EquiSearch Profile: LeAnn Scherer, Riding Center Owner and Operator

Horses, Scherer says, were a childhood fantasy her family couldn’t afford. When she finally started to ride, the horse bug bit again–hard. Scherer quickly bought her own horse, a Peruvian Paso, and boarded him near her weekend house in upstate New York. She became interested in breeding and bought another Paso, and then another, and soon had a string of six. Easy gaited Pasos, she figured, would be perfect for her modest midlife riding ambitions.

“I thought I was too old to start falling off” she says.

But the trainer at her boarding barn raised the bar on her equestrian ambitions. Denise David was a USDF bronze medalist and a passionate dressage rider. Scherer caught the spark; soon she was trading the Pasos for a Thoroughbred and an Oldenberg mare.

As Scherer’s skill level and involvement increased, so did her dissatisfaction with available boarding situations. Most barns offered a composite of disciplines and riding styles–and what she realized she really wanted was a facility where the focus was dressage.

Slowly, an idea began to form. Scherer had spent two decades working her way up to manager in a large clothing business and was weary of the pressures of work and city. She’d buy land, she decided, and create the barn she wanted herself. She planned to run it on weekends for three years, then quit the city job and manage the barn full time. Trainer David was encouraging–she’d been longing for this kind of facility as well.

One day as Scherer was passing a field she’d often admired, she saw a farmer on a tractor and impulsively stopped her car. “Would you ever think of selling this property?” she asked him.

“You know,” he replied, “I was just discussing that very thing with my wife.”

Shortly afterwards, Scherer became owner of 26 level acres nestled in the broad lap of the Catskill Mountains. She put up a small barn, moved her horses over and just as she began to search for a house closer to the property, she got a call from a local bank. A house with six acres contiguous to Scherer’s land had been reclaimed for back taxes. Was she interested?

About six months later, as she was in the midst of researching financing plans and building contractors, the so-far smooth road toward her dream barn started to get bumpy. She and her husband decided to divorce, and then her employer told her she’d be laid off. How, she agonized, would a bank talk to a jobless single women?

But with the help of the local small business development center, one did. Her job loss actually gave her something the bank greatly valued–a full time, on-site devotion to the new business.

Scherer and David designed the facility themselves, combining ideas garnered from nearby barns and some of their own. Creating an open, airy and welcoming feeling was a main priority. At Scherer’s Saxton Farm, the indoor arena and stabling are one integrated unit; the L-shaped row of stalls flank the ring the way a New England village clusters its green.

The arena wall is only four feet high, allowing stalled horses to watch their buddies work. “Sky belt” windows, skylights, and a huge set of doors that are open to mountain views in all but the coldest weather add natural light.

Efficiency and economy were also key. “Being a manager in the garment center I’ve always had to think very logically–I knew how things needed to flow,” Scherer says.

The aisle separating the stalls from the arena is 12 feet wide, allowing tractor-aided mucking out. There’s also space for tack lockers across from each stall, benches, and wall-hung wheelbarrows. “The lockers,” Scherer says, “were a one time cost, but loss of income from stall space for a tack room would have cost forever.”

There’s an Olympic-sized sand arena behind the barn, ten two-horse paddocks in close proximity, and a wide bridle path encircling them. The fences are white electric tape, a high safety/low visual impact choice that Scherer says allows separated horses to have the sense of being in a herd.

Though Saxton Farm has been open less than a year, stall space is two-thirds occupied. David and Scherer are doing most of the daily barn work for now, but more big dreams help get them out of bed each morning; David has a ten year plan to represent the United States in Olympic dressage competition, and Scherer hopes to breed the horse she rides.

In the meantime, Scherer’s thoroughly enjoying her new career–even though, ironically, it’s leaving her less time to actually ride.

“I took a weekend hobby and made it into a profession.” she says. “Sometimes the rug has to be pulled out from under you to do it. But it’s been fun every inch of the way.”

As Scherer learned from her former life–design is important. But as she’s learning in her new one, sometimes you just have to grab your plans with one hand, your dreams with the other, and leap.

Susan Krawitz is a freelance writer based in Stone Ridge, NY, who occasionally writes for Practical Horseman.

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