Boarding Your Horse: An Essential First Guide
Boarding a horse can seem a bit like sending your kid off to school: will he be ok? Will he make friends? What are the caretakers like?
It’s just as important to put in effort before starting to board as it is to put in effort while your horse is boarding: where you choose to board will have a huge impact on whether your horse is happy and healthy or not.
That being said, you don’t need to be anxious about boarding: if you follow the tips in this guide and find a good, friendly boarding stable, then boarding your horse is a great way to care for your horse without necessarily owning or buying land, shelter, and supplies to keep him or her at your existing home or property.
What Can You Expect to Pay?
The cost of boarding your horse will vary greatly based on several different factors including location, level of care, quality of facilities and more. Close to a city, where space is limited and demand may be high you can expect to pay much more than in a rural area with lots of wide-open space. In most places (excluding crowded areas), you can expect to pay at least $200–600 per month to board your horse. To get a better idea of what it costs in your area, look up or call around to different boarding stables. More experienced equestrians in your area may be able to point you towards fairly-priced stables nearby.
Obviously, you don’t want your boarding stable to be too far away otherwise it will be too difficult to visit your horse regularly. The maximum distance you’re willing to travel is up to you, but we would suggest that you consider stables that are a 30–45 minute drive or shorter if you plan to be with your horse every day. Much longer than that and daily visits will probably be unrealistic; in such a case you might have to schedule longer weekend visits and/or less frequent weekday visits.
The cost of gas to travel from your home to the barn and back should also be a factor—a shorter trip could end up saving you hundreds of dollars in fuel money over time.
Once you’ve picked out a few promising boarding stables near you, you’ll want to visit each one to see what type of facilities they have. This is where your horse will be living, so you want the conditions to be as pleasant as possible.
How large is the property? Is the pasture large enough for your horse to roam freely and enjoy the fresh air? Will it be crowded with all of the other horses?
Make sure that the pasture looks clean—does it look like manure is cleaned regularly? Do the water troughs look clean, with fresh water?
You should also consider the living quarters—do the stalls look clean and spacious enough for your horse? Is there enough feed for each horse, and water that’s readily available? Talk to other horse owners at the stable to hear what their opinions are—are they satisfied with management and care?
Self-Care or Full Board?
Another important decision you must make is whether you want to care for your horse yourself or have the boarding stable do everything for you—or whether you want something in between.
If you decide to care for your horse entirely by yourself, you’ll be responsible for buying and changing out hay, feed, water and supplements; and you may have to arrange your own vet, farrier, and dentist visits as well depending on the barn. Ask the stable manager if they will turn out and turn in your horse during the day or if you’ll need to do that yourself. You’ll also need to groom your horse yourself.
Self care will obviously be a lot more work, but if you have the time it can be rewarding—you’ll be able to bond with your horse if you feed, groom and care for it daily. You may feel that you get a lot more out of owning a horse by caring for him yourself, rather than just visiting and riding him. For self care, living close to the stable will be a definite advantage, cutting down on travel time and costs. The cost will be less than paying for full board, but you’ll have to consider the cost of feed, bedding and everything else you’ll need to do yourself.
If you choose a full care or full board option, your horse will get just that: the barn staff will change his hay, feed, bedding, and water; arrange for veterinarian, farrier, and dentist checkups; and turn your horse out and in. You should talk to the stable manager and look at the contract to see exactly what will be included with full board—the cost will most likely be significantly more than that of a self-care arrangement, so you want to make sure you’re getting what you paid for.
Full board is a great option if you don’t have enough time to come to the barn and take care of your horse every day. While the price tag will be higher, you also won’t have to worry about much in order to make sure your horse has everything he needs. Your horse might even get training, although that may cost extra.
Stable Atmosphere & Rules
Even though the care of your horse is probably your top priority when choosing a barn, you’ll also want to find out what the other horse owners and the stable management are like—so that you like being there, too!
Spend time talking to the members of the barn. Find out what they like, what disciplines they ride, how often they come, etc. If everyone else is a high-level competitive rider and you’re just getting started, you might not be comfortable—and vice versa. Do you “click” with the other horse owners and the barn staff? It will mean a lot for your own enjoyment of owning a horse if you look forward to visiting the barn, talking and socializing with the other members.
It’s also a good idea to ask about the barn rules: what guidelines and restrictions are there for boarders? Reasonable rules like making sure to clean up after yourself, being respectful and the like are good to have and will ensure that everyone at the barn has a good experience. However, if there are strict and unnecessary constraints—for example having to do with hours of turnout—it may be a red flag that you should look elsewhere.
Don’t Forget the Final Step…
You’ve done your research. You’ve visited. You’ve asked.
Finally, you’ve found the perfect barn—time to move your horse in, right?
You need to get a contract.
No matter how agreeable and understanding the stable owner is and whatever the conditions were that you agreed upon verbally, it’s crucial that you have and sign a contract so that both parties are protected. This will make sure that you and your horse get the care you need, and that the stable knows what to expect from you (and what you’ll pay).
Many barns will have a standard contract on hand, so it won’t be an issue. If they don’t, feel free to look up a horse boarding contract template online (like this one) and adjust it as needed for your specific agreement. Make sure the agreement outlines:
- ALL of your expenses (boarding fee, cost of food and care, cost for setting up appointments, etc.)
- When and how you can pay your expenses
- The feeding schedule and type, if any
- Where your horse will stay
- The level and type of care your horse will receive
- How often your horse will be turned out, if at all
- What kind of training your horse will receive, if any
- The hours of operation for the facility
- The safety rules of the facility
- Which facilities and tools you may use
- Anything else that you agreed upon
If you put in the effort to find a great stable, boarding your horse can be a rewarding, enjoyable, and educational experience for you and your horse. To be sure, there are many different factors to consider for you and your specific situation, but trust us—it’s well worth it in the end!
Do you have any more tips for boarding a horse? Let us know in the comments below!