Today, most people don’t have land or riding facilities on their own property, so they opt to keep their horse at a boarding facility. As a horse owner, selecting a barn can be a stressful process. Your horse’s well-being and the enjoyment you get from your barn time hinge on making the right choice. As the barn owner, addressing every individual client’s needs (and horse’s needs) can be a challenge, along with maintaining a safe facility and harmony among the residents, both horse and human alike.
As a barn owner, Kimberly R. from Ohio considers safety her top priority.
“I teach a lot of young kids, and often parents have the rider’s younger siblings with them at the barn,” says Kimberly. “I need every person at the barn, rider or not, to practice safe horsekeeping and horse handling. There is no other option.”
However, she reports that’s not always what happens. Safety offenses she’s seen include:
- Tying a horse to a movable object such as a portable round pen.
- Tying a horse to a trailer with the reins instead of a halter and lead rope.
- Hauling horses in unsafe trailers.
- Attaching a cinch incorrectly.
- Bringing dogs out to the barn that are aggressive toward other dogs, horses or people.
If bringing your dog to the barn with you is important, make sure boarders’ dogs are allowed, and that yours is very well behaved.
“One time I even had a boarder leave the barn and call me about 30 minutes later,” Kimberly explains. “She asked me to put her horse up. She’d forgotten to put him away herself.”
Tales from the Trenches
Joel K. in Texas has been running his boarding facility for over 30 years, and he says most of the time, the problem with difficult boarders is that they don’t want to listen. They simply don’t trust the barn owner as a knowledgeable horse professional.
“I had a girl who, every month when a new magazine came out with a ‘How to Feed Your Horse’ article, she wanted to try it,” he says. “For example, she would suddenly want to give her horse a tablespoon of salt and a half a cup of olive oil or corn oil on a daily basis.
“Every month she had a new request. I finally had to tell her I would feed my way. There’s such thing as too much information. Her horse was happy and healthy and didn’t need a new daily concoction every month,” he explains.
Kimberly also experienced an unnerving request. She had to call a boarder on Christmas day because his horse was very sick. The man’s response baffled her: “We’re about to sit down for dinner. Can you take care of it?”
What Makes a Good Client
Being a valued part of the community at a boarding barn goes beyond paying your bill on time. Kimberly believes all clients are good clients—until proven otherwise, of course. To her, a good boarder:
- Follows the rules.
- Does not make up new rules.
- Is not an absentee owner.
- Is respectful of other people and their belongings and doesn’t borrow equipment without asking.
- Takes care of her own equipment, including grooming supplies and tack, and puts it away before leaving the barn.
- Picks up after her horse. (We all know manure doesn’t magically move to the manure pile. Someone has to put it there!)
To Joel, a good client is easy to describe. A good client has a true love for horses. Every other hurdle that can potentially present itself at a barn can be handled, but if that commitment to the horse is missing, his job as barn owner can be difficult.
“As a professional, you can see who wants to be there,” he says.
Cleaning up after yourself and your horse in common areas is one of the key components of being a good boarder.
Joel also adds that the golden rule of his barn is quite simple. He describes it as the Code of the West: leave it like you found it.
“If you want to use the hose, turn it on and use it,” he says. “And when you’re done, turn it off. Like you found it. You want to use my bridle? Fine. Put it back. Longeline? Sure. Put it back when you’re done.”
Both Kimberly and Joel also describe good clients as safety conscious.
“Wear boots with heels,” Joel says. “Wear a helmet. That’s common sense.”
In the end, both barn owners agree that good boarders become family, and bad boarders often leave in search of a barn with a better fit for their needs.
Finding the Right Barn
The first step in being a good boarder is making sure you find a barn that is compatible with your needs and preferences. Beyond the most obvious requirement of safety and quality care for your horse, here are a few things to look for when selecting a boarding facility.
- Location: You want to make sure the barn is conveniently located. One of the biggest considerations is your commute from home and/or work to the barn.
- Culture: There are a variety of schools of thought on how to care for and train horses. Make sure the barn you select is a good fit for you and your horse.
- Quality: Make sure the physical structure of the property meets your standards for safety. The fencing, stalls, arena footing and everything else will impact your horse’s health.
- Riding Goals: This isn’t a top need for all riders, but be true to yourself and your goals. If you want to attend specific shows or gain more exposure to a favorite riding style/sport, select a barn that will foster that learning.
ALLISON GRIEST is a freelance writer based in Texas. Follow her on Twitter: @allisongriest
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!