Top Tips for Choosing a New Barn
Updated December 8, 2022
It May Not Be All About Location, Location, Location
Choosing a barn to board your horse can be an exciting but daunting task. Do you envision your horse enjoying huge, lush green grass turnouts encircled by freshly painted white fencing, surrounding one (or two) stadium-sized outdoor rings with lighting? Do you want to be at a farm with a sound system and the best all-weather footing?
How about being situated next to a cross-country course with idyllic natural obstacles overlooking an impressive covered/indoor riding ring with a massive barn attached enveloping spacious 14 x 14 stalls with large windows, plenty of light, and breezy airflow? Does the centerpiece of this dreamy setting come complete with his own groom to attend to his every need? If you want these things, you’re not alone.
There are some obvious factors to take into consideration when choosing the right barn for you and your horse, such as location and budget. There are some less obvious factors, like proximity to riding trails or how crowded the indoor ring may get on a rainy Saturday morning that maybe you hadn’t thought of, or that just may not be as important to you. So first, we’ll give you a list of the more popular considerations and then a method to help you rank them.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Boarding Barn for Your Horse
(Not listed in any particular order)
Some riders couldn’t imagine driving more than 15 minutes to see their mounts and some have over an hour in the car to commute to work. You need to decide where you want your barn to be in relation to your home and workplace. Choose a radius of 10, 20, or 50 miles to start. You can always increase your radius if your choices are slim.
This isn’t as easy as you may think. Of course, you have to know what the basic board price is but ask details about what services it includes. Your checklist may include daily stall cleaning, turnout, blanket changes, feeding grain two times/day including SmartPaks and medications, hay three times/day, and more.
Some barns spell out these services clearly on their website or in their board agreements, but some don’t. Make a list of what services you want included and ask about them specifically with the barn owner or trainer - whomever is responsible for providing these services on a regular basis.
If you can’t find your dream barn, or if it is out of your budget, you need to decide what is non-negotiable in terms of the facility’s amenities and what are “nice-to-haves.” The size of the stalls or run-outs, quality and size of the outdoor ring, if it has an indoor ring, access to trails or a cross country course, sand vs. grass paddocks are all common considerations. Also, consider how many other horses and riders will be using these amenities to help determine how this will affect your riding or your horse’s turnout experience.
If you’re looking for professional training for yourself or your horse, you’ll want to know if there is a qualified person onsite employed by the barn owner, running their own business on the property, or if you’re able to invite your own professionals to the property for lessons or training. For some competitive riders, boarding their horse with a specific trainer is the top reason to board at that barn.
Many trainers, specifically in western disciplines, only offer training board. The horse owner sends their horse to their barn for training but does not go there to ride on a regular basis. The trainer will train the horse for the owner then send the horse back or meet up at horse shows so that the owner can show the horse. Decide what level of training you want for you and your horse, then research the trainer, look up their show history if available, and discuss what your expectations are with the trainer before going forward. Clear communication is optimal to ensure your expectations are met.
If you’re a hunter/jumper, you may want to choose a barn where jumps are always available in the rings, where you can get lessons, or where the on-site trainer travels to the horse shows you wish to attend. If you’re a barrel racer, you may not want to have to move jumps in order to set up your barrels. It’s tough to practice on course if you’re an eventer without access to a cross-country course or a trailer to get to one. Having said that, if you’re a pleasure rider who doesn’t want to compete or take lessons, you may be perfectly happy at a multi-discipline barn where everyone can enjoy their own style of riding.
Then there are retirement barns where taking care of senior horses is their focus. If competing at horse shows is a goal of yours and you’d like a trainer available, check with her to see if she has a planned horse show schedule for you to review. Conversely, if you don’t want to horse show but want a trainer available, if the trainer is away 50% of the time traveling to horse shows this would obviously make her them unavailable to train you or your horse during that time.
Quality of Care
This is something of top consideration for many of us who want the very best for our horses. Some barns offer a “full care” suite of services that includes all the basic board services plus grooming, tack-up, training rides and sometimes lessons too. In these cases, there is usually a full-time barn manager and a team of grooms to take care of 100% of your horse’s needs, whether you show up to the barn or not. This may be appealing to some but can be beyond your budget.
The opposite end of the spectrum is boarding your horse at home, at a neighbor’s, or at a co-op facility where you are typically required to provide all the care for your horse, including sharing responsibilities for other horses in the barn.
Regardless of which you choose, you should evaluate how your horse will be cared for to make sure it is in line with your expectations. Think about:
- quality/quantity of shavings if he lives in a stall even part of the time
- quality of hay
- line of feed products available
- knowledge of staff handling your horse
- access to and quality of veterinary and farrier care
Think about specific health issues your horse may have. Is he prone to thrush and needs regular attention? Do you want him turned out with a fly mask and fly sheet every day, and can this be provided? Do you have a senior horse that has arthritis and want him to be watched over a bit more closely? As with many of the other considerations, this is one of the more complex matters.
You can make some of your closest friends (even if you compete against each other) simply by boarding your horses at the same barn. The community of riders, trainers and staff at a barn can sometimes make or break your experience. Other riders around your age, riding ability, your child’s age, that have shared interests like showing, trail riding could be more important than you think in making your final choice. Consider setting up a visit to a prospective barn to meet some people, watch a lesson or just be able to mingle with the barn community before making your decision.
Some barns only allow certain veterinarians, farriers, chiropractors, massage therapists, or dentists to provide care to horses that board there. It may be important for you to chat with the vet or farrier prior to moving your horse in or doing a bit of due diligence on them to ensure their care philosophies are in line with yours.
At the minimum, you’ll want to ask if a vet would be available on-call for emergency situations, who that may be, their rates, how far away from your barn they are, etc. Don’t forget if you’re not available to meet a vet or farrier, find out if someone on staff at the barn would be and if they charge anything to provide that service to you.
Other considerations may include the availability of storage (for trunks, gear, tack, and equipment), the ability to leave your truck and trailer on-site, the ability to borrow a trailer if needed, or even whether or not you’re able to bring your dog to the barn to hang out.
Barn Ranking Table
Before you can feel assured you’ve made the best decision, creating a barn ranking table such as the example below may be helpful. Make a list of all the considerations you’d like to include when evaluating a barn, then a list of barns that are in the running. We suggest using a scoring system of 1 – 10 to score each consideration, then a total of the scores will bring you to a “rank” for each barn. In this case, the highest-ranked barn would be the most favorable choice.
Barn C scored the highest overall but notice this does not take your priorities into account. All the considerations in this example are scored equally 1-10, so if the location is more important than the others, you may use a score of 10-20 to score that consideration, for example. This higher scoring system will allow location to be more heavily weighted if that’s what is most important to you.
Lastly, and some could argue most importantly, try to have a good idea of what your goals are as a horse owner or rider. If you want to be a competitive dressage rider, reiner, or practice natural horsemanship, this should be the overarching theme of your barn decision-making process. If you’d like a lovely place for your retired horse to live out his years, your list of considerations would most likely be very different than a rider hoping to make it to the Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Though this is certainly not an all-inclusive list of considerations, we hope you find it a good place to start to help you achieve your riding and horsemanship goals and help your horse look and feel his very best.
Originally published August 21, 2013