Do You Need to Apologize to Your Boarding Barn?
Where in the world did my expectations of what a boarding facility should offer me and my horse come from anyway?
Socrates knew what he was talking about when he said:
He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.
This is a true saying when it comes to my past horse boarding experiences prior to owning my own farm. I did a thorough consideration prior to making a boarding facility decision and because I did the research I expected to be happy with the outcome. I took the time to contact the State Board of Agriculture for a list of inspected boarding facilities and started making phone calls. When I spoke with the farm owners I asked questions based on some feedback from a website called https://thehorse.com. They suggested to inquire about: cost, preventative care requirements, barn rules, contracts, names of current boarders as reference, turn out time and stall size, as a start. After a thorough investigation utilizing these qualifications, I felt my first barn had met these requirements perfectly…..until they didn’t.
No Substitute for Years of Experience
Fifteen years, three boarding barns and my own ‘country paradise’ later my experience has created a new realization on this subject. What was never considered in my first search of the perfect place for my horse was the facility owners point of view of my integrity and contribution to their ‘boarding family.’ When I selfishly asked questions that applied to my ‘checklist,’ I now realize that that their brains were wondering if this person asking the questions will: follow the barn rules, consider safe practices, be considerate and communicate, clean up after themselves, supply their horse with necessary supplies, pay on time or have a horse that will cause trouble, be a person who may create emotional drama, impose on their personal time and space etc. Looking back I’m surprised there is ever good communication with such diverse perspectives.
Some Great Resources to Round out Your Perspective
This is an informative article that covers the benefits of boarding vs the real cost of owning a boarding barn. This is an article on theridinginstructor.net The article is titled The Truth in Boarding Barns and it’s worth the read.
Another good read from The Chronicle of the Horse (July 2015) and Practical Horseman (Aug 2014) discuss the topic of horse boarding with examples that seem to recycle themselves fairly regularly. One article opened with “There is no such thing as a perfect boarding barn.” This is certainly how I may have felt years ago, and now viewing it from a different perspective I realize there is no such thing as a perfect boarder either.
In the Aug. ’14 ‘Practical Horseman contributors defined one of the markers of quality horse care as - at least 8 hours a day of decent turn out or more. This was exactly how I felt fifteen years ago, lots of green grass and roaming time for my horse would be ideal. My consideration of tasks like taking on and off grazing muzzles, fly masks, blanketing, watching for illness and injury, cleaning stalls and a keeping a tidy facility was something I just assumed was included in my monthly fee. I never really stopped to think about the number of hours this person was putting in just to manage my horse’s needs when everything was going right. Not to mention how many extra hours and effort they pitch in with, when issues arise.
My Complete 180
My new realization has turned out to be a full 180 from the way I originally looked at having a horse boarding location. I see that taking care of horses is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job. So few horse owners are capable of taking this job on because they have other obligations in their lives such as children, a job, or after hour obligations! Boarding barns fill a huge need in our community, making it possible for people to become horse owners even when they can’t dedicate themselves to daily care and upkeep of their horse and the facility to house them.
As a horse boarder looking for a barn I was thinking:
- How many hours of turnout does my horse get?
- What is the rain/lightening/blanketing - inclement weather policy?
- Is there good stall hygiene - footing/shavings clean and dry?
- Who handles the farrier & vet appointments and do I have to be there to hold or pay extra?
- Are fences well maintained?
- What kind of hay is fed? How are supplements handled?
- What are the barn rules?
- Are there current and former boarders I can talk to?
Now as a barn owner I am wondering:
- How do I keep pastures healthy and horse herd interaction safe?
- How nitpicky might this owner be regarding details?
- Will this owner be on time for vet and farrier appointments or be OK with paying extra for me to do that?
- How will this boarder handle the inevitable accidents that happen?
- Will they follow the barn rules and be respectful?
- Will they create drama and gossip at the barn?
- Will they intrude on my personal time and space by being too needy?
- Will they pay on time or quibble over extra fees for extra services?
Experience replaces theory and Gremlins
Now I ‘get it.’ The topic that resonates in the stall hallways, feed and tack rooms of every boarding facility from Oregon to West Palm Beach Florida is ~ expectations of boarding facility owners and horse boarders! When my search began many years ago for a boarding barn to keep my horse, it felt like all my expectations were met by my second visit. But, after we were there for a few months and I spent time ‘hanging-out’ at the farm that the gremlins began to jump out at me.
Those pixies sat on my shoulder and whispered things like
- “Gee this grass has a lot of weeds in it.”
- “My horse doesn’t get enough turn out.”
- “My pony should have a bigger stall, this is not a 12x12.”
- “There is white mold in the winter hay roll.”
- “Why don’t we have hot water at the wash rack.”
- “I heard the tenured boarder is paying less than me.”
- “There are too many horses for the size of the pastures.”
- “I don’t like these shavings, the other ones were softer.”
- “My tack space is too small.”
- “They are raising my board rate again!”
That pixie got so heavy on my shoulders after a year or two that I would begin looking for a new barn so I could leave that gremlin behind.
I Think I Can Do it Better!
Yet every facility we boarded at harbored more pixies that would soon find me. Finally, the search began for my own farm where everything would be perfect, as I saw perfection for my horse. After six years of searching, it found me and off we went. I began mending fences, fertilizing pastures, customizing the tack room and stalls, flicking those pixies out of my memory.
Fast forward three years and there was a new creature that showed up in my day! This gnome sits on my fence and awaits my arrival each morning.
My gnome whispers things like:
- “Congrats on your rich pastures, now your horses are too fat.”
- “Why haven’t you put that hot water heater in yet?”
- “You need more shavings.”
- “Look at the dust and spider webs in your stalls and tack room.”
- “Your horses can’t eat all this grass, time to mow again.”
- “These fences need more attention; your colt is chewing the wood.”
- “You haven’t ridden your horses in months.”
- “Don’t you miss your barn buddies?”
A New Outlook on How to Approach A Boarding Barn Decision
As with other life lessons, there is just no substitute for experience in gaining the real wisdom needed to appreciate what we have every day. I am reminded of Barbara’s comment theridinginstructor.net article “Boarding barns make it possible for other people to become horse owners.” This is not a lamentation or regret, but an ‘ah-ha’ moment. If I were to go back and begin boarding again it would be from a different mind-set.
Rather than asking about what me and my horse were getting for our money, I would also ask about the farm owners typical day and their personal life. What would they change about their facilities and boarders if they could? I would also ask how they felt about me volunteering some of my free time to assist with something that I see needs to be done or that they would like help with. Or possibly doing a boarder’s fund raiser for something on the wish-list.
The take-home message to barn boarders is please ignore the pixie dust blowing about your head. Appreciate what you have! If you still feel you can’t shake that gremlin, ask your barn owner if you can shadow them for a weekend. A beautiful sunny day when all your saddle buddies are ready to ride and you have to stay behind. Or better yet pick a rainy muddy cold weekend as they slop about in the mud and go about their day slogging back and forth to move horses and wet blankets. There is just no substitute for the experience to gain full perspective on what services these boarding barns and owners are providing.
To all my former barn owners, I leave you with this:
I find myself in a big fat mess:
I’ve come to you because I must confess.
You gave me your best, but I wanted more;
because I couldn’t see all the burdens you bore.
Burdens of horses, people and budgets;
I never knew until I had to touch it.
So please take this sincerely, sincerely from me;
I owe you a big APOLOGY!
By: Nancy Fitzgibbons