Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's Best for You or Best for Your Horse?

I have a blog post with pictures about my meetup with fellow blogger from, but I need to upload my pictures still so that post will have to wait.  In the meantime, I need some advice.

I'm afraid I've turned into a bit of a barn snob.  Either that, or I am insisting on perfection.  Or maybe I have well founded fears.  Please help me think about this in a calm, ration way.  I've tried bouncing this off my non-horse friends but they don't know enough about horses to really participate.

My question is about barns.  Again.  My barn has been fantastic, but it's a little bit like jumping into the serious lap swim session at the pool and then thinking maybe you'd like to try synchronized diving or water polo.  Or maybe you just want to float around contemplating life.

I will try not to go on and on and on and to be as clear as possible.  Let's start with Barn A, the barn I'm currently at.

Barn A

  • Impeccable barn.  Barn aisle is always swept.  Wash rack clean.  Buckets clean.  Stalls clean.  Not so impeccable that you wonder if horses live there, but a pretty tight ship.
  • Good footing in the arena.  Watered regularly.  Raked regularly.
  • Almost everyone there is a better rider than I am and the instruction is top notch.  They went to a show last weekend and took Champion or Reserve Champion in all the divisions they entered.  This was a dressage show.  
  • Great care for the horses.  From the food to regular chiropractic adjustments as needed to vitamins, supplements and knowing when your horse is off, the care is top notch.  I have never had to schedule a vet visit, a dentist visit and now even Tessa's feet are trimmed regularly.  They know what the horses need and they take care of it.  I trust them implicitly when it comes to my horse.  If they think she needs supplements or a vet visit or anything, they let me know right away.
  • Turnouts are good sized and have grass in the summer.  Yes, for a solid six months they are muddy but this is the Pacific Northwest.  That's how we roll.  Horses go out in pairs and have access to a shelter.  They are turned out every other day for 8-10 hours and they come in if the weather is super miserable.  If the horses are kept in, they put them on a rotating schedule of arena time.
  • The people are all nice.  Most of them are serious riders, but everyone has been pleasant.
  • It's only 20 minutes from my house.


  • Only one small indoor arena that is often busy in the evenings with lessons.  Since lessons are serious business, it can be intimidating to ride when this is happening.
  • Nobody rides anything except dressage and jumping.  
  • The community is somewhat tight knit, but I think a lot of it revolves around shows.  There are no children.
  • No place for non-horsey people to hang out if they come to the barn with you.

Barn B


  • Everyone there is super mellow.  Western.  English.  Bareback.  Trail.  They do a little bit of everything.
  • The people there are more into their relationship with their horse than they are the training.  I would likely be one of the 'better' riders or at least one of the more 'serious' ones.  I mean, my first lesson there today she had me ride her horse in a Kimberwicke.  Uh....I have never taken a dressage lesson using a Kimberwicke.  However, she also put me on the longe line and then made me ride bareback!  I learned a lot, even if I was riding in a non-dressage bit.  
  • They do fun things like bonfires, Halloween dress up parties, they have a 4-h group, they go to some local shows.  Lots of community it seems.
  • Their indoor arena was bigger and even with a few other horses in there, didn't feel crowded at all.
  • They have an outdoor riding space.  They call it an arena but it's a grass/sand mixture and it looks like it might be slick when the weather changes.  However, it's outside.  OUTSIDE! 
  • Viewing room with heat and a couch.  And toys for kids.  And kids ride there!  Kids who could hang out with my kid!


  • The barn is not as clean.  I'm not talking about perfection, I just mean it wasn't as clean.  It was totally functional though and not gross at all, just a little less deep on the shavings and a little messier here and there.
  • The turnouts are tiny, gravel turnouts with no shelter and no trees.  They are turned out for about three to four hours a day, but there isn't enough room to take more than about ten steps each direction.  A horse couldn't actually canter out there.  Turnout wouldn't mean much in terms of getting exercise, it would be more about fresh air.
  • I wouldn't be getting the same level of perfection in my instruction.  I might pick up bad habits.  I might decide to screw it all and ride in a Kimberwicke and a hunt seat saddle and show Arab circuit.  I think I might be okay with this because...I might be happier there.
  • Thirty minute drive.  That's an extra twenty minutes each time I go to the barn.  
  • I would have to schedule all my own vet and farrier visits. 
  • The school horse I rode had thrush in his front feet and it's summer.  I could smell it while I was picking out his front feet.  I don't know if that means anything, but I would be concerned if my horse had thrush in August.  In March, not so much, but it's been dry enough around here....but again, maybe I'm being too anal.

In closing, the horse all looked fine at Barn B.  There were about five of them that pinned their ears and lunged at other horses as they passed their stalls, but they also had open windows and I know some horses can be territorial that way.  They all were friendly when I walked by without a horse.

Would you board at a place that didn't have great turnout?  How big of a deal breaker is that for you?  I have looked at barn after barn after barn and this one has come the closest to having the right sense of community and mixture of disciplines and is actually a reasonable distance from me.


  1. I turned down going to an amazing dressage barn because i felt that my horse would not have the opportunity to be a horse and that was what was super important to me. I wanta healthy well balance horse in body and mind and that means having room for turn out being able to enjoy the sun. I enjoy barns with community as well but if they dont have that currently at your barn have you tried maybe being the one to organize or initiate it? Maybe no one has ever really thought about it but im sure most people would be on board with it. My barn is kid friend which is great most of the time but on a horse like mine that is spooky having kids running around can be pretty dangerous at times.
    MY preference would be barn A. Its more structured the horses are well cared for they are happy and healthy with no major care issues.
    Barn B would turn me off with the lack of turn out space, the poor condition of the outdoor (sand and grass? overgrown sand arena maybe?) and the unhappy/aggressive horses.

    All in all it is what is best for you and your horse you just need to ask yourself where will you make more progress what will make you and your horse happy.

    You guys have made leaps and bounds at your current barn will you get the same results at the other one?

  2. Mona, we boarded for years at a place with limited turnout, not as limited a Barn B, but small. After we moved to our current barn with 8 acres of pasture we saw a tremendous difference in our horses leg and circulation health. My 20+ year old arabian looked ten years younger and later at 22 had the xrays of a 12yr old. So for us turn out is a priority. I cannot imagine my Arabs existing with no room to run.
    As for community, I can't comment. Our place is just us and another lady. We are too picky to be in a barn run by someone else.
    Great care for your horse is good for peace of mind, but if you are not having fun, then that can cause problems. Good luck with your decision.

  3. Limited turnout - not enough space for horses to be horses and not enough hours a day - is a deal killer for me. Barn B loses out on that one - small paddocks don't really count as turnout. The big negatives of Barn A are the every other day turnout - I don't much like that either but at least it's real turnout. In the end, good horse care comes first for me, and after that a good atmosphere. The only thing appealing about Barn B is the variety of types of riding. Thrush is a sign of not so great care if the weather conditions don't justify it, and horses that are aggressive in there stalls might just be territorial or it might just be something else.

    It all depends on what you want to do and where you want to go with your riding. To get better at riding, hang out with people who ride better than you do . . .

  4. I agree -turn out is a HUGE deal - it's right there with clean. My question is - did you make an appointment to view Barn B? I'd stick it out at Barn A. Can you ride in a paddock?

  5. Adequate turn-out and access to quality instruction are two-thirds of my must-have list. I am flexible on all sorts of other fronts -- I drive a loooooong way, for example -- but falling short on either of those is a deal-breaker. So barn A in a walkover for me (although I'd be asking if I could pay extra for daily turnout...). The pros are highly significant (to me) and the cons are minor and very much work-with-able. It's much, much easier and much, much more pleasant to learn to ride in company, or just do your own thing, or chat a few folks up in the aisles, etc., than it is to try to maintain a horse in a minimal-turnout situation or to progress your riding/your horse's training without being able to get your math checked, as it were.

    Of course, your priority list may be different than mine, and that's totally fair if so. In that case, though, I would keeping looking for a barn C: somewhere with the more light and communal feel that you seem drawn to _as well as_ the turnout and available guidance to help keep the pony happy and keep you guys progressing, should you decide to reprioritize that, or at least to help out if you should hit a snag.

    Must admit though that I am probably a little more than is fair skeptical of we're-just-having-fun barns. I can understand the desire to be someplace that's low-pressure and laid-back! But in practice, I see a disproportionate number of these where the lack of structure correlates with lack of safety and sense... I've been the non-showing out-group boarder in the serious-business training barn, so y'know, I get why that might not be fun, but at least for me, there's no downside to that situation that I can't control and modify to suit my needs. Being one of the more skilled and knowledgeable folks at a barn where skill and knowledge are maybe not as highly prized, on the other hand...carries aggravations that you generally can't do a whole lot about. There _are_ very good low-key non-showing barns where people are less intense but still basically capable and the horses are basically civilized. If that's what you're after, it's worth looking hard to make sure you land in one of those and not the other kind.

  6. Ooo, Ooo. Sandra's two cents! ; )

    I believe HEAVILY that you need to be somewhere that makes you HAPPY, and that is filled with people you love being around, that make you feel great about your riding and never leave you feeling out of place or hesitant to try something new because of what they might think.

    However, I believe more that we need our horses in a clean environment that meets their needs, so they can be the best partner they can be (sorry, the thrush thing got to me).

    I would be so tempted to leave Tessa where she is now, but moonlight over to the other barn once a week for a lesson on a lesson horse. It DOES help to ride a horse other than your own, and helps you bring lessons home to your own horse. Ask most riders, and they've probably done this. It means trying things like saddle seat or barrels without messing with your horse's current training. Why force Tessa to run around barrels only for you to find out after 4 runs it's not for you? But hey, then you've HAD the experience, and the next time you're bored, you can drag those barrels out at the fancy barn and give it a go.

    : ) Wish there was somehow a combo of A and B, I really do. : ( You really deserve to be somewhere that lets you explore the wonders of riding and your relationship with Tess. : ) Whatever you choose.

  7. I've always thought of it like this: the horse has to live there 24/7, I have to live there 3-4 hours a day. What's best for the horse wins.

    I'd stay at barn A, though the "every other day" turnout would be a dealbreaker for me, personally.

  8. It all comes down to what is most important to you.

    For me -
    #1 - great turn out, grass most of the year, safe fencing, shelter
    #2 - cleanliness of barn, quality of care, knowledgable BO
    #3 - outdoor arena
    #4 - indoor arena
    #5 - friendly fellow boarders - I don't want to be best friends with them, just nice to be around
    #6 - mostly adult riders or older teens (our daughters are 18 and 21, so I would prefer no little ones)

    We drive 30 minutes one way to our current barn, and I am fine with that because it meets all of the above. And my horses are healthy and happy.

  9. Growing up my horses had 4 acres of pasture all day every day, but I only had an outdoor ring... When I came back to ownership ten years later, (being the PNW) I was adament that I wanted a nice, lovely, indoor that i could ride in year round. The first two spots I boarded at had the ring (and the fancy facilities but CRAP for turnout. My first mare was someplace where she was out all day everyday (but on gravel) and in paddocks too small to really run in. At this point i"m a firm believer that not being able to roll comfortably or gallop and loosen her body were big contributors to her pain issues.

    I'd gladly give up my indoor for good turnout, and it's something I'd definitely pay extra for. I think when ever I've skimped on goof turnout for the horses I end up paying for it in attitude, vet bills and frustration.

    I like the sound of Barn B, but I don't think I'd be able to move my horses there.

  10. I'm only going to make one comment.

    Barn A: no exclamation points.

    Barn B: 4 exclamation points.

    Maybe barn B isn't the barn for you, but it doesn't sound like barn A is either!

    Sounds to me like you're ready for a change. I'm in that same situation too. :)

  11. I think I've boarded at every type of facility over the years. Other than my first horse at the age of 12, every one since then has been boarded (I think a total of 12 different barns).

    There are two things that make a happy barn for me. First and foremost, my horse is safe and well cared for. Good fences, good food, good staff, good shelter. I will put up with a lot of crap for those things. Second is good community. I felt like I couldn't even go see my horse at one barn because the drama and the back stabbing and the hate hate hate that went on there. Third is facilities for me. They need to be usable and I need to have access to them! You can have the nicest indoor in the world but if it's always booked what good is it? I really need to be able to ride and I need to feel safe doing so.

    I've boarded with zero turnout but I visited my horse every day.
    On the other end of the spectrum I've boarded 24/7 turnout with only seeing my horse a few times a week.

    Your post is well timed because (big secret) I just moved barns this week. Didn't totally want to but Husband and I really need to start pinching some pennies if we want to finally get a place of our own! So what did I trade? Good care, ok turnout, good feed, bestest community better, good facilities for...very nice turnout, good feed, ok facilities, not my cup of tea community and huge money savings. I think it will work out.

    Sorry about rambling. I'd say make a priority list of what it is that you need and find the closest match. I'm not sure any barn is perfect (I'm yet to find one) so all you can do is decide what's important to you and go for it. If it doesn't work out, move again. I moved out of one place after just 3 months! It sucks but you do what you have to do!

    Good luck!