Best Stables

Kraus Farm

It's not just because the Kraus family knows and understands horses -- literally inside and out -- that they merit kudos. After all, they've worked with equines since 1936, when Ben Kraus featured Wild West shows with chuckwagon races, Roman riding (son Darwin astride two cantering horses), broncos and calf roping. And it's not just the certain delight whenever I visit the 60-acre Kraus Farm complex in High Ridge with 150 mares and geldings playing or quarreling (yes, they do both) in their various fenced fields. And it's not just that I marvel at the skill of Western or English riders exercising in the indoor or one of the two outdoor arenas.

Nope, as good as all that is, some horse lovers need a woods with its complement of deer, turkeys, fox, owls and hawks. And Kraus Farm (636-225-9513) has easy access to riding trails snaking through 4,600 acres of state and county parks -- Forest 44, Tyson, Times Beach, Castlewood. The staff also offers veterinary and farrier services, riding lessons, information and education by way of a monthly newsletter. And it's as close as I-44 and Highway 141.

Not that daily care of this many large animals is uncomplicated for the current Kraus managers -- brothers Jay and Tim, Ben's grandsons. It's staggering to think of the 240 tons of grain and 15,000 square bales and 600 large round bales of hay that will be consumed each year. That's for starters. I've boarded with them for more than 20 years, and I've found their attention to all things equine amazing. When I had to have my first horse, Cool Hand Luke, euthanized at 28 years of age, their compassion was remarkable and included a card and plant sent in his memory.

Horses are the Kraus family's love and their business. What does Tim do when he's not working at the stables? He's won the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys calf-roping finals three times and twice earned the highest point/money total for the season. Also an equine medical expert, Jay speaks enthusiastically about veterinary advances, citing un-precedented survival rates: "Vets can now fix a horse's broken leg up to 80 percent of the time and can save many horses stricken with colic -- both previously, regularly fatal. Corrective shoeing can alleviate many navicular problems, which were once career-ending afflictions."

Of course, there are inconveniences. Horses don't respect anyone's working hours, so someone is on call 24 hours a day -- a comfort to me, but Jay hates to hear that phone ring in the middle of the night. Still, he says he thrills when summer campers arrive afraid, crying, and "by the end of the week, they're proudly walking, trotting and cantering their horses correctly." He adds, "I'm also amazed to watch a powerful horse become motionless when a child falls off."

Horseback riding is one of the most relaxing recreational sports -- certainly not an inexpensive but a wonderful pastime, especially if your horse has the good fortune to be boarded at Kraus Farm. After a ride through a woods rich with fall colors or spring flowers, after watching fawns frolic or hawks soar, after seeing mature horses cavort like foals with the first snowfall, I can maintain my equilibrium, as though tranquility acquired through riding transforms into social serenity. The more older stables give way to strip malls and subdivisions, the more we need Kraus Farm and all the escape it provides.

-- Diane Carson

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Previously in Best of St. Louis