WINFIELD — All the trappings of family and farm don't keep Karen E. Eaton busy enough. She wants to take in boarders.
Two "guests" live on the property already, but she said she can handle more.
No, the 33-year-old woman doesn't want to convert her new home ona 25-acre range into a bed-and-breakfast. She's seeking equine "boarders" to fill the stalls in her remodeled barn.
"I have been horse-nuts since I was a kid," said the mother of three young children. "Iwas 15 before I got my own horse. Until then, I would play with plastic models."
Knowing horses and suburbia are a difficult mix, she and her husband, Charles "Doug" Eaton, 38, saved and searched.
"Doug spent all his childhood summers on his grandfather's farm in West Virginia," she said. "He always yearned to go back to farm life."
When the couple first saw the site here, they knew they were home -- even though there was no house. They bought the farm, moved here fromMontgomery County two years ago and never looked back.
With its natural stream and wide trails, Winfield Farm, new home to the Eaton family, is ideally suited to horses. Making it suitable for people wasan arduous task.
"We all, even the children, worked our tails off," said Karen.
Home was a trailer parked atop a hill overlooking the construction of their stone-and-wood house.
"We got used to hearing owls hooting, and the deer would come right up to our door to feed," she said.
But crowding five people into a trailer, handling the hassles of home construction and running Eaton Excavating, the family business, was nothing compared to renovating the barn.
The 280-foot-long by 50-foot-wide former coop, which at one time housed about 12,000 chickens, had to be gutted completely. In the five years between the Eatons and the egg operation, another farmer tried a veal operation here, adding rows and rows of small oak stalls.
"Nothing inside the barn was salvageable," she said.
The ceiling was first to go. The Eatons' four horses and two boarders needed a lot more roomthan the chickens.
"Chickens can live in cramped quarters with fans to circulate air," she said. "Horses need height and breathing room."
Eventually, the couple plans to line the far end of the barn with 12 interior stalls. They already have completed four regular stalls and one foaling stall with a removable partition, as well as a feed room.
Doug Eaton makes the stalls himself, usually in one day, out of pressure-treated pine, then welds iron bars on the stalls' sliding doors.
Despite all the hard work, though, unexpected complications do crop up.
When one of their mares went into labor last year, the couple scrambled to clear the foaling stall of Doug's building materials. Once they got the horse comfortable, they woke their children to witness the birth.
They also have built a tack room, complete with lights and heat. A small refrigerator, a sofa and a television should make it an ideal waiting room.
Customers can use the water stall as a clipping and grooming area or to hose off their horses after a muddy ride, she said.
A 60-by-50 foot indoor arena, leadingto the stalls, occupies the middle of the barn. Next to it, in the barn's storage area, already filled with bales of hay, Elizabeth, 5, keeps her old rocking horse.
"We are hoping to have a full-service boarding facility," she said. "We should be able to handle 10 horses at a time."
Karen said she offers affordable prices -- $165 a month for a stall, daily turnout, feed and hay.
At the front of the barn is a harness-and-carriage room, where Doug refinishes antique buggy carts. He has learned a lot about restoring them from Amish farmers, said his wife. His most recent acquisition is an old two-wheel dumpcart.
Doug likes to take long Sunday afternoon drives -- but not in the family car. He hitches up the horse and buggy, and the Eatons are off.
Neighbors often see the Eatons on the roads. Doug drives the horse while Elizabeth, 4, and Gregory, 5, sit in the cart. Karen and Sterling, 9, saddle up and ride along on their horses.
"Tons of work" still lies ahead. The next step in the renovation will be to install new plywood on the barn's exterior to give it a uniform look.The panels will be painted white with green trim.
Karen wants to add windows for all the stalls, because "horses like to look outside,too."
Stakes already have been driven across the front of the property for a water trough system, which Doug plans to add next month.
He also has cleared logs on a hill site overlooking the barn. A wide trail leads to the spot, where he hopes to create a 250-by-350 foot arena, big enough for buggies.
Although her husband and older son are a "great support staff, who know exactly what has to be done and when," most of the horse care falls to Karen. But she said the early morning and late evening hours don't tax her.
"Animals are more grateful than people," she said.