The State Worker

Lessons from a CHP horse stable

Mounted CHP Officers Eryn Greenfield, left, and Jeff Lane patrol Capitol Park. Being on horses allows them to go places that other vehicles cannot go and have a higher view. May 20, 2011
Mounted CHP Officers Eryn Greenfield, left, and Jeff Lane patrol Capitol Park. Being on horses allows them to go places that other vehicles cannot go and have a higher view. May 20, 2011 Sacramento Bee file

After the pit bulls attacked CHP horses and one was murdered, Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow knew something had to change.

What followed was a two-year quest to build stables at the CHP’s gated West Sacramento academy – and an example of how government spending can go haywire. The seemingly simple and relatively cheap project became a magnet for expensive dreams and costly unforeseen regulation.

Farrow, who backed the idea, axed it.

Plans for the stable followed vicious dog attacks in 2012 that left CHP horses gouged and bloody. A year later, someone poisoned Jenny, a 13-year-old Belgian mare. The problem, officials determined, was security was too loose at the Miller Park stable under contract to care for the animals.

“We decided we had three options. We could keep them where they were. We could look for another spot,” Farrow said during a recent interview at his North Sacramento office, “or build stables at the academy.”

Farrow and his managers settled on the third option after estimating it would cost about $150,000 for a modular structure. Meanwhile, the horses were moved to a more secure facility that charged $4,500 per month to give all six animals around-the-clock attention.

The department ordered a 6,400-square-foot concrete slab poured on the academy grounds, not far from its dog kennel. It paid the Department of General Services $30,000 to conduct a builder-compliance review.

Then project creep took over.

Soon, the reimagined plans included a riding arena adjacent the stable and pasture for grazing on 2 of the academy’s 450 state-owned acres.

Meanwhile, unimagined needs kept hiking cost estimates. The state quit watering academy fields, so there was no grass for grazing. That meant bringing in hay – and spending more money. Hay needs storage. More money. The hay storage space would need a fire-suppression system. More money. Which means running a water line to the system. More money. And a drainage system would need to be installed. More money. All according to building codes. More money.

There’s feeding animals and then there’s ... the other end. While the officers who ride the horses would provide basic grooming and care, who would do the cleanup?

“I don’t think the state has a ‘horse mucker’ classification,” Farrow said, “so we’d probably have had to contract that out.”

More concerns arose over controlling flies and mitigating stench. Could the horses relax so close to the kennel? How would they react to noisy training activities that would take place near their stall?

By last fall, the horse ranch budget had climbed to $1.3 million, nearly 10 times its original estimate.

“I’d love to have horses at the academy,” Farrow said, “but it just wasn’t cost-effective.”

The horses will stay where they are, he said, and classrooms will be built on the slab for a price still undetermined.

Presumably without the flies.

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