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Finding the Right Stable for Your Horse

By: Rebecca Sweat

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Most horse owners use a boarding stable because they don't have the space to keep a horse at home or because they want the services offered at a stable.

One of the biggest advantages to stabling your horse is the convenience. According to Dr. Alan Dorton, an equine veterinarian in Versailles, Ky. "The boarding staff is responsible for feeding and watering your horse and cleaning his stall so you have a lot more freedom if you can't get to the barn every day."

Stabling also provides a good opportunity to meet other horse owners. You can learn a lot about horses just by being around the other boarders. If you run into a problem with your horse, chances are, someone else at the barn has had a similar experience and can give you some advice about what to do.

Of course, not all stables are created equally. Some barns are going to be better maintained and offer more services than others. Here's how to find the right stable for your horse.

Get Referrals

  • Ask your equine veterinarian, tack store owners or other horse owners to recommend a boarding facility for your horse. If a particular stable is mentioned repeatedly, find out why.

  • Stop by and ask for a tour. Look at the barns, stalls, pasture, paddocks and fences. The facility should be well maintained and free of hazards.

    "Be wary of a place that has junk lying around or an unkempt look," says Carol Timmerman, owner of Timmerman's Ranch and Saddle Shop in Island Lake, Ill. "If they're careless in how they care for their own property, they probably won't take very good care of your horse, either." If they take the time out to show you around and answer all your questions, no matter how seemingly simple, they may be the right people for you.

    What to Look For

  • Is the pasture overgrazed or is there a fair amount of grass?

  • Is there good drainage from the pastures, paddocks or lunging ring?

  • Is there ice accumulation in the paddocks over the winter?

  • Are the paddocks sandy? If so, you might be faced with the need for additional preventative measures against sand colic in the future.

  • Is there plenty of shade in hot climates?

  • Is there a water supply for the horses when they're turned out?

  • Do the horses look healthy?

  • Are the stalls an adequate size for your horse?

  • Are stalls clean and dry, with fresh bedding?

  • What type of surface is below the bedding? Rubber mats or dirt are preferable to concrete or wood to prevent foot and leg problems.

  • Is there good ventilation? A little ammonia smell is OK, but not enough that you can detect it outside the stalls.

  • Automatic waterers are not essential, but they are a more reliable source of water.

  • Offering water from a pond or river is generally unacceptable except in range horses. Even then, there is a risk of infection from wild animal borne microorganisms.

  • Are water tanks and buckets reasonably clean? A good sign is that there is no algae or scum accumulation.

  • Are pests under control on the farm? Is there a big problem with biting flies, ticks, mosquitoes or other pests? And how do they deal with it?

  • Is the riding ring large enough for lessons?

  • Can you take lessons on site?

  • Is there plenty of help? These days it's getting harder to compete for barn help, so it is important that your barn has adequate personnel versus a ragged "barn sour" staff. Included in that is a manager with good interpersonal skills.

  • Are there amenities for the boarders, such as telephone, washroom, parking and a kitchen?

  • Is there a riding trail on the property or in the vicinity of the stable?

  • If you live in a cool climate, is there a heated barn and an indoor arena?

  • What does the barn smell like? "Expect that it's going to smell like a barn," Dorton notes, "but it shouldn't smell damp or musty or have a strong ammonia smell."

    Ask Good Questions

  • What are the barn hours? Is it open seven days a week? If it's closed one day, can you still stop in and see your horse?

  • Are all horses turned out daily? How much turnout time do they usually get?

  • Is trailer transportation available?

  • Does the stable rent on-site tack lockers or storage sheds to boarders?

  • What provisions are made for veterinary care if a horse becomes ill?

  • Is there a barn veterinarian? Is he or she on call 24 hours a day and how fast can they usually get there (less than 30 minutes?) for an emergency?

  • Can you use your own veterinarian or do you have to use their veterinarian?

  • Who does their farrier service? If you have your own farrier, is it okay for him to come to the facility?

  • How often are the stalls cleaned?

  • What type of food do they use?

    NOTE: Make sure your horse's stall will be cleaned at least once a day and that your horse will be fed and watered at least twice a day. The stable should require that all horses be dewormed, vaccinated and pass a veterinary exam before they're boarded.

    "Don't board your horse at any facility where health certificates aren't required," says Lori Maier, a horse trainer with Happy Trails Stable in Wauconda, Ill. "If they're not requesting vaccination proof of your horse, then they're not requesting it of other horses either, and so you may be putting your animal at risk." Horses should all be required to pass a yearly Coggins test as well.

    What It Costs

    Expect to pay $150 or $200 a month for pasture boarding (where your horse is outside all the time) to anywhere from $300 to $800 or more a month for stall boarding.

    "Obviously, the more services that are offered, the more you will have to pay each month," Maier says. "If you just want the basics – a stall, stall cleaning, feeding and turn-outs – you can probably find something for around $350 a month. But if you want your horse clipped and bathed, if you want him saddled when you arrive, you may have to pay anywhere from $800 to $1,000 a month." There are barns that itemize and charge for everything they do, and they are justified in that it takes time. Make sure you ask if there are additional costs.

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