To Board or Not?

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I’ve seen this debate on a few other equine blogs and thought I’d post my own views here so I wouldn’t tread on any toes. I can think of several reasons why someone might opt to board instead of keeping their horse at home … even if they have the space and ability to do so.

  1. If you can only afford to have one horse then that horse is going to have to live alone. Horses are herd animals and usually do better when they can be around a few of their own kind. Yes, some people substitute a goat, but that doesn’t always pan out as planned. Add another horse to your homestead and you double the cost and responsibility. And sometimes when you go off property with one horse, the other has a fit. Then what? Where does it end? It’s a common conundrum.
  2. People with young children may struggle to keep the kind of riding, feeding and grooming routine that a horse requires and when they do, it’s usually the riding and grooming (one-on-one time) that falls to the wayside, often for years. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the empty-nesters. After years of being tied down they often want to do a bit of traveling, but find it anywhere from hard to downright impossible to locate competent and reliable horse & barn sitters … not to mention VERY expensive!
  3. Try getting a vet, farrier or equine dentist to come to a single horse or small backyard barn. Sorry, but small hobby farms generally rank way down on their clientele list. Most professionals will waive their farm call fee if they’re servicing several horses at one stop, but this rarely happens with a small backyard enterprise. We get to pay full travel costs 100% of the time.
  4. Unless challenged, people tend to ride at their own level of comfort  … so if you’re not riding regularly with someone who knows more or rides better than you, you’ll probably not advance or improve much beyond your current level of expertise. And yes, most people have no idea how little they know until they ride with someone who knows a whole lot more. (Guilty!)
  5. Your riding is limited to the conditions nature provides. Unless of course you have your own indoor arena. Like,  when riding in full sun gets to too hot and there’s no shade, or when the bugs in the woods become a constant issue, or when its raining or snowing or any other time the weather or footing is iffy. Then you can’t ride. Period. I can’t tell you how much saddle time I lost last year because of one or more of these issues.
  6.  If you want to show, trail ride somewhere off your property or take lessons on your own horse you’ll have to have a truck and trailer … even if it means they’ll sit there rusting 3/4 of the year or more. If you board, chances are pretty good you’ll have access to a trainer and can hitch a ride to shows or trail rides on the barn trailer or with a friend. Probably for a fee of course, but it beats having to pay year-round expenses on a truck and trailer that you may seldom use. (Been there, done that, finally sold it!)
  7. You can almost always find someone to ride with. This really helps during those times when you lack a little motivation, confidence or if you’re having a specific issue with something and want a second opinion. For trail riders, there’s also safety in numbers. Many who keep their horse at home are forced to ride alone, which younger riders on seasoned horses might not consider a problem, but that could change with time. I know plenty of back yard pasture potatoes who fell into early retirement because their owners got tired of riding alone, or lost their confidence and/or motivation. It happens far too often.
  8. If you get seriously sick, injured or (God forbid) have a major emergency, your horse will still need to be cared for until the crisis passes.  I went through three major spinal operations in a row and caring for my large animals was a constant worry, both during the surgery and lengthy hospital stays, as well as the 6-12 months of recovery that followed. I also lost both parents in quick succession and suddenly had to travel home for an extended period of time. Again, it was a scramble to cover my bases at home and I really didn’t need that extra stress then. If you have livestock at home and you don’t have tons of pasture then you HAVE to be home a minimum of twice a day, 365 days a year. (I feed hay four times a day, so I’m on an even tighter schedule) Sometimes that’s a great excuse to leave an event early, but more often than not there will be times when this will seriously cramp your style or create a lot of stress.
  9. If your horse develops a sudden health problem you’ll have the support and help of other knowledgeable people. The first time one of my horses got baldy injured it was a major wake-up call, and I soon realized how complicated things can get in the blink of an eye. I was working full time and not having any backup help at home was a huge juggling act with a horse that needed hands-on care and meds three times a day for several weeks on end.
  10. All the leg work has to be done by you. Getting hay, loading and unloading grain, spreading the manure pile, cleaning and filling water tanks, barn repairs, etc. If you only have so much time to ride, those chores will take a big bite out of your saddle time. And the older you get the heavier those bales feel! And speaking of bales, hay brokers here would rather sell hay to big barns in larger quantities than deal with the smaller lots that backyard folks require. We have a small barn that can’t store lots of hay so we never get any price breaks. Hay goes for $6-$9 a bale here unless you can buy and store large quantities. For this reason alone we’re now looking to build a second building just to house hay. (Cha-ching!) Hay is too costly to buy in smaller quantities and it’s becoming more and more difficult to find at certain times of the year. Getting and storing good quality hay is a constant worry for backyard folks.

I know there are advantages to having your horse at home because I’ve lived that way all my life. But I have friends who must board and truth be told, sometimes we envy each other for very different reasons. I think people who board like to fantasize about the improved relationship they’d have with their horse if it lived at home with them. Frankly, I think that’s a bunch of bunk. My horses don’t like me more because I’m the one who feeds them. And when one of my friends hops a plane to head out for a vacation I like to remind them I’ve flown someplace for fun only four times in the last 25 years.

Opinions?

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7 thoughts on “To Board or Not?

  1. Yep, just got back from a rare evening out, in time to put the “babies” to bed, whilst everyone else carried on, carrying on! You put into words my dilemma exactly; completely in agreement from 1 to 10! Much as I love having the three of our boys at home, in the winter when they’re stabled overnight the workload cuts into riding time and energy so much so that these days I hardly ever get to ride. With two in their late twenties and one just turned 11, we’ll keep on as we are, but if we are down to two or just one, I’ve already got a couple of good livery yards picked out. Then we might get to have the occasional trip away and riding time might be better quality time spent with the “youngster”. You must be reading my mind!

    • I so understand your plight! I’ve kicked around the idea of boarding Dharla for a short bit. Well actually, putting her up with her prior trainer. So I guess that’s more like sending her back for more training than boarding, but IMO, it’s kinda the same thing. Bottom line, she wouldn’t be here in my back yard. I’d try to get there at least twice a week to take two lessons on her, but the rest of the time the trainer would be working with her on some stuff. Then I’d bring her home again. But if I do board her then what happens to Bullet? He’d be fairly distraught at her absence. So I dunno. It’s such a difficult thing to decide. Since I love trail riding I’d like my horses to be here during the best trail riding season. We have great access to tons of trails. But other times of the year I’m always forced to sit around and wait for better footing or better weather and that’s a setback for a young horse. Ug! There are no easy answers, that’s for sure!

  2. I agree with you on all your points. Owning a horse adds on so many responsibilities whether you board or keep it at home. I always tell everyone it’s more of a whole lifestyle than just a responsibility. We do a combination of boarding and keeping horses at home depending on show season or training needs.

    • You’re absolutely right, it IS a lifestyle! After doing it for forty-five years I’m so used it that I don’t really think (much) about all the responsibilities. Mostly it’s just an issue when there’s a crisis of some sort. Or yeah, when you want to go away. But like my husband likes to say, “We’re livin’ the dream!” so I really shouldn’t complain! Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I want to avoid advertising my own program at a university here, but for some recreational riders, especially those who mostly show or ride in the summer, loaning your horse can be a great option as well. We have a number of horses in our university program owned by students, alumni, or just community members and acquaintances. From late August through early May, the horses live at the university equestrian center and 100% of their care is covered by the school: the owners do not pay board, vet fees, farrier fees, dental or even chiropractor costs. In exchange, we use the horse in the program. The horses must tolerate multiple riders and ever horse does go through a 30-day trial period to make sure it will be suitable and happy in our program.
    Right now the only way I can afford to keep my horses is to have them on loan to the program. One of my mares was not working out so I found an alternate situation for her to live in as I work on selling her. The hard reality is that this lifestyle will not work for a lot of horses–but I do know a number of loaners who are extremely happy with the fitness condition and overall health of their horse when it comes back home for the summer.

    I agree with your list of reasons 100% for boarding! The only way I will have my horses on my own property is the eventual day when I am independently wealthy enough to have a full-size training facility 🙂

    • I don’t mind you using my blog to talk about your university program! It’s a great idea and you never know who might be reading this and decide to look into that option. I know my friend who does it says it’s a lifesaver for her … let’s her keep her horse and keep him happy and busy. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. I was wondering, is there any particular type of horse that you look for? A specific breed or riding style, or is it all good?

      • We teach hunt seat flat/jumping, a bit of dressage, western horsemanship and reining, so we are always looking for horses in those disciplines. True showjumpers (not hunter-jumpers) and game horses don’t generally have a place in our program.
        We don’t necessarily look at breed or show record; my mom donated her grade pony cross who turned out to be a fabulous little hunter show pony while some of the “top of the line” show horses we get in on trial don’t work at all. We are looking for horses who can tolerate multiple riders both physically and mentally and who fit our program by discipline.

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