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Choosing a Horse Boarding Barn

“I’m looking for a new boarding barn.” or “I have purchased a horse and will need to board it.” 

Unless you own property for your horse, you are likely boarding your horse at a barn where others are caring for it daily. There are many great aspects to boarding a horse, such as friends to ride with, the option to ride in bad weather or after dark in a covered arena, and the luxury of being able to go out of town without hiring a horse sitter; but any horse owner that boards has probably felt some anxiety or nervousness about their horse being in someone else’s care.

The most important thing you need to ask yourself is – What would make your horse experience most enjoyable for you and your horse?

There are many different barn types: show barns, training barns, boarding barns, and small boutique barns. Each barn will have a different feel and will appeal to different riders. Visit several different types of barns to get a sense of the personality of each. After meeting barn owners, trainers, and current boarders you will be able to decide if it feels like home. 

In this article, Christine New, owner of Meadow Lane Equestrian Center, shares questions that every horse owner should consider when choosing their barn.

Is there a consistent barn-wide health program?

This should be the first question you ask on every barn tour. A good barn will have protocols and enforce them for the safety and health of all the horses. Don’t assume every horse stable has a health program in place. At Meadow Lane Equestrian, we require a 3-part health check before any new horse is introduced into our stables. Our health check includes:

  • Coggins Testing: A non-negotiable. A Coggins test is a blood test used to screen horses for the potentially fatal disease Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). If it isn’t a requirement, then walk away – this is not your barn.
  • Vaccines: This is important for the health of your horse and all the other horses. Think twice if the barn has a lax vaccination policy. If your horse has lapsed in vaccines, be prepared to get this taken care of before moving in. Don’t expect an exception to be made for your horse.
  • Deworming and parasite control: There are lots of deworming programs that can be followed; make sure the barn does have one. Here at Meadow Lane Equestrian Center, we use the Colorado State University Deworming Schedule. 

Does the barn work for your discipline?

Note the disciplines at each barn you visit. Will you fit in? Or will you be the jumper at a western pleasure barn? If you want to jump, are the jumps available for your use? If you ride dressage, will you need to constantly move barrels to school your horse? What rules are in place for shared equipment?

Different disciplines require different equipment and arena footing. Choose the barn that makes the most sense for your horse goals. Mixed discipline barns can be fun and allow you to be exposed to different riding styles, but if there isn’t a clear arena schedule, arena time might feel competitive.

Is there a veterinarian convenient to the barn? Does the barn have an after-hours vet they can call?

Emergencies happen…we are talking about horses, after all! Does the barn have a relationship with a vet, and perhaps even a backup vet? Are you allowed to utilize your own vet? There are many acceptable answers to these questions, and since you aren’t there 24/7, make sure you are comfortable with the process that would unfold in the event of an emergency, especially if you couldn’t be reached.

Take into consideration if the barn handles routine care appointments. Many horse stables offer this perk to schedule regular care for groups of horses on the same schedule. By taking this commitment off the horse owner’s schedule, you won’t need to take off work to wait for a vet (or farrier).

Will the barn owners or barn manager trailer my horse in an emergency?

This goes back to the above question if needed, would a barn owner, manager, or trainer haul your horse to the vet in an emergency? Can you pay a fee to have your horse hauled for non-emergency needs? Not every horse owner has a trailer, and sometimes horses need to make a trip somewhere–this amenity can be a nice bonus.

Are there trainers at the barn?

Are horse riding lessons part of your goals as a horse owner? Would your horse benefit from some training rides? Do you travel for work and need someone to exercise your horse? Trainers onsite who work in your discipline can be an asset to your horse relationship. Onsite trainers may save you time by avoiding the inconvenience of hauling your horse to another property for lessons.

What amenities are there for you as a horse owner?

Bathrooms? Shower? Lounge? Laundry room? A climate-controlled tack room? Certainly, your horse doesn’t need any of these, but added benefits for your comfort can be nice. 

What amenities are there for my horse?

Stall fans, a wash rack with hot and cold water, indoor arena, round pen, cross ties, and shelters in turn outs; take note of these items when touring. Higher-end barns may offer panel walkers, water treadmills, pulse wave therapy sessions, and stall mattresses rather than the standard rubber floor matting in stalls. None of these items are necessary to care for a horse, but they can be nice, and your horse would appreciate warm water for baths in the winter.

What hours are the barn and arenas open? When can I ride?

Some barns have lesson hours where the arenas are closed for general riding. Other times, arenas might be reserved for trainers or clinics, or perhaps you are a night owl and like to ride later. Check to make sure the hours you would ride are available to you.

What is the turn out situation, and will it work for my horse?

Is there group turn out or single horse turn out? Are pastures overgrazed, so horses are competitive and grumpy? Is there adequate fencing? Is the pasture grass kept in good shape? How many hours per day are horses out? Will management honor requests to keep inside if needed? 

Turn out is rarely as simple as setting them loose in a pasture. A good barn manager or owner monitors turn out and makes adjustments if horse dynamics change.

Is there a high turnover among barn staff?

Do people working at the barn seem happy and friendly? Are they relaxed and comfortable around horses? Ask how many employees there are per ratio of horses. Generally, there should be 1 employee for each 10-15 horses on the property, depending on how many are stalled and how many are in pasture board.

Finally…What is your budget?

There is a well-known saying, “You get what you pay for,” and this holds true for horse barns. Luckily, within an area, there are usually several different barns you can visit that offer a variety of levels of care and amenities.

Before your tour, make a checklist of things you need at your boarding barn and things that would be nice to have. After a full day of touring barns, this will help you remember which barns ranked the highest on your list. 

Ask what is included in the monthly board and what is offered for an extra fee. Some services like blanketing, supplement administration, lunging, and holding for a vet or farrier can be added. Go back to your list of what is important to you, making sure that what is important is offered or included. If you love the barn, but not everything on your list is offered, you might have to decide if you can be happy without these items or be prepared to do them yourself, especially if the majority of the list is there and within budget.

Remember, some of the extras typically come with higher boarding rates, so make sure you are comparing apples to apples in your search.

Great barns don’t always have lots of openings, so if you find your perfect barn, be prepared to leave a deposit and complete paperwork to hold your spot or get onto a waitlist if full. Remember to tour a couple of barns in the area, and don’t skip a barn that might be a little further drive. It might be the perfect place.

While at the barn, always be gracious even if it is not a good fit. After all, the horse community is small, and the barn owner or manager took time out of their day to visit with you. Enjoy your search; this is always a process so don’t feel discouraged if it takes a few weeks or several trips to find the best home for your horse.

The author, Christine New, is the owner of Meadow Lane Equestrian Center, a boarding and show barn located in Rockwall, Texas.

At Meadow Lane Equestrian Center, “a healthy horse is a happy horse.”

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