Photo by Daniel Johnson
Whether you’ve owned horses for a long time or you’re planning to buy your first horse (or first horse in a long time), one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is: Where will my horse live?
There are essentially two answers: board your horse at a nearby equestrian facility or bring him home to live on your own property. Your choice will depend on multiple factors, including cost, zoning, and the question of how much control you prefer to have over your horse’s care.
Let’s check out some of the benefits and drawbacks of keeping your horse at home versus keeping him at a stable nearby.Boarding provides plentiful opportunities to ride with other horse owners that enjoy the trails or same activities you do. Photo by Daniel Johnson.
You’ve seen the local horse barn advertising and driven by a few times. Would it be a good place to house your horse? It could be.
◆ Reduced workload. Individual rules may vary from facility to facility, but in general, you can count on enjoying less of a workload when boarding your horse. Depending on the type of boarding plan you agree to, you may not be required to perform daily feedings. You may be able to skip out on the veterinarian and farrier appointments if you want. Stall cleaning, hay hauling, aisle sweeping—you may be free to do as much or as little of that as you care to. Broken fence? Not your problem. ATV won’t start? You’re not on call.
◆ Knowledgeable help. Maybe you’re new to the horse world and could really benefit from some help early on. Boarding can be a perfect solution, as you’ll be surrounded by experienced horse enthusiasts who can help walk you through certain aspects of horse care and training.
◆ Social contacts. You’ll probably meet a lot of horse friends at the barn and enjoy the company of a like-minded group who wants to go trail-riding, take lessons, and attend shows as much as you do.
◆ Flexible scheduling. When your horse boards, you have the option of not going to the barn every day, which may be helpful if you have a lot of other commitments to family or work. If you travel frequently, boarding may be the only sensible option for owning a horse.If you board, you may not have any say over how many hours your horse is stalled or turned out. Photo by Daniel Johnson.
Boarding isn’t perfect, and you can expect a few downsides.
◆ Expense. This is probably the most significant downside for many people. Boarding a horse (or two!) can be a very expensive proposition. Prices will vary depending on the region, and possibly by how rural your area is, but expect a monthly bill that may run several hundred dollars and up—sometimes way up. You’ll pay less if you agree to perform daily care, but that isn’t as easy to do when you’re not living on the premises.
◆ Less control. When you agree to board your horse at a facility, you do agree to give up some amount of control over his care. You may or may not be able to choose what to feed your horse, particularly when it comes to forage. Your horse may not enjoy as much pasture turnout time as you’d prefer. You’ll have to share certain aspects of the facility—riding arenas, round pens, feed rooms, wash stalls, even the barn aisles—with other boarders.
◆ Less convenient. There will be busy days where you just can’t make it to the barn—and therefore don’t get to see your horse. There might be other times when you have a stray hour (or half an hour) where you could go the barn but choose not to because the commute is too inconvenient for such a short visit. By boarding a horse, you forfeit some of the one-on-one time that you might have if you kept him at your home.Building your own barn means you can customize it any way you like—for a cost. Photo by Daniel Johnson.
You might realize that boarding is fine for some people, but perhaps you’ve always had a dream of keeping horses on your own property.
◆ A room with a view. There’s nothing quite like looking out the windows of your home and seeing a pasture with your very own horses grazing happily. It’s hard to beat! You’ll experience the pleasure of having horses integrated into your everyday life. For many people, having a horse say hello to you each morning and feeding him hay right before bed just makes life better; it’s something you can’t put a price tag on.
◆ Handy horses. If you have a spontaneous whim to take a ride, you can do it! If you have a free hour, you can easily spend it with your horse—all you have to do is put on your boots and walk to the barn. It’s easier to fit horses into your schedule because they’re so easily accessible.
◆ No sharing. At your own place, there’s nobody waiting in line for the round pen or blocking the aisle with their hose in cross-ties. With the luxury of your own barn, you won’t have to wait on anyone.
◆ You make the decisions. Home horse ownership puts you fully in the captain’s seat, able to run your barn the way you want. While this may be a big responsibility for newbies, more capable horse owners will likely enjoy the freedom and the option of making all of the care choices.
◆ Stable design. If you’re building from scratch, you get to decide what your barn will look like and how it functions.
◆ Cost savings. There may be a significant initial investment in your infrastructure (see below), but assuming you already own the land and have some of the vitals in place (a water source, electricity, et cetera), keeping your horses at home can represent a significant monthly savings over boarding.There is no sleeping in when you’re the one feeding horses their breakfast. Photo by Daniel Johnson.
With all of these advantages come some potential downsides. Specifically, you are the one responsible!
◆ Building can be a big job. Maybe you’re starting out with an ideal horse property with stables, pastures, water, fencing, and arenas already installed. But for many folks, bringing their horse home means constructing some or all of this from scratch, which can be a major task. Transforming vacant acreage into a horsey paradise might involve removing trees, bringing in gravel, and constructing driveways. Not to mention the cost of electrical and water hookup, stables and fencing. However, some of these features may already be present on your property, and the cost of building a stable for one or two horses is significantly less than one designed for many animals.
◆ Daily care. For many horse people, the daily feeding, grooming, turnout, and exercising of their horses isn’t a downside at all. But there are logistics to consider. Will this fit in with your job or family life? Caring for your horse only “when you want to” is not an option the way it is at a boarding facility. Even if the weather is bad, or you’d like to sleep in, or something important comes up, your horses are still depending solely on you for care, so it’s a big commitment. And you may need to arrange for backup care options if something happens to you, whereas at a boarding barn, boarders have been known to pitch in when others need help.
◆ You’ll make important decisions. Feed choices; finding, purchasing, and storing hay; keeping water thawed during the winter; deworming schedules; farrier appointments—managing your own barn comes with a lot of decisions and responsibilities. Again, this may not be a downside to some people, but it’s worth taking a careful look.Even a small farm usually means two horses to house and feed, which often turns into three so there’s a buddy for the horse left behind while riding or trailering out. Photo by Daniel Johnson.
◆ Vacations are more complicated. If you’re used to traveling a lot or enjoy spontaneous “let’s hit the road for a long weekend” excursions, keeping horses at home may not be ideal for you. Horses are heavily routine-driven animals, that usually prefer everything done in the same way at the same time of day. Whenever you leave home, you’ll need a responsible, horse-savvy farm sitter to step in for you.
◆ You may need more than one horse. This could also be considered a benefit, depending on who you ask! Horses are social animals that need the company of their own species, so it’s probably wise to own at least two horses if you’re keeping them at home. Many people add a third to keep the one that’s not being ridden or trailered out to shows company.
Ultimately, only you can make the choice of whether to build or to board, and there may in fact not be a wrong choice. In either case, you’ll be able to enjoy life with horses in a satisfying and pleasant atmosphere, whether that’s a busy barn full of horse enthusiasts or a quiet corner of your own property with just you and your favorite equine buddy.
This article about deciding whether to board your horse or build a barn originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and professional photographer, and watcher of horse movies. His favorite is probably Misty (1961). He’s the author of several books, including How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know, (Voyageur Press, 2014). Dan’s barn is home to Summer, a Welsh/TB cross, Orion, a Welsh Cob, and Mati and Amos, two Welsh Mountain Ponies.
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