Thanks very much to all of the kind people who took our boarding survey! We learned a lot about the struggles you face in finding safe, affordable boarding that provides consistent good care.
Here are your five most important features:
- Good quality, consistent care
- Positive, friendly barn culture (no drama)
- Lots of turn out time, tailored to each horse’s needs
I think we can all agree that every horse owner wants the number one response – good quality, consistent care.
Let’s consider each aspect of a typical boarding barn service and what consistent, high quality care means to that service. Here are the typical services of a full care boarding barn:
- Provision and feeding of forage – good quality, consistent care means your barn should provide all of the high quality hay or haylage needed to keep your horse at a healthy weight (a body condition score of 5 to 6 for most breeds). The internet has many great articles about what to look for in good quality forage and feeding. Look for papers authored by universities, government agencies or professional equine associations. Here’s one to get you started. In the absence of good quality pasture, forage should be fed multiple times per day (horses need to eat on a fairly continual basis for good health). I’m not a fan of hay nets because of the unnatural neck position they create (ask an equine massage therapist) and increased dust ingestion, but many would argue with me on that :).
- Provision and feeding of grain based feed – The important thing to remember for good quality, consistent care in feeding is the horse’s individual requirements in terms of work load, age, breed, allergies and metabolism. Your boarding barn should provide or agree to feed according to your individual horse’s needs. The feed should be clearly stored for your horse in labelled containers if it differs from ‘regular’ feed at the barn, and all feeding plans should be clearly posted in the feed room, or better yet on the individual horse’s stall. Your barn should work with you and your vet if you have any concerns about nutrition.
- Provision of clean water 24 / 7 – This speaks for itself, but I’ll add a caveat – in our climate it may be impossible to provide both all day turn out and water when it’s -20. Yes, heated tubs may be a solution for some, but with individual and small group turn outs this would end up requiring a maze of wires (not safe) or inground wiring (installation costs could make boarding costs prohibitive). There are various ‘tricks’ to apply in these conditions, i.e. insulated tubs, floating objects to keep water moving, etc. Look for a barn that recognizes the importance of 24/7 water and employs all of the techniques at their disposal to provide it. Another thing to watch for – water buckets will freeze in well ventilated barns. If good ventilation is important to you (it should be) look for heated buckets in all stalls.
- Provision of safe, roomy, well ventilated stalls and stall bedding material / stall cleaning – Wow, there are as many opinions as there are horse owners for what constitutes good quality, consistent care in provision of stall bedding and cleaning. Again, there is a lot of good resource material on the internet and again, an article to get you started. This is what I consider the bare minimum – (a) Stalls should be cleaned a minimum of once daily, (b) Bedding material should be low dust, (c) Stalls shouldn’t have an amonia odor from urine (very hard on lung health for horses and barn staff). We use various materials in different stalls, depending on the horse, i.e. bagged shavings, bulk sawdust, wood pellets and bagged peat moss.
- Provision of turn out; daily turn out and in – We all dream of endless green pastures with shelter available as the ultimate turn out heaven! This is a wonderful feature to find at a boarding barn. There are also other great arrangements that have their benefits too. A boarding barn which provides good quality, consistent care may not have acres and acres of green pasture (great if it does) but it should provide a variety of safe options tailored to your horse’s needs. Here are some of the questions to consider when thinking about a match for your horse’s needs – (a) do you need individual turn out?, (b) does your horse need a buddy? (c) is there shelter available in the turn out? (d) will your horse be brought inside in extreme heat or cold? (e) is the fencing and footing safe?, (f) is limited indoor (arena) turn out an option if injury or prolonged inclement weather prohibit outdoor turn out? (g) can you retrieve your horse quickly and safely when you want to?
Want more information? There’s lots available. Here are some great articles about horse boarding:
- Better Horse Boarding – Horse Channel
- What To Look For In A Horse Boarding Facility – University of Maine
Of course there are many additional amenities we could discuss regarding good quality, consistent care i.e. blanketing, minor medical maintenance, etc., but these are the basics.
I’ll address the other top points in future posts over the next week or two. Stay tuned for:
- A supportive, positive barn culture (no drama)
- (Lots of turn out time, tailored to each horse’s needs was included with this post)
Click here for more information about boarding at Five Fires.
And a final note of humor …