Changing the Way We Choose A Barn

When my barn announced it was closing to all boarders for the foreseeable future, it was a punch in my gut. I'd spent that very morning galloping with Bast and my girls across some of the most beautiful countryside. I'd spent the afternoon thinking about how much I didn't want to get up and make the long drive to the farm in the pre-dawn darkness of the next morning. Yet, suddenly I was close to tears. That long hard morning drive suddenly seemed like the only thing I'd want to be doing.

At the same time, I felt a huge sense of relief. I trust my barn workers and managers. In fact, that trust is a big reason why I pay out the nose to keep my boys both at this farm. There are too many times where I can't make it out to the barn, and I need the peace of mind of knowing my horses are in very good hands. They'll never skip a meal, or go a day without being checked over. They are well cared for.

I've boarded at a lot of barns over the years, with a lot of different standards of care. A lot of those barns would not have left me feeling comfortable with this shutdown. I started reflecting on that discrepancy in care standards pretty quickly after barn shutdowns started being announced nationwide. I think that's something the horse industry needs to think about hard right now.

There's a lot of reasons people end up at barns where they wouldn't feel comfortable leaving their horses without checking in on them regularly, or daily. Sometimes it's budget that forces people to overlook potential issues in care. Sometimes it's location or commute restrictions. Sometimes it's amenities needed. There's a million reasons to justify keeping your horse somewhere that makes you a little bit nervous. I've even done it.

Back in Ohio, I was new to horse ownership. I chose a barn with more red flags than green, solely based on my finances and lack of community support or knowledge. Without contacts locally, I'd had to search for available boarding online. Back in 2008, that was hard. I found this barn on craigslist, and thought the red flags would be manageable. Cut to 3 months in and I was moving my drastically underweight horse without notice, afraid of the barn owner's retaliation. Bad choices were made, and lessons were learned. But it isn't the only time I've weighed red flags and made the wrong choice. Sometimes those flags aren't as obvious, and many times they're manageable ... until they're not.

Right now a lot of people are finding themselves in boarding situations that were manageable when they could see their horses every day. Now they're stuck at home, and left wondering and worrying about their beloved ponies. That's not okay. As an industry we should take a hard look at how easily we're willing to excuse questionable care standards at boarding barns.

I know this sounds like an easy claim for me to make. My current barn is an expensive palace, of course the care is good. Only, that's a false equivalence. The amount you spend on board doesn't always equate to better care. Some boarding barns that cost the least take the best care of those horses entrusted to them. Meanwhile, I've seen plenty of beautiful expensive barns that took questionable care of the animals boarded here. In my own experience, the cheapest barn I've ever kept a horse took amazing care of him.

Now... How do we, as horse owners, increase the standard of care of our beloved boarded animals? I don't have all the answers, but I think a good starting point is to put more value on our horse's care than the million other factors that go into choosing a barn. We could make sure the barn owners are aware of the issues we are concerned about, and hold the barn accountable for fixing them.

I know how hard this can be, and I don't think boarders can do this alone. We need to support each other. We need the support of the industry. And we need a better industry wide care standard.

Are you with me? While we're all sitting here dreaming of unfettered access to our horses, can we use our free time to dream up a way to help make boarding less questionable? Can we pledge to better advocate for our horses in our boarding choices? I know this situation has brought home to me how important it is to choose a barn I trust implicitly. I hope you're on the same page.


  1. I could not agree more. I think it often takes the kind of shock that you experienced - I have my own story along similar lines - to make your priorities clear. Good care above and before all is my #1 determinant for a boarding barn, and I've never regretted it when that's been the guiding factor.

    I wonder how much of it is caught up in that handwaving of "oh, horse people are crazy." We've all said it or thought it, but sometimes I wonder how much it's an excuse for extremely poor people and life management skills. It takes both to run a good boarding barn. Should we tolerate less of the extreme eccentricity that some horse people get away with?

  2. Could not agree more. My guy is in a box stall 22 of 24 hours a day. This was deemed acceptable by me because I knew either I could come out or rely on any number of my barn friends to get him out at night. During Covid, I've been given the choice of leaving him there or paying a trainer (the barn deemed all trainers "essential") to work him. Of course, bent over a barrel, I chose to pay a trainer to work him. What about the people who can't afford a trainer? Their horses are languishing in those box stalls. Is the barn offering extended turnout? Nope. We've also been told that if we leave this barn right now (which has the best facilities in the area), we won't be welcomed back. Regardless of that, 6 horses left this week. I've never felt more frustrated or helpless. I'll be voting with my dollar when all of this is over.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this, it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Honestly, based on my current barn's response, including a complete lack of communication, I'm considering my options. Board and horse care is so expensive. In my area I need to prioritize some amenities such as heat and an indoor arena and with those the price already goes up. I have a decent board budget but it seems incredibly difficult to find a place that really has the horse's best interest in mind. I'm honestly not comfortable right now with not getting to go out and keep an eye on things and even less so because the barn owner has only communicated that they're going to be closed until it's safe to open. When I've asked some questions and gave her some feedback she doesn't seem to have a plan even for something like scheduled visits once or twice per week. Because I feel like we have a new normal as far as what "safe" means and I just have no idea what's getting done or not done care wise I have been considering moving. I've felt like that makes me an awful person but I can't emphasize more that it's not because my barn is closed, it's because I'm worried about my horse's care and the lack of communication.

  4. I was just discussing this with my husband! At this point, I basically am leasing fields and shelters on a small farm and do everything but feed breakfast. I'd be pretty uncomfortable leaving anything more than that for the farm owner to do. So far our provincial rules and suggestions seem to indicate I'm providing essential care, so I'm hopeful I'll be able to continue my daily visits and feeding/chores a while yet. Yesterday I put the horses on their summer paddocks early, just in case, so I know no matter what they'll have grazing and water. I know that sounds terrible, but with all the uncertainty it seemed like something to consider.

  5. Oh man yes, having had to recently move barns again there is definitely not a correlation between more money = better care and sometimes there are no better options. The option I chose definitely has some negatives that make me nervous so my friend M and I are just keeping an eye on it and we'll see how it turns out. There are plenty of horses there who look in fantastic condition and others that don't so its hard to tell if its due to the facility or something else.

    All I know through all this is how much I miss Irene. Even when some things would go sideways at the old barn she was always our horses best advocate outside of ourselves.

  6. ugh i'm so sorry that your barn closed up. i honestly was so so so hopeful that the trend would be the opposite - that some of the closed barns would decide to open back up to limited visitations. ugh, so far that doesn't seem to be the case tho :(

  7. This is why I worked so hard to get my horse home. Of course if Ed and I get sick we’re screwed. I’ve had to leave without notice before and it’s never good.

  8. Yep. Biggest regrets I have with horses involves two boarding situations.

    One was for my retired guy my last year of college. He could stay near home and my mom could check on him occasionally. Barn was clean and pastures were lovely. Lady came across as knowledgeable. He did require his hay to be wet. Eventually she decided without telling us that it was too much work to wet hay, so she just fed him a mash once a day. He would go from completely empty to gorge himself (he was a piggy horse). He coliced and after fighting that with the vets for 24 hours I had to make the call from states away to put down my childhood horse. All because this lady was too lazy to do as instructed. Changed things without telling us. And thought she knew more about his medical needs than the people who had owned him for ten years and worked regularly with our vet.

    Second was with my current boy. Wanted somewhere close to home. I went out six days a week so I felt ok about it for a while. But she was so incompetent and scared of horses that he developed several behavioral issues...some of which we're still recovering from.

    So so so glad my boys are at home now. It's really hard to find a good barn. I've only really had two that I trusted completely and that's pretty pathetic.


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