Do We Really Need Surveillance Cameras?

Maybe our trusting nature is a mistake?
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Maybe our trusting nature is a mistake?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the article, by Susan Quinn, that we ran 10 days ago about barn security and surveillance cameras, plus Editor Cindy Foley’s blog about the sexual assault on her friend’s horse.

We might be mistaken to feel safe because of our relatively remote location.

We might be mistaken to feel safe because of our relatively remote location.

And I’m working on an article on the Saddle Network, a company whose purpose is to prevent the saddle theft that’s become increasingly common in some equestrian cultures and geographic areas—and which costs a whole lot less than a surveillance system. (We’ll post that article in a week or so.)

One the one hand, I’ve been fortunate to have never suffered any of the thefts or illegal activities either writer described, so my innocence allows me a sense of denial and a resistance to paranoia. One the other hand, the stories about these crimes are not fiction.

Mostly I’ve been pondering how much Susan’s and Cindy’s thoughts should affect our Phoenix Farm and me, pondering whether precautions like security cameras are really necessary. I can see how they’d be useful for farms with certain layouts and locations, but I’m doubtful for us.

I recalled our previous farm in Virginia—a five-acre property with the road curving round two sides of it, in a small hamlet about 4 miles from the small city of Winchester. Our house sat maybe 50 feet from the road, with the three-stall barn 100 feet behind it. We had two neighbors, whom we knew pretty well, one on each side, 300 to 400 feet away from the barn, each with unobstructed views of the barn. So lots of eyes could see the barn.

Still, for most of the six years we lived there, Heather and I were gone to work for the day. I could have been convinced to install surveillance cameras there, to deter theft of the horses and the tack from our tack room. In fact, for a period we did put locks on the paddock gates because we were a bit worried, but we ultimately decided that it really wasn’t worth the inconvenience.

But that was our private farm. For the much larger and professional operation we have now, I’m not as convinced about the need.

Our 10-stall barn is 200 meters away and about 75 feet below the hill our house sits on above it, and the driveway goes past the barn on the way to the house. Admittedly, if we’re in the house, especially with windows closed in winter, we simply can’t hear or see who’s in the barn or what’s going on. So when we had mares in foal, we used a baby monitor, which worked fairly well.

We do have an electric gate, but I like to say it’s for keeping the animals in, not the people out, so the gate code is marked on the keypad for convenience.

Maybe our trusting nature is a mistake? Our road has a Neighborhood Watch program, but I don’t know how effective that really is. We have two livestock guarding dogs, who do bark at night-time barn activity. They can’t get out of the pen where they live with the Nigerian dwarf goats and the miniature Sicilian donkeys they guard, but intruders might not know that.

We take solace from being relatively remotely located, about 8 miles from nearest town. But these articles have made us seriously consider putting an alarm on the gate, one that we could turn on at night so that we didn’t go crazy hearing it every time the gate opened during the day. We’re also considering putting locks (combination locks, not key locks) on two of the pasture gates, which would, because of our farm’s layout, prevent thieves from removing the horses turned out at night.

Generally speaking, thieves look for targets that involve as little risk as possible. They want a barn or farm that’s easy to get in and out of, perhaps with an entrance shrouded in trees or bushes, not near any houses, perhaps with flimsy fencing or gates, and near the road. I suspect that, in our case, a thief looking to steal a horse or two would likely skip our farm because of its size, solid fencing and clear professionalism and, instead hit the farm two miles down the road with flimsy wire fencing and no barn. And they might reason that those people would have no record of their horses, whereas we would.

The truth is, too, that for most people running a boarding or training stable, spending $4,000 for a surveillance system just isn’t in the cards (including us). You just don’t have that kind of money lying around, and if you had a windfall, there are a dozen other things directly related to horse care and farm maintenance that would probably take priority.

Basically, we’re far more concerned about preventing theft of our saddles and other tack than we are of our horses. That certainly isn’t because we value the horses less than the tack, but because stealing our horses would be far more difficult. I could certainly imagine someone entering our property at night and attempting to break in to the tack room, but I really think the logistics of removing a horse would be too difficult to be worth the risk.

Plus—and perhaps I’m wrong—I wonder if surveillance cameras could really deter someone deranged enough to sexually assault a horse. They’re hearing voices from a planet light years away, and I doubt they’d make a logical calculation of the consequences before doing whatever they’re going to do.