, the human beings were most barns' best features. Hooray!

The following contributions are highlights of the responses we received.

The Ever-Ready Ring at Lone Oak Ranch

Boarder Karen Crampton says the owner, Donnie Bright, is the best feature at Lone Oak Ranch in San Diego County's Lakeside. She also likes the arena that's "rideable days before others after a rain." When we called Donnie to ask about the arena, it was clear why the 33-horse stable's owner is such a popular asset.

The arena's nearly all-weather rideablity is due to Donnie's meticulous maintenance and to his idea, when he bought the ranch 20-plus years ago, to balance the deep sand with manure. "It is located in a river bottom and the arena was almost a foot deep of sand when I bought the place. I started dumping all our manure in it, and digging to mix it with the sand." The manure "tightens" the sand, explains Donnie, who adds that the free, plentiful footing additive also works well to break up and loosen arenas with a clay base.

"You can't go overboard with it," Donnie cautions. "Put in just enough to where you are satisfied with the footing. I add in more only when I get a soft spot."

Donnie loved his arena getting a shout-out, and says another thing he loves about being Lone Oak's owner is being home to the Partners Therapeutic Riding Center for the past four or so years. "I really enjoy watching them teach these kids and seeing their turn-arounds. Often they go from not wanting to do anything and being resentful of their teachers, to begging to ride."

A good example of Donnie's meticulous arena maintenance is his grooming the ring for whatever type of riding is planned. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, for example, the Partners volunteers are leading horses and their students at the walk. For those sessions, Donnie drags the ring to pack it down a little so the walking is easier on the two-legged participants.

The Atmosphere at Ride America

Boarder Melissa Armentrout cites the atmosphere at Ride America. The revamped former show facility in Carlsbad sits on 26 serene acres. "I love taking my horse out and whether it's turning him out in the giant grass pasture (the former jumping field) and even just grooming him in the cross-ties and listening to the babbling water from the year-round creek, it's a total place of serenity for all," Melissa says. "No matter your horse, breed, riding style, etc., everyone just seems to fit here, which is sometimes hard to do at a place that's home to almost 50 horses."

No Nipping at Discovery Valley Equestrian

Brenda Campbell Kakehasi loves the six-foot separation between the 24' by 24' stalls at Discovery Valley Equestrian in San Diego County's San Marcos. "It's awesome because the horses can't nip each other and it's wonderful when you're working and cleaning around it. And the horses love the bigger stalls!" She also loves the facility's new covered ring and the fact that there's an on-site feed and supply store, North County Feed.

A Ring Of One's Own at Sonoma Valley Stables

Top hunter/jumper trainer Hope Glynn loves the arena at her and her husband Ned's training facility in Sonoma. "It's a large arena with a two-level bank jump," Hope reports. "And we don't have to share it with anyone!"

The bank jump in the big ring at Sonoma Valley Stables.

Open Mindedness at Courtship Ranch

Every day is equestrian diversity day at Courtship Ranch in the North Los Angeles area's Lakeview Terrace. Lyles Perkins had many years of East Coast A circuit hunter/jumper and European dressage experience before she and her husband Phillip bought and began an extensive renovation of the property in 2009. She knew that narrow-mindedness and misunderstandings about different horsemanship styles and techniques could be a big source of boarder friction and drama. "I make it clear when we are interviewing prospective boarders that we are a multi-discipline facility and if people are not comfortable with that, we are not the right place for them."

Courtship Ranch is home to about 80 horses and three trainers: a dressage professional: an all-around and natural horsemanship specialist and a privately-engaged Paso Fino trainer. Breeds range from Arabians to Warmbloods, with Mustangs, Fjords and other colorful characters in between. It's typical that riders in one discipline are unfamiliar with how those perusing another discipline do things. "I tell new boarders that, if they see something they don't understand and/or are concerned by, they should come to me," Lyles says. "I will either explain it, or address it if it's a problem."

Happy boarders at Courtship Ranch.

The Perkins have four kids, who all enjoy different riding styles, and the family lives at the ranch. "I was guilty of being an equestrian snob in the past," Lyles acknowledges. "Of thinking that somebody didn't have the right saddle or didn't know what they were doing because it was different. But, that's not the environment we want here. We live here and we want everybody, including ourselves, to be comfortable here."

Regular communication is another key to cordial relations at Courtship. Lyles' regular e-newsletter to boarders includes info on upcoming events and situations, like ever-rising hay prices and recent EHV-1 scares and the temporary ranch policies that resulted. It also fosters good will, celebrating boarder accomplishments and news and alerting all to regular boarder potluck dinners and holiday parties.

A new roof over one of Courtship Ranch's three arenas and new footing in all three rings are among the Ranch's more traditional best features.

The Dream Team at El Sueno Equestrian Center

Manager John Duron didn't have to think twice before offering his barn's best feature: "team work." The stable is located in Ventura County's Somis where John's crew of five guys cares for close to 60 horses every day, plus handling the staging for at least one show a month.

"We have the best team in town," John reports. "It's our goal to keep our boarders happy and to do the same for those visiting for shows. I tell our guys that it's like we are running a hotel. When people come here, they want to see what the rooms look like, etc. For us that means, nicely bedded, clean stalls, good food, etc."

John Duron, Manager at
El Sueno Equestrian Center, and his dream team.

As the quarterback of his team, John has found it effective to make sure that every player can fill in for the other. "No job is below anybody and I never hear any of my guys say, 'That's not my job.'"

John considers the trainers at El Sueno to be part of his team, too. They are Shauna Pennell, Lehau Custer, Debbie Rosen and Lisa Westin.

The People at Rancho Felicidad

"When I was planning Rancho de Felicidad (an existing ranch that we bought and remodeled in Chino Hills) one of my family's biggest concerns was the people," recounts owner Suzi Vlietstra. "Would they take care of their horses? Would they take care of their bills? Would they respect our property and privacy?"

"The answer to all three questions is a resounding Yes!," she continues. "We have several boarders who have never missed a day visiting their beloved horses, and they are just as responsible about taking care of their board and our facilities. Our trainers are dedicated horsemen that truly love to share their excitement about horses with others, while our helpers and suppliers are reliable, dedicated, and...delightful!

Some folks hangin' out at the Rancho de Felicidad barn.

"I joke with my 'neigh-bor' who owns a stable down the street that we could have an anonymous blog called 'Board to Tears' about the funny things that go on at our barns. But we don't want to 'out' anyone! Kidding aside, I picture our boarders as leaving their cares and 'whoas' in a tidy pile at the bottom of our driveway as they enter the ranch, then picking them up again when they leave. While those folks are here, their real-life concerns are kept at bay while horses are ridden, groomed, trained and loved. And though we have a terrific group of horses here, the best thing about them - and I think they'd agree - is their owners."