Evaluating Horse Boarding Facilities
When choosing a horse boarding facility for your horse, the first item to consider is the type of boarding facility you require. Once you have decided on the type, you can evaluate local stables against the following criteria. Before you made a final decision, you should request a copy of the horse boarding contract and read it at leisure to ensure that you understand and agree with it.
Boarding Facility Checklist
- Quality and quantity of grass. Too little grass or too poor quality and your horse may not have enough to eat. Alternatively, if it is too rich, your horse runs the risk of laminitis.
- Physical Safety. The fencing should not have holes or breaks, as this could allow your horse to wander off into danger. Electrical wire is normally safer than high-tension wire (which can cut and even main your horse if he gets tangled in it) or barbed wire (which can cause injuries). The fields should be clean of any objects which could injure the horses (e.g. pieces of brooken fencing wire which has been left about can tangle around horse's legs and cause serious injuries). There should not be any holes (e.g. from borrowing animals such as badgers) where a horse could trip or break a leg in.
- Maintenance. Are the fence posts solid (not rotten, not loose in the ground)? Are fence boards in good condition and without protruding nails? Is fencing wire taut (not sagging or lying on the ground)? Is the amount of horse droppings on the ground not excessive?
- Weeds. Certain weeds are toxic to horses. Depending on the weed, it can cause immediate or long-term health issues. If the pasture is weedy, check that none of them are of a poisonous variety.
- Size. A substantial pasture provides more mental stimulation, greater emotional satisfaction and more exercise opportunities.
- Shelter. Is there adequate shelter on the pastures for all the horses? Note that strong horses will often bully weaker horses away from shelters, so a generous amount of shelter is required if all the horses are to benefit.
- Drainage. Is the pasture well drained, or do pools of water form during wet weather? Standing in water can be very bad for horse hooves.
- Other Horses. A horse is a herd animal and consequently requires the companionship of other horses. However, it is important that all the horses in a given pasture are compatible, to avoid excessive fighting or bullying.
- Size. A horse will perfer a large paddock to a small one. If the horse has substantial access to pasture then the size of the paddock is much less important than the case where the horse has no access or only limited access to pasture.
- Access. A paddock which is freely accessible to the horse (e.g. through an open door from its stall) will be of greater value to a horse than a paddock to which it has only limited access.
- Construction. The paddock should be secure and should have a suitable surface. Most surfaces (sand, wood chips or gravel) are satisfactory for a horse with good hooves. However, a horse with hoof problems may require a softer surface (e.g. sand, wood chips).
- Sharing. There is nothing wrong with a shared paddock, provided that all the horses get along and there is no bullying. However, if there are conflicts between the horses, individual paddocks are often more suitable.
- Size. The size of the stall is very important, especially if a horse spends a substantial amount of time in its stall each day. A small stall is physically uncomfortable and forces a horse to lay down in its own excrement as there is no additional place available. The minimum size for a stall is a matter of debate, but we recommend at least 3m by 3m for a standard size horse and at least 3.5m by 3.5m for a large horse.
- Height. Are the stall doors high enough that if a horse runs in with its head up, there is no risk of injury? Are the ceilings high enough that a horse cannot hit its head?
- Safety. Is the stall safe? Does it have any protruding nails, wood slivers or metal bits that the horse could injure itself on? Are the walls and door solid enough that a horse cannot kick through (if it can kick through, it can injure its leg, or become trapped and breaks its leg).
- Cleaning. The stall should be clean, dry and not smell (in particular, not smell of ammonia). Stalls should be cleaned at least once per day; twice if the horse spends the majority of the day in its stall.
- Ventilation. Does the air smell clean, or does it smell damp or musty or stale? If the stable is closed at night and opened for airing in the morning, the best time to check (if possible) is just before the stable is opened for airing as this is the time when ventilation issues will be easiest to detect.
- Pests. Are there any indications of rodents or excessive insects in the stall areas? If so, this is an indication of problems.
- Time. A horse which spends most of its day in the stall is receiving less physical and mental exercise than one which has substantial access to paddock and pasture. However, young horses (and very old horses) often appreciate a few hours alone in their stable each day so that they can sleep and relax in peace.
- Bedding. The type and thickness of bedding is important to the mental and physical well-being of the horse. Click on horse bedding for details.
- Water. Horses should have free access to water and most stalls are equipped with drinkers for this purpose. Care should be taken that the pipes do not freeze during cold weather, depriving the horses of water.
- Salt and Minerals. Horses require salt and minerals. These are normally provided in the stalls, although a few stable managers provide them on pasture instead.
- Lighting. Plentiful natural light is better for your horse's physical and emotional health. A dark stall is depressing for a horse and tends to promote unhealthy fungus and mold growth.
Food and Water
- Quality. What are the horses fed? Are the hay and food supplements of high quality, or just the cheapest available?
- Quantity. Do the horses get all the food they need, or is there a quota (e.g. only 1kg of food supplement/horse/day)?
- Frequency. How often are the horses fed? It should be at least twice a day and preferably more (access to quality pasture qualifies as a feed).
- Water. Do the horse have adequate access to clean water
- Buckets. Are the food and water buckets kept clean? Is old food removed each day and the buckets cleaned out well, or simply new food dropped on top?
- Stable manager experience. An experienced and knowledgeable stable manager is an important consideration. Injuries and illnesses can easily occur, and the experienced stable manager will know the many little steps one must take to avoid them (e.g. cooling and drying down a horse after exercise, limiting the amount of water a horse can drink immediately after exercise). He (or she) will also spot problems much earlier, before they can become serious (e.g. cold-related colic spoted quickly is easily fixed, half a day later and it is an expensive vet bill, a few hours more and it may require surgery or even be too late).
- Employee experience. In larger stables, rather than the stable manager doing the work himself, he may simply oversee the work. In such cases the experience and dedication of the staff may be even more important than that of the manager, as they are the ones dealing with your horse on a daily basis.
Facilities and Services:
- Facilities. What additional facilities are of interest to you and are they available. For example: exercise/training ring, arena, tack room (with or without individual lockable facilities), changing room, food and drink facilities, horse shower, warming lamps, medical facilities, on-site horse trails, or nearyby public horse trails. Note that if you work during the week, you may need access hours outside normal business hours (e.g. very early in the morning, evening or weekend).
- Services. What additional services are of interest to you are are they available. For example: training of your horse, riding training for you, trail rides.
In addition to the above checklists for the facilities, one needs to consider how the stable is run and how the horses are treated. Here one needs to look around at:
The owner/manager. He (or she) sets the standards and general tone for the stables.
- Talk with him about his experiences with horses and with running a stable. Does he give an impression of experience, ability and dedication?
- Ask what he thinks of your horse and what special care it might require; if the stable manager takes the time to carefully examine the horse (including hooves and teeth) before answering this is a good sign but if he replies after only a cursory examination then one may wish to go to a stable where the manager is more attentive.
- Ask if he has any objection to using your own vetinarian and farrier. Even if you are happy to use his, one might be concerned if he does not permit other vets and farriers.
- Horses. The appearance of the horses is a good indication of how they are treated. Are they overweight or underweight? Do they have shiny coats? Do they appear alert, active and happy? Do they appear nervous or have nervous behaviour (e.g. pacing, swaying back and forth, chewing on wood)? Are they well-groomed? Pick up the hooves of a couple of horses to see it they are well maintained and appear to have been recently cleaned.
- Stalls. Are the stalls clean and tidy? Check not only the bedding but also the drinkers, feeders, and salt/mineral trays. Do all the horses have salt and minerals?
- General Facilities. How do the various facilities look? Do they appear clean, organised and well maintained? A lack of consideration for the facilities can be an indication of broader issues.
- Staff Behaviour. How do the staff behave around the horses. Do they appear interested in the horses? Do they talk to the horses and treat them gently, or just drag them along behind them? Do they appear mature, experience and knowledgeable (or just cheap labour, however loving and well-intentioned they may be)?
- Other Clients. If you have the opportunity, talk to other horse owners to get their impression and experience of the stables. However, don't put too much trust in this, as they may be friends of the stable manager or they may be novices who are not experienced enough to make a reliable judgement.
- Local Veterinarian. Like other clients, it can be useful to ask the local veterinarian his opinion.
- Vaccinations. Does the stable manager require vaccination against communicable diseases? If not, this may be a health risk for your horse.
- Deworming. Are all the horses on site dewormed? Are they all dewormed at the same time? If the answer to either quesion is 'no', then the effectiveness of worming your horse may be significantly reduced.
- Access. How much access do you have to your horse and facilities (e.g. training ring) which you may wish to use? Can you drop in unannounced to see your horse and its stall at any time, or is an appointment required (the latter is a bad sign).
Your Horse is an Individual
Different horses can have very different characteristics and requirements. Consequently, a horse stable which is ideal for one horse may be a disaster for another. You need to consider your horse's needs in terms of its age, health, mental and emotional requirements, experience and history.
To begin with, will the stable keep the horse in the way in which it is being used to? Any changes run potential risks. For example, if a horse is used to being in a herd, then giving it a private stable and paddock can be stressfull to the point of affecting it's health. Conversely, if your horse is used to being stabled individually, putting it into a herd is not only potentially stressful but due to its lack of knowledge and experience in herd behaviour it may become involved in serious fights. It is not a question of whether a private stable or a herd is better, but rather what your horse is used to.
Likewise, one must consider the potential effects of other changes, such as: type and quantity of food, amount and type of exercise, shelter, type and number of horses it is grouped with.
This is not to say that all changes are bad. In fact, as your horse ages, certain changes must be made in order to keep it healthy (e.g. dietary changes to allow for age related dental issues). In fact, you may be moving your horse to a boarding stable precisely so that it can get additional facilities, care and attention. However, changes should normally be introduced gradually and one needs to be particularly watchful for any issues which may arise during the period of change.