Comparing boarding facilities can be like trying to compare snowflakes. They may seem the same from one perspective, yet can be very different from another. Asking the right questions, both of yourself and the potential facility, arms you with valuable information so you can make an informed decision when choosing the right boarding facility for you and your horse.
1. Does the facility take a natural or conventional approach?
For the most part, there are two common styles of boarding: natural or conventional. To get a better understanding of each, I’ll explain some of their core fundamentals. From there, you can determine what kind of home you would like for your horse and how you too will fit into the picture.
Here is a comparison of what you can commonly expect at each type of boarding facility:
|Natural Boarding||Conventional boarding|
|Full 24/7 turnout within a herd environment providing adequate shelter and access to grass hay on a continuous basis||Outdoor board – 24/7 turnout usually within a herd environment Indoor board – turnout is limited; it can be only when exercised by you, or outside during the day and in a stall at night|
|Barefoot trim methods applied – no shoes and varied terrain for optimal hoof wear||Expect varied hoof care methods from shoeing to barefoot; they may insist you use their farrier|
|Nutritional needs met utilizing natural feeds such as whole oats, vegetables and herbs||Nutritional needs are extremely varied, generally providing processed feeds (sweet feed, extruded grains, etc.) and infrequent hay feeding|
|Likely embraces homeopathy, massage, chiropractic, energy healing, etc. as well as traditional veterinary care. The horse’s state of well being is considered the highest priority; training methods would be based on the most humane methods utilizing positive reinforcement with no force or violence||Acceptance of different healing modalities vary greatly depending on the owner’s experience|
|Integrative approach to vaccinations and worming, perhaps utilizing titers and worming on an as-needed basis using fecal tests and/or herbal products||There would likely be a list of required vaccinations and frequent chemical deworming|
|Usually a non-competitive environment, although natural horsemanship is often used||Facility is commonly geared toward some kind of sport. i.e. dressage, reining, eventing, racing|
2. What’s important to you?
Next, you need to ask yourself some questions to help decide what type of facility would best suit your requirements.
- What do you enjoy doing with your equine partner?
- Are you involved in a specific style of riding?
- Are you competing now, or will you be in the future?
- Would you feel strange riding in an English saddle surrounded by others in Western riding gear, or vice versa?
- Do you enjoy the social atmosphere or would you prefer a more private facility?
- Is there an indoor arena or access to trails?
- What do you consider to be the best care for your horse…no shoes; outside sometimes or all the time; alone or in a herd?
3. Looks good so far…now what?
Once you have inspected a particular boarding facility and feel it may be suitable, there are 15 key things you need to do.
- Have a long chat with the barn manager/owner and as many other people there as possible.
- Ask for references and about all protocols, such as what your horse will be fed, when and by whom. Remember, every time your horse is handled it is a training experience – either a good one or a questionable one.
- How are emergencies handled?
- What vaccinations are required?
- How often is de-worming done and with what product?
- Do they get their hay analyzed?
- Do they have trainers on site?
- Are you allowed to bring in your own trainer?
- How often are herd mates changed, if ever?
- How do they introduce new horses to the herd?
- Do they have any insurance for personal or horse injuries?
- Who do they use for veterinary care?
- Do they offer clinics? If so, what kind?
- If they have an indoor arena, how is the time scheduled? It can be frustrating to pay extra for something you can hardly use because of lessons or clinics being scheduled.
- Finally, if you can, show up a second time unexpectedly to see if things are still the same.
4. You get what you pay for
Prices can range from $225 to $500 per month. But be careful about comparing facilities to the fees charged. You usually get what you pay for. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. I know many people who have chosen a boarding facility based on what they charge, only to discover that saving a few dollars has cost their horse a lifetime of emotional damage. Put your horse’s well being first, and scout around before making a decision. HINT – Trust your own instincts. Do you feel a sense of calmness on the property or does tension fill the air? Horses often mirror their caregivers! I leave you with one last thought. If you have ever experienced the gut-wrenching feeling associated with leaving your child in a stranger’s care, you know that honesty and integrity are important qualities to look for. Take the same care when researching a boarding facility for your horse, and you will be much happier with the outcome.
What does your horse really want?
Close your eyes and feel your arms and legs turning into the four strong legs of a horse. Now feel your neck grow long and a beautiful mane and tail unfold. Take some time here to become a horse. Without thought, start running as fast as you can in this horse body and ask the question: “If I was a horse, how would I want to live?” Only you can answer this question. A great way to discover how happy the horses are at a boarding facility is to ask stories about them. Ask the person in charge to describe their personalities. Get him/her to tell you about their good and not-so-good qualities, where they’ve come from and how long they’ve been there. Ask about the worst and best things that have ever happened on the property. Hopefully they will give you funny and inspirational stories. But if you start to hear things like “oh, that horse is a bully or difficult to manage”, and other unbecoming behaviors, then you’ll know the environment has an unsettling nature.