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Choosing a Boarding Barn for Your Horse: What to Look For

Get essential tips for picking the right boarding location, assessing available amenities, evaluating staff interactions and horse care, and more.
A chestnut horse looking over his stall door in a barn

Where your horse lives has a significant impact on his comfort, safety, and welfare. So, choosing the best boarding barn for your needs and his is no small decision. Because different farms offer widely varying costs, care levels, and amenities, you’ll need to do your research and evaluate your priorities before selecting one. To get you started, here are some tips on what to look for and how to assess different boarding options.

Narrowing the Search

By answering just a few questions, you can quickly shrink your pool of boarding barn options from every facility within driving distance to the handful that cater to your specific needs:

  • What’s your riding pursuit? Some barns focus on a certain discipline, while others take horses of all types.
  • How far are you willing to drive? Set a maximum distance from your home, and search within that boundary.
  • What’s your budget? Cost is the biggest determining factor for many boarders.
  • What are your goals? Do you seek a high-end stable with a professional training program and horse show schedule, or do you simply need space to trail ride or hack around the property?
  • Do you have any nonnegotiables, such as an indoor arena or full-time turnout?

Once you’ve identified a few farms that fit the bill, take a deeper dive by contacting the property manager, getting references, and visiting the facility.

Assessing Management and Amenities

a woman riding a roan horse in western tack
Consider whether you need a riding arena or space to trail ride and hack around the property. | My New Horse staff

When talking to barn managers or visiting facilities, we recommend asking about the following factors and features that can affect your decision-making:

  • Who manages the property? Look for farm owners or managers who ride or own horses themselves – they might be better attuned to the horses’ care and clients’ needs. Also make sure the owner or a caretaker lives on site.
  • What are the rules? Most boarding barns have rules, from cleaning up after yourself to respecting farm hours. Rules that are so strict as to affect your access to the facilities and riding areas can limit your enjoyment of your horse.
  • Do you need to sign a contract? Liability releases are common forms boarders (or anyone coming onto the farm) should expect to sign. Boarding contracts are other helpful documents that outline the services you can expect and their associated fees. Ask to review the boarding contract to ensure you can fully understand and follow the facility’s policies.
  • What’s the atmosphere like? When you visit a prospective boarding facility, try to gauge the general atmosphere. Are boarders relaxed and enjoying themselves, or do you sense an air of tension and disconnect? Do the staff seem like they enjoy their work?
  • How much turnout does each horse get? Whether you want your horse turned out in a large field 24/7 or in a private paddock for part of the day, make sure that facility can meet those needs. Also, assess fencing materials, condition, and safety.
  • Are stalls safe? The average-sized horse needs at least a 12-by-12-foot stall, so he can lie down comfortably and safely. Evaluate stalls for potential dangers, such as sharp corners, exposed hooks, or walls and doors that aren’t flush with the floor (horse limb entrapments!).
  • Do horses have ample food and water? All horses should have free-choice access to clean water and high-quality hay. Be wary of dusty, moldy hay or horses standing in stalls with no forage.
  • Does the facility practice good biosecurity? Signs farm management takes steps to reduce the risk of disease spread between horses include requiring a health certificate and negative Coggins test for all incoming horses. You might also ask if nonresident horses often trailer in for lessons or events.

And, of course, look at the horses that live at the facility. Are they in good body condition, with shiny coats, well-maintained feet, and happy attitudes? Horse health and demeanor can speak volumes about the care they receive.

You Can Never Be Too Discerning

More observations to make and questions to ask boarding barn managers or owners include:

  • Is arena footing well-maintained?
  • How frequently do stalls get cleaned?
  • Does the barn have good ventilation?
  • Does the facility have designated areas for grooming, bathing, and performing farrier and veterinary work?
  • How is turnout organized and scheduled, and do fields have safe, roomy shelters?
  • Does the barn have a tack room and, if so, is there room to store your gear?
  • Is the feed room clean and shielded from rodents or wayward horses?
  • Does the barn have a public bathroom? How about a lounge or kitchen area?
  • Can you launder your saddle pads, wraps, and other horse garments onsite?
  • Are fire extinguishers accessible throughout the barn?
  • Does the manager charge fees for applying grazing muzzles, fly masks, and blankets or feeding medications and supplements, or are these tasks included with your monthly board?

Final Steps

When you’ve settled on the perfect boarding barn for your horse and your needs, confirm with the owner that they have space for you. You might need to get on a waiting list for in-demand facilities in densely populated areas.

Review and sign the boarding contract, if applicable, and be prepared to pay for the first month of board upfront. Set a move-in date that works for all parties involved, and schedule transportation, whether you’re hauling your own rig, hiring a commercial shipper, or arranging for the boarding farm manager to retrieve your horse and gear for you. Then it’s home sweet home and time to get to know your new barnmates and facilities!

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