We're Building a Barn!
The Clicker Center has a Home
In March 2011 construction began on The Clicker Center's home barn. Throughout my horse owning career I have never been able to keep my horses at home. I have always had to board them out. Boarding has allowed me to travel and to share clicker training through the many clinics, workshops and conferences. But as good as a boarding stable may be, there's no place like home! So we are building!
So who is the "we" in this project?
Mary Arena, a long time friend and client owns the farm where we are building the indoor. She will be the full time resident on the property, making sure all the horses are well cared for when I am traveling. Mary has three Icelandics who are already in residence on the farm. A new barn for them began construction in March 2011.
Ann Edie, another long time friend and client, is also a major investor in this project. Ann's three horses, Magnat, our most senior horse at 33, and our two Icelandics, Sindri and Fengur, will be joining my own two horses, Peregrine and Robin, in their new home. Ann's guide horse, Panda, will be a visiting resident, traveling with Ann to the barn for their daily visits.
Alexandra Kurland: When I finished the riding book in 2005 I began looking for property for the Clicker Center. It was time to move on to the next phase of developing clicker training. I needed a home for clicker training, a site where we could hold longer trainings, develop an instructor's program and explore in greater depth details in the training. When I began the search, I had no idea how long it would take! In the spring of 2010 Mary joined Ann and myself in the hunt for the perfect property and a short time later we found exactly what we had been looking for.
The future home of the Clicker Center is located just outside of Albany NY. It's the perfect location. It's not far from the NY Thruway so it provides easy access for people trailering in with horses. For people flying in for a visit, it's only about half an hour from the Albany International Airport. And most important it is only a short drive from my house. It's a beautiful property, thirty-six acres with two ponds, plenty of pasture for the horses and access to great riding trails. We have literally carved out the side of a hill to create a site for the indoor arena. We're going to leave one long side of the arena open so we'll be able to see the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside while we work horses.
As we become settled in our new location, we'll be planning many events there. I hope to welcome many of you to the new Clicker Center home barn.
I'll be sharing the barn building as it unfolds. If you've ever thought about putting up a barn or an arena, you'll want to visit often to see the updates.
The Clicker Center's Home
I never intended to build a barn. I was too busy creating books and DVDs to focus on anything like that. My original plan was to move the horses to an indoor one of my long time clients was building, but the property she eventually found was just too far away to drive to on a daily basis. So for the past way too many years I've been keeping my horses at a local boarding stable. The care was good. I knew I could leave town without worrying about the horses, but since I moved there, the resident population has more than doubled to over fifty horses. With so many horses there were always limitations and restrictions on what could be done. As I became increasingly involved with clicker training, it became clear that I was outgrowing what the stable had to offer. So when the riding book was published, I began looking for property.
The plan was to find a property that would suit both myself and Ann Edie and her family. We'd move our five horses, and Ann and her husband would be the full time residents on the property leaving me still able to travel for clinics.
I looked at well over a hundred properties both here in my home town area and also across the United States. Wherever I traveled, I always had my antennae out. Would this be a good place for the horses? I could have moved anywhere, but at the end of the day, I discovered that I really do like my own backyard. Upstate New York is very beautiful. A good many people flee the Northeast because of our tough winters. Perversely, I really enjoy them. So I narrowed my search to remain within a reasonable driving distance of the Albany airport and kept the local realtors busy looking at potential horse properties.
I saw some beautiful houses. And I saw some gorgeous land, but nothing that would suit for a horse farm. Often there simply wasn't anywhere flat enough to build an indoor, or the winter access would have been just too hard, or the asking price was too high. Surprisingly I saw only a couple of horse farms. Most of the properties were just a house and land. Or if they had a barn, it was a hundred year old cow barn in need of major repairs.
I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the property search. It was such a roller coaster ride of emotions. I'd find a listing that looked possible. I'd study the photos, and all the property details. I'd find it on google maps, so I could see a satellite view of the surrounding area. I'd get excited that this was going to be "The One", the property that met our needs and our budget. Then I'd go out to see the property. The easy ones were the ones that were clearly not right. I didn't even need to get out of the car to know I had just wasted an afternoon. I could have been working on a DVD. Instead I was looking at a run-down farm with the noise from a nearby highway roaring in the background.
The harder ones were the ones that were almost, but not quite. Could we make things work? Was there enough land for the horses? Was this just too far from anywhere? Was the house in need of too many repairs? The questions would mount up, and I'd cross another hopeful candidate off the list.
Going into the winter of 2010 I had a couple of properties on my list to go see, but I was waiting for the snow to melt enough to make the trip worthwhile. That's when Mary Arena let me know that she was going to be moving. It made sense to team up. I knew of one property that was just outside of the town where I lived. Ann and I had looked at it the previous summer, but turned it down. Now with the housing market continuing to tighten and no buyers in sight, the asking price had dropped by $100,000. That brought it more in line with our collective budget.
We looked at it late April, liked it and put a bid in, only to learn that someone else had beaten us to it. But then that deal fell through when the buyer couldn't get financing for it, so the property bounced back to us. Our offer was accepted on Peregrine's birthday, a very good sign!
What followed were all the building inspections. That is definitely not a fun process. The purpose of a building inspection is to find things that are wrong. And what a list it was! By the time all the inspections were done, it was a wonder the house was still standing! But really there was nothing wrong that a little routine maintenance and updating would not take care of.
I headed off for my annual trip to the UK leaving Mary to sort out all the closing details. I returned just in time for the final closing. The three of us celebrated with a picnic lunch overlooking one of two ponds on the property.
So we had the land. Now we had to get the horses moved. Mary took the first great leap. She moved into the house in August, and set her horses up in a run-in shed and small paddock area made out of round pen panels. It was far from ideal, but we were planning on getting the barn build as quickly as possible.
We drew up plans, staked out potential areas for an indoor, and started interviewing builders. The first builders who looked at the site convinced us to move the indoor. We were originally going to put it behind the house just past the pond. This would give us access to turnout, and it would tuck the indoor in to a low spot so it would not be quite as imposing a structure in the landscape. But it was going to be a tight fit and when the builders looked at it, they hemmed and hawed and thought we'd be better off moving it to the front of the property.
So we took another look at our options and chose a rounded knoll to the side of the house, overlooking the main pond. It was a very pretty building site and much more practical than the first. It would give us better access to the front turnout. It would tie in well to the existing driveway and give us easy access to utilities. But again it was a tight fit. On paper it looked as though we could easily site the indoor and an attached barn, but when we staked it out, nothing fit.
We got more builders out to give us estimates. The numbers that came back were scary. The site prep alone was a budget breaker. I began redrawing the building plans. What if we split the indoor and the barn into two separate structures? We could level one area for the barn, have a short ramp down to the next level and place the indoor there. Would that work? We got more estimates. The numbers kept going up not down. And we were running out of time. If we were going to build anything before winter we had to make a decision - now. Only we couldn't decide. Nothing was right. The location wasn't working, the barn wasn't working.
In November we changed plans again and decided that if we couldn't fit a full size arena into the space, we'd build a covered round pen instead. We'd gone up to New Hampshire to look at the Merry Go Round arenas and liked them very much. Was that the answer? They are certainly very appealing structures, but when we paced out the area yet again, we just weren't convinced that it would fit into the space along with the needed barn.
The building season was closing down and we were no closer to an answer. It was looking more and more as though we'd be able to build a barn for Mary's horses, but finding a location that would work for an indoor and that would stay within our budget was looking more and more like a pipe dream. As Christmas and the first snowfall of the season approached Mary was left caring for her three horses in just their run-in shed. And it left my horses in their boarding situation for another winter.
I kept drawing barn plans, but basically when the New Year came our building plans had ground to a halt. But shortly after the Holidays, Mary sent me an email. Her neighbor across the street was building a barn!
We were literally knee deep in snow and there was a pole barn going up! We walked across to look at it. It was in size very much what Mary wanted for her horses. It was well built, but it clearly wasn't costing the astronomically high prices that we had been quoted for barns. We called the builder and arranged a meeting.
We spread our barn plans out over Mary's kitchen table and explained what we wanted. That's all doable, the builder assured us, and for a price that he was sure would surprise us.
We went for a walk outside to look at the building site. Yes, he agreed, it would be an expensive area to develop. Why did we want to build there when the flat land was in the front of the property by the road?
I didn't want to sound like a toddler throwing a fit because she couldn't have vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate cake. But if the only alternative was to build the indoor down by the road, quite frankly I didn't want to build it at all. The property is fronted by a busy highway. The house is set far enough back to be somewhat buffered by the traffic. But if we built near the road we'd be right next to it. Apart from the noise, there were safety concerns. This was not the location I had dreamed of for The Clicker Center. Thankfully there was an ATT cable right of way that cut through the front of the property. It ran directly down the middle of the area he was proposing for the building site.
I redirected his attention by saying that the area I had always thought would work well for an indoor was behind the house on the hill side of the pasture, only there wasn't enough room. That's when Mary reminded us that the property extended beyond the hedgerow that bordered the pasture. We had another acre of land beyond what looked line the logical property line. We waded up through two feet of snow to have a look. The builder loved the site. He could take out the hedgerow and create a level pad here. As long as there wasn't a rock ledge to contend with, this would work. He'd have to dig test holes first, but he thought we could easily build here, and it would be using an area of the property that would otherwise go undeveloped.
I looked up the hill beyond the hedgerow to the house that was nestled into a horseshoe of hedgerows. The neighbors I was sure would have a very different view of his proposal.
But it all sounded like forward movement. We'd been stuck and now things were starting to unlock again. We had to wait for the weather to warm up enough for the builder to get his equipment back on the site to dig test holes. He went down four or five feet and hit nothing but dirt. We could build here!
He got his excavator out to get an estimate on the site prep and the following week we were looking at a set of plans for an indoor. That was the end of February. We'd gone from zero to sixty in what seemed like about four seconds. He had a major building project starting in the spring, but if we could get started in the next week or two, he could fit us in.
If we'd had more time to think about it we might have found a hundred good reasons not to build on this site, but we didn't have time, and anyway we'd already done all our hemming and hawing over the project. It was time to move forward.
Two weeks later on Wednesday March 16, 2011 I flew out to Chicago for the Clicker Expo, and the same day the excavators arrived on site to begin the barn. Through the weekend I got reports from Mary. On the first day they got her run-in shed moved and her horses relocated to temporary quarters on the driveway in front of the garage. They starting bringing in lumber for Mary's barn. On day two they leveled the area for her barn, and they began clearing the hedgerow for the arena. Mary reported that the whole back was opened up and it looked quite nice.
On day three the email said: exterior posts for my barn are up!
Progress was progressing fast!