Choosing the right boarding barn can be a tedious effort that requires much of your time and attention. Most that are reading this may take the approach of just winging it and hope for the best, while others have a tendency to go with what their friends have suggested. Both of which may not be the best scenarios and here is why.
Being a long time boarder since I was a wee child, I can confidently say that I have plenty of data and experience to reference; But back then I relied heavily on the judgement of my parents to make the best decision, since they were the ones writing the checks. When my free boarding ticket had expired, this sizable expense was quite a shock with every dollar scrutinized. Now that I’m in my late 30’s and have been paying board for over 25 years, the shock has worn off but not the scrutinization. Boarding as an adult amateur rider that competed, I not only had to vet the trainer but the boarding facility they were attached too. What I noticed in my travels is that all full board is not equal. There are trainers that offer full board which also includes a training package, a package that you have to pay for even if you don’t use it and then there are trainers that offer full board with lessons optional, but recommended. In order to gain the best experience you really need to ask yourself what will work for your lifestyle at the moment, while making sure all of your horses current needs are met or exceeded.
There are many things to take into consideration such as nutrition. Do they cater to dietary needs? (Because not all horses should be on the same feed) Some breeds are more susceptible to higher sugar intake and therefore need to be on a simple pellet diet. Then you have the older show horse that needs a completely different diet then the young show horse. Such as water added to their feed for easier digestion, which also goes for the ulcer susceptible horse as well. Hay is a BIG deal too. What type of hay do they feed and the amount? Again all horses are different, most show horses are ridden an average of 4-5x’s per week. This triggers high metabolism which requires you to feed the beast with a good amount of hay forage throughout the day. Meals should also be broken up, any quality show barn will normally feed breakfast, lunch, dinner and nigh time hay. This keeps the gut moving and the horses from being bored, making them less susceptible to picking up undesirable habits, such as cribbing and wood chewing. Along with feed, don’t forget water access. Do they use buckets or auto waterers in the stalls? Do they clean the buckets and/or auto waterer daily and their turnout water cleaned weekly?
Do they add your provided supplements at no additional charge? Do they give ample turn out for the horses to relax and stretch out, having the option to graze on natural land?
How conscious are they towards bad weather and your horse standing in it? Do they provide run in shelters in the paddocks incase there is a pop up storm over night? The worst thing for a show horse is to be rained on, which can cause rain rot and other dermatological issues.
How deep do they bed the stalls? This is a huge factor in stabling your show horse. The most expensive part on your horses body to insure are their legs, so bedding needs to be up to snuff! The system that is widely used and the one I used when running a Dressage professional’s show barn, was the Deep Litter System. Even with rubber mats, wood shaving bedding should be approximately 12”-18” high, banking the walls and corners several feet up to prevent casting. The deep bedding also prevents hock sores and unnecessary stress to joints and arthritic conditions. The stalls should also be picked out multiple times per day eliminating odor, flies and bacteria. Also keep in mind manure removal practices, fly spray systems, tidiness of the barn and cleanliness of the aisles. Barn aisles should be blown and sprayed down with a disinfectant every day to prevent illness. Stalls should be on a constant rotation for disinfection, because disease can spread quickly. This brings me to new horse quarantine practices. A new horse should never be immediately thrown into an existing horses paddock or a stall in the main barn. Make sure that management has a protocol for new arrivals, such as a separate barn and paddock away from the prominent areas. Routine shots and a deworming schedule are extremely necessary with show horses and should be well documented and filed with the barn manager.
Is blanketing, fly masks, fly sheets, bell boots for turnout included in the board? Do they fly spray your horse before turn out? In the summer months do they wash your horse off if they are sweating from the heat and/or running around? The worst thing to do is to throw a horse back in his stall when he is over heated, this can cause tying up and possible colic.
A few other things you want to keep in mind is the farrier and veterinarian. Can you continue to use your own or do they want you to use theirs? What about their staff? Are they competent, happy and focused or does the barn have a reputation of having a revolving door? Does the barn provide laundry room access? Do they provide tack box storage and tack room accessibility? What’s the security level of the barn? Is the farm gated, have security cameras and/or have someone living on the property? Pay attention to the environment. Do they have a radio blaring 24/7? This can be very stressful on some horses. According to Kentucky Equine Research, barns that have radio noise contributes to stress, which leads to ulceration. It was also documented that talk shows caused even more stress then music.
At most show barns, lessons are going on all day. So another question you want to ask is do they have multiple riding arenas? Having more then one arena can alleviate congestion, and confusion, while allowing the rider taking the lesson to give their undivided attention to the trainer. Another thing to be very weary of is double boarding. This is where your horse shares a stall with another horse, meaning when your horse is turned out, another horse is in your stall. This is not a common practice but does exist. You want to make sure that what you are paying for and what your expectations are, are being meet.
You can’t be afraid to ask questions about the facility and the management that you plan on leaving your horse with. This is a huge decision that needs to be well thought about. You also need to question yourself, as to what is the purpose of you the boarder, and the barn you’re choosing to board with? Ask the trainer and/or owner what is the purpose of their barn? Do they look at all horses equal or are they only focused on theirs and your horse is secondary in the grand scheme of things. I had a trainer once tell me that her horses were her main priority and that the boarders horses were just there to keep the lights on. Needless to say I didn’t stay there very long after that. Also keep in mind that some show barn’s include everything in the full board and others are a’ la carte. Customer service is key to any effective show barn and there needs to always be cohesiveness in communication between you the boarder and the person you’re writing the checks to every month. This is an expensive sport that has a wide variety of people in it, all having their own opinions about how they care for the horses. Remember you are interviewing each other to ensure it’s an equal fit.
By sharing some of my subjective experiences from running a successful show barn, and being a long time boarder; I am hopeful that this article assists you in making an informed decision that allows you and your horse to continue on your blissful journey.