For many, keeping your horses at home on your own property is a dream come true. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a few downsides as well.
My husband and I just crossed the one-year mark of home ownership (I promise I’m going to draw a worthwhile parallel here, stick with me). It’s been a wonderful year settling into our own home — yeah, we still might not have any art or photography on the walls, but it’s a work in progress, I swear. It’s nice to be paying a mortgage rather than the monthly black hole of rent (did I just type that sentence? Mercy, I sound like a real adult) but when we noticed ice damming this winter and subsequent water damage on an interior wall, as well as fun things like fixing the door after it got sucked open in yet another wind storm, I have to admit that there were a few things about the rental life that weren’t so bad after all.
And it’s much the same with boarding your horse versus having the luxury of property and barn to keep him at home — I’d never go back to renting a house again, nor would I ever want to go back to boarding. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few cons to balance out all the pros of running your own barn.
Pro: You call all the shots.
Your horses, your farm, your rules: if you want to go riding at midnight in your pajamas while drinking a beer, you can bet you aren’t going to be breaking your boarding barn rules about open hours, attire or open containers (not that we necessarily recommend doing any of those things, but hey, your rules). On a more serious note, you as owner can plan your own feeding schedule, pasture rotation, blanketing guidelines and barn setup, all tailored to suit your individual needs and the needs of your horses.
Con: There’s no “second opinion” option.
Does that horse look a little tiny bit off? Is that a slight swelling on the inside of his fetlock? Does this cut really require stitches? Taking care of your horses by yourself 100% of the time definitely requires a solid base of knowledge as well as firm conviction — that’s not to say you absolutely have to be a professional-level walking encyclopedia of horse health, but you should definitely be comfortable with the basics, including recognizing health issues, performing first aid and knowing when you should call the vet. Having the luxury of a barn manager or owner, or even another more knowledgeable boarder, to consult in health situations doesn’t happen when you’re on your own.
Pro: It’s just you, your horses and some peace and quiet.
If you’re reading this, I’m confident I don’t need to explain to you the value of quiet time spent with your horses — mentally, physically and emotionally, I don’t think there’s anything more healing on the planet than just hanging out in the peace and quiet with your horses. It’s not that this can’t be done at a boarding barn, but when you’re the only person on the property it’s certainly much easier.
There are also the added perks of not having to dodge other riders in the arena or deal with someone else’s spooky horse tagging along on your trail ride, if that’s something that bothers you.
Con: One is the loneliest number sometimes.
Despite the upside of being able to spend quality “alone” time with your horses every day, it is also nice to share the experience with some friends and fellow riders. Especially if your day-job coworkers are already sick to death of hearing you talk about your horses all the time, having fellow equestrians to share your passion with can build true, lifelong friendships. That can be a lot harder to do when it’s just you and your horses every day with no interaction with others.
Pro: No monthly board expense!
Much like the sense of independence we experienced when we no longer had to pay monthly rent, not having to pay board gives you a fantastic sense of freedom in your horse life. Now your horse budget can be directed into other things: see below.
Con: You’ve just inherited a lot of other expenses.
The flip side to no longer paying monthly board is that you have to pay for everything yourself, out of pocket. Typical full-care board may include things like daily stall cleaning, turnout, feed twice a day, perhaps a basic blanket service, holding for the farrier and a farm-based grain plan. Not only are you now handling the physical aspect of all of these services yourself, but you’re also paying for things like a new barn roof, fencing supplies, a new ATV or small tractor to replace the old one that finally died last week and a fresh delivery of new bedding. This is all on top of your regular mortgage and homeowner’s insurance, which is likely a little higher now that you’re keeping your horses at home.
Pro: You can do everything just the way you like it to be done.
As an example, I am very particular about how I like the halters hung back up on the hooks. Sure, the tack room around those halter hooks might be a giant hot mess of dust and accumulated odds and ends after a winter, and I am self-aware enough to realize that some major spring cleaning needs to happen and I have no one to blame but myself, but gosh darnit, my halters are exactly where I like them to be. At all of the various barns and stables I’ve visited or worked in, I’ve picked up a few things to roll together into a mish-mash of tips and tricks to make my barn life just so.
Con: There’s no division of labor.
One of the best parts of the end of the show day at my childhood lesson barn was the beehive of activity when the trailers pulled back into the driveway at the barn. We’d split up all the work — some of us would start mucking the trailers, some would help feed, others would pitch in to help the girls who showed late in the day and still had to pull out braids and bathe the show-sheen out of their horses’ coats. Even tasks such as turning in a small herd of horses is much easier (and sometimes safer!) than tackling it alone.
Bigger projects, like filling your loft with hay, might require that you buy a case of beer and call your buddies to come help you out. (Not that that’s entirely a bad thing, really.)
Pro: Keeping your horses as an independent horseman is one of the most gratifying aspects of the equestrian world.
At least, that’s my opinion. At the end of the day, nothing makes me happier than rolling the barn doors closed on a neatly-swept aisle with everything in its place, a paddock full of happy, healthy horses, knowing that if nothing else that day I achieved this one moment in my tiny horsey kingdom, and there’s nothing better than that.