May 2020 - Transitioning in a Tough Time
Written by by Susan Ighani
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 00:32
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A solid, fire-tested team makes smooth work of moving a 20-horse training business in the middle of a pandemic.

by Susan Ighani

A year ago, Toyon Farm in Napa went up for sale. I am a dressage trainer and competitor and my husband, Daniel, is a show jumping trainer and competitor.

We had been at Toyon for the last eight years and had built a thriving business that we are proud of.


We were uncertain if Toyon would remain a horse stable, become private, or perhaps even be turned into a winery. With the uncertainty over whether we would still be able to run our business out of Toyon, we started looking into other options.     


Baywood Equestrian Center was a place that came on our radar early on, but at the time we weren’t ready to jump right in and move. That being said, we kept feeling Baywood, in Marin County’s Fairfax, would be a great location. The facility had so much to offer to run both the dressage and jumper business at the standard and the level we wanted.

We stayed in touch with the owners, Holly Ford and Jon Oldfather. At the end of 2019, Toyon Farms sold and our move was put into motion. (The farm was purchased by the Bonavito family and dressage trainer and rider Sabine Schut-Kery is moving her base there. See story, this issue.)

Daniel, Susan and Luciana Ighani at their new base, Baywood Equestrian Center.

Once we decided the move to Baywood was 100 percent the right one, things moved quickly. Show season started for Daniel and the jumpers in the desert and my dressage clients would start showing in March. We inked a deal to take over Baywood on April 1 and to move our horses in May.

I had planned to spend the month of April with my clients and horses in San Diego, training with my longtime coach, Guenter Seidel. As with horses and life, even the best made plans can change in a second.

Suddenly all our plans came to a halt the beginning of March with the coronavirus pandemic. Quickly, life changed. We decided it wasn’t the responsible thing to do for business or for our daughter to head down to San Diego as we had planned.

Because we’d already given notice to leave our old stable, I decided to head straight to Baywood. We quickly realized it wouldn’t be smart or safe to have dressage horses at one stable and Daniel’s jumpers at another while sheltering in place because this would double our exposure. So we made the decision to move all the 20 horses in our care at the same time.

We have experience moving horses fast from the fires a few years back. Speed was not as critical now as it was then, but the move was still a huge amount of effort to get organized safely and ahead of schedule.
An A Team

Luckily show travel prepares us a lot. First and foremost, we have the best team. Our grooms have been working, as have Daniel and I, to keep the horses safe, healthy and moving. We have been very diligent with all the recommendations and guidelines and all of us have been going back home and staying put when not at the barn.

Our grooms have stepped up in packing, organizing, loading and unloading and helping make our new barn a smooth functioning facility. They all know their jobs so well and what the horses will need. Our vet, Dr. Natalie Zdimal of Alta Equine, made sure we were all in place with vaccinations. We have a great gastro supplement we use from ImmuBiome and, whenever we travel, we always do a little GastroGard to keep the horses comfortable in adapting to travel and a new place.

Many of our horses are on Equine Elixirs Positude or Nupafeed USA magnesium.  Those products help us have the horses feeling relaxed in mind and body for an easy trip and transition.

Baywood is such a serene, inviting place that they all relaxed and settled in very fast. As a barn, we are always stocked on items we need to care and groom our horses. Alcohol and rubber gloves happen to be two staple items we always have in stock, which have come in extremely helpful during the virus!  And we have masks leftover from the fires.

It was important to us that the horses were well cared for through this transition, and equally, our staff needed to be looked out for! Obviously, timing and plans changed and Daniel and I took on a lot of responsibility fast--all while still living an hour away. Luckily, traffic is light right now which helps when you have a toddler in one place and horses in another.  

The owners of Baywood haven’t been able to come to the barn since a few weeks before we took over, due to the virus, but were amazing in helping us with the transition through phone calls and e-mails.  We are so grateful they trust in us to lease and manage Baywood. We had so many things in motion, such as a new Horse Gym treadmill arriving and updates to both the indoor and outdoor footing.

With labor issues, we managed to get all items delivered and, thanks to our awesome staff, we were able to do the update ourselves. While not going to the shows, we have the time to do things right while settling in and making upgrades to an already special place.

Perhaps it’s the silver lining of not traveling and being away at shows: we have the time to focus on all the details of running a new business at a new farm. I’m reminded once again how essential having a great team is.

It’s a scary time for all with a lot of unclear variables, but having a staff that works together, stays positive and, at the end of the day, cares most about the horses, all things seem possible.

Editor’s Note: Equitation and jumper trainer Helle Ericksen is also based at Baywood Equestrian Center.