Different styles of horse boarding … what’s right for you?

When I bought my first horse, a beautiful three year old Tobiano paint (no bias here!) I was boarded at a private full-board facility. Apart from trail access and an outdoor arena there wasn’t anything else. I really wanted to have access to a round pen seeing that my new boy was just halter broke and never had seen a saddle let alone a rider.

At that time I didn’t know much about training a horse that basically knew nothing but I had just started attending the local Parelli clinics, so figured I should be ok. In the past I had been using some of the techniques I learned from Doug Mills and Monty Roberts plus I had a trainer who taught me lots about working with my lease horse when he was just five and barely broke. So, I didn’t enter this deal entirely blind, though blind I was.

I didn’t really want to move away from the barn where I stayed, but the round pen was high on my list so I decided to check out a few places. When I made my calls I had no idea what I was looking for apart from the fact that the facility was to have a round pen. That’s when I learned about self and semi board. I also learned that with my work schedule this wasn’t going to be a very workable option for me. Though I quite liked the barn owner at one place, I felt a bit uncomfortable with the rest of the people that were hanging out there. I also felt awkward with where they wanted to put my horse for the night. It wasn’t bad, but just very different from what my boy was used to. With this being such a new journey for me, I felt intimidated as well. I was surrounded by all these “savvy” horsey people. I lived in a sub-division and didn’t really know what horses really needed.

In all, this whole visit was quite an education for me. It made me realize that I really didn’t know what was out there, but more so, what did I really want for myself and my horse? How did I want him to live? What kind of people do I feel comfortable with?

This experience certainly taught me that I needed to do some soul searching before picking up the phone…

Different styles of boarding …

There are five styles of boarding that I’m aware off: Pasture, self, semi, full and all inclusive board. However, just because boarding facilities may give their boarding options the same name doesn’t mean that they actually include the same or instill the same expectations.

So, you’ll need to check this out carefully, but first let’s find out what some of the variations are so that you can get a rough idea of what might be for you.

Pasture Board

This is the least expensive option and if you have an easy keeper, and that means a horse that is hardy and comfortable staying out all the time, this may be an option for you. With pasture board, feed and water should be included. When a professional boarding facility offers pasture board then this will likely be the case. But some places will just give you a field and you take care of the rest. Other places may require you to supply the feed and it’s not included in the price but they will do the feeding for you.

If you’re doing pasture board in the hope to save on feed, you better check out the quality of the grass. Is there any descent forage growing or is it just a bunch of weeds? How big is the field? Could you put down an electric fence if you wanted to, to split it in two to have the ability to rest one part while your horse is on the other grazing? Is there too much grass? Could your horse founder? Is there a sacrifice area – area without grass – where you could put him to control how much he eats? Would they move him for you? If the pasture doesn’t provide enough food for your horse, will extra feed be supplied? If you are to rely on the grass, will the owners drag and reseed the fields with descent forage? It’s my hunch they won’t. Maintaining good grazing fields is expensive and would cost more than the money they’d receive for board.

What about a companion for your horse? Are there other horses that he will be sharing the field with or is he going to be all by himself? Horses should not be left without herd buddies.

The pasture should also have a proper run in shelter for your horse where he can get out of the weather. With some pasture board they expect your horse to rely on trees. That’s fine perhaps if they’re evergreens with a good canopy underneath them where the horses can hide. But not so cool if the trees lose their leaves in the winter time and leave no shelter for the horses. So be aware of the seasons! Just because it looks acceptable now doesn’t mean it will at another time of the year.

Since this is a pretty bare bone option of boarding, you may not have access to many amenities or the use of any facilities like an arena for example.

Things to consider …

  • Do I expect my horse to live on grass alone? If yes, then the quality of grass matters.
  • Would I be okay with my horse having trees for shelter or do I need a proper shelter?
  • Do I have the time to see my horse twice a day?
  • Do I need to have the feeding and daily fresh water taken care of by the property owners?
  • Is my horse prone to founder?
  • Does my horse need a sacrifice area?
  • Would I want to share with someone else so that my horse could have a buddy?
  • Are amenities important?
  • Do I want to have access to any facilities?

Self Board and Semi Board

I’m including these two under the same heading since these terms seem to get interchanged a lot. So it can get a little confusing.

Self board means that you are given a space to keep your horse. That may include a paddock or access to a pasture for daily turnout and a stall. You’ll also have access to the facilities, so if you have the available time to take care of the chores; this may be an economical option for you. However, make sure you do the math! With self board it is your responsibility to buy his feed and take care of the daily cleaning, feeding and turn in and turn out for your horse. Some places may also require you to purchase your own bedding.

Semi board is pretty much the same with the exception that there could be an arrangement where the barn owner will feed your horse in the mornings provided that you’ve prepared all his food the night before. They will also turn him out for you. This was the arrangement offered to me at the place where I looked. In all not a bad deal actually. Considering I had a full time job and it was on my way home, this could have worked quite well for me. With my crazy commute at times, mornings were a bad time for me to be running out to the barn so having someone else take care of my boy in the morning was quite appealing.

With self board people tend to team up and share the duties. This works well when people pull their weight and have similar philosophies about handling but it becomes a real problem very quickly when people don’t. What if you are right on top of making sure there is enough bedding, feed and hay for your horse and the other is always late in getting their supplies? What are you going to do? Let the horse go hungry? Leave him in a filthy stall? The horse suffers, not the owner. Very quickly people that don’t pull their weight will take advantage of those that do. Short from complaining to the barn owner and hope they will tap into their position of authority, there isn’t much you as an individual can do. It’s their horse. This for me was a very big reason why I decided to offer full-board only and not touch self or semi board. I didn’t want to see horses living in dirt or go hungry. Neither did I want to see horses fed at wildly different times. “They just got their dinner, but what about me, can’t I have mine too?” Your horse doesn’t understand!

As a barn owner I’m quick to see the nightmares and the added complexities in managing people because ultimately my neck is on the line. But more so, I simply love horses too much. Horses have given up their freedom involuntarily and we’ve made them dependent on us. And yet, in their captivity they prove to be an incredibly loyal friend. It is now up to us to live up to our end of the deal and give them what they need. Is that so much to ask for? Unfortunately for some people it is.

Another challenge is having other people handle your horse the way you’d like to see him handled. Just because you are kind and fair to your horse doesn’t mean that another will be. A friend of mine was just telling me stories of how one lady used to whack her horse over the head every time he was a little pushy or would nip. “That’s how you deal with this kind of behavior” she would say. Whenever she would enter the barn he would tense right up. That’s a bad sign and why is that necessary? He was just a troubled four year old boy who had a rough start in life and needed someone he could trust so he could feel safe. He’s a phenomenal horse with a big kind heart.

One last thing that you need to be aware of is that you are likely to run into places that offer self board for the purpose of getting some extra money for the use of their barn and grass fields, however, they have no intent to be involved with the care of your horse. This being the case, there is a good chance that they have no experience with horses either and therefore don’t understand how horses live and behave. They may get upset with you because the horse eats the fences, or turns the grass into a mud hole. But worse, they may not know to keep their kids from tearing through your horse’s field with their mountain bikes. See, it’s their property and they can do what they want, at least so the thinking goes. I would not feel comfortable leaving my horse in a situation like this. My preference would be a self board situation where the property owners have a genuine interest in horses and at least have basic handling skills and enough knowledge to recognize a problem.

This doesn’t mean that self and semi board can’t work well. The barn owner has a big responsibility in making sure that the place runs properly and that horses are cared for. If supplies run out and I wasn’t aware of it, I’d appreciate a quick call from my pal or the barn owner to remind me. Strict barn rules and good management can help the success of the place. And much of what I cover later on applies for self or semi board just the same.

Here are some things for you to take into consideration though while you’re pondering self or semi board versus other options. I think foremost is your available time. Even though you may be able to set up a buddy system with another boarder, you have to prepare yourself for the worst case scenario and ask yourself: “Can I attend to my horse in the morning hours and evening hours seven days a week, 365 days per year, to make sure that his needs are taken care off?”

Secondly is your proximity to the barn. The closer you live, the easier it is to quickly “pop over”. The further away your horse lives, the more difficult it becomes. If he is on your way to work, but 20 minutes away from your home, what happens when you’re sick or on holidays? Those 20 minutes suddenly could become the reason why you won’t go. What about attending to medical issues? You don’t necessarily have a resource available that you could pay to take care of your horse while you might be unavailable. Check with the barn owner whether or not there is a backup system in place that you can tap into in case you can’t make it. Are they at all even involved with what is going on with the horses on their property? Some self board facilities don’t want anything to do with the care of the horses, that’s why they offer self board. It’s all up to you. So, what happens if a horse gets sick? How will you be notified?

Take a good look at your car. Could you see it loaded with hay bales, feed bags and supplements? How much can you transport? Do you have a roof rack? How far do you have to travel and how often in the week would you have to make the trip to the feed store? Are you prepared to live with the mess it makes of your car? If you have no means of transporting the feed, do you have any other options you can explore? Hauling hay around in your Volkswagen Bug could be quite entertaining, and not just for you!

Often we’re attracted to self or semi board options because of cost. The initial price sounds less but that’s why it’s so important to find out what is included and what is not and to work out the math. And include your driving time too. See, one of the attractive things about offering self and semi board from the facility’s perspective is that the barn owner removes themselves from the ongoing price increases of hay, grain, bedding and labor. Instead they leave it up to you to deal with. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Whenever a barn has to put up their prices, boarders don’t tend to receive the increases with smiling faces and without objections and that’s not much of a fun thing to deal with.

Things to consider …

  • What will the barn owner do in case someone doesn’t take care of their horse properly?
  • Is there a group of people that you can buddy up with to share the duties?
  • Is there is a backup system in place that you can tap into in case you can’t make it?
  • Are the owners of the property at all involved with what is going on with the horses on their property?
  • Are kids running around in the fields where the horses are housed?

Full Board

This was the option that best suited me at the time when my job took me into town and required me to drive over an hour each way. Initially I always felt there was something missing though. Sometimes I felt that the barn owner had a better relationship with my horse than me. But now with my horses living at home, there are times when I think back fondly of the freedom full board actually gave me. There certainly are big benefits in being involved with your horse’s daily care. It builds that stronger bond, but your time spent feeding, cleaning, and getting the groceries cuts into your available time that you could spend riding or doing other fun things with him.

With full board feeding, cleaning, turning in and out plus the use of the facilities are all included. Some facilities may also include blanketing, fly masks on/off and basic medical care. If you have a busy schedule or a career that takes you out of town, then this makes a lot of sense. Make sure you check out carefully what is included and what is not.

I have heard of one instance where feed and bedding were not included with full board which really surprised me. The owner was required to purchase and supply these while the barn owner would take care of all the other needs like cleaning, feeding and turnout. In this case the barn owner would not contact the owner when supplies were low and neither did the owner of the horse ever show up to check on her horse. It was one of the self boarders that would take it upon herself to let the owner know that she needed to get bedding or that she had run out of hay!

How crazy is this?

If you’re going for full board, make sure that at least your feed and bedding are included. Feed and bedding are consumables and some horses simply need and use more. If your horse happens to be one of those, don’t be surprised if the barn sends you a monthly bill for the extras.

Some places may include a full blanketing service and others may only include X number of blanket changes or none at all. Blanketing is a very time consuming activity especially if a horse chooses not to cooperate. Basic medical care may or may not be included. Scheduling and standing for the vet and farrier are generally not included either, but some places do. As you can see, it’s important to figure out exactly what “full board” means.

All Inclusive Care

I know that when I bought my first horse, I made a clear commitment to him that he’d be with me until the day he dies. There may come a point in my life where I suddenly find that I can’t physically take care of him, but that doesn’t mean he would have to be sold and leave my care. An all inclusive care solution might just be the answer for me at that time.

All inclusive care would include the things that are typically offered with full board like feeding, cleaning and turnout but would also include the organization of regular vet and farrier appointments, blanketing, fly mask service, basic medical care and weekly or bi-weekly grooming sessions. In some cases the cost of farrier trims will be included and even basic vet care. The idea is that ALL your horse’s needs are taken care off while you can’t be there for extended periods of time. I’ve even heard of people sending their horses off to different continents to give their horses that special retirement. As part of the package, you should be getting regular updates on how your horse is doing and now with the ease of the internet and digital photos, there is no reason for you not to be getting a few pictures as well.

What boarding style is for you?

Cost of board is often the first item on our list – I know it was for me. But the real question to ask yourself is whether or not you want to be involved with the day to day care of your horse. If your answer is yes and you’re considering self board there are a whole bunch of other things that come into the picture.
If you’re new to horses it can be a steep learning curve if you decide to take on self board. You may have lots of riding and handling experience, but taking on the full responsibility of the care of a horse is a different story. This was certainly the case for me, except I didn’t do self board; instead my horses came to live with me at home. I guess that’s as good as self board.

I certainly had my share of questions and uncertainties. How do I figure out what and how much I should be feeding my horses, what about veterinary and farrier care? Where do I buy feed and hay? How do I decide what feed is right when there are so many choices? What if I make a mistake, will I know what to do in case something goes wrong?? How do I know when I’m overdoing something? It was kind of scary but entertaining at the same time. I’m sure my horses had a few good laughs at my expense – “hey rookie!”

It’s also a life style that we have to adopt and only you can decide whether you’re willing and able to commit yourself 7 days a week 365 days per year, cleaning and feeding twice per day. And that’s not all of it. There is also the running around to pick up feed and supplies. Do you have a car that can accommodate the hay that you have to haul? You need to organize your vet and farrier visits and be there when they come to the barn. Could you share the duties with other boarders? It’s a good idea to ask the barn owner whether people are into this kind of thing and whether there may be a group you could tap into. Can you afford the time it takes? Are there things that would have to fall by the way side if you took on the care of your horse? How much time can you really commit to your horse comfortably? How far away from the barn do you live? Do you have other family commitments that could prevent you from going to the barn? What about holidays and Christmas time? What about work commitments? Does your work require you to travel for extended periods of time? Do you often get hit with last minute deadline related requests at work that can’t wait and require you to stay late?

If owning a horse is new to you, you will need others around you that have experience. You’ll want a support system that helps you win rather than one that puts you down. One of my boarders was in this situation. She was regularly told that she didn’t know what she was doing, but no one reached out to show her the way either. They just pointed fingers. It certainly didn’t help her confidence in any shape or form. When you’re new to horse ownership you can’t tell right from wrong. You haven’t build up an experience base yet from which you can draw to make your own decisions. Therefore it’s important that you feel good about the barn owner and the people who board at the facility because you need people around you that will enable you rather than disable you. Check with the barn owner too, to see if they’re willing to help you through until you’ve build your confidence to do it on your own.

So, ask yourself:

Do I WANT to take care of my horse day after day in the first place?

If YES,

  • Do I have the available time it takes?
  • What and when are my current commitments?
  • Would my work schedule interfere?
  • What about family commitments?
  • What about holiday time?
  • When am I able to get to the barn?
  • What kind of arrangement would I need to have in place in order for it to work?
  • How far is the barn away from my home?
  • Can I transport the necessary supplies?

– 30 –

Taken from: How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding

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Reader's Comments

4 Responses to “Different styles of horse boarding … what’s right for you?”

  • Very well written and informative, thank you very much, very helpful. I have just gotten back into horses after a 20 year break. It’s the learning curve all over again. I am also in an entirely different environment, now living in Florida instead of New Hampshire. Completely different environmental issues. My new horse is in field board, which initially completely freaked me out. After reading an informative article that dealt with field boarding as a positive from the angle of it being the natural environment for horses, I felt much better. I chose to keep my new horse at the facility where she was located. I have a great rapport with the owner, who is a horse nut, nothing is more important to her than their care. She is very casual about the field boarding, which initially put me off, but now from the angle of natural environment, I am calming down about it. The quality of grass is just okay, not super in every paddock, but she feeds in the morning, and provides hay, all inclusive in the boarding package I selected. She offers field boarding at $150 per month, but she also offers get the grain and hay delivered at her cost and feed her, in my case that’s an additional $149 per month. The only concern I have at this point, is that the tree stand in her paddock is not really sufficient (to me) if we get heavy rain (common in our rainy season), and the rare, but occasional hail. There is one paddock that has access to the barn, and I feel I would like to ask to have her moved to that paddock. There is a round pen for training, but unfortunately no weedkiller, so there is the distraction of grass in there, which disappoints me, and there is no arena per se, which is entirely new to me. I don’t know if this will work for me on a long-term basis, but I feel inclined to stay there for now, because the owner is so in tune and loving toward the horses. It’s all very simple and laid-back, and carefree for me. She’s very close to my house which is great, I can just show up groom and work with the horse and not have to worry about feeding, etc., and no mucking stalls dry which I have never had the pleasure of! Because of the lack of what I deem appropriate shelter, and the lack of a proper arena, I may move her at some time in the future. Your article was indispensable for what I SHOULD be looking for if I move. Of particular interest was paying attention to the nature of the people at the facility, not JUST the facility. I will check out your website for other info.

    Two questions if you should read this and have the time to answer… Is it appropriate to ask for her to be moved to a different field? And would it be considered helpful or bossy to offer to spray weed killer in the round pen?

    Thanks again, it really was very helpful. Happy horsing!

  • You have mixed some horse boarding options together. In reality, there is no 5 definite ways to board a horse. You can include some info about the feeding AND the pasture, or just state the differences and things to look for in every boarding opportunity. I myself board horses, and I try to make my intentions clear to my customer. Thank you for your time. Your horse is beautiful!

  • Hi,

    Very well written and interesting, I wish I read it this along time ago! Can you advise me roughly what a “normal” amount of bedding would be? I am trying to work out costs etc and I have a messy horse who walks his bed and mixes it all ( 17.3 TB so he poops alot) is half a bale of 6.0 cubic shavings normal? Is one bale a day excessive and may incur charges?
    Thanks I may have further questions as I continue reading your posts, love them!I have my own barn but may lease share my horse out at some point and I may take on a boarder so just need to know!

    Sally

  • I found this a very interesting and informative read, because myself I have a horse that is pastured raised, and Have thought of stabling him, and was at a lost for what to do. This read has helped me greatly, and it has also helped me figure out that maybe I could start a business up for myself and sister who we both love horses and their needs that go into making sure that horse is healthy and loved. thanks.

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  • Do you have that nagging feeling that you may be paying too much for board and are worried that your horse may not be happy? Finding the right horse boarding stable doesn't have to be that overwhelming ... When you have the RIGHT information at your finger tips! Pick up a copy of my book How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding, Even if You are New to Horses.

    Do you have that nagging feeling that you may be paying too much for board and are worried that your horse may not be happy? Finding the right horse boarding stable doesn't have to be that overwhelming ... When you have the RIGHT information at your finger tips! Pick up a copy of my book How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding, Even if You are New to Horses.

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