Imagine buying a horse farm as an investment. The thought is enough to send any experienced barn manager into fits of laughter. After all, running a stable is hardly the fast track to landing big returns on your dollar. But in 1975, that’s exactly what a trust fund did when it purchased Table Mountain Ranch in Golden, Colo. And today, a quarter of a century later, that investment is still going strong.
To be perfectly honest, the farm itself wasn’t the focus of the buy. It was part of a deal that focused on North Table Mountain, a 1,000-acre chunk of open land that sits behind the equestrian facility. Speculation has it that the trust intended to turn a tidy profit by selling the mesa off to developers. Instead, after highly publicized protests by local residents, the mesa was sold to Jefferson County Open Space, a group that allows multi-use recreation on its properties, but not development—ever.
The Decision Maker
So the trust made its profit off the mesa. But it never sold the farm. And, if manager Connie Kimbrel has her way, it never will. Kimbrel has been with the barn since 1973, when she signed on as a boarder. By 1983, she was working as the farm’s bookkeeper. Three years later, she took over as manager.
While it might sound cushy to run a farm owned by a trust, you’ll find no sterling silver manure forks or gilt-edged waterers on this property. Though Kimbr el earns a salary, she gets no allowance from the trust for her operating expenses and has to keep finances in line on her own. Not that it was always that way, she admits. “In the old days, before I was manager, they were actually in the hole about $40,000 per year,” she explains. “In those days, the trust subsidized the farm, usually to help pay property taxes. But I’ve done it on my own for the past five years without so much as an advance. And we’re now operating at a very slight profit.”
The key, says Kimbrel, is to “run the place like it’s my own. I make all the decisions. I do all the billing, the taxes, the collecting. I just send a profit and loss report to the trust’s accountant every year. And as long as I hold my own, I have no problems.”
Change for the Better
Kimbrel has, in fact, managed to do more than simply hold her own. By carefully handling finances—and not overextending her funds—she’s managed to not only keep up with maintenance, but has made improvements to the facility as well. She admits, though, that she doesn’t create a detailed budget anymore.
“I’ve been here so long that I’ve developed a good feel for what needs to be done and when,” she says. “So, for instance, if I know that we need to completely redo the footing in the indoor one year, then I know not to do something else expensive that year.”
If unorthodox, her mental budgeting tactics have worked. Through the years, she’s found enough money in the profits to fund numerous renovations. For example, she says, “We’ve improved on equipment to be more efficient, we’ve added a set of outdoor pens, we’ve changed the grounds a little to create more turnout areas, we’ve added one dressage arena and improved the other one.”