A Dream Barn

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There are stables, and good stables. Then there are those facilities that are so lavish and spacious that horse and rider may be excused for thinking they’re in the Queen’s own barn at Windsor. 

Such is the quality of service and amenities of an equine center completed just two years ago at the smashing new 4,800-acre gated residential community of Las Campanas in the high desert north of Santa Fe. The community, which opened in 1997, also features a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, tennis center, spa and clubhouse.

The barn operation at Las Campanas is designed to serve a growing number of property owners who want to bring their horses with them as they unwind at their vacation homes. A light, airy 14,000-square-foot barn currently has stalls for 28 horses. Stalls are available to property owners, and members and guests may ride in the Center’s indoor and outdoor arenas, and on trails on adjacent federal lands.

The Morton Building has a peak ceiling height of 20 feet. Box stalls line the three center aisles of the U-shaped construction. Every stall has one exterior wall, with a large window. The horse can see his neighbor or gaze at either the inner courtyard or Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Stalls are open to the barn ceiling, creating a spacious atmosphere. Appointments include rubber floor mats and Nelson heated automatic waterers. On the outside of each sliding stall door is the standard blanket rack and halter bracket. Swing-out feed doors allow easy feeding and the equestrian center’s two feed rooms are located at each end of the main building.

Most horse owners choose the center’s full-service boarding program for board, daily grooming, and exercise and training. “For a horse to have a good attitude,” says Equestrian Director Caroline Invicta Stevenson, “he must be on a schedule of care and comfort. Owners want a high level of care. Once people have full-service, they never want to go back to anything else.”

Owners are as pampered as their horses. The Las Campanas Equestrian Center has a members’ lounge, three tackrooms, onsite tack shop, laundry room and heated restrooms. And the quality goes beyond the physical plant. Stevenson, who has designed, developed and managed several major equestrian centers during her career, works to establish a special rapport with club members, aiming for shared trust.

“Some seasonal members plan to keep their horses here only while they are at Las Campanas. But then they decide to keep him here year round, because they love the care the horse gets.”

One of the center’s most influential boarders, Alain Longatte, former president of Las Campanas, brought Stevenson to the center. He explained how she has inspired him as a horseman: “For me it’s the challenge of learning the skills and being able to establish a rapport with the horse. I started taking lessons from Caroline and found it so challenging that I really got hooked. It’s the challenge of knowing if I work hard, I get better all the time. It’s a learning process and it’s a team effort.”

Horses represent several breeds and disciplines—hunters, jumpers, dressage, Western and gaited horses.

“Every horse is the most important one as far as the owner is concerned,” explains Stevenson, who has trained polo ponies, racehorses, steeplechasers, working ranch horses and show horses. “So I designed Las Campanas to be the same for all horses. All eat the same quality feed, and are on the same worming rotation and inoculation schedule.”

The Center supplies quality feed by contracting with a local grower. Stevenson stocks the hay barn with clean, wholesome and consistent hay. She orders three types: timothy, alfalfa and a mix she calls, “meadow mix: a combination of orchard grass, brome and meadow grass, with a little bit of timothy and alfalfa.”

She blends the types of hay to meet each horse’s needs. “I eyeball each horse and know the horse’s condition. Each horse has a feed chart, and I change the chart depending on the work, or if the work changes.”

Stevenson feeds by flake, not by weight of hay. “With grass hay, you have to feed by volume, because it is so totally different from alfalfa.” Staff break each flake to separate and examine hay, and feed hay on the stall floor.

“Feeding on the ground is the natural way for horses to eat, due to the fact that they are grazers,” said Stevenson. “In addition, it helps the sinuses to drain, with the head lowered.”

She notes that the center has a population of “senior” horses, averaging 18 years old. She supplements hay with Clovite and a special grain feed, mixing Purina Adult and Purina Senior feeds with some bran and rolled oats—again depending on the horse’s exercise level. Horses are fed hay at 6 a.m., 2:30 p.m and 8 p.m., and special feed at 9 a.m. Each stall has a trace mineral salt block or a plain white block if the horse prefers.

At Las Campanas, a professional staff of 14 includes a barn manager, barn assistants, grooms and barn workers. Barn workers keep stalls clean and bedded seven days a week. Mornings, staff thoroughly clean stalls. A late-shift worker, on site from 3 to 8 p.m., picks out stalls and ensures that each is well-bedded in the evening. In addition to stall duties, barn workers also maintain feeders and waterers, sweep the aisles, blanket and unblanket and turn horses out.

Grooms attend to horses in the barn’s six groom stalls and five wash stalls. Stevenson planned groom stalls eight feet wide. “It’s easier to keep a horse still, rather than in a stall 12 feet wide. I put the crossties across from the wash stalls, so horses can see one another.”

Three professional riders exercise and train horses. They also regularly ride the lesson horses and teach group and private lessons. One rider is Stevenson’s daughter, Sarah Invicta Williams, a winning trainer and exhibitor in the hunter ring.

For horses, every day includes playtime in one of the 10 turnout paddocks. “To get out of the stall and roll—it’s very good for the horse’s attitude,” says Stevenson. “He doesn’t just come out of the stall to be crosstied, groomed and ridden.”

She designed the paddocks so each is separately fenced. Horses can see one another, but fences are spaced eight feet apart. “It’s like the horse hanging his head out the stall window—it’s important to be able to interact with his neighbor, without feeling threatened.”

Staff monitor the horses throughout the day and regularly check the stalls at night. The barn manager, who lives on site, checks horses between 10 p.m. and midnight. Club security then checks the barn three additional times during the night.

“My criterion for the first person in the morning is to check every horse to be sure all are alive and well,” says Stevenson. “They are so fragile, and things can happen so quickly.”

To ensure that each horse is kept in top condition, staff discuss the animal with its owner and advise on veterinary protocols. Horses are wormed every eight weeks. The schedule includes tube worming in December and May, alternated with paste-worming. Teeth are examined at least twice a year and floated as needed. A regular farrier visits the center twice weekly.

Preventive care includes feeding psyllium due to the sandy Southwest soil and monitoring each horse by running a sand impaction test every three months.

With travel to shows, clinics and trail rides, all horses receive a strangles inhaler and Eqstim (an immunostimulant) as a precaution.

Stevenson avoids unnecessary treatment, such as routine injections of joints. “If it is not broken, it should not need repair—only maintenance.”

Stevenson’s major management difficulty has been securing trained grooms and multiple-discipline riders. Santa Fe is well-known, but it isn't a big metropolis—the population is about 50,000. It's a popular tourist destination, but it's an expensive location for the average worker. “We need professional quality staff from the barn worker up,” says Stevenson.

Nonetheless, the complex plans to expand and add more stalls, with as many as 80 horses on site. Adjacent horse-property homes will increase the Las Campanas equine population.

Blessed by the opportunity to build her ideal place from the ground up, Stevenson’s goal has been to offer the ultimate in care for horse and rider. If you ask her clients, she’s achieved just that.