When choosing a boarding facility for your horse, you must first decide on the type of stabling you require. The main types are:
Full Board. Full board includes all the routine items normally required by a horse. The monthly fee covers the facilities (stall, paddock/pasture), materials (bedding, food), and labor (mucking out, feeding, keeping an eye on the horse’s health). Additional services which might be provided include: regular brushing down of the horse, periodic shower, exercising.
Partial Board. In this case the stable manager provides stall space (a box), along with paddock and/or pasture. However, caring for the horse is the responsibility of the horse owner rather than the stable manager. One needs to consider what happens if you are unable from time to time (e.g. work commitments, family crisis, away on holiday) to perform all the daily requirements. Do you need to find a friend to do these or will the stable manager do them for you? In the latter case, what are the additional fees?
Pasture Board. Pasture is simply a fenced in area. It provides food (grass) for the horses and exercise. There are normally a number of horses on each pasture, providing a social group. This is usually the least expensive type of stabling, as there are no stalls to clean and no bedding is provided. However, it is not suitable for all horses (e.g. old, sick or weak horses), especially during very hot or very cold weather.
Pasture Access and Quality
Except for short rest periods, horses generally prefer to spend as much time as possible on pasture rather than in their stalls. The amount of access they have to pasture each day and the quality of the pasture will largely determine how happy and healthy they are. When evaluating the pasture for your stabled horse, factors to consider include:
- Quality and quantity of grass. Too little grass or poor quality grass and your horse may not have enough to eat. Alternatively, if it is too rich, your horse runs the risk of laminitis.
- Physical Safety. The fencing should not have holes or breaks, as this could allow your horse to wander off into danger. Electrical wire is normally safer than high-tension wire (which can cut and even main your horse if he gets tangled in it) or barbed wire (which can cause injuries). The fields should be clean of any objects which could injure the horses (e.g. pieces of broken fencing wire which has been left about can tangle around a horse’s legs and cause serious injuries).
- Maintenance. Are the fence posts solid (not rotten, not loose in the ground)? Are fence boards in good condition and without protruding nails? Is fencing wire taut (not sagging or lying on the ground)? Is the amount of horse droppings on the ground not excessive?
- Weeds. Certain weeds are toxic to horses. Depending on the weed, it can cause immediate or long-term health issues. If the pasture is weedy, check that none of them are of a poisonous variety.
- Size. A substantial pasture provides more mental stimulation, greater emotional satisfaction and more exercise opportunities.
- Shelter. Is there adequate shelter on the pastures for all the horses? Note that strong horses will often bully weaker horses away from shelters, so a generous amount of shelter is required if all the horses are to benefit.
- Drainage. Is the pasture well drained, or do pools of water form during wet weather? Standing in water can be very bad for horse hooves.
- Other Horses. A horse is a herd animal and consequently requires the companionship of other horses. However, it is important that all the horses in a given pasture are compatible, to avoid excessive fighting or bullying.
PaddockMany stables have limited pasture access, but provide a paddock instead. Although pasture access is preferable, a good paddock can be a reasonable substitute. Factors to consider when evaluating the paddock facilities include:
- Size. A horse will prefer a large paddock to a small one. If the horse has substantial access to pasture then the size of the paddock is much less important than the case where the horse has no access or only limited access to pasture.
- Access. A paddock which is freely accessible to the horse (e.g. through an open door from its stall) will be of greater value to a horse than a paddock to which it has only limited access.
- Construction. The paddock should be secure and should have a suitable surface. Most surfaces (sand, wood chips or gravel) are satisfactory for a horse with good hooves. However, a horse with hoof problems may require a softer surface (e.g. sand, wood chips).
- Sharing. There is nothing wrong with a shared paddock, provided that all the horses get along and there is no bullying. However, if there are conflicts between the horses, individual paddocks are often more suitable.
StallIn almost all stables (unless one has opted for pasture boarding), the horse will spend a considerable amount of time in its stall and in many stables the horse will spend the majority of each day in its stall. Consequently, this aspect of your prospective stable needs to be carefully evaluated in terms of:
- Size. The size of the stall is very important, especially if a horse spends a substantial amount of time in its stall each day. A small stall is physically uncomfortable and forces a horse to lie down in its own excrement as there is no additional place available. The minimum size for a stall is a matter of debate, but we recommend at least 3m by 3m for a standard size horse and at least 3.5m by 3.5m for a large horse.
- Height. Are the stall doors high enough that if a horse runs in with its head up, there is no risk of injury? Are the ceilings high enough that a horse cannot hit its head?
- Safety. Is the stall safe? Does it have any protruding nails, wood slivers or metal bits that the horse could injure itself on? Are the walls and door solid enough that a horse cannot kick through (if it can kick through, it can injure its leg, or become trapped and breaks its leg).
- Cleaning. The stall should be clean, dry and not smell (in particular, not smell of ammonia). Stalls should be cleaned at least once per day; twice if the horse spends the majority of the day in its stall.
- Ventilation. Does the air smell clean, or does it smell damp or musty or stale? If the stable is closed at night and opened for airing in the morning, the best time to check (if possible) is just before the stable is opened for airing as this is the time when ventilation issues will be easiest to detect.
- Pests. Are there any indications of rodents or excessive insects in the stall areas? If so, this is an indication of problems.
- Time. A horse which spends most of its day in the stall is receiving less physical and mental exercise than one which has substantial access to paddock and pasture. However, young horses (and very old horses) often appreciate a few hours alone in their stable each day so that they can sleep and relax in peace.
- Bedding. The type and thickness of bedding is important to the mental and physical well-being of the horse.
- Water. Horses should have free access to water and most stalls are equipped with drinkers for this purpose. Care should be taken that the pipes do not freeze during cold weather, depriving the horses of water.
- Salt and Minerals. Horses require salt and minerals. These are normally provided in the stalls, although a few stable managers provide them on pasture instead.
- Lighting. Plentiful natural light is better for your horse’s physical and emotional health. A dark stall is depressing for a horse and tends to promote unhealthy fungus and mold growth.
Food and WaterThe quality of food and water varies greatly from one stable to another. As food is one of the major costs for stable owners, the tendency is to reduce both the quality and quantity in order to make the stabling business more profitable. Points to consider:
- Quality. What are the horses fed? Are the hay and food supplements of high quality, or just the cheapest available?
- Quantity. Do the horses get all the food they need, or is there a quota (e.g. only 1kg of food supplement/horse/day)?
- Frequency. How often are the horses fed? It should be at least twice a day and preferably more (access to quality pasture qualifies as a feed).
- Water. Do the horse have adequate access to clean water
- Buckets. Are the food and water buckets kept clean? Is old food removed each day and the buckets cleaned out well, or simply new food dropped on top?
GeneralOne needs to consider how the stable is run and how the horses are treated. Here one needs to look around at:
- The owner/manager. He (or she) sets the standards and general tone for the stables.
- Talk with him about his experiences with horses and with running a stable. Does he give an impression of experience, ability and dedication?
- Ask what he thinks of your horse and what special care it might require; if the stable manager takes the time to carefully examine the horse (including hooves and teeth) before answering this is a good sign but if he replies after only a cursory examination then one may wish to go to a stable where the manager is more attentive.
- Ask if he has any objection to using your own veterinarian and farrier. Even if you are happy to use his, one might be concerned if he does not permit other vets and farriers.
- Horses. The appearance of the horses is a good indication of how they are treated. Are they overweight or underweight? Do they have shiny coats? Do they appear alert, active and happy? Do they appear nervous or have nervous behavior (e.g. pacing, swaying back and forth, chewing on wood)? Are they well-groomed? Pick up the hooves of a couple of horses to see it they are well maintained and appear to have been recently cleaned.
- Stalls. Are the stalls clean and tidy? Check not only the bedding but also the drinkers, feeders, and salt/mineral trays. Do all the horses have salt and minerals?
- General Facilities. How do the various facilities look? Do they appear clean, organized and well maintained? A lack of consideration for the facilities can be an indication of broader issues.
- Staff Behavior. How do the staff behave around the horses. Do they appear interested in the horses? Do they talk to the horses and treat them gently, or just drag them along behind them? Do they appear mature, experience and knowledgeable (or just cheap labor, however loving and well-intentioned they may be)?
- Other Clients. If you have the opportunity, talk to other horse owners to get their impression and experience of the stables. However, don’t put too much trust in this, as they may be friends of the stable manager or they may be novices who are not experienced enough to make a reliable judgment.
- Local Veterinarian. Like other clients, it can be useful to ask the local veterinarian his opinion.
- Vaccinations. Does the stable manager require vaccination against communicable diseases? If not, this may be a health risk for your horse.
- Deworming. Are all the horses on site dewormed? Are they all dewormed at the same time? If the answer to either question is ‘no’, then the effectiveness of worming your horse may be significantly reduced.
- Access. How much access do you have to your horse and facilities (e.g. training ring) which you may wish to use? Can you drop in unannounced to see your horse and its stall at any time, or is an appointment required (the latter is a bad sign).