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Horse Facts and Tips
First Posted Sept 26, 2007
Jul 22, 2010

Choosing A Boarding Facility

by Debora Johnson

It has always been my dream to have our horses on our own property. However, living in downtown Washington, DC makes that an impossibility. Yes, we have thought about purchasing a horse property in the country, but the commute downtown, our in-country and foreign travel schedule, mowing and constant maintenance to the property have convinced us to board our horses. It is very difficult to find a facility that meets with desired standards. We have been lucky enough to have found such a place that fulfills our dreams as horse owners. We have boarded at a variety of facilities over the years and have witnessed everything from moldy hay, no water, no attention to medical problems, to hangings, etc. At the end of this article I will do a section on what I consider to be the perfect place for us, and why. I will have pictures to illustrate. Each individual has to determine what their particular needs might be. For example, are you showing, eventing, riding endurance, fox hunting, trailing, competing in dressage, doing cross country, are in the Hunter Jumper scene, etc.? Many factors will determine what kind of a boarding facility you may want. However, there are specific necessities that every horse person should look for when searching for a stable for their horse. It does not matter if you are field boarding or full stall board some concerns never change.

  • The Facility in General
  • Does the facility have run in sheds or shaded areas of some sort so that your horse can get out of the elements when turned out? Is there a turnout? Are the fences properly maintained? Are there any exposed nails, broken boards, sharp edges, etc.? Is the environment clean and clear of debris and junk? Does the grass look well maintained--without poisonous flora? (Weeds, flowers, shrubs or trees) Are the horses rotated on the grass? Is there a tack room where you can keep your horse equipment and can it be secured? Are the stalls clean with adequate dust free bedding? Is there any standing water? The drainage should be adequate. Are the watering buckets and grain buckets kept clean? The stable should be free of parasites. Is there good ventilation in the barn? Are the stalls and paddock areas cleaned every day? Is the barn free of feces and urine? Is there a good source of light? Is your horse brought in twice a day (morning and evening) and checked for injuries? Is there a way the care givers can tell if your horse is off his feed? Is the water source clean and plentiful? Are the feeding areas safe and clean? Is the hay kept in a safe place so that it does mold or get dusty? Is the grain kept in a covered container so that vermin cannot get into it? Is there a bulletin board that has all necessary telephone numbers in an emergency? Is there a file of ongoing records for each horse?
  • Care givers It is really important to have consistency of care from individuals who are experienced with horses. Experienced owners will recognize a sick or injured horse, know what horses need to stay healthy, and will be able to spot possible dangers for horses and their owners. If you are in need of a ring or round pen those are other specific considerations. Perhaps the ring might have to be indoors and lighted for year round use. Again, these are personal and specific considerations.
  • Medical Care (Vets and farriers) Are there routine vet visits? Does your barn have a regular vet and farrier who comes? Are you able to use your own vet and farrier if you choose? Is it mandatory to have spring and fall shots? Are the horses all wormed at the same time? Is it done every 2 to 3 months? Are new horses kept in a quarantine area for several weeks when they arrive? Is an up-to-date Coggins mandatory for anyone bringing their horse onto the property? Is there an area for sick horses so that they are confined and away from the healthy? Is there an "obese horse" area for horses who are overweight and have to have their food intake monitored? The same is true for an undernourished horse who has to be monitored.
  • Turnout
  • Is there turnout? Is it dirt, sand, mud, pebbles or grass? For grazing, are there grass fields? Does the management rotate the horses from field to field? Are the grazing areas free of junk and objects that can hurt your horse or be ingested by your horse? Are the fields free of toxic forage? Are the fields mowed to keep down the ticks that hide in the tall grass? Is there shelter in the fields (run in sheds or trees) so the horses can have shade if they desire? Is there clean water available at all times during turnout? Are the fields well drained so that there is no standing water. Mosquitos breed in standing water and carry disease.

  • Other Tips When looking over the facility look at the horses that are stabled on the property. Do they look healthy? Do the other boarders appear happy? Do you notice flies and other biting insects or an abundance of bees flying around? Is there any evidence of rodent populations in the barn or feeding areas? Do you notice any bad odors? Does the management have a legal agreement that lists what you can expect from them and what they expect from you? The cost of board is an important element to consider. Is board affordable to you? Decide what kind of board you want for your horse. Will it be stall board, stall board with daily turnout, or field board? Make sure that you understand just what will be done in case your horse needs medical care for a week or more. Sometimes things like a fungus in the eyes or lameness where the feet have to be soaked, medication that has to be given every day or two times a day, etc. can cause a hardship for you. Will the management provide this ongoing care as part of your contract? Is this covered in your contract or is there an extra charge per day? If you have a trailer are you allowed to park it on the property? Is there a monthly fee for that? Will the management meet your farrier and hold your horse or is that your responsibility? There is so much to being a horse owner. We all want the best we can give for our animals.

Find a stable through your friends, tack shop, vet, farrier, or trainer. It often helps to have a referral.

The following are examples of the home of our horses, A Patchy and Rusty. I have taken a few pictures to illustrate what I consider an excellent boarding situation.

The barn is well ventilated. The breeze can blow through and both ends of the barn can also be closed off, if necessary. The loft has doors as well. The center isle allows for the horses to be put in cross ties, or not. There is plenty of light available. There is also a water pump and hose inside the barn. The tack room is through the white door on the left. A clock is above the door as well as a barometer. There is a telephone inside the tack room. The grain and supplements, as well as some of the meds that do not have to be refrigerated are also in the tack room. A bulletin board, calendar, message board, horse vac, and horse tack are there as well. All important telephone numbers are on an erasable board for immediate access in case of an emergency. The picture has been doctored to take out the personal information on this board for the web site. Kate and I have letters that give each other the right to make decisions for each other's horses. This includes euthanasia, as well. This is a letter that we hope we never have to use. The vets also have this in their computers, as well.

The stalls are kept clean and have an abundance of dust free bedding. The stall doors are very safe. There are metal bars and a small opening where water can be put in the buck and supplements and grain can be added through this opening, as well. The horses are checked here every morning and evening. They are given a hand full of grain with farrier's formula added. They are carefully checked for eye injuries. An overall check for swellings, cuts, and heat are done as well. If the animals are off their feed it can easily be detected at this time. The horses are mostly kept outside as Kate and I both feel it is healthier this way. We work together to insure the well-being of the horses.

The hay loft is easily accessible by a ladder. It is dry and away from vermin and other rodents. We have 3 barn cats who keep the unwanted populations down. The hay is a mixture of orchard grass and timothy this year. Drought has made it difficult for may horse owners to obtain exactly what they want. Hay prices are quite hight this year because of the draught.

Right outside the barn are covered areas where the horses can be fed in bad weather. The racks are at the proper height. There are rubber mats that can be swept and cleaned so that the horses do not eat dirt and dust when the hay falls to the ground. There are also fans to cool them and keep the bugs off them on really hot days. This area provides the horses shade when they are turned out. In this picture you are seeing only one side of this area. Three horses can easily access this area. It is always remains accessible.

On the side of the barn, just around the corner from the above picture there is another overhand which provides shade as well. It also has rubber mats and the horses area sometimes fed here, too. There are hanging toys for them to play with as well as a ball they kick around in the paddock area.

The compost area is covered and divided into three sections. See the conservation section for more information on this area. The manure is moved from one section to another after a certain amount of time composting. The finished compost is used in my garden and spread back onto the fields. Kate uses the wasps to keep down the fly population. It really works. We are almost fly free. It is quite amazing.

The sacrifice area is has many trees and is adjacent to the paddock area. It is mostly dirt, but saves the pastures. The horses are turned out on the pastures for stretches of time. They are also rotated on the pastures. This is such a perfect way to run a facility. The horses are so happy and healthy.

There is an area for washing the horses, too. You can go to the conservation section and see exactly how to build this area.

There is a sacrifice area where the horses are kept with full access to the barn and overhangs for cover. The automatic waterer is fully accessible in this area. There are also many trees that have been wrapped with a protective wrapping so the horses do not eat the bark. There is no grass in this area so that the horses can be checked in their eating habits. This also keeps the pastures (turnout) abundant and healthy all seasons. There is no over grazing. I would like to note that this area has plenty of space. The three boys run, jump, and kick up their heels. Horses get accustomed to a specific space and feel comfortable with it. I would say that if horses are housed in a stall 24 hours a day they may become bored and exhibit habits such as cribbing, wind sucking, chewing, weaving, stall kicking, biting, etc. I prefer to have a stall available in case it is needed for medical care, daily checks, a holding place for the farrier, a place to give supplements, for use in bad weather, etc.. Otherwise, I prefer my horses to be out. It seems to me to be more natural.

Sacrifice Area

All fields have a water pump where water is readily available.

There is also an automatic water trough in the paddock area. It is cleaned every day.

The fences are quite simple, safe, and effective. They are electrified webbing. It is really easy to move the fencing by just adding new metal posts and running some webbing. There is great variability as to what you can do easily and quickly. The electricity is provided by a solar panel.

Solar Panel for fencing

There is also trailer parking that is easy to use. It is gravel and grass. The ring is right beside the trailer parking.

The ring is a large area that is grass. The horses can also be turned out in this area, as well. My husband and I rarely ring ride. We do use it for training purposes or for quick ride time with the horses. We mostly trailer over to the Manassas Battlefield which is just 7 minutes from the barn. It is an absolutely beautiful place to ride and is steeped in American Civil War history. Kate uses the ring quite often as she has a 3 year old. She does lots of ground work with him and has started some in-saddle time.

For More Information:

Madalyn Ward on Boarding Stables
Choosing a Boarding Stable

Horse Facts and Tips