Owning a horse is not at all like owning a dog. Other than the obvious reasons, a dog can comfortably and easily live in a house with its family while a horse very much cannot. A lot of horse owners do not have the luxury of a couple acres of pasture behind the house and so are faced with having to board their horses somewhere else.
Boarding a horse means that every month the owner will pay someone a sum of money and in exchange that person will house the horse, feed the horse, clean the horse’s stall and basically take care of it as the owner would, if the horse was kept at home. The sum of money can be anywhere from an average college student’s apartment rent to the monthly payment on a small island in the South Pacific. It depends on what the boarding stable has to offer.
Each boarding stable is unique and the managers of each are sure that the way they are doing things is the Right Way. To be sure that the stable management’s Right Way and the horse owner’s idea of the Right Way mesh, questions need to be asked and a visit to the farm is required. It’s a good idea to talk to some of the other boarders and find out whether they are content with the care provided and the amenities offered. A quick look at the horses living there can reveal a lot about the boarding stable. If the horses are happy, the people are happy. If the resident horses are underweight or overweight, crowded, bothered by flies, lacking shelter from wind and sun or generally unthrifty looking, then move along to the next barn.
Some riders want access to trails and wide open spaces for riding, others are looking for a resident trainer or instructor. Some barns have a lot of kids around and some are more populated by adults. Some are quiet, some are busy. The theories on caring for horses run from treating them like delicate hothouse flowers to letting the horses live in the rough.
Regardless of whether a horse owner is looking to house an equine orchid or a grizzly bear, safety should always be considered. That means the horses are contained with reliable fencing, stalls are free from sharp edges or exposed nails, turnout areas have good footing, horses are handled by experienced people, feed is protected from sampling by rodents and hay is stored in a dry, well-ventilated area. Working fire alarms and extinguishers should be situated throughout the barn and emergency phone numbers should be posted.
As well as protecting the horses, boarding stables need to protect any people at the barn. There should be rules for patrons and visitors about areas where they can and can’t go, and when and where riding is allowed. Every good boarding stable will have insurance and ask all visitors to sign a release of liability form and ask all boarders to sign a contract. The stable manager and any staff should be available, friendly, professional and experienced.
No boarding stable is perfect for every horse owner. There is not a one-size-fits-all barn anywhere. It still pays to survey other horse owners for their opinions on potential boarding stables, but there is no replacement for seeing the stable and making a decision based on individual needs of both the owner and the horse.
Horses that are timid will need to be pastured with horses that won’t be bullies. Senior horses may need more protection from the natural elements or have special feeding requirements that need to be catered to. Horses under a year old, miniature horses and stallions all have unique fencing necessities. Finding the right boarding stable is easier when a horse owner is boarding a horse he or she knows well. Finding one for a new horse is more of a guessing game. In either case, should the chosen stable turn out to be a wrong fit, complaining and asking the stable manager to change things can be an exercise in futility. Remember, they all think their way is the Right Way. It is better to give notice and then move on.
There is much more to researching boarding stables than finding out the cost. It can be as complicated as choosing a college. The next best thing to keeping a horse at home (though not in the house) is finding a boarding stable that suits both the needs of the horse and owner.