Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to be a Happy Boarder

Like many adult amateurs, I don't have my own property and have to rely on care provided by others at least part of the time. I've boarded in a good never of different situations and a variety of barns and I've found a few principles to be consistent.

1) You are your horse's best advocate. 

I don't care whether you're in a backyard-and-barbed-wire situation or the fanciest show barn in your state. Ultimately, your horse is your responsibility and you can't always trust the BO or your trainer or whoever to make the best decisions for your horse. Ask their advice, certainly, but if you're uncomfortable in any way with the care your horse is receiving, it's on you to speak up and address the problem. You have to be willing to be the PITA boarder if the situation requires it. 

That said, if you're having to speak up a lot, the odds are that the situation just isn't going to work for you and you would be advised to move along. 

Self care
2) Good care varies from place to place. 

Just because horses in Florida or Kentucky or Virginia have heated 12x12 stalls and 18 hours of turnouts in grassy fields that never have mud and only ride in a dust-free indoor, well, that doesn't mean it's realistic for you. Instead of worrying about what everyone else has, focus on what's important to you and your horse. My always/only/ever is clean water, good hay, turnout, and shelter. I'm willing to either do my own turnout or have my horse live out with shelter. 

There are other things that I love to have, like trail access, good arena footing, jumps, lights, and an indoor, but I'm willing to let go of those things in pursuit of what's more important. Your list will probably vary--some people insist on having an on-site trainer. Others want stalls. Others hate stalls. It doesn't really matter. Just know what's important to you when you're looking for a barn. 

Living on full care pasture with shelter
3) Pick your favorite crazy people.

Horse people are nuts. It's just part of who we are. That said, different people can deal with different levels of nuts. I will deal with a neat freak BO. I will deal with a BO that only boards one gender of horses. I will deal with a BO that never wants horses to get rained on. 

I will not deal with a BO who always/only/ever insists on one style of horse maintenance or is anything other than a fanatic about clean water. Once you get beyond basic health concerns, this one is all personal preference. I also try to be alert about other boarders--if the BO is great, but all the boarders are nuts, it may not be the right fit for me. 

friends to ride with
4) Know what you want out of a situation. 

Obviously, you're going to get something different out of pasture board/no indoor/no trainer situation than you are out of a full care/show barn/mandatory lessons situation. Both are fine, but know want you want. At this point in my life, I'm a happy ammy. I want good horse care, lots of turnout, and nice people to chat with. 

I looked at a barn with excellent care that I absolutely loved, but it was a very small facility and I would usually be riding alone. I didn't go for it because I like having someone to ride with--that's the big perk of boarding, isn't it? 

different strokes for different folks
5) Be honest with yourself about who you are

One of my favorite boarding situations was at a Morgan breeding farm populated by a mix of natural horsemanship and western folks. There was no on-site trainer, but the people were lovely and we were all just boarders on equal footing. The drawback to a training barn situation is that a trainer is obligated to focus on the clients who put food on their table--if you aren't one of them, you can't be the priority. That's the way life goes.

That said, I've been riding a long time and am ok doing most of the training of my horse on my own. I enjoy regular lessons (when I can afford them), but at this point in my life, I prefer being the occasional haul-in. I'd sing a different tune if I had different work obligations or higher show goals or a limitless budget (maybe. I love my barn.). It's just something to be aware of. 

Finding our happy place
Boarding is just such a love/hate situation. It's constantly dealing with a whole set of very passionate people who may or may not see eye to eye with us. It can be a lot of fun, but it's important to have set standards going in and be honest about them. 

These are my favorite principles to stick to and I have epic spreadsheets to prove it. What are some other important concepts to keep in mind when researching boarding barns? 


  1. Great post, all excellent points!

    One of my biggest concerns is safety of my horse at the facility. What type of fencing material is used? What condition is it in? Is the pasture full of holes? Are there jagged metal edges sticking off the run-in sheds? I always try to imagine the worst possible injury my horses could sustain and factor that into my decision.

  2. I'm always worried about finding 24/7 turnout facilities. Good ones seem to be impossible to find.

    Other things I look at? Trailer storage options, quality and type of feed/feeding schedule, the stability of the turnout herd/buddy (my horse is always getting beat up in a rough group)

  3. I really love this!! When I was pretty much forced into boarding, the first thing I looked for was location. My life is insane, I can't drive, so I had to have it close. Of course, I had financial wants for the barn, but my biggest worry was the people and care that my horse would be receiving. He was a rescue, so he needed a bit more attention. The place I found is literally perfect for us, minus one thing that I don't really like (hint hint, boarder and horse, haha!) but I love the barn like crazy and I know they'll be there for me even when we move them home.

  4. GREAT post! Even though I don't own or lease right now, you definitely made some great points to keep in mind if/when I own/lease in the future :)

  5. These are all excellent points! I've been thinking of writing a similar post but more along the lines of costs, etc.

    I think a big factor that comes in to play is where you live and how horse-centric it is. For example, I live just outside of Philadelphia and drive a full hour to the barn each way. This is worth it to me for a myriad of reasons. There are closer barns but they tend to be near Devon/Radnor and are wicked expensive with half the amenities. When we looked around for a new place one of the biggest hang ups with our old barn was limited turnout (as in, only so much space total on the farm) and it was landlocked, so you really couldn't hack anywhere safely. Since we are all eventers, hacking is extremely high on our list.

    When we started looking our needs we fairly basic... a barn with 6-10 stalls, lots of turnout, and hacking... preferably not a boarding facility. You'd think in our area it would be easy enough to find an empty barn to rent but it was quite challenging!

    We had to make some compromises to make our new place work, but it's a really good fit for most of us. For one thing, we run it as a co-op which keeps costs in check for all of us. The farm owner has one horse and wants nothing to do with running a barn so to speak so she's very hands off. If I had to get down to it I would say that of the 4 of us, two of us are type As and the other two are more laid back (ie, I am more laid back, but I am a neat freak). It's a nice balance. We had to wait all winter for our ring to be built which was a bummer, but it's being installed by one of the best companies around and should be complete in a week or two. We have access to the best hacking in Chester County and have been given permission by lots of neighbors to ride on their vast properties. All of our turnouts have sheds (that was high on the list) and are very large. I have a stall when I want it, and don't pay any extra to have it. We are lucky to be on a very famous farm that has terrific no-climb wire fencing topped with boards and the owners are really good at fixing anything that needs repair. They've also been great about letting us install various things around the barn and make suggestion of where things should go as they settle in. Also, I know it sounds cheesy, but the place has got good vibes:)

    There are some downsides, the commute being one. The paddocks are a bit of a hike from the barn, but the horses have all gotten great at being tacked up near their fields and ridden down to the barn. We don't have a wash stall (yet) but it's being put in shortly! Maybe another slight downside is that we share the property with sheep, chickens, goats, and cows, but I think it's great exposure for the horses!

  6. Great Post! Thorough evaluations of priorities! Thank you for sharing!!

  7. Great list of factors to consider. Luckily I've never had to even think about clean water as a priority before! For me, the facility amenities are fairly high on the priority list - like arena lights. I ride in the evenings most days a week so that is a dealbreaker for me.

  8. Great post! Thanks for sharing. Plenty of things to think about and keep in mind. Since I was already taking lessons at my barn, it just made sense that I would board there as well. It should work out fine, but thanks for pointing out some things I may not have thought of initially.

  9. Good and thought-provoking read for me. Currently, my horses live at home on lovely pasture. I can see them through the window right now.
    However, next summer I will be moving off to college and my Arab will be going with me. This will be my first taste of boarding and having other people and horses around all the time. Part of it I'm looking forward to, especially having the facilities that I don't have here. Another part of me is going to definitely miss the relaxed feeling we have at home.
    Still a year away, but I'm already setting up priorities in my mind so I can choose a barn when the time comes!

  10. Good post. It's inspired a complementary post for me about being a good boarder.

  11. I definitely agree on these topics you've listed! I had to deal with this decision (relatively) recently when moving my mare down to school with me, many states away so I knew nothing of barns in the area. I found a bunch of good barns in my price range, all that had amenities that I wanted (indoor arena, namely!), but it ultimately came down to the environment of each barn and where I and my horse would be most comfortable. I ended up going with a less fancy barn, but somewhere that I could tell was very caring and relaxed, for both me and my horse. Best decision I ever made, I LOVE this barn!!

    So in my opinion, "feel" can be as important as amenities. But NEVER compromise care standards, that's a must!

  12. This was a goodun... for me, I also want to have her near me. I love to do my own night check and if I ride early in the day or fox hunt in the morning, I want to come back after she eats and give her a spa treatment. I also love the fact that my barn allows dogs on the trails (leashed in the barn area). I could give that up, if necessary but it makes it a great bonus!

  13. Close to home and 24/7 turnout are a must for me. I wish more than two feedings a day was an option at my place.

  14. I love having my horse at home... but having someone to ride with would be nice lol. :)


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