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Choice of boarding barns

From: Catherine

Dear Jessica, I think I already know what you will tell me about this problem, but I really would appreciate hearing from you. The boarding barn where I have kept my horse for five years is closing due to the owner's health. Luckily for me there are quite a few boarding barns nearby, and I have my choice of three of them. My problem is that I am having terrible trouble deciding which one to choose. Here are my choices:

Barn Number One: is eight miles from my home an easy drive. It is small with only five other boarders, which is nice. The other boarders are nice people. The barn is owned and run by two sisters who are in their late 60s and have pretty much given their life to horses. They are both very caring and concerned and have a lot of experience and are always available to help whenever there is a problem. BUT, the property is small, just under seven acres in size, so the turnout is limited (horses go out in the field for eight hours a day and then are in stalls with runs attached for the other 16 hours). The horses all seem okay about this but I know that 24/7 turnout is better. Also, there is no actual riding arena! There is a big flat (sort of flat, not really very flat) grass area that has been marked off with concrete blocks and boards. It is bigger than a large dressage arena, but it's just grass and dirt so if it rains hard or there is ice, it isn't any good for riding. I have talked with the owners and the other boarders and they say that if it's a very icy winter or a very wet spring, there may not be any chance to do serious riding for a couple of months at a time! I asked the owners if they were planning to make a real arena and they said probably not as they can't really afford it. This is a real drawback, but I like the people a lot and the management is good and the horses that live here all seem very relaxed and happy.

Okay, Barn Number Two! This one is twelve miles away but the drive doesn't really take a lot longer than to the first barn. It has a small outdoor arena, with real footing, that can be used pretty much year round unless there is really heavy rain or ice. There is more turnout, horses go out for twelve hours and come in for twelve (stall only, no runs). There are twenty boarders at this barn, I don't know them all. The owners seem like nice people but apparently aren't around much, both of them work in town, and the boarders say that the owners don't know all that much about horses anyway, they bought the place as an investment and plan to sell it to developers in another ten years when their youngest kid goes to college. So it won't be around forever, but ten years is a long time away.

Barn Number Three is almost too far away to be practical for me, it is twenty-five miles from home, but because of the way the roads and the highway connect, it doesn't seem all that far, the drive is fast. It has the same turnout setup as Barn Number Two with the 12 hours on, 12 hours off arrangement, but the stalls have (small - 12x12) runs attached to them so the horses can at least get fresh air the rest of the time. It has an outdoor arena like the first barn's, just a marked-off area of grass and dirt, BUT it has an indoor arena too! I was very excited to see this because I thought it would be great for riding in winter and whenever there is rain, ice, and so on. But it is a very small indoor, about 50' x 60', and the footing is very lumpy. Also, it is in a low area and apparently can get flooded if it rains really hard. But it IS an indoor. The stalls are big and there are trails nearby. The owner lives in another state, and the woman who is running the place for the owner is very strange, sort of a recluse, and is very hard to get hold of, and I'm afraid that if I had an emergency and needed her to help with something, she wouldn't be home or else wouldn't answer the door.

None of these barns is a bad place, but I don't know which one would be best for me. I am leaning towards the first place mostly because of the sisters who own it. They are so nice and helpful and they know so much, I would feel safe leaving my horse with them and I know that if I needed help they would give it to me. One of the boarders there told me about the time her horse started to colic and one of the sisters found him and took care of him while the other one called the vet and the owner. The horse is fine today but I wonder if he would be alive if he had been kept at a barn where the owner or manager is never around or doesn't notice things or doesn't take action. I know I should be more independent than this, but it makes me feel secure to know that a barn is run by someone who will notice things that are wrong and do something about them or at least let me know.

So, what do you think, which barn should I choose? Catherine

Hi Catherine! Of course you already know what I'm going to say, because it's the same thing that you're thinking yourself. It sounds as though Barn #1 is going to be your best bet, because no barn can be better than the people who manage it, and that's the best-managed barn of the three you've described. Naturally it would be lovely if they had more space, more turnout, and a proper arena with footing, but your primary interest should be in finding a place where your horse will be safe and happy, and it sounds as though you've found that.

The best barn isn't the one with the most space or the most expensive facilities - it's the one with the best horse care, the best management, and the best support system for boarders. You've described one barn where you feel that you can relax and trust the management, and two barns where you feel as though you are very much on your own when it comes to your horse's care and welfare.

Re the other two barns: I'm sure that either could be suitable for you if there is no room at the first one, but you would probably need to "buddy up" with another boarder or two so that you could help look after one another's horses.

Good luck!


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