I have been blessed to have been on both sides of the fence now. I boarded my horses for many years and at many different places and now I am the barn owner and I get the honor of caring for so many wonderful horses on our farm. I have learned so much through the years of running our boarding facility but I truly believe some of my best learned lessons came when I was a boarder myself. That is really when you learn how a good barn is run and when one is not. I hope you never have to board at a bad facility but if you do, take it as a lesson and learn from it. It will make you a much better barn owner in the future.
Every time I drive to a farm and the barn is standing off in the distance it always takes my breath away. I am sure this is the same feeling potential new boarders feel anytime they drive around looking at boarding barns in their area. It's not until you go inside and take a look at the care of the facility and how it is put together that you start to get a feel for the place and how it is run. Some barns are so beautiful that you never even notice all the details of how it is really run because you can't get past the initial feeling and you already have your mind made up. Sometimes those emotions are what lead to bad boarding experiences
Today I wanted to write about things I feel are so important to look for in a boarding barn and these are things that are not full of bling at all and might even be hard to notice but they are vitally important to the care and well-being of your horse.
How much hay does the barn owner feed?
This is something that many people do not bother to ask. They look at the other horses and if they look well-fed then they don't worry about it. What if your horse is a hard keeper and needs extra hay. What if they only feed two flakes per horse no matter the size or work routine. It will not matter if your barn is beautiful if your horse is losing weight at am alarming rate and the barn owner won't do any thing about it. This is very real and it happens a lot.
Plenty of water during all seasons
We live in Wisconsin and the water freezes in the wintertime so we have heating units on all our buckets and automatic waters. I can't believe how many people will pay a high board rate for their horse at a barn and will have to go each day to chop and break up the ice that is on the water buckets and tanks. That is not acceptable and if you are paying for someone to take care of your horse year round then this is something that you should not be doing. The horses should not have to break through ice to get a drink. I have heard of many horses cutting their lips trying to get at the water and that is not good quality care.
Also as a paying client your horse should never be without water. You should not have to go out to the barn and top your horses water bucket at 8pm at night because the owner doesn't do that. As a potential new boarder this is something that you should find out about and also make sure they are consistent!
Grain and supplements
Many times I will have a new client that comes to my barn and they have no idea how much grain or even what kind of grain their horse was being fed. Those were the times we needed to start from the basics. I believe it is important for each owner to know how much grain and what kind their horse is getting. It should not be a guessing game. Many clients leave it up to the barn owner to decide and that is fine but when the day comes for the horse to leave and move to the next barn the owners should be left with a detailed list of how much grain each day and what kind of supplements. It truly does help the next person that is going to care for the horse.
Do the barn owners do the things they say they are going to do?
The truth is every barn owner is going to make their place sound like the perfect place. They are trying to get your business and that means a lot of lip service. I am no different in that when I give a tour I want it to sound perfect for the client...But it needs to go farther than just lip service. What a barn owner says needs follow through or you might as well keep looking. As a client you will want to talk with the other boarders and ask them about how things are run. If the barn owner run a consistent daily routine and the care is top notch, then the potential new clients will see that through the words and expressions of the people they are talking with.
This also includes stall cleaning and turnout. If you are going to offer turnout seven days a week (weather permitting) then do it even if you don't feel like it. Many barn owners become burnt out by the daily job of running a farm and many barns go down hill after a few years because the work is too much and they just don't feel like doing it on a daily basis. It happens more then you think. If you are going to offer these services than you need to provide them or change your policy. It is not fair to the boarders that are paying an honest board rate and not getting a service they are paying for.
Enough paddocks to move horses and be flexible
Size of the paddocks your horse will be living in is important but also the number of horses in connection with the size is vital. Another part of the equation is if the facility is flexible with moving horses. You might have a huge paddock for your horse to live in but if he is continually being beat up upon than size doesn't matter. I believe a well run facility has many paddocks for flexibility because we all know that not all horses are going to get along. Even if the pastures are huge, the herd will almost always stick close together and that include the outcasts from the herd. It is very hard to watch and if you don't have other available herds to place horses then it will make for stressed horses and owners. It becomes a stressful situation for all involved including the barn owner and manager.
Something that is not obvious to most people looking for a boarding barn is communication but I am going to tell you right now it is high on the list of important things to look for in a barn. I don't care how nice a place is, if the barn owner or manager have poor communication skills and will not take the time to talk with you or explain things when something doesn't seem right, that is a red flag of a barn that is not well run. Many of the reasons a barn has issues is because no one knows what is going on and they don't know what to expect. Every barn does things differently depending on each situation and each emergency. Even decisions determining turnout when it comes to inclement weather is important and communication needs to clear when it comes to this. I have always believed a simple email to my boarders when we are making a change due to the weather keeps them at ease and they don't need to guess what is happening with their horse. It gives them peace of mind.
Barn rules...oh so important!
We sure do live in a world where many people don't like rules. You see it more and more everyday on the news. I truly believe a well run barn is a barn with a good set of barn rules that are enforced. Having barn rules posted is one thing but if they are not enforced and the barn is chaos than it is not a well run barn. A barn without rules is an unsafe barn for the horse and the owner. It is as simple as that.
There is no perfect barn but many barn owners try their hardest to make their facility the best it can be. That is all anyone can ask when looking for a place to keep their horse. Don't get caught up in the bling of a barn. It might be beautiful but not practical and even not healthy or safe for the horses that are living there. Be smart and look deeper into the working of a horse barn to see how it is really run. It will be the best invested time you have spent. Once you find a well run barn you will notice that they have very little turnover and the horses seems quiet and content. It may not be full of bling by today's standards but if I was looking for a place for my horse I would skip the bling and go for whats more important. The great care my horse will get each and every day.
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! If you are just starting out in your planning stages of your horse business or need some help now that you are in it, I would like to encourage you to check out my two books. My first one, "What It Really Takes To Start And Run a Horse Business" is my families journey of starting our horse boarding business and about learning from our mistakes especially during the first couple of years. My second book, "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover" is about the barn owner, manager and client and how to resolve the issues that will come up when you are running a horse business of any kind. The care of the horses is important but equally important is the relationship between the equine professional and the client. If that starts to fall apart then your business will fall apart. These two books together will give you a complete look at horse barn management. You won't find more honest books out there about running a horse business.
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business,