From Boarding to Your Barn
The article this month is the first in a two-part series covering what to do when you’ve decided to stop boarding. Choosing to stop boarding your horse and bringing him home to your own property is a big transition. It's one that takes a detailed plan and enough time to execute that plan well. Before you decide to bring your horse home, do some research to make sure you can build a suitable home on your property. Is your land zoned for livestock? Do you have enough room for pasture and stable accommodations? Will the lay of your land accommodate horses, a barn and pasture? Is it necessary to have anything surveyed? Do you need any permits? Is this in your budget? If everything checks out, it's time to start putting your plan together.
In addition to getting your property and equine accommodations ready, you'll also need to stock up and set yourself up with reliable suppliers. Everything that was done for your horse at the boarding stable, both by the facility's owners and by you, will now be your responsibility completely. In this article, we'll cover pasture and stable accommodations, as well as bedding. Next month, we'll cover manure disposal, the services you'll need to secure, as well as some emergency preparations to make now, before your horse ever enters your barn. Let's take a look at some of the first steps you need to take to start the transition process.
First, set up a timeline, and give yourself ample time to get everything on your farm ready. It may seem alright to take care of some of these items afterwards so you can bring your horse home earlier, but by planning ahead and completing all of the necessary tasks, you'll only be left with excitement and ample time to enjoy your horse once he's in your home barn.
Next, give your boarding barn plenty of notice that you'll be removing your horse. By allowing the stable ample time to find a replacement client, you will leave on good terms and keep the facility's owner as a valuable mentor during your move. Boarding facilities have a lot of contacts. They can refer good suppliers, alert you of special deals and give you sound advice. After all, if the boarding facility is a place you felt comfortable enough with to board your horse, chances are the owners know a thing or two about horse care.
Once you've set up your timeline and notified your boarding barn, it's time to start completing that to-do list.
In the wild, horses are grazing animals that live outdoors. In order for domesticated horses to live a healthy life, it's essential to provide them with ample time outside. The first step to setting up pasture accommodations is to decide on the layout. Once that is done, it's time to decide how your pastures will be enclosed.
When choosing the layout for your pastures, consider how many horses you have, whether they can be turned out together, future uses of your area and which areas on your property are suitable for pasture and turnout. Locating turnouts as close to your barn as possible will make the process of turning out quicker and easier.
If you're having trouble planning, talk to some other horse owners and try visiting a few farms. Remember, what works for one person may not be the right choice for you and your horses, however, seeing other set ups can give you ideas on what you like and don't like. Working with a professional fencing company can help as well. They can give you suggestions based on their experience and knowledge of what has worked well for other customers. Once you've decided on a layout, you'll need to choose fencing. Just as when planning your pasture layout, you'll need to consider how many horses you have, which areas will be high-traffic, future uses of the area, soil conditions and many other factors. Think about the long-term upkeep of the fence system, including labor and maintenance costs, when looking at the initial price. Choosing a safer alternative to traditional fencing systems like wood and bare wire usually costs significantly less in the long run, while providing you with a safer enclosure for your horses.
Doing research and speaking with fencing professionals can help tremendously. By choosing the right system for your needs and budget, installing it properly and doing regular checks of your fence line, you'll have a safer pasture and a fencing system that will last for many years. In addition to planning and fencing your pastures, you'll also need to plan a turnout and grazing routine. Because of the makeup of horses' stomachs, it's more appropriate for them to graze throughout the day, eating many small meals, rather than lumping all of their grain and forage into two larger meals. There are several strategies and schools of thought on this, and the choice is ultimately yours. Of course, each horse is different, and your choice will depend on your schedule and your horse's exercise routine and body makeup. If you're having trouble deciding how much grazing and turnout time to provide, try some different combinations and see how your horse reacts. If you work with a trainer, he or she may have some good recommendations for you. You can also consult your veterinarian. If the routine your horse had at the boarding stable suited him well, try sticking with that.
Stable accommodations can range from a barn with stalls and living quarters to a three-sided outdoor shed located in a pasture. The amount of space you have, climate, budget and preference will likely dictate what will work best for your situation. Building a barn and stalls requires a considerable amount of planning. Tour other facilities and take note of features you would like to incorporate in your barn. Talk with other horse owners and find out what they like and don't like about their facilities, see if they have any advice, and find out what they would change if they had a chance to do things over again.
You can also take cues from your boarding barn.
Do you like the tack storage area? How easy is it to maneuver your horse from his stall to the wash rack? Are the aisle ways too narrow or just right? Think about the size of your horse's stall there and if it provides enough room for him to comfortably lie down. Will this size work well in your new barn? Will still it work if you have a larger horse in the future or try your hand at breeding? Will a removable partition meet these needs? Once you're armed with some ideas and information, it's time to choose a contractor if you won't be doing the work yourself. If possible, interview several contractors, check their references, and choose one with plenty of equine experience. Talk with your contractor about important elements such as safety, ventilation and access when planning your barn layout. When choosing your stalls, it's important to work with a professional. He or she can offer you valuable tips on safety and durability that you might not have realized otherwise. Look for products that are built with quality materials and ask the company what kind of warranties they offer. Equine trade shows are an excellent way to see products first-hand. If you can't attend a trade show, or the company isn't displaying in your area, ask if they can put you in touch with customers nearby. This will not only give you a chance to see the product in action, but also to speak with someone who has experience with the company.
If there's already a barn on your property, make sure it's suitable for horse containment.
Ventilation is crucial for any horse barn, so test the airflow through the aisle and inside the stalls. Remember, the key to good ventilation is having fresh air in all seasons without drafts. If your barn's ventilation isn't up to par, consider adding cupolas, roof vents or ceiling fans in the stalls (Your ceiling must be tall enough to do this. Fans should be approved for outdoor use and be reversible.) Full-grill or mesh doors on stall fronts, as well as grilled partitions between stalls, also encourage ventilation. Doors and grill sections can usually be purchased separately if you are happy with the rest of the components on your existing stalls. Check the barn and stalls for safety hazards as well. Do a visual check for trip hazards, protruding nails and broken or warped boards. Run your hands up and down walls to feel for hazards, and check all feeders, buckets and waterers that may be installed. Ensure stall floors are level and mats are in good condition. If planning a run-in shed that will be located in your pasture, consider wind direction and place the shed so it will offer some protection from the wind. It's also a good idea to closely fence around all three sides of the shed. This eliminates corners where dominant horses can pin less dominant horses, and it also eliminates space where your horse could kick, rub or otherwise abuse the outside of the shed.
Once your horse is home, you will not only have to clean your stalls daily (or hire someone to do it for you), but you'll also be responsible for purchasing and storing bedding. Do you have a reliable supplier who can provide you with your preferred type of bedding? If your boarding stable is close enough and you like the bedding used there, inquire about purchasing from their supplier. Keep in mind that some sources cater to those who purchase bedding in bulk. If you can't store that much bedding at one time, you may need to share the purchase with a friend or neighbor, or look for a supplier that sells in smaller quantities. Ask about how the bedding will be delivered and who will unload it. If you purchase bagged shavings in bulk, these usually arrive in a semi. Can your driveway and turnaround area accommodate a semi? If you have to pick up loose shavings, do you have a gravity wagon, along with something to pull it? Before trying a new type of bedding, ask for a sample. Make sure the quality, consistency and texture are what you're looking for. It's better to try out several types of bedding before purchasing than it is to get stuck with a large load of bedding you don't like.
Now that you've planned your stable accommodations and turnout and selected bedding, you'll need to decide on manure disposal, secure other services and make emergency preparations. Join us next month when we'll cover these topics and offer more suggestions to help make this transition smooth and enjoyable for you and your horse.
Debbie has over 45 years experience with horses and equine-related businesses. She has owned, trained, boarded horses and run stables at various times in her career. She is a certified fence installer, has given balanced riding lessons, and has shown horses in Western, Western Pleasure, Trail, English, Hunter/Jumper, Fox Hunting, Hunter Trials, Dressage and driving classes. Debbie has been involved in foaling, and just about every aspect of horse ownership possible, and she welcomes your questions and comments. If you are interested in using any articles by Debbie, please send her and email.