Whether you’re looking for a place to board your new horse, or a new home for your best friend, the first thing to consider is the well being of your horse. Look beyond the beautiful facilities or the ring full of jumps or the cows in the next pasture. You’ll have to depend on knowing what to look for and what questions to ask.
What to look for – Are the horses well fed and well cared for? If all of the horses seem “fat & happy” you can check that off your list. If they seem to be different weights, there may be a problem. Thinner horses could be hard keepers that aren’t being fed enough or it could be a horse that, regardless of how much food it gets, never puts on weight. Is there grass in the pasture? Don’t mistake green weeds for grass. Look at all of the pastures. If there isn’t much grass, are the remnants of hay? Horses are hind gut fermenters, which means they need to have forage in their hind gut most of the time. If there isn’t much grass and no remnants of hay, chances are the horses aren’t being fed enough. Are the stalls clean and well bedded? Are the water buckets clean and filled? Is the ring footing well maintained or is it hard packed and rutted? Unmaintained footing can be very hard on horse’s legs and over time cause lameness issues. Are the fences in good repair and safe for horses? Are horses turned out in a large group or are there a few horses per pasture? There are pros and cons for both, but be aware that larger herds usually have more squabbles and a greater chance for horses to get injured.
Questions to ask – How often are they fed? What type of grain and how much? How much hay is fed and how often? If either of these answers are standard for all horses, chances are they’re not being fed properly. Hay and grain should be tailored to each horse’s individual needs. How often are they turned out and for how long? Horses should be out every day for as long as possible. Their mental and physical health can be jeopardized by too much stall time. The answer should always end with weather permitting. You certainly don’t want your horse out all day in -10 or an ice storm or on 90 day. How often are the stalls cleaned? The answer should be daily. During the summer are they turned out during the day or at night? Be leery of the barn that turns out during the day in the summer. Are there additional charges, above and beyond the boarding fee? Some barns charge for blanketing/unblanketing, holding the horse for the vet or farrier, etc. Know all of the charges before you commit. Who is the barn vet and farrier? This can be a very good key as to a knowledgeable barn owner and one that puts up a good front to make you think they know what they’re doing. Jot the names down and ask around of you’re not familiar with them. If the vet and farrier are no good, chances are the barn owner doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing. Let the barn owner talk as much as they want, but pay attention to what’s being said.
For example, we were looking a a boarding barn several years back. The barn owner was very nice and seemed knowledgeable …. at first. The more she talked, the more I realized what she didn’t know. When she mentioned all of her colics happened in the middle of the night, the red flags started to fly. Later in the conversation she mentioned they get their hay from an auction. It’s safe to say we continued to look for boarding barns.