I have my horses at home, but do work with a trainer a couple of days a week, plus Saturdays everyone comes at the same time in the morning and we do a big session together, with a pot luck lunch after. I also have a riding group I organized a couple of years ago, made up of 7 ladies who like to trail ride. I don't miss the barn drama that usually accompanied boarding stables, and this way I can see people and talk about horses to my heart's content, but don't have to be around people if I don't want to. Best of both worlds.
It's quite important to me. In fact, I just gave my trainer notice the other day that I am on a wait list to get into another barn, not for any other reason except that the barn I am at now is just FAR too quiet! I dread turning in the driveway desperately trying to see if there is another vehicle parked so I might get to ride with someone, but knowing that that is highly unlikely.
Don't get me wrong, I am NOT at the barn just to chit chat and hardly ride. I ride my horse very hard and try to get the best out of him as possible, but while tacking up/untacking and cooling out, I LOVE to be able to chat with people. I don't need them to be my best buddies and to hang out outside the barn (though that'd be cool too) I just want people in and around my age that I can hang with at the barn and shows.
When I was younger I liked the hustle and bustle, not so much chatting but just having other humans around (and going to shows all together was fun . Then I was at a small barn with my horse where the other people were jerks and that turned me off, if I saw other cars there I would turn around and leave. Now I'm at a small private barn where its basically just me, I miss having nice people around a little but because of my last experience I have become less interested in being social. I am there to work with my horse and that's it.
Needless to say, it totally depends on you and your personality. Some people are perfectly happy to ride all year long without seeing anyone and some need or want to have someone to talk to at all times. Where do you, personally, fall? That's an answer I'm not seeing in your OP. Once you figure that part out, the rest of it is easy.
I have one very close friend at my barn (who was a friend before she started riding there), and am friendly with others. However, it's a small barn, so it's usually pretty quiet. I rarely ride completely alone (trainer will often hop on one & hack with me or jump with me if there is someone else there to set jumps), but don't mind it when I do. To be honest, it's really nice that there is absolutely zero drama b/c people aren't super involved in each others lives outside of the barn.
Maybe don't worry so much about the age differences of the people who are actually there. I also fall in the middle gap of ages in my barn (although I was called "old" for the first time by a 13 year old this weekend, so maybe I'm just lumped in with the oldies now ) but we all have the same love of horses, so there's always some common ground to talk about. When I'm around the girls who are half my age I can just sit back and reminisce about a time when the worst thing that happened was getting grounded. When I'm around those who are twice my age, I think of them as mentors, and they usually have some pretty good stories to share. Sure it would be nice to have someone there who was in the same place I am, but I still have plenty of fun hanging out with the ones who aren't.
Between a full time job, part time studies and riding competitively, the barn is my social time. I'm not a busy barn by any means but there is usually one or two people around to ride with. I'm usually the one planning barn dinners, get togethers, fun shows, etc.
I prefer riding by myself – especially when riding out. I can go the pace I like (usually a bit faster than most!), not worry about another horse’s antics, or worry about my horse upsetting another one with her antics! I am a busy person, with my own schedule, I show up at the barn after working for a good 10 hours, I just prefer quiet time with my horse.
For the last 6 years I have boarded at small facilities or retirement farms with minimal “barn socializing” I like it that way! Last big public barn I was at… drama, crazy horse ladies, just stuff I like to avoid.
I recently moved to a new barn (still small, around 10 boarders). Everyone is very friendly and nice, which I appreciate. Someone even trailered me out to ride with her, which was super nice!
But all and all … my time at the barn is about me and my horse. On my terms, and on my schedule. I do not need the “social” aspect of the barn.
Riding and showing is a social activity for me. I remember my old BNT asking me if I was going to a particular show and he was shocked when I asked who else is going before deciding. Ha ha. I want to ride and compete with my friends. I will ride on my own but I prefer to be social.
This kind of reminds me of my trainer saying to me that "We are here to show. It's not a social event." Haha. I personally think of shows as one big social event. Obviously, when it comes to the riding and caring of the horses, it's strictly business. I get nervous when I show, though, so I have to find a way to make it fun a relax at the same time.
As my competitive goals have changed and I'm much more relaxed about showing, the importance of barn social life has increased. I'm very lucky to be in a boarding situation now with some other good friends with similar goals and riding styles. We groom together, ride together at least once a week, and cheer each other on at shows.
We have late night riding dates in the indoor after lessons are over and share chiro and saddle fitting appointments. We are adults of a certain age and it's nice to share triumphs and tribulations without the uber competitiveness of the younger crowd and with the confidence of experience to try new things.
"Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?" Sun Tzu, The Art of War Rainy Stash
It's not enough of a priority that I'm willing to compromise AT ALL on care/facility, but if those are fairly equal, I will choose the busier barn over the quiet one. I'm not even a huge chatter (I work in mental health- I've had enough chatting by the time I leave work!!!), but I like being around the hustle and bustle.
My current barn used to be a major lesson/show barn, but it downsized. I was recently thinking about the pros/cons in my book:
pros: I don't have to squeeze in around a lesson to ride in the winter. I would never be able to work on my current set of tasks if the ring had 4 lesson kids plus jumps. And it's a big ring! This is actually the only pro I can think of, and it only matters if the outdoor rings can't be used (but I admit, it's a huge pro!!)
Cons: less trainer availability (she's out less because there are fewer clients) which makes scheduling lessons hard for me with my nurse schedule, less chance of finding a deserving kid to free lease my old guy, I don't ride if I'm alone so I sometimes just don't ride , I miss watching lessons, I miss the controlled chaos.
So if we move to a new area when boyfriend goes to med school, I will be looking for a lesson barn first.
For me it really depends on the TYPE of people around! Being in my mid 20's it's nice to have people around but I am at the barn to ride first and foremost. Now that I have a 4yo project I actually like having others around so that he can become accustomed to the commotion and being ridden in traffic. But, for example, the other day I was riding with about 5 other adults. We didn't have any issues passing left to left and all kept out of each other's way. That said, I rode a second horse later with about the same number of kids (young teenagers) and it was mayhem! Nice group of kids but the steering wasn't nearly so good! And when you are helping school a young horse with sometimes questionable steering it can be tough to accomplish what you need.
For the most part, I like staying on task and getting the job done.
However I never realized how much I missed the social part of going to the barn until I didn't have it. It wasn't even so much having someone to ride with but just being able to walk through the barn and catch up with people, ask how their ride was etc. Then it was also nice to once in a while plan a ride with someone or what not. When I wanted to have some peace and quiet I simple just went at a time I knew I could have it(;
It's definitely something I miss and the reason I've looked around a bit. Granted I'm only a lesson person right now which makes it a lot harder compared to when your there everyday for your own horse however overall, you can usually catch the type of vibe after a while either way.
At my barn we are there to train hard first and foremost, but a lot of the time we socialize. During the week we're always chatting as we do things, but sometimes on weekends we'll spend a few hours sitting on tack trunks catching up. Shows are also big social events. Plenty of time there to focus on your showing and also hang out, considering that we are a jumper barn so we only do two classes a day, each. We go out to dinner together at shows, walk around and go shopping at shows together, and we'll all go down to whatever ring someone is showing in to cheer them on. (At one show there were literally 10 people lined up along the rail for my mare's green horse puddle-jumper class, which was great! Totally helped me be more confident.)
It's a great atmosphere, everyone gets along with everyone else. We are definitely like family. (Which means that yes, we do fight sometimes!) There are definitely little "groups" that are closer with each other than others, but this is simply due to where these people's horses are stabled and, consequently, who they spend the most time with around the barns. But we're all friends, and always happy to make time to chat with each other.
We also do things outside the barn (parties, kayaking trips, etc.) because for most of us, our barn friends are our "real" friends too.
I didn't realize how much I missed it until I had to start riding at 4:30 AM and didn't see a soul. I am close to maybe one or two other people outside of the barn, so missing all of my "social time" during the week was surprisingly difficult! Having the entire outdoor ring to myself though was awesome. Totally great time to really work on flatwork, because I don't have to worry about steering clear of people on their young/green horses, people trying to school over jumps, etc. or deal with 9 horses in the ring (which happens sometimes).
It really depends on you. If you once had a social barn that you liked and you miss that atmosphere, see if you can start going on trail hacks with a group in your area, or do some group lessons every once in a while at another barn. It sounds like you and your horse have a pretty sweet boarding deal, though, and I don't know whether I'd leave that to find a more social barn. I'd be looking for compromise.
My horse is my favorite person, so as long as she's there I don't really need anyone else. I like most of the people at my barn (although most of them are much younger; they are serious riders and very friendly and polite) but it is not super busy. Our last barn was even less busy, although my trainer and I always had lots to talk about (some horse related, some 'social'). I was fine with that and would not have moved except DH relocated for work.
I would always pick the best barn for my horse above any concern about socialization - if I'm lonely but my horse is getting excellent care and we have access to great instruction, then I would not consider moving. I liked having friends to ride with when I was young but now it doesn't really bother me. I like the quiet, and not feeling rushed to get out of anyone's way, or to have to hurry through the wash stall so someone else can use it, etc. (I don't mind sharing the barn and try to be as polite as possible... but I like spoiling my horse with long bubble baths and curry comb massages!)
It is important to me. Right behind care for my horses.
I miss having trails and trail buddies. Dog, I MISS that!! I miss having an indoor with a nice lounge where we could hang out and watch other folks ride. And enough large arenas that the teen/tween girls would all have a fun group lesson - and yell for adult/plump me to join in their fun! I miss all my friends of all ages at those places. I especially miss one young girl who made us both cry when I told her I was leaving that barn.
Sadly, my gelding doesn't miss any of those prior barns. Not one single bit. He doesn't miss being in a big barn where the focus is socializing and the horse's care doesn't matter so much. He doesn't miss only getting turned out a few times a week for an hour - if he was lucky.
Nope, he's quite happy where he is. Finally, he's happy. And calm. Did I say happy? Yes. So is my mare. So I stay.
Edit: of course, many social barns are not like the ones I was at. Just reminiscing here...
I feel ya. I keep my horses at "home" (well, no longer my home but it's still theirs!) and ride by myself ALL. THE. TIME. (see my other post about my herd-bound horse making me crazy!) I went with a friend to her barn's Christmas party and it was so nice I found myself trying to figure out ways to move one there. But in reality? The barn would probably end up making me crazy - there is always something you don't like about a place - preferably just a boarder you'd like to avoid and not the care of your horse. If nothing is *that* bad, you probably are pretty lucky
Another "always kept them at home", but I had a few select boarders. When I moved due to relocations, sometimes I really miss them (I still talk to the ALL.THE.TIME). I used to come home and get the "knock knock" on the door before I had a chance to pee, and I'd grumble and bitch to myself. Now I'm all alone, I'd almost kill for that again.
I do love love love just worrying about me and my guys, though.
It's not the social aspect to me, as much as the team. I am on my own, at my own barn, and I ride alone 90% of the time. I ride better alone.
However, I am part of a much wider team. Our trainer has her own barn, but travels to all the little outlying places, and we go out as a team to shows. We have a full show season - and there are always people to go with, people to share rides with, people to help with show nerves and show food and it's fabulous.
I don't think I'd enjoy it nearly as much if I were really just on my own in a quiet barn somewhere.