Choosing where to board your horse? This single choice can influence your horse’s future health and happiness as well as your own. You want your horse happy and healthy. You also want him safe and well cared for when you aren’t able to visit him.
When you choose a boarding facility it’s similar to choosing a nursing home for a loved one – you don’t have a lot of control in the day-to-day running of things, but you want to have peace of mind that the workers’ best interests are for your horse. It’s important to pay attention to little clues and “red flags” when visiting a boarding facility so you can see the whole picture even when you can’t be there.
When you visit the facility, first impressions matter. Look at the outside. Would you want to live there? Would you feel comfortable showing friends your horses at that facility? Are the turnout paddocks crowded, filled with mud or trash?
Paddocks should be free of debris, no loose boards, no barbed wire, and the gates should swing and close firmly. A rule of thumb for how many horses should be in a paddock, if turned out for the majority of the day, is one horse per acre.
How is the condition on the other horses? Are they thin or heavy? Do they look “forgotten” or well maintained? Are they searching for any scrap of grass or do they appear content? What about flies? Has manure been removed and is there a place for the horses to go to when the flies become savage?
Now is the time to ask the owner or barn owner any questions you have about the size, capacity, or condition of turnout areas and barn, not when your horse is already living there.
As you look over the barn maintenance, view the fences. Are they in need of mending? Are there protruding nails, broken stall doors? What do the tubs of water look like? Remember, broken or weak fences will eventually fail and your horse may be the one who gets out.
Take a deep breath. What does the facility smell like? A strong urine order may indicate more bedding or more cleaning is needed. Check the build up of manure in the stalls. Stalls should be cleaned daily. Another good indicator of a facility is to check out their barn aisle. Is it clean, swept or raked or is there trash or junk lying around? Little things add up fast.
Ask to see the hay and any other food that will be fed. Is it kept in a separate, well ventilated area; what does it look and smell like? Fresh and clean with no mold is the goal.
Finally, take a really good look at the animals currently residing at the barn. Do they look content or sulking in the back of their stalls? Are they in good physical shape? Does it feel “peaceful” or does it feel “tense?”
If you notice multiple horses that are thin, sick, injured, or have neglected feet, for example, it might be a sign that they’re receiving substandard care.
Always ask your questions before moving your horse to a new facility. One of the most important considerations is do you get along with the barn owner/manager and will you fit in with the rest of the boarders there? It’s good to have similar riding goals when you are part of a boarding facility.
Finding a perfect fit may take a little work but it’s well worth the peace of mind it will bring you. Talk with the owner and ask if you can also talk to some current boarders. Those conversations will most likely help you make your final decision.
Good Luck and Happy Trails!
LORI RICIGLIANO is a horse judge, trainer, riding instructor, equine photographer and clinician. She also hosts a weekly syndicated equine radio talk show “Hoof Beats with Lori”. Lori has held her horse judges license as a USEF / AHA - “R” rated licensed horse judge for more than 25 years and currently operates Ricigliano Farms Horse Training and Riding Academy near Kent, Minn. She can be reached by email or phone for any questions at 218- 557-8762 or riciglianofarms@gmail. com. Her website is www. RiciglianoFarms.com