Whether you need to board your horse, or you are a land owner looking to open your home to boarding other people’s horses, there are a few important considerations to each party’s expectations and realities.
Below we will break down both sides of the story, since there are always two!
No one will keep your horse exactly like you would if they were in your own backyard. The stable owner does their best, but has to split that best effort between each horse on the property.
The stable may feed at different times than you prefer or have different guidelines than you would choose if you had your own farm. Remember that you are a guest, and your horse is a roommate renting space.
Have reasonable expectations, it’s not the stable owner’s job to find a fly mask or adjust a blanket – unless you are paying for that service.
No one will maintain your property exactly as you will. They won’t sweep as well, they won’t care about leaving their tack in a mess, and they won’t pick poop as well as you.
Before you decide to board other people’s horses, you must resolve yourself to accepting a lower level of acceptability in the upkeep of your barn, and if it continues to bother you, pick up the slack yourself.
Be more concerned about ensuring your horse owners understand basic safety such as turning off lights, unplugging cords, and closing gates.
Do your due diligence and interview barn owners and tour the properties. Speak with other horse owners who board on the property. The more specific asks you have, the healthier your budget should be.
Ask what the introduction method to a herd is if you are boarding in a pasture situation. The “turn out and figure it out” method can work… eventually. It may come at the price of some hide, and hopefully not an injury. Consider the stress that moving stables can have on your horse.
Be honest about your horse and their temperament.Do they have a tendency to kick? Are they hard to catch? Do they paw in the stall or chew fences?A stable owner is often working alone and their safety needs to be key.If you do have a horse with a bad vice, expect to pay a higher rate for the wear and tear on the property, if the owner is gracious enough to accept your troublemaker.
Interview all potential boarders. Ask about the history of the horse’s living situation:
· Have they lived in a mixed herd, or only gender specific
· Have they been on pasture or a slow feed hay net before (consider they may need introductory periods)
· Where do they typically rank in the herd hierarchy
Ask about the owner’s experience with horses:
· Have they always boarded, what have their past experiences been like? Why have they left places in the past?
· If they used to own their own acreage, do know that these owners can be harder to please. They used to be able to do things their way and making the adjustment to someone else’s can be a big one.
If an owner doesn’t want to view your property and meet you before boarding – big red flag.
Respect all rules, and if they are not posted, ask. Each stable owner will have a slightly different way of doing things, and because it’s their every day life, there may be a small thing that is preferred but not a rule.
Developing open communication with the stable owner at the onset is the biggest piece to a successful boarding experience.
Have rules clearly posted. Determine your non-negotiables, and these should be based mainly off of safety protocols, not your personal preferences about how a halter should be hung.
If an essential rule is being broken, do your best to speak with the culprit directly, not sending out a group text unless you’re truly not sure who it was.
Ensure the stable has a boarding contract. Good paper makes good friends, and you want to know clearly what is expected of both parties before moving your horse to a new property.
Know your threshold of emergency veterinary care, both budget and intervention. Would you ever consider colic surgery? In the event you are away on vacation and the stable owner needs to make medical decisions, they need to know how far they should go.
Have a boarding contract and include all the rules as well as what is included and what is extra in terms of the care you offer.
The contract should also ask for the boarding horse’s age, medical history, preferred veterinary contact and a pre-authorized amount of money to spend on a veterinary emergency in the event you cannot get a hold of the owner. I have had amounts vary from $500 to $5000, I can’t emphasize enough how important this conversation is to have.
It's not personal. If the stable owner seems distant one day, respect their space. Understand that they have opened their home to others, and that sometimes they may have an off day. The horses and property still need to be cared for and they don’t have the choice to take a day off so they don’t have to talk to people.
If you do notice a trend over a prolonged period of time, definitely feel free to open a dialogue with them, but try to do it on some down time when they aren’t in the middle of chores.
Don’t approach the stable owner’s home unless there is an emergency.
Have healthy boundaries. You cannot be expected to be the quarterback for every question a horse owner has. It is undoubtedly convenient for owners to call you first, or ask you as you’re passing by the stall.
Do remember that it may have taken you 10, 20, 30 years of experience to have that knowledge, so you do need to respect your expertise to a certain degree.A one off here and there is likely fine, and you’re probably more than happy to share your knowledge but watch out around the ask-holes and if need be, offer to mentor them in horse ownership for a fee.
The stable owner is not your intermediate veterinarian, farrier, nutritionist, trainer, or bodyworker. Stable owners know a lot of things and are semi-experts in all of the above, but that does not mean they are there at your disposal to glean free information from.
If you have an issue with any of the above, think to yourself who you would call or what you would do if you were on your own farm. Did your horse throw a shoe and you’re wondering if you can still trail ride tomorrow? Call your farrier. Need to know if that laceration needs medical attention? Your vet is the one you need to talk to.
Stable owners are often very lax in this area and go above and beyond for the benefit of a healthy horse. If they are a wealth of knowledge, ask if you can compensate them for their time if and when you need.
If you live on the property, ensure there is a sanctity in your home – somewhere that is “off limits” that if you don’t want to see, hear, talk to the public, you can find reprieve. Have this posted in your stable rules.
Some days you may feel happy about standing around and chatting, boarding horses has created some close and lifelong friendships for me. But other days I just want to get the chores done and keep to myself.
Never treat anyone with rudeness, but if you’re having an off day or are too busy to talk, just let your owners know that you’d love to catch up with them another time.
I have been both a boarder, and a boarding stable. Owning a boarding stable helped me recognize how terrible of a boarder I had been, thinking “it’s just one poop I don’t have to pick up every single time.” “I wonder if I left the lights on?” “Someone else will check the hydrant.” Oy vey.
And at the same time, having boarded horses for over 12 years I have gone through periods of boarding lots of horses, to none at all. Although I appreciate looking at a perfectly placed row of bridles when it’s just me on the farm, I absolutely love the little community that is created with boarding. I diligently screen all owners and am not afraid to turn away owners or horses that I don’t think will be a good fit.
Sometimes a horse doesn’t sound like it will be a fit, and as much as you’d like to fill that vacancy – ensuring you are bringing in the right type of horses, ones that are happily caught, have extensive handling and proper manners will all help keep you safe, as well as happy continuing to house other people’s horses.
Having these conversations up front with potential boarders, and then maintaining clear lines of communication with existing boarders can help create a really wonderful experience for you, and more importantly, the horses.