By Susan Friedland-Smith
Question: When is a barn not a barn? In the United Kingdom when you go to ride horses at the “yard”? Or perhaps when you’re a home renovator who turns a legitimate horse barn into a house for humans? (I shudder at the thought!)
Answer: Definitely when you live in Southern California like I do and you board your horse at a barn that’s actually a series of pipe corrals.
Recently I was asked by a friend from the Southeast, “What is up with those stalls?” She had seen pictures on my blog of my new Thoroughbred hanging out in his 24-by-24-foot pipe corral with a partial roof. She wondered if there were in fact “real” barns in California. I believe what she meant by that was whether there are big buildings with an aisle or two that have box stalls lining the interior.
It’s been years since I’d thought much about how unusual a pipe corral stall would seem to someone not from the Southwest. When I first moved to California in the late 1990s and brought my previous horse with me from the Midwest, I too wondered What’s up with those stalls?! when I saw the funny-looking pens at the equestrian center that we first called home. The “stalls” looked so open and I worried about how my horse would fare in the rain and cold. Then it dawned on me — there’s not much rain and it doesn’t get that cold.
I also remembered that my first two horses I owned in Illinois when I was a teenager were on pasture board 24/7 and they survived. There was a shed they could go into if it got too wet or too cold. In all the years I had them, I only saw them seeking shelter once. Once. So if they could handle being outside in a Chicago winter, I was sure my Midwestern transplant gelding could endure a California “winter.”
Full disclosure: the barn where I keep my OTTB gelding, Knight, has several stall options. There’s a big brown barn with 12-by-12-foot box stalls and there are rows and rows of pipe corrals. I opted for the outdoor stall because it seems most natural and the view is incredible. And I’ve been told that he and his buddy next door hang out with their heads resting over each others’ necks. He couldn’t do that in a real stall.
I obviously haven’t visited every horse facility in California, although it felt like it when I was horse shopping last summer. However, it seems as though many of the barns I’ve been to have one or two barn buildings in the traditional sense with a number of pipe corral options.
Over spring break, I had a chance to visit friends in the Santa Ynez Valley, which is almost 200 miles north of Orange County. It gets a bit colder there and I asked my host’s view on the pipe corral situation in California. He joked something to the effect that once a person had bought property in Southern California, the only type of barn they could probably afford would be rows of pipe corrals.
In the back of my mind I was still mulling over the “What’s up with pipe corrals?” question and set off to visit Monty Roberts’ ranch, Flag Is Up Farms, in the Santa Ynez Valley. In addition to hoping to see some training in action, I thought I could nose around and look at stalls. Surely the legendary cowboy trainer would have a barn or barns that epitomized a California horse farm.
I discovered both “old school” barns with box stalls, and pipe corrals. And one famous tenant of a box stall, who was actually soaking up the spring sunshine outside in a paddock: Shy Boy, the Mustang celebrity from the self-titled book and PBS show. I made a beeline to his turnout and when he saw me from the other end of his paddock, he walked purposefully on over to me as if to say hello. He even posed, in true celebrity style, for several pictures.
And although I was enchanted with the dreamy ranch in the middle of beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, and delighted to get up close and personal for a brief moment with a famous horse, I was eager to head back home to see my not-famous ex-racehorse at the barn that’s not really a barn.