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Choosing a

Boarding Stable

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Home, Sweet Home - Boarding Stables
Rebecca Colnar

I've moved several times over the past few years, and each change
involved finding a suitable home for my horses.

I'm busy but like to ride often, so I need a stable that's
accessible and close. I like an arena for schooling, but prefer a
place that also has an array of trails, since the best part of
riding is heading cross country. Big barns with lots of activity
can be fun--but can be frustrating, since I primarily enjoy quiet
time with my horse. I sometimes like to ride late in the evening,
so a stable with set hours is not practical.

I like my horses to be well cared for, but I don't expect them to
be pampered. I usually pasture board, so I want my facility to
have large, safe pastures with some type of protection from the

That's me, however. Everyone is different. I talked with several
stable owners and got some good suggestions on what to expect.

Kim Sanders, owner of Battlefield Equestrian Center in Manassas,
Va., has been in the business for 15 years. She encourages owners
to make a list of priorities.

Finding the right place to board your horse is like trying to
find a suitable home for yourself. You want the best for what you
can afford, you want convenience and you want a place where
you're happy.

"Then look at the top five and try to find a place with those.
Remember, there is no perfect facility. You need to decide what
you can settle for and what you can't," Sanders says.

The horse's health and safety should come first on your list.

"If your horse is usually turned out with 20 other horses and you
put him in a new herd of about 20 horses, he'll be okay; he has a
herd mentality," Sanders says. "But if you take a horse that is
usually in a corral with two other horses then suddenly put him
in a herd of 20, there will be problems. Horses accustomed to a
herd environment know how to be submissive to the lead horse. A
horse that has never been in that situation doesn't have a clue."

The boarding stable should have a neat appearance, insists Wendy
Hebert, who owns a stable near Torrington, Conn.

"It should be well-kept and have good, safe fences. It's worth a
walk around the pastures to see what they're like. Are the board
fences in good shape or is there sagging barbed wire? Are the
stalls in good condition, or are boards missing and nails
sticking out?" she says.

Check the water buckets.

"If they're dirty when you first look around the barn, it means
they're only going to get worse," cautions Hebert. She also
advises making sure the barn has a lot of light and is
well-ventilated: "Some places can be real dungeons."

Look at the bedding.

"Do they use enough? Is it a type of bedding you like for your
horse? Are the stalls cleaned regularly?" are questions you
need to ask, Hebert says. Even matters that might seem simple,
such as where cross-ties are placed and the barn's ceiling
height, can make a difference in your horse's safety.

"You don't want to be in a barn with a low ceiling if you have a
17-hand gelding," she explains.

Ask about health schedules, Hebert says. "It's important that the
whole barn is on a similar deworming schedule, or else you're
wasting your money on dewormer," she says. "Check to see what
vaccinations are required and if the horse needs to have a
current negative Coggins test to board there--a very important

Everyone from owner to stall mucker should be knowledgeable, she
stresses. "You need someone who knows when to call the vet,
knows when something doesn't seem right with your horse,"
Hebert says.

She also suggests making sure your farrier, veterinarian and
trainer are allowed to use your chosen facility. "There may be
some reason the owner doesn't want your farrier or trainer there,
and that could create problems."

If your horse has special needs, such as scheduled medicines or
supplements, make sure the stable can handle it. It won't work if
your horse needs to get his vitamin supplement twice a day but is
in a pasture-boarding situation.

Another consideration: the feed and forage the stable offers.

"If you have a pleasure horse, you may get by on a maintenance
ration," Hebert points out. "But if you have a performance horse,
you're going to need more.

"You need to find out if the owner will feed your horse a
specialty diet, and how much extra that will cost."

Don't neglect your own needs while checking out what's right for
the horse. It's important to approve of the tack room situation
and security. Is your saddle in a big room with lots of other
saddles, or does it have its own lockable locker? Which would you
prefer? Is a restroom important, or will a portable toilet do?

You might enjoy a barn more if other riders have interests
similar to yours. If you want to show jump, don't board at a barn
where everyone is into cutting horses. If you like to trail ride
only, you probably will not be happy at a big-time show barn.

Read over the contract, and if the barn doesn't have one, that's
a mark against the stable.

"A contract means everyone is well aware of the rules," Sanders
agrees. "An important part of my contract is that I have the
authority to call a vet for a horse if the animal is ill or
injured, whether or not the owner can be reached."

Once you've found a stable that meets your priorities, if you are
new to the area or horse ownership, call around to make sure it's
a reputable place.

"Ask the local veterinarians. Good facilities have good rapport
with the vets," Sanders says. "The best way to find out about a
facility is to talk to other boarders. Nine out of ten times, it
is the boarders who either sell or don't sell the stable."

Rebecca Colnar is editor of The Mane Points. 

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