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Questions to ask when looking for a new boarding barn?

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  • Questions to ask when looking for a new boarding barn?

    I am moving cross country with my horse and have to start searching for a barn/trainer in a market I know very little about. I have a list of barns in the area and will be scheduling an advance visit in a few weeks. I thought I would ask COTH members what they would consider to be good/insightful questions to ask when "interviewing" at a prospective boarding facility.

  • #2
    This got long!! Sorry!

    I'm guessing from your name that you're part of the big fun AF family? Where are you heading? One thing that might be helpful is to ask the folks here for recommendations on boarding facilities in whatever area you're heading to.

    I've done the move across the country/oceans with horses thing a half dozen times now. One thing that I found to be helpful is to leave your horse behind at a barn you know and trust for 4-6 weeks while you go ahead to scout out the horse scene. That way you're not under a time crunch to get into a facility now.

    I usually start by talking to local tack stores, vets and any local GMO or association for your discipline. I MUCH prefer to move somewhere based on recommendations of people who do the same type riding as me (eventing and dressage) than another discipline because their expectations will at least be in the same ballpark as mine. For example, I have learned that my definition of good footing: solid base, couple inches of fluffy footing on top, groomed and raked at least 3-4 times weekly; is different than what the hunter folks or western folks prefer (a little deeper, sandier, not neccessarily groomed all the time). They think I'm too picky I just think our ideas are different!

    So I guess the first thing to do is define what is most important for you, for me it goes something like this: great care (unlimited hay, etc), good footing (by dressage standards), a good riding area (preferably an indoor too), some type of turnout on grass(my mare doesn't enjoy all day turnout), trainer availability (I would prefer not to haul out), trails and hacking or a track.

    Once you have that together, most of your questions are going to revolve around the horse care aspect of things. This is where having some time to hang out at the barns can help. You can't really get a good feel for the care from talking to the owner/BM because everyone explains their setup in the most positive light possible.

    Basic things: how often are stalls cleaned? who is doing the cleaning/feeding/hay/supplements/blanketing/turnout? What is included in the board? Get detailed answers, exactly how much hay/grain daily does your board include (up to 1 bale a day, etc)...if you want more than what is budgeted, how does that work? What about feeding supplemetns, blanketing/boots for turnout? How many bags/wheelbarrows of shavings do you get with your board each week? How much turnout? Night/day? Private, small group, large group? How will they deal with problems that may arise? What if your horse doesn't fit into their "program"? I find that is when many conflicts come about...the BO/BM has a certain program they expect all horses to fit into and if one does not, it becomes an issue!

    Facilities: Are there times when the arenas are not available for use? When can you jump (if you want to, some facilities require that you jump in lessons or only with a trainer present)? how often is the arena dragged? do they rake the edges in and take down the jumps? Walk around in it and see if it's up to your standards and don't believe that if it doesn't look right that they are just having a crazy week and didn't have time for it! Is there a lesson program or show schedule that may interfere with your ability to ride when you want? What are the barn hours? What if you need to come early for a show? What is the security like? Fencing? Tack rooms? Trailer parking?

    Training: Are you required to take lessons? What if you can't due to illness/lameness, etc? Can you bring trainers in from the outside?

    Much of what I try to determine during this is if they are open to working with me on the care/management of my horse or if they expect me to turn her over and let them take care of everything themselves. While I board at full care facilities due to my job, I ride 5-6 nights a week and fully expect to be a participant in every aspect of my horse's care plan, right down to what she is fed, how often, etc. I want a facility that will work with me and isn't afraid to have each horse on an individual plan for feed, turnout, etc.

    Also, and I can't stress this enough!! Don't get too attached to the first place you pick in a new area! Go into it assuming it will be a 6 month trial at the first place. That will help you not become too emotionally invested in the people while you really get a feel for the local riding scene. The horse world is all about networking and who you know and almost all of the best barns (low drama, quality care) are not even advertised. You won't know about them until you move in and start meeting people.

    OK, this turned into a novel! I guess I've moved barns a lot Thanks for reading if you made it this far!
    Thoroughbred Placement Resources, Inc


    • #3
      write down a list with space for the answers

      B1: When I was searching for a barn I wrote a list of things I wanted to know with space for the answers - took the paper and a clipboard to each barn.

      If you can go with a friend it is better, but if you're by yourself the writing down can give you a 'moment' to think. Also, helps if you've spent a few days across several places.

      My questions tend to be oriented to both the facts of the place (e.g. turnout policies) and getting a feel for the flexibility of the barn manager/trainger without my sounding too high maintenance. Some questions I have had:

      1. how many horses. How many staff (and what type, trainers, grooms, etc.)
      2. What types of riders board here- one discipline, many, do they show? or trail ride, or pleasure riding?
      3. Who is the farrier/vet/dentist - is there flexibility to bring in another?
      4. Who is/are the trainer(s). Can on outside trainer be used (usually will need approval, but the question is would it be considered)
      5. What is the daily schedule? I listen for feed times, blanketing, turnout times, are there formal rules as to time of lights out, are there times the arena is reserved for lessons, etc.
      6. Turnout - what size groups, hours, is hay fed if grass is gone? Water in pasture?
      7. Blankets - do they change or do you need to?
      8. Contract, may I have a sample?
      9. Feed, what is fed (grain/hay, other such as bran mash), what options are there, can you bring your own if needed
      10. Supplements - how are these handled
      11. Does a barn Manager live on site?
      12. Is there a generator if the power goes off (nothing like a 50 stall barn with no power to remind you how much horses drink)
      13. who is the owner and what is their role (also a trainer? just an owner, has horses in barn?? etc.)
      14. What space is available per person/ per horse in tack room.
      15. Is there a refrigerator for carrots (horse) and drinks (me).
      16. Are there events at the barn such as schooling shows, clinics, that might be of interest to you?

      I look at stalls, what is flooring (prefer mats), what is ventilation, window style - prefer open, prefer shaded (too sunny is very hot in summer).

      Look at fencing, wash stall, footing in arena, etc. to see if it is up to your needs

      If you are moving to another area of the country it would be reasonable to ask the barn managers what they'd recommend you consider as you move from TX, e.g. warmer blankets? Listening to their answer might give you an idea of how easygoing or rigid they are.

      Good luck with your move.
      Forward...go forward


      • #4
        You've been given great suggestions already but I'll add one that should be on the top of the list. What is the barn manager's experience and is she in the job because she truly cares about the horses or is it just for the free/low board stall?

        The BM is the one who will be overseeing your horse's care, and a good BM can make for a great boarding experience but a bad one can cause a lot of damage.