Finding the Right Barn, Presented by

If you’re not lucky enough to keep your horse at home, finding a boarding barn that is a good fit for you and your horse can be … a lot. Here are five things to consider as you begin your boarding barn search.

Okay, you’ve finally decided to take the plunge. You’ve decided to lease a horse, or — gasp! — you’ve decided to purchase your first horse.

Congratulations! You’ve now entered the world of the perpetually under-funded and over-worried horse parents. Welcome.

But before you go out and buy all those matchy matchy tack sets (because we know you want to), you’ve got to figure out where the heck you’re going to house your new equine pal if you’re not lucky enough to have your horse at home. Here are five things to consider when you’re looking for the right boarding barn for your horse and for you:

1. Costs

First and foremost, you need to make sure the barn you choose is one you can afford — and not just barely. After all, horses are one big money suck after another (if you haven’t discovered this yet, you will). So, you need to make sure you can afford to board your horse and pay for the farrier and pay for routine veterinary care and pay for emergency vet visits and pay for the supplements you will undoubtedly decide Flicka just needs to be the horse of your dreams and … you get the picture.

When you ask about costs, make sure you ask what the base board rate covers. Is it just a set amount of feed? What if the horse needs supplements or medication? Will the barn manager hold the horse for the vet and farrier, or is that an additional charge. What bedding is included? What happens if the horse needs to be stalled for an extended period of time? All of these incidentals often can mean extra charges. Know up front what your board covers and what it doesn’t.

Here is a list of cost-related questions to consider when looking for a barn:

  • What boarding options are available? (pasture board, stalled, stalled with run, etc)
  • What is the price of each board option?
  • What is included in the price of board?
  • Are there any board add-ons (holding for farrier, blanketing, etc.)? If so, what are they?
  • How is board billed?
  • When is board due?
  • How do you accept board payments? (PayPal, Venmo, Check, etc?)
  • In the event I may be late on board, how is this handled? (This is one of those questions that is definitely worth asking. Vet bills and personal emergencies come up — knowing what the policy is ahead of time can make the conversation easier on both sides and can help remove any awkward barn interactions.)

Obviously make sure your horse is safe and properly cared for, but also make sure that you can pay for what your horse needs at he end of the day.

2. Turnout that Works

If you know your new horse is used to and thrives with a particular routine, look for a barn that offers something similar. For instance, if you tried out a nice, beginner friendly mount who seems calm and quiet, don’t mess with what works. If good ole Spot is used to full turn out, minimal grain, and giving a few lessons a week, look for something similar. Moving him to a barn that only offers an hour or two of paddock turn out and feeds three pounds of high octane feed twice a day may turn your bombproof horse into a ticking time bomb.

Conversely, if you’re getting a horse that has only ever been in a show barn and is accustomed to 12 hours in/12 hours out — depending on weather, footing, and how the starts align — throwing out that horse in a full herd to fend for itself right away could be catastrophic.

Here is a list of turnout questions you can ask:

  • How much turn out do the horses get (if stalled)?
  • For horses turned out in groups, how are turnout buddies selected?
  • How are new horses introduced to their new herds?
  • Are there pastures? If so, how are they maintained? (Rotations? Fertilizing? Seeding? Mowing? Etc.)
  • Are there any dry lots?
  • If horses are on pasture, can my horse be turned out with a grazing muzzle (if necessary)? If so, are there any additional charges for this?
  • For horses that may need limited turnout when rehabbing from an injury, are there any smaller medical paddocks? Is individual turnout an option?
  • If there are any adjustments that need to be made for a horse (ie. night turnout, due to injury, personality conflicts, etc.), how are those adjustments handled? What adjustments are available and can be accommodated for?
  • How are fly sheets/stable sheets/stable blankets/turnout sheets/turnout blankets handled? Any additional blanketing charges for this?

3. Feeding Routine

In the same way that you need to find a barn that has a turnout schedule that works for you and your horse, you also need to know what the barn’s feeding routine is. Do they grain once a day? Do they grain twice a day? Is hay rationed? What kind of hay do they feed? None of these questions has a particularly right or wrong answer; however, they do have a right or wrong answer for your horse. For instance, my horses get very little to no grain (most are just on ration balancer), but they do have 24/7 access to pasture or hay depending on the time of year. This works for my horses, but may not work for others.

If you have a hard keeper (a horse that doesn’t gain or hold weight easily), you may need to find a barn that is willing to feed two or more meals a day and adjust according to your horse’s seasonal needs. If you have an easy keeper or a horse with metabolic issues, you may need to find a barn that offers feeds low in NSCs (non-structural carbohydrates) and can limit pasture.

Here are some questions regarding feed to consider:

  • What kind of hay is fed?
  • How much hay is fed? How often is hay fed per day?
  • Can adjustments be made regarding hay feedings for individual horses if needed? If a horse needs these adjustments, is there an additional charge?
  • How often are horses grained?
  • What grain does the barn feed?
  • What adjustments can be made to grain feedings as needed for individual horses? If a horse needs adjustment to his grain, are there any additional charges?
  • How are supplements fed?
  • Are there any additional charges for feeding supplements?

4. Facility Access

I remember being totally appalled when I spoke to a friend and she said that boarders were not allowed to ride between the hours of 10am and 3pm. Those may not have been the exact hours, but it was something along those lines: during the middle of the day, and exactly when a lot of people want to ride (especially on the weekend). This drilled home the point that you need to make sure you are able to access the facility where you’re keeping your horse at the times when you’re actually able to get there. It’s also important to know who has access to the facility and when. If you’re boarding at a busy lesson barn that doesn’t have multiple arenas, you may not be able to ride in the arena when you’re at the barn. Some barns have strict hours of operation that may not align with your riding schedule. These are all things to know well in advance. Here is a list of facility based questions to consider:

  • Are there open barn hours? If so, what are they?
  • If I need to be at the barn outside of barn hours (to administer medication to my horse, for example), is that possible? Who do I need to let know if I need to be at the barn outside of the normal hours?
  • Is there a tack room or tack lockers?
  • How is the tack room/tack locker space divided up?
  • Is there an additional charge for tack lockers?
  • Are there arena hours?
  • Is there an arena dragging schedule?
  • How is the arena shared? (lessons, clinics, solo rides, etc.)
  • When is the arena off-limits?
  • Are there any additional arena rules for me to know? (i.e. if can lunge in certain areas, etc.)
  • Are there any additional barn rules I should know? (i.e. are some lights purposefully left on at night, are certain doors left open/closed, etc.)
  • Does the barn host clinics/shows? If so, what do I need to be aware of during these times?
  • How many other boarders/riders are there?

5. Discipline/Training

Some people want to board at a barn that specializes in the discipline they ride. This can give you access to trainers, lessons, and equipment that you need to further your own riding. Other riders are looking for a more laid back barn that has access to trails. No matter what type of riding you do, it’s important to make sure the barn where you board fits those needs. So consider this when looking for the right barn for you and your horse:

  • Are there jumps/barrels/cones/etc. that riders can use? If so, where are they stored? Can they be moved?
  • Are there any trainers? What disciplines do they teach?
  • How many other boarders/riders are there?
  • What disciplines do the other boarders do?
  • Are there any nearby trails?
  • Do other boarders trailer off property for rides?

This list is by no means comprehensive. Finding the right barn requires the magic combination of the right logistics and the right personalities. The latter is a bit harder to nail down, but usually you’ll know when it isn’t the right fit (here are some lessons from being at the wrong barn). But no matter where you end up, it’s important to make sure your horse is happy and healthy and you’re at a place where you can enjoy your horse to the fullest.

What tips do you have for finding the right barn? Let us know in the Facebook comments!

Also, when you are all settled in your new barn and you are ready to buy all those matchy matchy tack sets, we recommend — they make riding affordable! From tack to apparel to barn supplies — for both English and Western riders — they are there to keep you and your horse outfitted for less.