By Chris Churchill, Five Star Ranch Staff Writer
Are you fretting about boarding your horse?
There are times when boarding your horse is the only sensible thing to do. When I was single with an insane work and travel schedule I never knew when I was going to have to jump on a plane and spend the night across the country. As much as I would have loved to have my horse in the back yard, that was not a practical option.
Here’s a horse boarding facility checklist I put together when I was searching for a home for my horse. Hopefully it will give you the right questions to ask, so you find a barn where you and your horse are happy.
- Do people stay onsite at night? Knowing that there are people at the barn 24/7 is a comfort in the event of an emergency. A barn with a property manager onsite is better than a remote place with no one around. Camera surveillance is a fallback, but not as good as a human living there.
- Is the barn culture a good fit? That sounds funny until you realize that barns often cater to a specialized discipline and if you don’t happen to participate in that discipline, you may feel out of place there. I remember moving into a high level dressage barn. I had done dressage in the past but my current riding mode had evolved to leisure trail rides. I couldn’t find a soul in the barn who dared venture out on a trail with their expensive warm bloods. I ended up moving to a trail oriented barn and I was happier and had more friends because our riding styles meshed better.
- Stall Size. A full size horse needs a 12 x 12 stall. If you’re horse is a large 17 hand warmblood you may even want to see if the facility has 14 x 14 or larger stalls. Many progressive barns have gone to larger stalls for warmbloods.
- Is there turn out? Horses were not meant to be confined in a stall sized jail 24 hours a day. Find a facility that will turn your horse out EVERY day and then make sure they do it. Some horses go stir crazy very quickly if confined to a stall. I once was at a place that assured me they had regular turnout for the horse. In practice, horses were only turned out about twice a week. I noticed that my horse became more anxious living there and her mood went downhill. I discovered they weren’t turning her out as they had promised, so I moved her to a different facility with daily turnout and she became her old self again.
- Are there pastures available? Some facilities have pastures available where you can turn them out for a day with a group of horses. I’m a believer that unless you are showing, the mental benefits from the socialization outweigh the occasional bite mark. Horses are herd creatures by nature, so allowing them time with other horses keeps them happier and allows them to exercise at will. If they have a pasture, is there a smaller pen by the pasture where you can put your horse for a while to meet other horses over the fence before you just put him out in the big pasture. A round pen that is adjacent to the pasture would work. Often horses will do all their crazy stuff over the fence so when you actually put your horse in the pasture it is a non-event.
- Riding rings? One of the best parts of boarding your horse is there are usually nice riding arenas available. A covered or enclosed arena has extra benefits if you live in a climate where you need protection from the sun, wind or cold. I found I rode more when I had a facility with a covered arena because I could even ride on rainy days or in the evenings. The one draw back is the arenas can be crowded. When checking out a facility, arrive at the facility about the time you expect to ride – this way you can see first hand how crowded the arena is. Are there more than one arena available? Are their lights for night riding? Do they close the rings for lessons at certain times? These are things you want to know before you move your horse in.
- Stall Cleaning? Ask about the frequency of stall cleaning and the type of bedding. If your horse is outside in a pasture most of the time, once a day may be adequate. However, if your horse spends the majority of the day in the stall, you may need twice a day cleaning.
- Water in Stalls? Ask about watering? Are buckets refilled and cleaned once or twice a day? Are they checked more frequently in hot weather? How many buckets per stall? Is automatic watering available? Then plan to come into the barn at odd hours to occasionally check yours and other horses’ water buckets. You have to be your horse’s advocate. If they know you are watching, the facility will be more diligent.
- Farrier or Trimmer Onsite? Many big barns have a resident farrier or trimmer who come to the barn once or twice a week. These barns often have a board where you can list your name and horse and date the farrier will come by. Find out in advance if you need to be there or if you can leave a check. I’d recommend you meet with the farrier a few times to introduce him to the horse and to observe his horse handling skills (as well as his proficiency as a shoer).
- Blanket your horse? Many barns will offer to blanket your horse when the mercury drops. If you are showing your horse or have a clipped horse, this is a nice option to have.
- Riding trails nearby? Riding in the ring is nice, but getting out on the trails is often a nice relaxing way to spend the day for both you and your horse. Ask if there are riding trails by the stable or a short haul away. Trails can break up the monotony of ring riding and stimulate the horse’s brain.
- Wash stalls? A wash stall is a popular option, particularly in the summer when the horse can get itchy from dried sweat after a workout.
- Grooming stalls? Ask if there are areas for grooming and tacking your horse. These should have cross ties, or other ways to tie your horse while you are working on them.
- Tack room security? Are tack rooms left open all day or is there a code on the door you use each time you enter. Are there saddle lockers available to secure expensive saddles?
- Number of feedings a day? How often are horses fed each day? Twice is good, three times is even better. Do they allow specialized grains? Will they provide supplements or extra hay for an extra fee if requested? Where is the hay and grain stored? Is it stored away from the main barn so it doesn’t contribute to dust or fire hazard?
- How are the fences? Check out the type of fence used in the facility. Is it safe horse fence like pipe and rail or is it more suited for cattle like barbed wire. If the fence is barbed wire, think hard before you put your valuable horse in it. Barbed wire is NOT safe for horses. I would recommend you pass on a facility using barbed wire unless you want expensive vet bills.
- Are there trainers or riding instructors available if you want to participate? It is nice to have a trainer available to do some extra work with your horse if you are preparing the horse for a special event. If they can do the training right at your barn that saves you the time and hassle of hauling your horse somewhere.
- Is the owner and staff knowledgeable about horses? Talk to the barn manager and the staff, are they horse people who you feel would look out for your horse? If you aren’t comfortable, keep looking. Listen to your gut. Look at the condition of the other horses in the barn. Do they look skinny, like the manager shorts them on hay?
- Look over the contract. Make sure there are no hidden fees or penalties that they don’t mention verbally to you. Talk to other boarders. Find out if they are happy and what the atmosphere is like in the barn. You are going to be spending a lot of time there; you want it to be a good decision.
Once you find a place you are comfortable with, there are a couple things to do to make sure your equine stays safe. Put your name and contact information on the stall so someone can reach you in an emergency. Take some pictures of your horse before you bring him to the barn. Document his weight, and any scars and brands on the horse and then monitor him. If he starts losing weight, be vocal about it. We have to be our horse’s voice. Get your horse microchipped so he can be more easily identified.
Lastly, check on your horse regularly. Don’t just drop the horse off and be gone. If you can’t come by then have a friend who knows horses to stop by and look in on your horse.
Horse and Children Books
There are many good horse books for children that stimulate interest in horses and teach at the same time. The following are a few of my favorites.
Looking for some fresh ideas on what to give your horsey child for the holidays? Check out our article on recommended horse lover gifts and horse games.