Boarding vs Home: Which is Right For You and Your Horse?

Jan 07, 2011 10 Comments by

This has been one of those weeks where I am especially glad that I board my horse and am not solely responsible for his daily care. I came down with the holiday plague that has been passed around my family over the last two weeks and was incredibly glad I didn’t have to leave my couch for any reason. Between coughing, congestion, fever, headache, everything ache, heading out into the cold would have been more than unpleasant – and worse would have drawn my sickness out even longer.

I know many people who absolutely love having their horses on their property and providing for their every need personally. I am not one of those people.

Even if I had the option to keep Ace at my house, I would choose to board. I enjoy my horse more when I can concentrate my time on playing with him, riding him, and giving him that extra special attention. I wouldn’t have the time for that focus if I was doing all of his care myself. I like the freedom to go away to visit my family out-of-state for a weekend, or sleep in on a rare Saturday.

But most importantly, horses are a social activity for me. As much as I love Ace, I’m not into horses just for my relationship with him. I love being around other horses and horse people on a regular basis. I like trail riding with friends, talking with my trainer friend, hanging out with the teenage girls, and getting the wide experience involved with so many different personalities and ideas. That’s what I would miss the most if I didn’t board my horse. Even more importantly, Ace loves his boarding barn. He’s a social horse .. with people that is … so he loves having a steady stream of people who dote on him throughout the day.

There are definitely plenty of good reasons as well as drawbacks to both boarding and  home care. Here are some of the pros of cons that I think of for each (with a big shout out to the peeps on Twitter and Facebook who helped flesh out these lists!)…

Considerations When Choosing To Board Your Horse

I grew up riding at a large boarding and lesson barn, and now as an adult found a wonderful boarding barn that I love for Ace. There’s certainly a lot to love about boarding, while it does have some significant drawbacks.

Pros of Boarding

  • It’s social. I mentioned this already, but I love the social aspects of boarding. Lots of horse friends and their horses to hang with around the barn, on the trails, at shows. It’s fun to be with people who share your passion.
  • The facilities. You often have access to more facilities when boarding, such as an indoor arena, wash stalls, and tack rooms. The indoor arena was a major factor for me in choosing to board, as cold weather doesn’t deter me any!
  • The care. It’s nice to have other people who are there on a daily basis to clean your horse’s stall, feed him several times a day, and handle his turnout. I’m fortunate that my barn cleans stalls 7 days a week and is staffed by incredibly attentive people who never miss even the slightest problem with my horse.
  • The freedom. You have the freedom to go away on trips, stay home if you aren’t feeling well, and take care of other aspects of life without neglecting your horse’s care.
  • The supplies. You don’t have to worry about tracking down hay, feed, bedding, and any other necessary supplies that can sometimes be difficult to find at a good price, at the right quantity. And you don’t have to worry about unloading and stacking those bales of hay either.
  • Sharing the vet. Sharing a vet call is  one way you can save some money boarding over home care. When you can split a $50 farm call fee between five owners, that’s good savings!

Cons of Boarding

  • It can be more costly. When you board, you are paying for the people who are taking care of your horse for you, as well as for the facilities.
  • Less input. When you board, you have less input in how your horse is cared for than if you had him at home. You may want him to have more shavings, but that’s added expense for the owner who may nix it. It’s more difficult to institute complicated feed or care routines that take more time on the worker’s part. You also must adhere to the farm’s vaccination and de-worming policies, which can run contradictory to your preferences.
  • Extra costs. Many farm owners will charge you extra if you want them to give your horse supplements, put on and remove blankets, provide medical care such as wrapping legs, or even turnout. All of those require time, and time is money when they have to pay an employee to handle those services for your horse.
  • Barn drama. It happens everywhere. Kinda unavoidable when you put a bunch of women (and a few men) into a close situation with all their “kids” too.

Considerations for Keeping Your Horse At Home

Every once in a while I daydream about how nice it would be to look out my kitchen window and see Ace grazing in a large, lush pasture behind the house. I would venture to guess every horse crazy has that dream from time to time – and for many that is a reality. There’s certainly a lot to be said for having your horse at home, but there are also a few drawbacks.

Pros of Having Your Horse at Home

  • Accessibility. There’s something beautiful about having your horse right there, greeting you first thing in the morning and when you get home from work, available to visit and ride any time you want.
  • Control. With your horse at home, you have total control to care for him in the way you see most fit. A lot of the horse owners I know who’ve really taken the time to get to know their horse as well as equine anatomy and best care practices, will be super picky about feed, routine, and more. You can also control the atmosphere and the people and horses around your horse. At home, you can do things exactly the way you want to.
  • Cost effective. You can save money by keeping your horse at home because you aren’t paying for the man-hours needed to care for your horse daily and maintain the property.
  • Attentiveness. With your horse at home, you see him several times a day. This allows you to catch any issues or injuries very quickly.
  • Relationship. Part of building a relationship with your horse is knowing everything about him … his stall habits, when and where he likes to sleep, how he interacts with other horses in the pasture. You are in a better position to observe all this with him at your house.

Cons of Keeping Your Horse at Home

  • It’s all on you. All the time. No sick days, and no vacations unless you can find a very responsible pet sitter and pay them accordingly.
  • Fewer facilities. Most people with horses at home don’t have an indoor arena, so can’t ride in inclement weather. You have to get creative in many areas that would be covered by a decent boarding barn.
  • More responsibility. You have to find hay and bedding suppliers, and find ways to get these materials to your farm and stored. You are also responsible for property maintenance … mending fences, keeping water troughs from freezing in winter, keeping the barn in tiptop shape.
  • Ebbs and flows in costs. You may not have that good-sized monthly boarding bill, but you will have very large expenses several times a year when you need to bring in a hay shipment. Also, there’s no one to share those vet farm call fees with.
  • Isolation. You may not have friends nearby to share rides and horsey time with.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me a whole lot to think about!

When it comes down to choosing what’s best for you and your horse, I think you need to set your priorites and then go over which option will best fit those priorities. For me, access to an indoor arena and other horse people totally trumps what I see as the biggest con of boarding: lack of control. The opposite may be true for you.

Do you board your horse or keep him/her/they at home? Why is that the best for you and your horse? And did I miss any pros and cons on these lists?

Featured, Horse Care, Horse Ownership

10 Responses to “Boarding vs Home: Which is Right For You and Your Horse?”

  1. pjmac says:

    I have done both and really prefer to board. Not only does it give me more time to ride, social contacts and opportunity to have a weekend away, but it also gives me access to an amazing trainer and regular lessons. I can ride in individual or group lessons as well as trail ride around the farm with a group. We have some schooling shows during the year-no trailering fees:). For me, at this time in my life, boarding is the way to go. I agree with you about the indoor arena-cold doesn’t stop me from riding.

  2. OnTheBit says:

    Great post! I still want my Gen at home though! Too bad that poperty taxes alone on a 5 acre farm are $18,000 a year in my area. I think I will be a boarder forever, but I wish I could have Gen at home!

  3. AQH RDR says:

    Great post! I have boarded my horses & had them at home & I for one LOVE having them at my own place. No barn drama, no worry about if my horses are receiving the best care, I know if I leave something in one place it’ll be in the same spot when I return, no rules about which farrier or vet to use, etc. There were some pros to boarding as you mentioned, such as nice facilities & making other horse friends, & some barns are quite pleasant to be a part of. I admit that boarding for several years taught me alot & really prepared me for taking care of them on my own as well.

    I think that my situation now is ideal because I have 3 horses so they have their social time with other horses. I also have just enough land & facilities including a riding arena & lots of trails nearby to ride on so that’s a perk! Also I have the whole feed / hay / vet / farrier thing down to a science so no worries there. As a bonus, my vet splits a farm call between me & the other horse barns in the area! It does take more time & dedication but my horses are well worth the extra effort! I think it’s a personal decision & horse owners just have to find what’s best for their individual situation :)

  4. Michelle says:

    We love to board for all the same reasons as you do. My husband badly wants to buy a small farm so we can have the horses at home and my son has room for a dirt bike track. I’m all for the farm but I’d like to keep boarding!!

  5. Name says:

    what i do is at my camp we have a feild so we bring my horse there for a “vacation” for bpth of us. then we bring her back to the barn i board her at. and so i get a taste of both so if its good weather we bring her up to camp to ride on the trails there and to also train her for when i get real professinal so she doesnt get herd bound…I like things this way so we still board her and get the pros of boarding and get the pros of having her at home….

  6. chris says:

    For me it is the fact that horses are social animals and having one horse at home is not doing what is in their best interest. Having one horse and boarding him means he gets the socialization he needs and I get the freedom of all the things you mentioned above as the positive. And when I work out the cost it is more cost effective to board than having to pay for all the necessary things if he were at home.

  7. Annette says:

    For me, it’s a no brainer because of the boarding culture here as well as my horse’s needs.

    I have a high energy horse who NEEDS hours of turnout in very safe fencing. The boarding culture here doesn’t see a reason to even include turnout in board at all at most facilities. I blame the fact most people have quarter horses who are mellow and simply don’t need it. The fact turnout is better for EVERY horse just doesn’t seem to be understood.

    So, I’m building horse facilities with runs out the stalls, one of which is going to be very large (around 130′x200′) so the horses can all move around more. It’s not acres upon acres of rolling pastures, but we don’t really get much grass growing in the desert.

  8. Cozzie says:

    One big reason I would board a horse is socialization for your horse. Horses are herd animals and enjoy being with other horses/companion animals. With boarding, there are other horses out in the pasture or paddock, which satisfies that particular need. This is especially helpful if you only have one horse. Good post, though!

  9. Judi Daly says:

    I love boarding, and wouldn’t have it any other way–except I wish there were stables closer to home. With our winters, it is awesome to have an indoor arena. Plus, the boarding stables are all near the riding trails.

    One thing I think I would like about keeping a horse at home–I think I could afford a couple more that way!

    Judi Daly
    Author of “Trail Training for the Horse and Rider” and “Trail Horse Adventures and Advice”

  10. Katelyn Hobday says:

    Okay, so I’m twelve, and I have been riding for years. Blah, blah, blah. I want a horse. My dad wants us to be able to actually own the horse ourselves, at home, but he doesn’t think I am ready. I do and I don’t, but I would prefer to have my horse at home. My dad wants city, I want country, so there is another problem. What should I do?? Try to board? I think it would be fun to have a horse at home, mucking, loading and all. I would live with nearby stables, probably find a girl like me and let her horse live with mine, so I would make friends. And I would have lots of people around him/her 24/7. But I doubt I can own 2 horses… so I have a problem there too. Help me out please!

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