Why Are We Subsidizing Osuna’s Customers?

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And of whom a majority are non-Covenant residents?

Osuna (pictured) has the highest pasture to riding ring ratio in RSF.

Up until a year ago, I owned a similar sized stables in Olivenhain (in terms of horses boarded, about 50). I kept my boarding rates at basically operational cash break even (ie. it was more or less cash break even not taking into account depreciation and capital expenses). So it was  mildly annoying to notice that Osuna’s board rates were always lower than mine. And while any one facility isn’t directly comparable to any other, my facility had a no name County level head trainer, pastures that flooded badly in the winter, and was tucked way in the back of Olivenhain. Osuna has a world renown trainer with almost 100 grand prix wins, huge grass pastures, and is located in the heart of the most expensive zip code around. 

Osuna should be able to charge more than it is based on market comparables. And since Osuna has chronically low reserves, Association members directly pay for every “unexpected” expense.

Why Bring This Up Now?

Probably because my long time trainer just moved facilities and my last remaining horse is now stabled in a barn technically in Escondido (it is right next door to the Bridges on the east side) and my stall rate is now $1400/month for something that Osuna charges $10351 for. And that $1400/month rate is not unusual for privately operated barns in Rancho Santa Fe. 

See below for a map of nearby horse facilities and their 12×12 stall rates, Osuna is in red:

Estimated prices for full board. Osuna in red.

The other reason I’m bringing this up now is a confluence of spending decisions by the Board. In November, they sailed through $50K spending on Association staff for a building remodel and a new vehicle. Meanwhile in December they postponed even talking about something for us members, to wit a tennis court/pickleball remodel. At that same meeting, they approved the posting of a new Osuna regulation that would have them build a $50K fence (my estimate). Osuna only serves around two dozen members as boarders (less than 1% of members).

The list goes on – did you know that the Association doesn’t even pay any money at all for the maintenance of our baseball diamonds? It’s been privately funded (by members) for the last 7+ years. 

So, yeah, the continued low rates that Osuna charges customers is rankling me.

Horse Facilities Lose Money

As I alluded to above, horse facilities lose money every year if you properly account for capital expenses and depreciation. You can make money from a horse property, and I did when I owned mine for 6 1/2 years, but you make money like any other commercial real estate investment. You buy low and sell high. Unfortunately for us, Osuna was bought at the height of the 2006/2007 property price boom. Even worse, the Association has no intention of selling Osuna, meaning it will continue to lose money every year, when you properly take into account the capital expenses to maintain it and associated depreciation. Well, I guess there is another possibility, which is the Association lets Osuna fall into disrepair, and doesn’t spend proper money on replacement and maintenance, but I don’t think anyone wants that (even though that is effectively what the Association was doing for years with the soccer fields, they only started spending the money to properly maintain them recently). 

Do We Even Need Osuna?

Not as a horse facility, no. There are literally dozens of other horse facilities nearby, and the Association doesn’t need to be in the commercial barn business. It would be far better off in private hands. The raison d’être for buying Osuna was a historic adobe building that some members wanted to preserve (I wonder if we put it to a vote, how many members would vote to keep Osuna or sell it, adobe and all?). 

It Isn’t Just Osuna

As I implied in another recent article, we are a bunch of cheapskates. Our Association dues are low. Our facility charges (golf, tennis, Osuna) are low. And the facilities reflect the associated relatively low level of money put into them. 

Has anyone done a market analysis of facility rates vis-a-vis other local facilities? How about Association dues? I can’t recall this ever being done (or at least the results haven’t been made public), yet this is something I used to do almost every year when I owned my horse boarding property, and indeed all private commercial property owners do the same. 

Again, I wonder what would happen if we ran a poll to see how people would react to raising various dues and fees in exchange for better facilities. I just might have to do that in a future article.

Footnotes:

  1. Osuna charges $1010 to Covenant members for a standard 12×12 stall, and $1060 to non-Covenant members for the same. I am using the average price ($1035) in this article. These are full board rates that include feed and stall cleaning. Other facilities might show “dry stall” rates where you need to add at least $300 (usually more) to account for the difference.