De­ci­sion time

As es­ti­mates start to come in for ma­te­ri­als, equip­ment, con­struc­tion and util­i­ties, we start to re­think our plans from top to bot­tom.

EQUUS - - Equus - Text and pho­to­graphs by Bob­bie Jo Lieber­man

As es­ti­mates start to come in for ma­te­ri­als, equip­ment, con­struc­tion and util­i­ties, we start to re­think our plans from top to bot­tom.

Af­ter we spent a few weeks at our new prop­erty near Pie Town, New Mex­ico, in Oc­to­ber of last year, my hus­band Kenny and I came home to Texas filled with ideas and in­spi­ra­tion to make our dream ranch come true. We spent many a winter’s even­ing sift­ing through build­ing plans and weigh­ing the rel­a­tive mer­its of what to build and where and in what or­der to build it.

As we would dis­cover over the course of the next sev­eral months, keep­ing a flex­i­ble out­look was es­sen­tial for both our san­ity and mak­ing good de­ci­sions.

We’d planned to re­turn in March to meet with lo­cal builders and move for­ward in hopes of spend­ing the sum­mer in the high coun­try with our rid­ing horses. We were de­layed, how­ever, and didn’t make the 800-mile jour­ney back un­til May. We brought two of our en­durance horses--An­nakate and Jazz---with us, along with build­ing plans crafted by Kenny us­ing a pro­gram called SketchUp.

Upon our ar­rival, we were de­lighted to dis­cover that our perime­ter fence was com­plete, along with a main en­trance dou­ble-gate and a sec­ondary “cow­boy” gate. A few days later, we sad­dled up the horses to ride the fence line. The four-strand twisted wire fence was strung tightly and ex­pertly. Cor­ner posts were rough-hewn wood, and T-posts were used for the long stretches. I made a men­tal note to pick up a cou­ple hun­dred T-post caps on our next trip to town.

An­nakate and Jazz seemed to en­joy the moun­tain views and fresh, cool air as much as we did. One of our main mo­ti­va­tions for re­lo­cat­ing from Texas to New Mex­ico is cli­mate. Es­cap­ing the heat and hu­mid­ity of south­ern Texas for the higher el­e­va­tions and cooler air of New Mex­ico would, we hoped, re­duce al­ler­gies and ex­po­sure to bit­ing pests, es­pe­cially ticks and mos­qui­toes. Every spring, many of our horses, in­clud­ing An­nakate, would be­gin rub­bing their heads, manes and tails as the tem­per­a­tures climbed and the rains came. They also de­vel­oped chronic scratches (pastern der­mati­tis) and hives.

Horses seem to adapt to changes in alti­tude more quickly than hu­mans. I

found my­self huff­ing and puff­ing for the first sev­eral days of our spring visit. Also, the cli­mate is arid, and the mid­day sun is sur­pris­ingly hot even when tem­per­a­tures are cool. At 7,400 feet, UV rays burn right through cloth­ing. Sun­screen, wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves would be­come stan­dard gear.


On a shop­ping trip to Show Low, Ari­zona, I pro­cured 100 two-foot wooden stakes and four rolls of col­or­ful sur­veyor’s tape, which would help us vi­su­al­ize where our pro­jected build­ings would stand on a long, fairly level ridge ap­prox­i­mately in the mid­dle of the prop­erty’s 55 acres. Some of the el­e­ments of our ranch plans in­cluded:

• a main house, in­clud­ing mud/pet wash­ing room, green­house, of­fices and guest quar­ters

• in­te­rior fenc­ing for small groups of horses and run-in sheds

• a horse barn, in­clud­ing in­su­lated tack room, feed-prep room, wash rack and one or two backup stalls that could also be used for tack­ing up, cool­ing out and hoof trim­ming

• a metal hay stor­age build­ing with am­ple space for park­ing a trac­tor and all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle.

Given the del­i­cate na­ture of the na­tive grama grasses in the area, we’ve de­cided to keep as much of the prop­erty as open and un­tram­meled as pos­si­ble and limit free graz­ing to a few horses at a time. Long, nar­row, hilly runs, with salt and water at one end and hay at the other, would en­cour­age move­ment.

When we ar­rived in May, the grass was grow­ing and there were oc­ca­sional show­ers and even a few snow­falls, but

the over­all pic­ture was one of dry­ness. Un­til mon­soon sea­son ar­rived in June and July, the land would have a parched look.

In hopes of spend­ing much of the sum­mer here, we con­sid­ered sev­eral op­tions. We could ac­quire a “tiny house” that could be pulled along on a trailer, eas­ily moved or re­pur­posed. Like­wise, we could buy a used dou­ble-wide man­u­fac­tured home or small mod­u­lar home to live in while our main home is un­der con­struc­tion, and even­tu­ally con­vert that home to a guest- or care­taker’s house. Or we could trade in our trailer with liv­ing quar­ters for a slightly roomier model that would en­able us to live there more com­fort­ably dur­ing the build­ing process. Fi­nally, our friend and neigh­bor Karl Phaler gen­er­ously of­fered to let us stay in his guest quar­ters a short dis­tance away from our prop­erty.

One of the big­gest buga­boos of liv­ing in a ru­ral area is in­ter­net con­nec­tion. Kenny still works re­motely full-time as a soft­ware en­gi­neer, and a re­li­able high­speed con­nec­tion is crit­i­cal. Although he is look­ing for­ward to re­tir­ing in Novem­ber at age 66, it is likely he will con­tinue in some ca­pac­ity as a con­sul­tant. We were re­lieved when he was able to set up a mo­bile “hot spot” on the ridge of our new prop­erty and achieve an ex­cel­lent con­nec­tion. So he be­gan “com­mut­ing” from the guest­house to our truck and trailer on our prop­erty!

Dur­ing our ride around the prop­erty’s fence line, we also noted that no elk had dam­aged the fence---the area was se­cure. We un­tacked the mares and re­leased them to roam and graze. What happy horses! See­ing them en­joy this free­dom made my heart soar. The next morn­ing we found them peace­fully ly­ing down, in no hurry to get up. Even­tu­ally they came up for hay and mash and car­rots. I was glad to see they still en­joyed our com­pany!


In early May, our next goal was to lay out the ranch struc­tures and drive­ways us­ing the stakes and rib­bons.

We tramped back and forth un­til we found the ideal house lo­ca­tion (we love the view to the east of Ale­gres Moun­tain as well as Horse Moun­tain to the west). We staked out a 32- by 60-foot rec­tan­gle pend­ing our trip to see man­u­fac­tured homes. Walking fur­ther along the ridge, we staked out a 30- by 40-foot area for hay stor­age. We want to store enough round and square bales to last at least a month at a time, out of reach of elk herds, as well as pro­vide a place to tuck away a trac­tor and an all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle (“mule”).

The horse barn was ini­tially pegged at 40 by 50 feet. Here we en­vi­sioned a tack room, wash rack, tack­ing up area and hoof trim­ming area along with one or two emer­gency stalls. The horses, we’ve de­cided, will live out­side in 50-foot wide en­clo­sures with a long run down the hill. There will be small groups of horses per run, and we’ll use braided elec­tric fenc­ing as bound­aries. (Our herd is thor­oughly ac­cus­tomed to elec­tric fenc­ing on our Texas ranch.)

We plan to con­struct 12-foot sheds at the top of down­hill runs with con­vert­ible stalls for feed­ing time. Two runs will share a round bale and water trough. We will en­cour­age the ponies to run up and down the hill by putting hay at the bot­tom and water and salt at the top. Th­ese will largely be “sac­ri­fice” ar­eas to pre­serve as much of the land as pos­si­ble. We plan a four-foot walk­way along the back side of the shed to de­liver feed. The sheds will open to the south to en­able good drainage and avoid the stronger east winds that can roar in winter. We staked out enough area for 12 horses (although eight would be ideal for this prop­erty). We’ll let a few ponies out onto the main pas­ture for

a few hours at a time, es­pe­cially when the grama grass is well es­tab­lished dur­ing mon­soon sea­son.

Along the way, we laid out a drive­way with a turn­around. We also marked the spot for the last power pole and the lo­ca­tion of the water-stor­age cis­terns.


Then, we had a whirl­wind week, with our plans chang­ing as quickly as the winds and clouds. It be­gan on a Sun­day with “Break­fast in Datil,” a weekly lo­cal tra­di­tion at the town’s only restau­rant, Ea­gle Guest Ranch. There we met Tom and Ruth, a re­tired cou­ple who ex­tolled the virtues of their Karsten man­u­fac­tured home. Af­ter break­fast, we fol­lowed them to their place in the Wild­wood com­mu­nity a few miles east of town. There we were treated to a tour of metic­u­lously con­structed and main­tained build­ings. Two days later, we headed north to­ward Al­bu­querque to check them out.

As we rounded the cor­ner onto Karsten Lane, how­ever, the first thing we saw was a stun­ning cabin with rus­tic Hardieplank (fiber ce­ment) sid­ing and a green metal roof, with lots of an­gles, tongue-in-groove cedar ceil­ing and large win­dows. We stopped, looked, and fell in love with the de­sign and lay­out of this 1,800-square-foot Cham­pion man­u­fac­tured home. The thought of hav­ing an “in­stant” home was com­pelling: We could be on our prop­erty this sum­mer! We drove home full of an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment for our project.

One week later, we made the three-hour jour­ney back to Al­bu­querque, pre­pared to pur­chase the rus­tic cabin. But when we ar­rived, we found the en­trance gate closed and chained. Was it fate---or prac­ti­cal­ity---that pro­pelled us down the road the few blocks to the Karsten lot? With time at a premium due to dis­tance and Kenny’s work, we de­cided it couldn’t hurt to look, and I’d al­ready checked out a few of the homes on­line that looked promis­ing.

One in par­tic­u­lar caught our eye---a model built four years ago that looked like new. As we walked in­side, my emo­tions were swirling. As much as I loved the cabin, I knew in my heart this more eco­nom­i­cal op­tion could work. Here were hard­wood floors, a spa­cious kitchen lay­out, well-placed rooms, and it was al­ready set up for a wood stove---our pre­ferred heat­ing source. The best part? It would cost a whop­ping $60,000 less than the pine cabin, funds that could be put to use to build horse fa­cil­i­ties and even pur­chase ad­di­tional acreage.

Af­ter some on-the-spot soulsearch­ing, I re­al­ized this could be a work­able so­lu­tion. Per­haps in a few years, once we sell our ranch back in Texas, we can re­visit the idea of build­ing a home from the ground up us­ing struc­turally

in­su­lated pan­els (SIPs). Th­ese pan­els are top-rated for in­su­la­tion, es­pe­cially when com­bined with a so­lar-heated slab. Kenny had de­signed a unique eight-sided home, but at a cost up­ward of $150 per square foot and months, per­haps years, to build, we came back to the man­u­fac­tured home.

We bought the Karsten home that very day.


About a week ear­lier, we had fi­nally con­nected with Pie Town-based builder Jay Car­roll. An­nakate and Jazz took turns search­ing Jay for car­rots as we dis­cussed top­ics such as sep­tic place­ment, con­crete slabs, water lines and so­lar vs. elec­tric.

As far as whether we would need one or two sep­tic fields, Jay said, “Let’s see how it lays out.” In fact, his gen­eral ap­proach to build­ing was to re­mind us, “It’s a process,” take our time and “think it through” be­fore break­ing ground. He’s seen it hap­pen more times than he cares to re­mem­ber---folks get­ting in a hurry and then re­gret­ting their siteplan­ning de­ci­sions.

For ex­am­ple, how far from the house would we want the horse barn and how far from the horse barn would the hay barn be? Not too far, for con­ve­nience in winter and wind, but not so close as to feel crowded, ham­per ac­cess or be­come a fire risk.

Should we go “off the grid” and all so­lar? We shud­dered at the sticker price of such a ven­ture---Car­roll es­ti­mated a cost of $40,000 to $50,000 to set up so­lar to fuel the en­tire fa­cil­ity. Run­ning elec­tric would in­volve more power poles as well as un­der­ground lines at a cost of about $15,000.

Lay­ing a con­crete slab and foot­ers for ei­ther hay stor­age or horse barn would also be ex­pen­sive---Car­roll es­ti­mated $20,000 for a 30- by 40-foot struc­ture. The near­est con­crete com­pany was 80 miles away, driv­ing costs higher. (See “Cost Con­sid­er­a­tions,” at left.)

The line from the well to the ridge would need to be at least 1,200 feet long and three feet deep. Such a trench would need to be dug with a back­hoe be­cause of the rocks.

Th­ese ini­tial es­ti­mates were daunt­ing, so we be­gan re­think­ing some of our plans. We may only be in Pie Town for the sum­mer this year, so we may be able to hold off on build­ing our horse barn. A small tack­ing-up shed might be all we need to stay out of the wind. As far as hay stor­age, the main goal is to keep the for­age out of reach of the elk. It’s pos­si­ble a por­ta­ble build­ing, or even a roof and good tarp, could do the job. The neigh­bor­hood elk don’t seem pushy with plenty of open pas­tures avail­able through­out the neigh­bor­hood along with ac­cess to a large stock tank nearby.

To bet­ter vi­su­al­ize our fi­nal site plan, Kenny ven­tured out with a chain saw to se­lec­tively trim lower branches from the trees to en­able us to see more of the landscape. First he widened the path that would be­come the main drive­way, then set to clean­ing up the area near the house. Our aim was to take out min­i­mal trees, other than those needed to site the home and for fire re­me­di­a­tion.

We’ve cer­tainly learned that flex­i­bil­ity is a virtue when build­ing a ranch from scratch! HEALTHY LIFE­STYLE: The new prop­erty is per­fect for keep­ing horses lean, fit and con­tent.

Cre­at­ing a horse ranch from bare land 80 miles from re­sources is not for the faint of heart. Costs are not triv­ial, and a great deal of co­or­di­na­tion is re­quired to en­sure proper place­ment of util­i­ties and pro­cure­ment of per­mits. What’s more, the time­line is longer than you might think, even for a ready-to-go man­u­fac­tured home. Kenny is se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing tak­ing on the job of gen­eral con­trac­tor and builder for our horse fa­cil­i­ties. As a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, he knows well the sav­ings that can be re­al­ized by keep­ing la­bor in-house. This is an area we’ll need to con­sider very care­fully.

As our re­search of costs, ma­te­ri­als and var­i­ous build­ing op­tions pro­gressed, one thing be­came clear: We needed a trac­tor! Af­ter scour­ing Craigslist for used mod­els, and con­sid­er­ing res­ur­rect­ing our an­cient back­hoe in Texas, I per­suaded my hus­band to look at new trac­tors. At LR Sales in Al­bu­querque, we found a ver­sa­tile 40 horse­power Mahin­dra with back­hoe, front-end loader and mul­ti­ple at­tach­ments---hay spears, auger, post-hole dig­ger and Gan­non for grad­ing. We brought it all home on a flatbed trailer, and Kenny got right to work grad­ing the en­trance to the ranch as well as the build­ing site, knock­ing out dead trees and scoop­ing up rocks so our home could be de­liv­ered in two weeks.

Mean­while, our two moun­tain mares have been thor­oughly en­joy­ing their free­dom, graz­ing and trot­ting up and down hill and dale, and coming up twice a day for soaked mash, treats and hay. They are lean and fit and con­tent while re­main­ing alert and vig­i­lant, of­ten gazing off into the dis­tance. What are they watch­ing, we won­der? Vig­i­lance is an im­por­tant com­po­nent of nat­u­ral horse­keep­ing, ad­vises author and bare­foot trim­ming pi­o­neer Jaime Jack­son, so it’s been a rev­e­la­tion to see our horses truly en­gag­ing all of their senses.

NEIGH­BORS: Hay stor­age struc­tures would have to keep the for­age out of reach of lo­cal elk herds.

MAK­ING THE GRADE: The new drive­way would have a turn­around.

HIGH SPIR­ITS: An­nakate (left) and Jazz adapted to the 7,400 foot el­e­va­tion more read­ily than did their own­ers.

BOUND­ARIES: Bob­bie and Kenny in­spect the new high­t­en­sile wire perime­ter fence.

RE­FRESH­ING: Jazz (above) and An­nakate seemed glad to es­cape the heat and hu­mid­ity of south­ern Texas.

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