If you’re used to taking care of your own horse, it can be a challenge to place his care in the hands of another. Leaving a horse at a remote facility can be even tougher. Sometimes you don’t have a choice.
Others view boarding as a standard feature of horse ownership and assume the owners of the property or the help they’ve hired have the best interest of the horse in mind. It’s best not to assume in such matters.
Whether you are shipping a horse for breeding or training out-of-state; are considering a permanent boarding arrangement at a stable; need to house you horse elsewhere while you travel; are considering a leasing arrangement where the horse will be moved; or have other reasons that the care of your horse will fall to others for a period of time, it’s smart to do some due diligence prior to loading your horse on a trailer. Here are some ideas and issues to consider:
- If at all possible, visit the facility. Don’t just go on the word of a trusted source – they may not be focused on issues that are important to you. Watch what goes on at feeding time (and what’s being fed), turnout routines and scheduled events. Inspect the facilities where the horses are stabled and/or turned out. Are they clean and dry? Safe? Appropriate for your horse’s needs?
- Talk to others about their experience with the facility. Ask about health and weight issues, behavior changes, facility maintenance, restrictive policies and/or liberal ones that may reduce the pleasure for you or your horse.
- Discuss feeding issues. Does the facility provide ample good quality hay? Do they feed on a regular schedule? Is water available at all times for the horses (don’t just ask – confirm it by looking around)? Are they willing to offer customized feed, supplement or turnout approaches for a horse that may have special needs?
- Ask about vaccination, worming and other preventative policies. Stables that do not require routine basic health care for equine residents may introduce your horse to unnecessary issues.
- Look at the condition of the horses that are there. Are they skinny? Fat? Long-haired and dull-coated? Cribbing, weaving, stall-walking, digging, hyper, hostile, afraid or anxious? These are warning signs.
- Watch the owner and/or staff interacts with the horses and the people in the barn. You’ll get a good sense about rapport and attitude by being a quiet observer.
- Read the contract and/or ask about farm policies. If it’s a riding stable – do they have rules about safety equipment, times of access, courteous behavior, outside vendors (including trainers, farriers, vets, etc.)? For breeding and/or boarding only facilities, will they respond to your calls and e-mails and provide updates on your horse’s status and/or health, keep you apprised of medical issues that may arise with your horse, get your permission/input prior to incurring considerable vet expenses on your behalf, offer direct access to their vendors and provide cost estimates up-front? If you don’t ask the questions, the surprises you get are rarely happy ones.
- Find out who is going to be responsible for the care of your particular horse and ask if you can talk to them. This will give you a good sense of the knowledge and nature of the caregiver.
- If possible, talk to people who have left the facility and find out why they moved.
- Google the facility. See how they present themselves, and what others may be saying. If you have the name of the stable owner, even better – you can get a good read on their character by digging into how they choose to behave on the social media front lines. Take it all with a grain of salt, but you may uncover some unexpected insight on what you’re in for.
- If the stabling arrangement involves turn-out board (whether this is a breeding operation or a home for a horse that is not being trained for whatever reason), inspect the run-in sheds (or other shelter provided – this is a must) to ensure they are clean, dry and adequate (a single 10 X 12 shed won’t work for three or a dozen horses – one will likely demand occupancy rights and banish the rest). Ask about how often the horses are inspected, fed, watered, handled, etc. Look at the size of the pasture and the number of horses housed there (3-acres per horse is a good rule of thumb if grass feed is a staple – but this requires a smart rotational grazing program that includes mowing, time, warmth and water for the fields to rejuvenate). Is the pasture all weeds and scrub or seeded with nutritional forage? Is hay/grain provided as a supplement? How much? Are horses fed separately or must they compete for their rations? Is care taken as new horses are introduced to the herd? Does a vet get called if there is an issue or is it ignored and allowed to fester? Will you be contacted immediately with health concerns or issues?
- Once you’ve decided on a board situation for your riding horse (or other equine that is your pet), try to visit the stable daily. Even if you just stop in for ten minutes to give your horse a pet and ensure he’s OK, this can go a long way to ensuring he’s happy, healthy and treated fairly. Your horse depends on you to be a companion and protector.