I have spent my adult life working as a stay at home mom raising five children. However gratifying and purposeful, I never had the satisfaction of knowing I had completed anything. I fell into bed each night willing to ignore all that was left undone. Before I was a mother, I was an ambitious dancer and considered myself an artist. I gave it up after my freshman year as a dance major at UofM. I lost the passion to compete for roles in more competitive environments. I just wanted a normal life, not one that was consumed by one thing. When I discovered dressage in my early forties, it awakened much of what I loved about dancing but it was so much better! The more I learned the more devoted to dressage I became.
In comparison to parenting youngsters, now that I run Rouxtano Farm full time, taking care of eight horses feels like play. At four o’clock, after everyone is in their stalls satisfied with grain, hay and fresh water, and the barn is clean we call it a good day. It’s no bother to deliver another small meal after six, and then share night check duties with the family before we all go to bed. The sleep that comes after a day spent outdoors working with the horses is deep and wonderful.
We share the keeping our horses at home with Ali Perkins. I met Ali in 2018 when Jack participated in Lendon Gray’s WIT program in Wellington Florida. Ali was the barn manager for 18 riders for three months. I taught the fitness for the kids, so she and I were able to work together each morning. I knew by the time we all said good-bye and the season was finished that if I ever had a farm of my own I wanted Ali to help me manage it. Our way of working together was fun and comfortable.
A few months later we bought our 24 acres in Hillsborough NC so I promptly sent a message to Ali to consider a position with us. I knew for sure I didn’t want to learn to run a farm by myself. I not only needed help with the labor but with thinking through decisions to help develop horses who were safe, healthy and happy. It was a very good day when she accepted the job and agreed to move away from her family in Maine to join us in North Carolina. (Thank you Heidi for sharing her.)
Ali brought Sante with her to be a solid member of our herd. She has successfully shown the Grand Prix with him for over a year and as he is twenty he only gets stronger and better at his job under her care. She is also USDF certified to teach up to first level. She graduated University as a school teacher and though she has spent some time teaching in schools, she seems far happier teaching dressage. Jack, Kira and I love it when she helps us with our daily rides. She is also able to teach others here on our horses as well as travel in the community to teach. I want her to develop her training business and be successful in this area.
Some may say 8 horses couldn’t be that much work. But Ali and I like to care for them with a very high standard. At the end of the day if feels like we served a herd of thirty. My favorite aspect of working with Ali is that our standard of care is compatible. We aim to have high performance dressage horses at their peak. That takes a committed team to achieve.
Aside from the horse care, our farm has been in constant repair mode. It wasn’t used as an equestrian property in over eight years. The stalls were rusted and full of furniture when I first saw it. We had fences crumbling, water pipes bursting, electrical problems, manure management issues, slippery mud, trees down, horrible biting horse chasing bugs, and hay that turned to mold in the high humidity. Every day I would arrive at the barn to ask, “What now?” because something wasn’t operating as it should. I could have had a handy man on payroll he was here so consistently. To compound our challenges we endured the wettest season anyone around here can remember. There were two hurricanes that came through. We had one big snow storm that promptly turned to ice rain. We had a serious tornado come very close to our farm. We feel like we have passed some initiation test because we are still riding every day.
Ali was by my side through all the trials of establishing Rouxtano Farm. We developed a good system of communication and team work. I doubt anyone can out work Ali. She can accomplish ten tasks in the time it takes most people to do three. As we got to know the farm and it’s own personality as it interacted with the weather one thing became clear to us. Our arena wasn’t sustainable with as much rain as we were getting. Six months passed and we never once rode on a dry arena. Eventually the saturation caused the clay base to expand and make holes in it. This is treacherous for our fancy dressage horses. It was impossible to find someone who could help us repair the holes. I had to beg to get a contractor out here. Over the course of three months we had to repair it three times, meanwhile we rode around cones and worried a foot would sink and injure our horse. Finally, I looked at my husband with those eyes, the ones that implore for a better solution. So we signed the contract to build a roof over the arena. It was months of construction that pushed us out of riding in the arena. We were so thankful to our neighbor Danielle who allowed us to go next door and ride under her covered arena while ours was being built. Just in time for the heat, it is up and we are beyond happy with it. This farm is beginning to realize the vision I had for it.
I have always enjoyed working with people in their mid-twenties as they begin to shape their adult life goals into action. My eldest son is the same age as Ali and there have been times where he lived far away and others were nearby who mentored and guided his decisions. In dressage, there are programs to guide riders to age 25, and then there doesn’t seem to be much to help transition them to become professional trainers and teachers. They find themselves on their own and this is not an easy endeavor to manage. To earn a living at this is difficult without burning out physically in a short time. To train horses, teach lessons, compete, and manage a barn will consume every waking minute. The only job that should do that is parenting. It seems they either slave themselves as working students for a trainer who can improve their riding or they hope to find a sponsor to give them horses to train. Some have to teach even though they despise it. Who wants to learn from someone who doesn’t love teaching? I don’t.
When we formulated the vision for Rouxtano Farm, before it even had a name, I wanted to create a job so a young trainer could gain experience running a farm, teaching, and training, and still have time to have some normal life activities. I understand this is a first step in Ali’s career and I don’t expect to keep her forever. I hope to work together for as long as it benefits her life. I believe though this position is a great starting point for so many good quality young riders who want to make the transition to professionals. I would do it again. I wouldn’t hesitate to recruit future barn managers from Lendon’s WIT program. You have to be disciplined and detail oriented to have her approval and support. For now, I’m in the sweet spot with Ali where we work very well together, and we both enjoy it. She is helping my riding improve every week and I’m most grateful for that guidance. My new mare is challenging and I couldn’t have persevered with good success without her help. I am thankful to be able to give her equestrian career a solid start. As I get older it is less about what I can accomplish and more about helping others have opportunity to realize dreams and goals. That brings me deep satisfaction.
I hoped Ali and I could develop an environment at Rouxtano Farm where people want to be here either to help us develop and maintain dressage horses, or participate in learning about dressage. I am always happiest when enthusiasts arrive to either observe a lesson Patrick is giving, or to take a lesson with Ali on one of our horses. I am so passionate about providing an environment where excellent dressage can be practiced. Though a rider and horse are alone as they learn to move in harmony together, it takes a wide community to create the conditions where it is possible. For me, it is a practice in art as we help horse and rider unite and attempt to achieve harmony.
Without our vets, farriers, barn help, landscapers, arena builders, trainers, nutritionists, neighbors, body work therapists, and especially my generous supportive husband, what we try to do in dressage cannot create the precise and beautiful movement shared between horse and rider. And I love to observe the magical improvements manifest because of the care we give. This is great fun. The little girl in me who loved ballet has found a new way to dance.