Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Boarding Horses - Introduction

(First in a series of posts) Until I graduated college, I really didn't give horses or horse people a whole lot of thought or attention. In my part of Ontario, especially in my youth, horses existed on the periphery of agriculture; NOBODY used horse in the same sentence as farmer. Horses were what people from the city (who by inference didn't know any better) got when they bought their ten-acre-and-independence mini-farmettes. About the only good that came from horses is that some of us got to sell some of in horse folks.... a little bit of hay (at what we considered ridiculously inflated prices). The farmers in my world viewed riding horses as a rich man's indulgence; since we weren't rich we didn't indulge and we pretty much ignored those that did. In hindsight, given that Northern Dancer was bred on E.P. Taylor's beautiful Windfield Farms in Oshawa, only a few miles down the road, equating horse keeping with "idle" money could maybe be forgiven.

I didn't realize until I left just how good a place southern Ontario is to be a farmer. In addition to being located in the warmest part of Canada and in a place blessed with deep, fertile soil, there is a huge and monied population base to sell things to; nearly 8 million residents (or one in four Canadians) call the Golden Horseshoe (from Niagara Falls to Oshawa) home. And at some time between my childhood and now, an awful lot of them decided they needed to own a horse. Since it's pretty hard to stable a horse in the backyard of one's townhouse, in the last ten or twenty years a LOT of farmers have turned to boarding horses as a way to diversify their farm income stream. Some have been more successful than others while some have failed entirely, but the point is that fair bit of the acreage that used to be devoted to cows....especially beef but also some dairies, is now devoted to horses.

Horses began to get on my radar screen when I started working for one of our local farmers co-ops in a nutrition role and they really got on my radar screen when I started working for a Purina affiliate some years later. Horse feed has become a BIG deal and a big money business !

The largest horse stable in Bowmanville is owned by a very good friend of mine who's family remains an agricultural powerhouse in that country. At about the same time I moved down here, he added horses to the mix on their huge family farm and he's expanded his operation every year since then, as have we. We joke that since he and I are both boarding horses for a living there is a lot more thumping down at the cemetery as ALL our respective kin are getting a lot of exercise rolling in their graves ! But mine are still getting more exercise than his because in addition to boarding horses for a living, I moved to the States ! :)

There is much truth to the statement that a good dairy farmer will also often make a good horseman; the two professions have much in common when they are practiced well. Anyone who is open to learning and who truly likes working with animals, grass and people, as I do, will find the transition from cows to horses pretty easy to make. And unlike the sort of farming I grew up with, boarding horses, even the way we do it, is NOT a lonely occupation. We interact with a host of people in person and on the phone, from clients to sales people to vets, farriers, neighbours and university folk as well as our employees each and every day.

Next post Topics - Thoughts on Pasture and Grazing Management for Equines - (FYI, this may appear in the Paradigm Farms Blog); Thoughts on Sizing the Operation/Getting Started with One !


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to more!

Laura said...

interesting - looking forward to reading more... I wish more boarding stable owners cared about grass mgt. and grazing though. Seems to be a low priority at the places I've been...