Horse stabling is serious business. Before choosing a barn to house his or her own equine, a smart horse owner will visit an equine stabling facility and ask several important questions. Ideally, the prospective client will take notes and snap some photos to jog his or her memory, while considering multiple stables.
Ideally, satisfied equestrians settle into super barn situations with their horses and hope they never have to relocate their equines. Unfortunately, however, life is uncertain, even in the horse world. For example, at this writing, at least four popular boarding barns in the Southeast Wisconsin / Northern Illinois area are closing, or have closed. So the topic is timely, once again. (Linda Ann Nickerson – Madison Equestrian Examiner)
Here is an extensive list of questions the horse lover might ask of barn management, existing boarders, and others, after identifying a prospective horse stabling facility.
Find out about the facility.
- How many acres is the property? How many horses live on it?
- What are the barn’s business hours?
- What riding options are available? Are there indoor and outdoor arenas?
- What is the footing like? Is it sandy, rocky, muddy, or what? How deep is the footing? How often is the arena dragged?
- Are the arenas well lit at night? Are they fully enclosed, so horses may also work at liberty?
- Is there a round pen or corral available for training use? How about a track or room for carriage driving?
- Are there any horseback riding trails on-site or nearby? Do riders need to purchase trail passes? What other options exist for riding out?
- Does the facility seem to be in overall good repair? Does the barn structure appear sound? Is pasture fencing standing upright?
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Talk about turnouts.
- Are horses turned out daily? For how long? Do they go out alone, in pairs, in small groups, or in large herds?
- Do various turnout options exist? Are turnouts on dirt, grass, mud, sand, or something else? Are pastures clutter-free? Is there room for horses to run?
- Does the facility have smaller turnout options for lay-ups or isolation purposes?
- How is the fencing? What material is used, and is it in good repair? Are gates securely attached? Is fencing electrified?
- Does each pasture have a sufficient water source? What about water heaters for winter months?
- Do horses go out in their own halters? Are halters removed or worn for turnout?
Nose into nutrition.
- What is the hay like? What is the hay quality? Where is the hay sourced? Is it grown on-site or purchased?
- How much hay is fed to each horse? How often are the horses hayed?
- What is the feed program? What grain is used? How often are horses grained?
- Are custom feeding programs available? Is there a discount for owner-supplied grain?
- Do procedures exist for handling equine feed supplements? Are additional fees charged for this?
- What is the general condition of the horses already on the property? Do horses appear well fed, reasonably well groomed, and in overall good body weight? Are hooves well maintained? Are manes and tails frequently groomed to remove twigs, burrs, and other debris?
Snoop into stabling.
- What are the sizes and formats of available stalls? Are they well constructed and in good repair?
- How are horse stalls bedded? Do they have rubber mats? What stall bedding material is used? How generously are they bedded?
- How frequently are stalls cleaned? By whom? What about holidays?
- Are water buckets cleaned and filled? Do stalls have bucket heaters? Automatic or traditional buckets?
- Do stalls have electrical outlets nearby for fans and clippers? What about lighting?
- Where do boarders store their tack? Are there tack rooms, individual stall closets, or other spots? Are tack trunks acceptable, or must boarders rent stall lockers? May boarders use security locks?
- Do barn aisles have cross ties with safety breakaways? What about a grooming stall?
- Are aisles crowded and congested?
- Is there a wash rack? Does it have hot and cold water?
- Does the barn have a back-up generator, in case of power failure?
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Peek into parking.
- Is ample parking provided for boarders’ vehicles?
- Can boarders park horse trailers on-site? Is there an additional charge for this?
Peruse precautions at the horse barn.
- Is the facility well lit? Are there security cameras? Is someone on-site during all business hours?
- What fire precautions exist? Are fire extinguishers and hoses readily available and in good repair? Are emergency evacuation procedures posted?
- Does the barn have emergency procedures in place? What about a first aid kit?
- Are there stallions on-site? What safety measures are employed for their care around other horses?
- Are new horses isolated or quarantined upon entry? Where, and for how long?
- Is the facility on well water or tap water? Is there a vending machine for beverages?
- Does the barn have a real bathroom or a port-a-potty?
- Is it heated? Or is there a place for boarders to seek indoor shelter and relief from extreme seasonal temperatures (both hot and cold)?
- Does the barn have a lounge? Is there a refrigerator (for human food or equine medications)? What about a microwave?
- Is there a barn office? Any wifi?
Inquire about training.
- What equestrian disciplines are practiced here? Does the operation have any equine breed or equestrian discipline association affiliations?
- What horseback riding lesson options are available?
- Are boarders free to bring in their own trainers? Do commissions or fees apply?
- Does the business have any upcoming activities or special events planned?
Regard the rules.
- Is a list of basic barn rules posted clearly on-site?
- Are children allowed under adult supervision or as drop-offs for lessons, camps, or other programs?
- What about pets? If dogs are allowed, must they be leashed?
- Are equestrian safety helmets required?
- Is jumping allowed outside of lessons or trainer supervision? What about speed practice (such as barrel racing or pole bending)?
- Must participants sign a liability release?
Consider the community.
- Who owns the barn? Are the owners horse people, business people, or both? How long have they owned the place?
- Does the facility have a barn manager as well? What training does management personnel possess in horse care?
- What about horse care and stable maintenance staff?
- Does anyone live on-site?
- Who is the clientele at the equestrian facility? Are they active horse show competitors, pleasure riders, trail riding enthusiasts, weekend horse folks, or something else?
- Do boarders dress up in clinic-worthy riding apparel to go to the barn, or are most clients more casual?
- What is the general reputation of the barn, its management, and its clientele?
Print this article, and take it with you as a checklist on your next tour of a prospective horse boarding operation.
Discuss professional services.
- Are boarders free to bring in their own farriers, vets, equine dentists, and other experts?
- How are equine worming and vaccinations handled? Are boarders responsible for this, or does the barn staff handle it and assess a fee?
Look at location.
- What is the neighborhood like? What businesses are located nearby?
- Are there train tracks, traffic zones, gun ranges, hunting preserves, loud factories, airports, or other potential noisemakers or hazards?
Discuss boarding options.
- What does the facility charge for monthly board? Is tax included? When was the last board increase, and when might the next one be?
- Do partial, full, or self-service choices exist? What about pasture boarding?
- Does the barn charge more for blanketing, boots, fly spray, masks, fans, horse holding (for vet or farrier), and other extras? What other additional fees might be assessed?
- What vaccinations and equine health records are required?
- Is there a boarding contract? Is a stall deposit or security deposit required?
Every horse boarding business will have pros and cons.
Not all of these questions will apply to all horse boarding situations, to be sure. Smaller and specialized operations may make some considerations less relevant. However, these queries may serve as a basic checklist for prospective horse boarding clients.
It’s essential to look at existing conditions at any prospective stabling location – not promised ones that may be available at some unknown future date. Just because a barn manager describes the upcoming construction of a brand-new, fancy indoor arena does not mean it will pop up in a month or two.
The clued-in horse owner will consider these carefully, in light of his or her own equine’s needs. Overall, when it comes to horse boarding, it’s all about horse care and a stable operation.