Not every horse owner can or wants to keep a horse on their property. For them, a boarding facility may be the next best option.
Boarding barns vary widely as far as what they offer their clients, but the number one consideration for most potential boarders is cost. As you visit different barns, keep in mind that cost doesn’t always reflect the level of care.
For those who plan to spend as much time as possible with their horse, location is a big factor. Although some horses are boarded long-term for absentee owners, most owners want to visit and spend time with their horse on the weekend.
In some cases, the potential boarder has to weigh the plusses and minuses of what a barn offers to determine the best option. Driving to a more desirable facility might take longer, so consider how much time you are willing to spend traveling to and from the barn, how often you plan to be there; then balance that with fuel cost and what the barn offers.
Ideally, the potential boarder will have several choices of barns within a reasonable driving distance. It’s important to visit several facilities and weigh the costs and benefits at each one. Remember your first impression at each barn: is it clean, with minimal flies? Do the horses seem to be quiet and content? Is there an odor of ammonia, which indicates horses are inside more than they are out? As you visit, the barn owner/manager and anyone on the staff should ask questions about your horse and indicate willingness to treat him as an individual.
Decide what’s important to you as far as amenities. Do you want year-round access to an indoor arena, or is an outdoor ring enough? If your main equine activity is trail riding, a simple barn that has plenty of land or access to trails is probably more suitable.
Find out how the barn handles turn out, and look at the fencing to be sure it’s suitable for horses. Ask whether horses are turned out regularly, and if they are turned out in large or small groups. Large, open pastures are suitable for mixed groups, but small paddocks should be limited to individuals or pairs of the same sex. Does the price of boarding include putting on and taking off blankets?
Inspect the interior of the barn to look for safety hazards that could injure you or your horse. Stalls should be roomy and well ventilated, with full partitions between stalls, but should allow horses to see one another.
Check to see what kind of feed will be available, and if the barn owner/manager is willing to feed any supplements that you supply for your horse. Is there a locked tack room for boarders, and would you feel safe leaving your tack on the premises?
Look at the hay and check for color and type. Ideally, horses should be fed from small square bales to limit the risk of botulism and to ensure that a more precise portion is fed. Is hay fed at least twice a day, and is the barn manager willing to feed extra hay to a hard keeper or an older horse?
Is the barn manager experienced with horse illnesses and injuries, and can they recognize a sick horse immediately? Some boarding facilities use a specific veterinary service, while others allow boarders to retain a vet on their own. Find out what the policy is for sick horses – will the barn owner contact you prior to calling the vet, or can you rely on the barn owner to make that call if you aren’t available to make a decision? Is the barn owner able to provide immediate first aid until a vet arrives? Is the barn’s regular veterinarian aware of any special needs at the facility, and are they willing to make emergency calls?
Boarding barns vary widely when it comes to immunizations, and may only accept immunizations as administered by a veterinarian. Find out which vaccines are required, and if your horse reacts poorly to any of them, work with your veterinarian to ensure your horse is up-to-date on essential vaccines.
Make sure you’re comfortable with the barn’s rules about hours, who can ride (other than the horse owner) and emergency provisions. The barn owner should provide a contract that states the barn’s obligations to its boarders and your obligations and privileges as a boarder.