There are pros and cons to both boarding and to keeping horses at home, but for me there’s no question – keeping horses at home is my ideal living situation! Read on to see the pros and cons to both, and feel free to comment your own experiences!
One of the great benefits of boarding is giving your horse companionship and room to run, especially if you only have one horse! Here’s my boy Jax (far left) with his girls at a boarding facility in 2013:
I boarded Jax for the first eight years I had him. For some of that time I did have 1-2 other horses, but most of the time he was my only horse. There are so many things that go into deciding whether boarding or keeping horses at home is the right choice, the biggest being whether you have the means to keep them at home (property, health, etc.).
Boarding can come with many difficulties though, especially if you have a special needs horse. With mine having a muscle disorder, but not becoming symptomatic until he was almost eight years old, he did fine boarding for the first few years I had him. As he started to become symptomatic, troubles starting piling on…
Pros and Cons of Horse Boarding
Let’s start with the pros of boarding a horse. As I stated before, if you don’t have land for keeping horses at home or are not healthy enough to care for your horses at home, then boarding can be a viable option. Other benefits are making new friends to ride with, having access to trails and arenas close by or on property, and even setting farrier and vet appointments can be much simpler when your facility will help with those appointments.
There’s usually someone on property most of the time, so if anything goes wrong someone is available to call you, the vet, or whoever is needed for the situation. For those who travel often boarding can be a major blessing, as you know (or should know!) that your horse is being cared for while you’re away. Depending on the facility, most provide hay and some provide grain (whether grain is needed, or types of feed your horse should have, is best left for another post or five!).
How about the not-so-good aspects of boarding? Well, there’s a few depending on your particular facility and situation. Special needs horses may fall through the cracks. Money and time commitment restraints can cause barn owners to focus on the whole rather than the individuals – there’s only so much time during the day so this is understandable, unless the barn is completely unwilling to work with your situation. You have far less control over the general management of your horse, so hay sources and quality, turnout, and so many other things may be out of your control.
If the barn decides to restrict hay for a time because it’s more expensive, then you’re SOL. I’ve personally been through this situation at two different barns, and at the first one my horse wasted muscle and became highly symptomatic from not having his daily protein needs met (to be fair his protein needs are high due to his muscle disorder, but he was basically the first affected – other horses starting having troubles after Jax).
Even with his daily high protein mash, I could count every vertebra in his back – something that is completely unacceptable, considering that every boarder there was willing to pay more to get some hay on the property.
After moving from that facility, as soon as I had even a hint that the second facility was about to do the same, my horse moved again (not even three months after discussing his needs and moving him to this second facility – where I knew, and thought I could trust the owners!). The first facility even stopped filling water tanks and was relying on boarders to do it – that’s sheer laziness, and if you find yourself in a situation like this, get your horse out of there!
Barn politics can be a huge problem. Everyone has a particular way of doing things, but when your barn owner thinks their way is the only way, you WILL run into trouble. One barn thought their farrier was amazing – he ruined the hooves of every horse on the property, including mine. Another wanted all owners to use their vet, regardless of horse health/history/current vet.
Even the best barns will have some sort of political issue, so while you can’t escape this, you may be able to find one that’s bearable. Barn rules such as vaccination schedules, dewormer schedules, and other things can have a costly effect on a special needs horse that can’t handle these types of chemicals; but not having these rules in place can lead to issues such as a pasture full of wormy horses, an outbreak of disease, and worse – so many times this rule is in place for a reason.
One of the biggest management decisions you have no control over is this – will the barn close down? This is another issue I went through. Two days before my husband and I closed on the purchase of our land, I got a call from my barn owner – they were shutting it down, and I had less than a month to move my special needs horse. Keep in mind this was my third facility in two years, and there was nothing else within an hour of my new property (and my horse needed daily feed and work that was far more than I could ask of a boarding facility).
Towards the end the trainer and workers were told not to come back, and I had no one to feed my horse so I could take some days and work on our land to get it ready. The day they needed to be moved kept changing and moving forward – we ended up getting him out of there in less than 3 weeks, and the fence was just being finished when we pulled the trailer onto the property!
Pros and Cons of Keeping Horses At Home
When Keeping Horses at Home is the Best Option (Pros): I adore my horses, and keeping horses at home is the best option as far as I’m concerned. These past few months I’ve really enjoyed paying one payment for both my home and for my horses’ home – so that is definitely a bonus. If you have a horse that needs blanketing, fly masks, or other daily (more often?) changes then having them home makes these tasks so much quicker.
With my guy, regulating his temperature and keeping him warm but not sweating is so much easier now that I can just step outside and change blankets as needed, rather than spending 1+ hours per day driving for each change (he was 40 minutes away from me at his last facility, and sometimes you take a blanket off just to get a cool wind/rain and have to put it right back on!).
During storms or other stressors I can check on him at any given time and make sure there are no spasms or other signs of issues. I have 100% control of the hay I buy and when I give it, and if he starts to lose a bit of muscle I can respond with changes to feed quickly and easily – plus my meds and extra supplements take up my own space rather than the space of a boarding facility, which may be limited.
Cons of Keeping Horses At Home: I have friends who love boarding, so it really depends on your own habits, personality, and life situation as to whether you’ll enjoy keeping horses at home. You’ll be buying, moving, and stacking your own hay for at least part of the year, which is something to consider. Also, with an area as small as what we have now, you’ll be cleaning out the pasture pretty much daily to make sure thrush, worms, and other nasties aren’t given free rein to attack your horses.
This isn’t necessary for those with larger pastures, so having a larger area takes away a lot of the daily work! Round bales vs. square bales also makes a big difference in how often you’re moving hay and the amount of energy you’ll exert doing it (using a tractor to move a round bale once every week or two is much easier than packing a few square bales daily!).
Currently, we’re doing everything the hard way! Square bales put into feeders daily, manure picking daily, no tractor, while we continue cleaning up our woods in hopes of giving them a bigger area as soon as possible. Winter/spring 2019-2020 has been one of the wettest seasons I think I’ve ever seen, and hauling a wheel barrow through a literal pond to clean up horse manure is not my idea of daily fun! That said, I’m so glad keeping horses at home, and while my tendons are suffering a bit for now, it will be worth it when everything finally falls into place. For me, keeping horses at home is the very definition of living my best life.