The barn's boarders were a close-knit bunch, most of them long-time students of head instructor Pat Kelly Jacobson. They shared a feeling that the facilities at Tara Equine Center-the airy twenty-five-stall barn, mirrored indoor arena, and extensive trails-were worth fighting to keep. So was a less tangible amenity: the barn's sense of community. The solution the group of seven boarders and instructors came up with was an innovative one: to jointly take over management of the facility and run it as an equine co-op.
They didn't have a hard time persuading barn owners Dick and Debbie Tarantino to give co-op management a try. The barn was part of a larger property that's the site of the Tarantinos' commercial dude ranch. They'd considered closing the riding center because of lifestyle changes, not a desire to sell. Also important to their decision were the already co-operative nature of the barn and their own longstanding relationship with Pat Jacobson, a forty-year horse-industry veteran who's also an equestrian artist and co-author of the classic horse-care book A Horse Around the House.
Unable to find examples of the kind of equine co-op they had in mind, the Tara group had to create their own working structure from scratch. Their first step was legal incorporation. Then the group chose Pat Jacobson to oversee everything: procuring hay, assigning tasks, and basically making sure everything runs smoothly. They elected a two-person board to aid in decision-making and scheduled monthly meetings to keep everything on track.
The Tarantinos were forthright about the barn's financial history, disclosing previous years' costs down to the penny. Their figures revealed that labor had been one of the largest ongoing expenses. Fortunately, labor is the place where a collective's combined forces can realize the greatest gains. In exchange for an $80 reduction in the $605 monthly board fee, each member agreed to contribute eight working barn hours a month. (Anyone unable to complete a month's requisite hours can simply pay $10 for each hour lacking.) Along with board, each co-op member provided a one-time, up-front lump sum to cover big purchases like hay and shavings.
That was last September. Ever since, the Tara co-op group members have been scrubbing water tanks, stacking hay, caring for injured horses, de-cobwebbing stalls. . . . In short, they do basically everything around the barn but such daily chores as feeding, mucking, and turnout, which (for consistency's sake) they've turned over to working students and a part-time employee.
The co-op is raising additional funds through schooling shows and clinics with top trainers like Lendon Gray, as well as sales of clothing and tote bags with the barn's logo. And there's one non-member boarder who continues to pay the full rate.
And that's led to the one major problem nearly every member is facing: As one of them puts it, "We're all getting in trouble with our families for loitering!"
"Everybody has pride of ownership here," says Pat Jacobson. "They feel it's their barn."
This article first appeared in the May, 2001 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.