Boarding barns: the must haves and the can’t haves

I was reading on a popular online forum the other day about boarding barns and barn rules and as I came across a couple of responses I thought “No way, that’s a dealbreaker”. Then I started thinking about all the places I’ve boarded in my life and all their different rules, practices, facilities, etc. There’s so many things that I’ve learned along the way that I must have in a boarding facility, or can’t have in a boarding facility. As I sat there pondering away in lalaland and reading through everyone’s stories about their own barns I came up with a list in my head…

Must Haves:

Turnout. I really really think horses need at least 6 hours of turnout a day. I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum – a barn that turned out maybe 30mins-1hr every other day, and pasture boarded horses that were out 24/7. Pasture board is tough in a Texas summer though, and I tend to need mine body clipped in the winter, therefore it’s not always practical. So to me the perfect compromise is 6-12 hours of turnout. If they have a run attached to their stall so they can come in and out as they please the rest of the time, even better.


Good footing. We all know how important this is. I can live with a place that won’t let you ride when the rings are wet, as long as the footing is good the rest of the time. It should be even, the right depth, not too soft, not too hard, and dragged/watered regularly. Keeping the horses sound is of the utmost importance. I also think its a huge bonus if there’s a nice big field to hack out in so we can escape the confines of the arena regularly.

Good care. The horses obviously must be watered at all times (most places here have auto waterers, but not everyone cleans them), they must have ample hay, they must be fed on a regular schedule, the stalls must be clean and bedded appropriately, etc etc. I can’t stand dirty waterers, meager hay, or filthy stalls. It’s also important to me that someone live on the property – the closer to the horses, the better.  And they need to be paying attention!


A decent trainer. I’ve boarded at lots of places with no trainer, and it’s been fine, but with the current horse I do need someone around that can help me develop him correctly. Preferably a person with a strong jumper background that has an eye for detail and is really nit-picky… that’s my favorite kind.


My can’t haves are basically the opposite of the above. Bad footing, bad care, no turnout and a bad trainer are things I cannot live with.

As far as barn rules go, I wouldn’t get far in a place that required X number of shows otherwise you incur a non-showing fee. Nope, won’t happen. I also won’t be buying all new blankets and equipment in barn colors just so everything can match. Nope again. I don’t think I could deal with boarding at a place that had specific hours/days that you were allowed to come ride. Barns that are totally closed on Mondays or by 8pm? What? Nope. All of those are dealbreaker rules for me.


Otherwise I think I could live with most things. I would consider rules about cleaning up after yourself, wearing a helmet, no sandals, no smoking, maintenance of the property, etc to be positive things. Heck, I grew up riding with a trainer who didn’t allow tank tops, required your hair be up in your helmet correctly, god forbid you have shavings in your horse’s tail or not get every square inch wet when bathing, not wrap a leg 100% evenly or not clean your tack after every ride. They weren’t written rules but lets just say you only made those mistakes once. 😉 But I really appreciate that kind of upbringing now, and try to keep high standards for myself… therefore it doesn’t really matter to me if that level of detail is expected since I do it most of the time anyway.


The one rule I can’t really decide how I feel about is the “no jumping outside of lessons”. I don’t jump all the time, but I do like to hop over a few low fences a couple times a week just as a refresher. And my pocketbook is not of the variety than can afford 3 lessons a week. If you had a made horse it probably wouldn’t matter, but what about a greenie? What could you do to cope with a rule like that? Set up pole exercises one day a week and do a lesson another day a week and say that’s enough? That’s the only one I’m really hung up on.

What about you – what are your must haves/can’t haves? What rules do you love, what rules do you hate? What do you consider a “dealbreaker”? I’m sure there are a lot more I haven’t thought of.

22 thoughts on “Boarding barns: the must haves and the can’t haves

  1. My must haves can’t stands are very similar to yours.

    I can’t stands: poorly maintained footing/ jumps, not enough shavings, poor turnout, low quality hay… I am having a huge internal battle about a number of things at my current facility so this is touching close to home.

    Must have a wash rack with hot/cold water, a bathroom, climate controlled tack room preferred.

    A barn with set hours would be very hard if not impossible for me as I am not even usually untacking by 8. I totally respect rules pertaining to safety wear. I am glad that I can wear tankish tops when riding but would also understand a barn that didn’t allow that as it could be seen as dangerous in terms of if you fall that is a lot of exposed skin. I also know a barn that did it because there were a lot of young girls that were taking it too far with the level of exposure.

    As you said if there is a trainer on site that you have to lesson with it needs to be a good one…. That can be a serious deal breaker.

    Good post! Lots to consider in a facility.


    1. You made some good points I had kinda taken for granted – like bathroom, hot/cold washrack. I’ve had them for so long I forgot they aren’t standard! Finding exactly the right barn is tough.


  2. While I don’t board at an established equestrian facility, I board at privately owned “owner-run” barns and I have loved it. I love that I can come and go when I please, I have the entire barn/pastures to myself, I am responsible for the care my horse gets (so I feed what /I/ want to feed and do all things necessary to ensure her health that most people would overlook, such as cleaning out a watering tub). I love that I don’t have that barn atmosphere, but at the same time, it can get lonely.

    If I were to board at a barn, my must-haves would be: regular and decent turn out, someone to KNOW the horses and be able to CALL me when something is wrong… that is kind of a huge deal to me. Someone who KNOWS the horses being boarded there and knows when they are not acting within character!


  3. My must haves: indoor arena, trails, jumps, and a trainer. My current barn actually doesn’t have a wash rack. We hitch to a post outside the barn and bathe. To be honest, that doesn’t bother me except for when it gets a bit chilly and I need to carry buckets of warm water from the bathroom. A wash rack is in the works though!

    Also, my barn does have a curfew – 9 am to 9 pm every day. It took a while to get used to – especially since my last barn I could go to at any point – even 2 am in the morning if I wanted to. However, I haven’t had a very hard time fitting my riding schedule in to these requirements and the BO is very understanding if you run a bit over the limit (say 9:30 pm). And, on show days, we can come as early as we need (I was there at 5am once) as long as we notify her ahead of time.

    There are only a few things I can’t stand to have at a barn: nickle and diming (extra charges for every little thing – just include them in the board!), little kids (I will not board anywhere with children running around – though my BO’s children are an exception – they are incredibly smart/calm), and barn drama. You really can’t get away from that one, but I just try to ignore it as much as possible.

    As for the no jumping outside of lessons – that’s a no-no for me, especially with my greenie! Luckily I’ve never encountered that 🙂


    1. I don’t like nickel and diming either, would much rather have them included. Hadn’t thought about the little kids thing – I haven’t really been at barns with a ton of kids at them in a very long time. Also HATE barn drama – you’re right that it’s impossible to escape from that completely but some places are definitely worse than others.


  4. I’m moving to a facility that is closed Mondays and has scheduled ring time. I don’t mind the closed Mondays as the reasoning is that the horses need a day off and this way the ground can get the maintenance they need (which could include heavy machinery moving around, etc which is better to do will all horses put away anyway).
    As for the scheduled ring time, I am not sure about it yet. There are 3 rings that can be used, but if another trainer is giving a lesson you cannot be in it. If your trainer is giving a lesson, you can hack in the same ring. I see how this is important that each trainer gets enough ring time for their students to have uninterrupted lessons without having to worry about a rider and horse they don’t know getting in the way.
    I’ll see how I feel about it after I have been there a while, but for now the facilities and care of the horses make up for having to deal with scheduled ring times.


  5. I am pretty easy… For Liam my must haves are 24/7 turnout with grass in the summer or free choice hay in the winter, water fresh that is changed/cleaned frequently, and shelter. My must haves are safe riding area for human and horse that has some sort of lights to be able to ride after work in the winter, allowed to use my own vet and farrier, and horse trailer parking. Pretty simple I think….

    I will never ever board again with a place that has a trainer onsite that I have to lesson with. I don’t mix training and boarding. Think about it, if you love the barn and the care, but hate the training you have to move. If you love the training, but hate the care you have to move. It has gone south for me in both scenarios.


    1. If I had a truck and trailer I would love to be totally independent, but not being mobile means I have to choose from places with a trainer. Jealous.


  6. Turnout and care above all else. I can get pretty forgiving in a lot of areas, but I HAVE to know that I can leave for a week and my horse will be healthy and happy while I’m gone.


  7. My husband told me that I am the pickiest boarder ever. For the first 4 years we were together I moved my horse pretty much every year (one year twice) because I just couldn’t find the right fit. As long as a barn is safe and the people running it provide proper care/water/food I’m really pretty easy to please. Right now I’m about as happy as I will ever be in a boarding situation, been there for 2 years now! 🙂

    I have been at two barns with a really toxic atomsphere and that was a huge deal breaker. One was secretly for sale and the owners quietly invited a few select people to their new facility but never mentioned the sale to others (even though it was listed online). Another barn was just full of people who wanted to complain about the other boarders. I go to the barn to relax and have fun, not to be complained to by every person in a 1 mile radius.

    Also distance is hard for me. I boarded at the most beautiful barn with the nicest staff and boarders but it was really far away from my house and I couldn’t get there as much as I would have liked. They also had a set closing time of 8:30, and it was enforced strictly. It was fairly expensive (fair enough) and I couldn’t justify the cost to only see my horse twice a week.

    Great post!


  8. Hmm- great topic! My must haves:
    – great daily care! I have to be at work so I want to make sure my horse is getting the best
    – great trainer
    – nicely maintained facility
    No No’s-
    – poor care- I want my horse to have a routine- fed at a certain time, blanketed at a certain time, etc
    – amateur assistants/ working students- let me clarify this! I love working students and “professionals” who are still in college teaching up down lessons. I just don’t want them teaching me and I don’t want to see a 10 year old at the barn on Saturday morning filling water buckets without another soul around. The barn MUST have a staff or the trainer must have a staff if I am paying for full care.
    Actually- that’s a big deal breaker for me.
    Can you tell I’ve dealt with these issues before?


  9. Great list. My barn has an option of boarding in a stall or paddock, and stalled horses are turned out a certain time of day. Most are in paddocks though because the weather is nice.


    1. Jealous, our weather is only nice for about 6 months of the year. 😉 Too darn hot the rest of the time, with a month of cold mud thrown in during the winter for good measure.


  10. Oh man this is a touchy subject… I love my trainer SO I have put up with a lot and resorted to going to the barn DAILY to check on things and make sure that my horse is up to my standard for care. Not ideal…


  11. Having grown up in a barn that has no jumping outside of lessons it doesn’t seem weird to me. I also have owned green horses. With Carlos I rode daily and jumped a lot. With Ramone not that much. I think poles are great but I just work on his fitness mainly.


  12. I struggled with leaving my “childhood” barn for a long time this year. I boarded there for four years and put up with a lot of barn drama, mediocre care (not the owners, but the teenagers that worked evenings/weekends and did a poor job), and coaching that just wasn’t taking me where I wanted to go.

    I moved in April to my new facility and have never been happier! I self care, so I do all my own feeding, turn in/out, etc. There is a trainer on site, but I opt to use a different one who travels to me. The barn owner is great and accommodating. There is a small amount of grass pasture, and then paddocks. My horses have their own private turnout (together) and I have my own section of stalls. The barn owner checks on my horses to make sure that they are ok, but otherwise is not involved in their care. I never really realized that they were not receiving sufficient hay, until I started haying them myself and found myself decreasing their grain by more than 50%! And they are both a bit on the “porky” side now. Good hay makes a HUGE difference! One was deemed a “hard keeper” at the old barn- she now receives 3lb of grain per day and free choice hay and is a pork chop. There is also NO barn drama…. I know that seems impossible, but everyone is very nice and gets along pretty well.

    Like someone else said, it’s all about what you can live with/can’t live with, and I think that I have found a good match in this barn!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s great if the BO or manager is able to do minor vet work like changing bandages, giving medications, providing advice, etc., and I’m lucky that way. And people keep an eye on all the horses, and let you know if your horse looks N.Q.R. or has been hurt. An indoor wash rack would be great – trying to bathe my emotionally wrecked Craigslist rescue outdoors is a wild west show. Our horses are out 24/7 all year, in herds of 8 to 12-ish, and they live a happy horsey life with tons of hay grown on the property. We have kids around but they behave sensibly. Everyone helps when needed and we don’t have drama queens (except my Craigslist rescue – can geldings be queens?) Not having the radio always tuned to a rock station would be heaven. (And research shows that horses dislike rock, prefering Mozart and Bach!) Rules are few and sensible, the stable is always open, we have indoor and outdoor arenas as well as trails. Life is good.


  14. I was at a barn recently that had no jumping outside of lessons. One hand it was a busy place so jumping in a busy ring is rough. But also…. I’m an adult and I also can’t afford that many lessons. I mostly wanted to pop my old boy over a few fences here and there to let him stretch his legs a little. Thankfully, I made friends with a trainer who’d let me “join” her lessons for free and hop over whatever exercise they were doing. But it was still limiting.

    I don’t think it’d be a dealbreaker, but I didn’t love it. We left for the poor footing, poor hay, and stubborn management that cut down his grain ration (that I buy provide) to less than half and let him loose 100+lbs in less than 4mo and had the GALL to argue with me…. but no I’m not bitter or anything. Ahem.

    The hours is a tough one. I understand why they may limit it, but often that’s when working people can ride their horses. So having a hard cut off just makes things tricky. Although I’d say, winding down around 9pm, please. I had one that I toured that closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving (so days I’d have time to ride! ha) and didn’t do the stalls those days (NOPE). Also “couldn’t promise” to soak my horse’s grain….his a chronic choker. So extra nope.

    I’ve heard rumors of a barn (in a cold climate) that wouldn’t even allow you to have a blanket on your horse (outdoors full time). That would be a dealbreaker for me. 1. It’s way too up in m business and 2. I have a thoroughbred who can’t grow a winter coat to save his life.

    But, I almost hate to be picky these days because I had two years of boarding barn hell where I moved 5 times after my beloved trainer closed. First moldy hay (and a poor work environment since I worked for them), then difficult to access barn/maggots in un-discarded uneaten soaked grain, a barn manager that mishandled my horse and blamed me when he was afraid of her, and then finally the shit pile on top – a barn that wouldn’t feed him the amount I asked and let him lose 100lbs AND didn’t soak his grain long enough so he choked every 1.5months.

    I’m starting to hate boarding with a fiery passion even though I love the social aspect. But lesson learned if they even seem hesitant about the grain soaking, don’t go there. Some will realize it’s not so bad, others will be lazy and let your horse choke.

    PS. another, not a dealbreaker-but-not-ideal is when they don’t allow back shoes. My OTTB has bad feet and sometimes needs back shoes (not always). I don’t like being restricted that way.


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