What makes a good home for your horse … and what kind of care do you want him to have?

For me it’s very important that my horses get to live like horses. They need the safety of the herd, the social interactions, play mates, and the ability to move around. Within the constraints of available space on my 10 acres I’ve done my best to provide a happy, safe and healthy home for the horses that live here.

My horses are very quiet, content and have plenty of play drive. I don’t have problems with colic, lameness or other health related issues that we often see in horses who are put in small confined areas for long periods of time. My horses are always curious and interested in what goes on around them.

I never have a stiff or crabby horse to deal with when I do ground work or take them out for a ride. And there are times I don’t do anything with them for six months and sometimes more – including my Thoroughbreds. None of the horses on the property exhibit any of the stress related vices either.

A good home that’s stimulating and allows your horse to move around is very important. His contentment and well being doesn’t only transfer directly into your relationship with him, but also in his performance as an athlete.

Finding a boarding solution that meets both your needs and that of your horse isn’t going to be an easy task. Most boarding facilities are built with you in mind first. After all you pay the board and you make the decisions. A facility also has big bills to pay and the more horses and people they can have stay at their barn, the easier it is to make ends meet and keep prices at more affordable levels for you.

If barns were built by horses you wouldn’t see horses in box stalls and in tiny paddocks. I’d even doubt you’d find a wash stall, let alone an arena! You would find large fields with good solid shelters, a mud pool and a bunch of trees for the local hang out.

Age and compatible mates

Having watched the horses here on the property and spending the time building compatible and happy herds I’ve certainly learned that the age of a horse is a big consideration. A young horse needs other young horses to play with, but he also needs adults around to teach him about herd socials and to give them a sense of security. I had a 2 year old come live with us and since I already had a 2 and a 3 year old, it made sense to put the three together.

What was very interesting to watch is that the responsibility to look after the two 2 year olds was too much for the 3 year old even though he took on the role of leadership because he felt he needed to. He was simply too young and so not ready to take on this level of responsibility. He still needed to be a kid as well. When I put the three “kids” together with my two adult boys, the 3 year old was suddenly so much happier and so were the other two boys – they no longer got “picked” on. My two “uncles” made sure the youngsters were taken care of and allowed to be kids. It all made too much sense.

If you have an older horse that doesn’t move around so much anymore you also need to look at who they’d be “hanging out” with. Older horses don’t mix so well with the younger ones. They just don’t have the energy any more. They much prefer to hang out in the barn where it’s cool and there are no flies. My barn is quite flexible and I can combine the stalls as I see fit.

I have three mares that are very close in age (28, 30 and 34), and they love the fact that I can combine their three stalls and two paddocks. In fact, one of my boarders laughed when she saw the arrangement and said it was like they had a three bedroom apartment with a couple of patios. There are times of the day where these old gals much prefer to be sitting in a rocking chair staring off in to the distance mulling over the past then play a game of tag.

If your horse is kind of in the middle, it’s easier to put him in with others. But let’s talk for a minute about easy keepers vs. hard keepers. Typically easy keepers are considered those that are hardy and don’t require a lot of food or special care like blanketing. The flip side is a hard keeper. They need a lot of food, lose weight easily and require a lot of extra care.

However, an easy keeper can be a hard keeper. How’s that? A horse may not require a lot of food, blanketing or any other special care. But he may be an individual that’s very curious and needs a lot of stimulation. He may also be dominant and very food oriented which prevents him from being turned out with other horses because he’ll eat all their food. If he’s bored, he’ll start to chew on stuff like there is no tomorrow. Or if he’s in the herd and he happens to be bored he’ll start to chase the other horses for pure entertainment. He’s moody and pissy because his needs aren’t met. If you were to put this kind of a horse in a box stall and a small paddock you’d have the potential of ending up with a dangerous beast in your hands.

In my books – that’s a far cry from an easy keeper. And, yes, I live with a horse that’s like this and the owner and me have managed to find a balance. It’s working but I’m not entirely convinced that it’s ideal.

Think about your horse for a minute. Make a note of your horse’s age and temperament. What do you think he would need in terms of companions? What is his personality like? Is he very dominant, aggressive, or submissive? Does he favor mares or geldings? Are there certain types of horses that he should never be turned out with? If he’s young, would you like him to be with other youngsters?

Handling

When you board out your horse, other people will be handling him. I know for me that’s a big one. I really don’t want to see my horse being mishandled or handled roughly. I also follow the principles of Natural Horsemanship and would much prefer handlers who do the same. Since this is very close to my heart I would be looking for a barn that followed the same philosophy and perhaps even style as me.

It’s the only way I could ever see me being comfortable leaving my horse in someone else’s care. So, if you have a particular style or philosophy that you follow with your horse, or if there are styles or behaviors that you’re absolutely not ok with, make a note of it. Be very clear on what you will and will not accept. This is something that you’ll need to observe or chat about with the barn owner when you visit the facilities.

Stalls

My horse is pretty average, 15.2h, and is comfortable in a 12×12 stall. He would still be ok in a 10×10 but it’s border line. If you have a very tall horse or a big warm blood you will not want anything smaller than 12×12 feet, especially if he’s to be in there for extended periods of time. I’ve seen 17.2h Thoroughbreds in 10×10 stalls and it just is way too small.

Stallions need more than 12×12. I’ve seen 14×14 as a recommendation but a lot of barns are build with a spacing of 12 feet between supports, so 12×16 would give you the equivalent in square footage.

Make sure your horse can turn around. I have seen stalls that are 8 feet wide by 10 or 12 feet long. Fine for a pony perhaps but a long horse won’t be so comfortable. Stalls come in many shapes and sizes so before you settle on a home for him make sure the stall is big enough.

Turnout

Pasture turnout for me is the number one thing on my list for my horse, and it’s not even about the grass. I know he loves to roam and play with herd mates. I also don’t like to see my horse ever locked up. He hates it. So, for him a run in shelter, a large field and a bunch of herd buddies is all he needs. I have a little Arab here, a feisty 30 year old gal, who’s prone to colic if turned out on grass, so her owner requested that she’d have a stall and paddock.

And what kind of care do you want your horse to have?

What do you think your horse needs? Are there any medical conditions that could restrict where he’s turned out? Can he only be out on grass during the day and not night? Some horses just gain weight too easily and could be candidates for founder. If your horse is very energetic he will need more space than one who’s pretty laid back or simply old. If paddocks were the only thing available, what would be the minimum size your horse would need?

I’m thankful that my boy is an easy keeper and doesn’t need a lot of special care. He rarely ever has a cut or scrape and is never lame. So if I had to put a list of things together that I would like to see included with board, my list would be pretty short.

Fly masks in the summer would be a definite and they would have to come off for the night. If he was cut or ended up with scrapes from a scrap in the herd, I’d want those to be at least checked and if necessary taken care off. They don’t take much to do and would certainly prevent infection from setting in. If it was a deep cut, I’d want to be called about it. If he did sprain a tendon or so, at least cold hose him and call me. In the winter time when it gets really cold, throw a blanket on or if it’s non-stop rain for days, even with a shelter I’d still like to see him have a rain sheet. If we get a sunny day in the middle of a rain storm, give him at least a break from the blanket. That’s about it really.

If you had a horse that had moved from a hot and dry climate to a cold and wet climate, specific blanket requirements may be high on your list to help your horse acclimatize and deal with the colder temperatures. He has no build in system to protect him from the wet and cold and needs your help. I have two ex-race horses from Hong Kong staying here. They came over about three years ago and the owners told me that it was quite the adjustment for them. Since Hong Kong is humid and warm and 15 degrees is considered cold, the boys didn’t grow a winter coat to protect them against the cold and wet conditions of our area. They had quite the blanketing routine to help them cope. And even now there will be times when they have one for the day time and another for night. If you clip your horse during the winter months, you also have to compensate with blanketing since he won’t have anything to keep him warm or protected from the rain and cold either.

Your horse could have laminitis and require special care or perhaps he has cushings and needs medication added to his feed. If your horse is older, there may be other specific things that you have to take into consideration.

The kind of care that you want for your horse will be unique to your horse. And having a clear picture will help your discussions with the barn owner. So, with your horse in mind, ask yourself what does my horse need in order to be comfortable and healthy?

Following is a list to help you get started. Add and subtract as you see fit.

  • Basic treatment for cuts and scrapes
  • Cold hosing in case of a sprained tendon
  • Fly masks on and off
  • Fly sheet for the summer months
  • Application of fly spray
  • Blanketing when it rains or only when it’s really cold. Be specific.
  • Bandaging
  • Medication
  • Supplements that need to be added to his feed
  • Should be stalled at night and turned out during the day
  • Can’t be left on grass due to laminitis
  • Can’t be turned out on grass due to increased chances of colic
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Reader's Comments

2 Responses to “What makes a good home for your horse … and what kind of care do you want him to have?”

  • Remember your horse does not live in a vacuum, how other horses in the herd are cared for directly effects your horse’s health. Some things to look at are how the herd is dewormed and vaccinated. Is the herd on the same deworming protocol or is it up to the individual owner? Are all horses examined and vaccinated by a vet?

    Finding a good boarding barn takes work and research. Know what it costs to feed your horse quality feed and hay, if the board is too low you can bet poor quality feed and hay are provided. I was buying fertilizer at a local feed store and an employee tried to get my feed business by telling me about a new cross feed. For $8 a bag, I can buy this feed and it is good for cows and goats too. He went on to name the other barns in town who feed their horses this cross feed. Some of you might be boarding at one of those places. Many horse owners think cheaper is better when it comes to paying board, cheaper is rarely the best value.

    Ask the barn manager who the primary farrier and vet are, the names will overlap once you visit a few barns. Then call the farriers and vets, ask them what they think, you probably will not hear anything bad but they will speak highly of their favorites. As professional, they will probably prefer barns that provide quality care, accept professional advice and pay their bills on time. You can also ask about barns at the local feed store but their exposure to the local barns will most likely encompass how much money is spent at the store and rumors.

    I totally disagree horses should be stalled at night and out in the day. Maximum turnout during favorable conditions is a must. Sometimes the most favorable conditions are at night and the least favorable are during the day. For some barns a comprehensive pest control program consisting of horse being stalled under fans with an automatic fly spray system during high pest activity times of the day. Different pests bite different parts of a horse’s body and these pests are more active during different times of the day. Operating a fly spray system is expensive, some barns do not have one in order to keep board costs down.

  • This is a great article and near and dear to my heart. It is so very important to understand and know who you will select to board your horse. Asking lots of questions! You’ve covered so many important items that many people might not even think about.

My comment ...

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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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