How to Choose the Right Barn for You


Horse in snow

Whether you are moving across country, across town, or just need a change, looking for a new barn is one of the hardest things to do.

To start with, deciding to move barns is a difficult choice, if it isn’t for geographical reasons. Giving notice can be a difficult road to go down. We all know that no matter what kind of relationship you have with the barn manager, trainer, and/or barn owner, notice can be a stressful event. Not only can it be stressful to deal with any personal problems it may impose, but there are plenty of barns who don’t take kindly to notification of you moving your horse out. Giving your 30 day notice can be tricky, stressful, and full of consequences!

Still, you’re willing to move and you wan to get it over with. You are digging through phone books, the internet, equine directories, tack shops, word of mouth, past experience, and you know you want to go, but you just can’t figure out the right horse boarding facility for you. How to decide?

One of the most important parts of my barn searches has always been the environment and atmosphere. For me, personally, I like laid back. I don’t like to be around all the uppity A show people (even when showing on the A circuit). But, I don’t really want to be in a low rent place either with a bunch of people who don’t know what they are doing. I don’t ride for social reasons, but many people do. If you do, then take that into consideration and make sure the barn has the right mix of people that fit into your riding, your personality, and your social interests. Of course, age is a big factor too. Many barns these days don’t have kids. This can be great for the adult, with no kids. I have always favored this, no screaming children, no running children, and no fear in the ring for kids who don’t know how to ride with other people. But, I have also enjoyed being in a barn with junior riders who are looking for a chance to get an extra hack in some days. So, you have them clean your tack and your trunk in exchange (depending on the junior’s abilities), for a hack on your horse. It’s a win, win!

Now, what about a trainer? If you are looking to take lessons, get some training on your horse, show, or generally just like the trainer/client relationship, then the trainer is an obvious important factor in choosing a barn. The trainer is a tough one, because whether they have a name in the area (good or bad), you have seen them at horse shows (riding or schooling students), you have recommendations, or you knew horses that they “trained”, YOU have to choose for yourself if you are going to be a good fit into their program.

Do you like taking group or private lessons? Does the trainer prefer teaching groups or private lessons? Does the trainer prefer control over your entire horse; care, training, farrier, vet? Is that something you want, or do you like to be more involved in the decisions for your horse? What kind of foundation does the trainer expect from their horses and riders? What kind of teaching do you need? Maybe you need brutal honesty, maybe you have a hard time with criticism, possibly you don’t want to learn how to do something, you would rather your horse trained to do what his/her job is so you can just show and win. When choosing a horse trainer, you have to take other’s opinions with a grain of salt and make your own decision.

There are some GREAT no name trainers, and there are some HORRIBLE well known trainers. No matter how good a trainer is, if your goals, you and your horses abilities, your personality, and your pocket book don’t fit into that trainer’s “mold”, you aren’t going to have the experience you want.

What kind of facilities are you looking for? Indoor, outdoor, hunt field, trails; these are important factors in your ability to enjoy riding. Depending on your geographic location, an indoor or covered arena may be a necessity. Then there is the barn itself; does it have a good feel to it? There are some barns you walk in and no matter how clean, dirty, or what kind of people are there, they just aren’t very comfy.

The barn structure and architecture can have a huge influence on a farm’s overall feel. Is there a bathroom or a port-a-potty? Are those facilities up to your standards and comfort? Is the turnout far away from the barn? If you hate walking, then this would be an important factor. How does the barn look? Well, of course, if it looks completely run down, you have to question the care, but I have been in barns that were state of the art, clean, and perfectly manicured; the care wasn’t great and the atmosphere was even worse. I have also been in some crappy, run down looking barns that took excellent care of the horses. You can’t always judge a barn by it’s appearance.

Is there a place to keep your tack trunk, are there lockers, do you have to take your saddle home? Is there a heated area (for those who live in the frigid Midwest or Northern areas); this may be an important warm up area for those freezing nights at the barn.

The barn staff has always been a strange, yet important consideration at any boarding facility. Do they speak English? I don’t speak Spanish, and don’t want to have to learn just to find out where my horse is, if they can leave their food out, put blankets on, etc. Is the staff friendly, have they been there awhile, or is there a lot of turn around (high staff turnouver can speak volumes about the personality of the manager/trainer)? Is the staff knowledgeable, experienced? That may or may not matter, depending on the management. Are you comfortable with the staff? You may or may not ever interact with the staff, but, depending on what kind of relationship you have or want to have with the barn, you may want to consider how you will get along with the staff.

Obviously, we have touched on barn hours before, but don’t forget to consider this when choosing a barn. Some barns have hours when you are “allowed” to go out to the barn to see and ride your horse. There is also an issue of ring hours as well. Some barns with large lesson programs don’t allow boarders to ride during lessons. Take this into consideration, and always ask when the barn is open and when the ring is open for boarders to use.

Barn rules vary from barn to barn, from state to state, and from discipline to discipline. Some barns are so over-run with rules, it makes it difficult to be able to do what you want with your horse. If the barn contract lists the rules, make sure you look at these prior to choosing the barn. If a barn does not have rules in writing, make sure to ask the barn manager, trainer, or owner if there are any rules or expectations of the boarder before you decide.

There are many different pricing structures for boarding stables. Make sure you get a full price list before making any decisions. You may be told board is $550 per month, but you weren’t aware of blanketing costs, supplement costs, fly spray costs, trailer parking fees, or farrier/vet handling fees. Some barns will nickel and dime you to death with all the extra fees. Some, of course are pertinent, but some fees are simply excessive.

Ask the questions, get a price list, and if you have a horse with ANY special needs (soaking hay, extra blanketing requirements, hoof check, medications, etc.) make sure to bring these up. You may find a more affordable monthly board rate, but when you add up all the “extras”, you’re paying more than you anticipated.

This one is pretty obvious, and for some, not all that important. Depending on your situation, driving 45 minutes one way to the barn 4-6 days a week isn’t a big deal, while others will struggle with a 20 minute, one way drive. If you aren’t going to make it out to the barn because it’s too far, is it really worth paying less (especially with gas prices), or is it worth being at a “fancier” barn if you never get out there to enjoy it?

Rough or Partial Board vs. Full Board:
Full board is great, it’s convenient, it can be economical, and most importantly, it can increase your quality time with your equine. But, rough or partial board is an excellent way to stretch your horse budget and potentially board at a barn with nicer facilities than you could afford at full board. Not every barn offers rough board, but even some big show barns have this option. Make sure if you are interested in rough/partial board you find out the charges and rules for if and when you can’t make it out to the barn. Find others that are participating in rough/partial board to see if you can swap days (I clean your stall Sundays and Mondays if you clean mine Tuesdays and Saturdays). It’s a great way to save some horse money if you can either commit to making it out to the barn every day or if the barn works with you for days you cannot make it out.

Find out their prices or fees for services not included in rough/partial board; if they offer them. Also, find out EXACTLY what is and what is NOT included in rough/partial board. You may end up spending more money if you have to drive all over to buy hay, shavings, and grain. If you want your horse turned out, that may be an expensive option for rough/partial board as well.

With all the barns out there to choose from, and all the trainers to ride with, deciding on a proper horse barn for you can be a difficult decision, and one not to take lightly. Your ability to adapt to different environments, your need for social interaction, and your personal expectations all need to be considered when finding the right barn for you.

Personality conflicts will happen when you get a group of women together, so no barn will be perfect. Make a list of needs, wants, and definite NO’s, and go to barns, and spend some time observing the other boarders and the staff. You will find something that’s better than where you left, and if the environment is not right for you, well, if at first you don’t succeed.

However, make solid plans to avoid the barn hopper stigma. And if one of your expectations is for everyone to kiss your ass, then expect to be paying a lot of money for that!

On Friday of this week, we’ll look at choosing a barn that’s right for your horse.