How to choose a horse barn that's right for you

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There are so many barns out there to choose from. Ranging from large and vigorous programs to intimate and informal. Barns that focus on competition and barns that focus on fun.  How do you go about picking the barn that is right for you? In this article I will be discussing how to choose a barn. While choosing a barn and choosing a trainer go hand in hand, I feel it is important to separate the two. A good quality trainer should be at a good quality barn. I will talk about choosing the right trainer in the next article.

Before beginning your search, you must decide on what you want. What are your goals in riding? Do you want to show every weekend on the big circuits or you just want to learn how to stay on? Are you looking to buy a horse in the future or are you a casual once a week rider? 

Once you have your list of requirements, there are many resources to find a barn. You should use the internet, phone book, local feed or agricultural stores and word of mouth. Some facilities may have a website, be sure to read their description carefully to be sure the barn fits your needs. I recommend finding several that fit with your list. You may have to call some barns to find out what they offer. Be upfront with what you are looking for when you call. I have had many, many lengthy conversations with people that seemed very interested only to find out that they wanted something we did not offer. For example western lessons at a strictly English barn.

The initial phone call is very informative. Take note on how friendly and informative they are. Do they sound knowledgeable? Does it sound like a script? First impressions can be very important. If you have an uneasy feeling from the conversation it might be best to stay away.

Before signing up for anything do a barn tour!! I cannot stress this enough. What sounds good on the phone can be a very different in person. Make sure you see the entire property, barns, paddocks, arenas, and etc. Ask to watch a lesson in progress; if you are planning on taking lessons you want to know exactly how they teach before hand over your money.

Here are several things to look for on the barn tour:

  1. The condition of every horse on the property. Are they in good weight, healthy coats?

  2. The horse’s hooves.Do ALL of the horses on the property have they healthy, trimmed or shod hooves?

  3. Is there clean water available to ALL of the horses?

  4. Is the feed area clean?

  5. Are the stalls clean?

  6. Does anything look unsafe? Fencing, arena, stalls, tack, helmets?

  7. What is my gut saying about this place?

Ask every question that comes to mind while on the tour. It is better to leave with too much information then not enough. Is there a routine that I need to follow? Can I bring my dog? Should I arrive earlier then the scheduled lesson time? Do I need to sign a liability waiver?

If one horse out of several is a little under or overweight it is not a huge deal. Each horse has different nutritional needs. Some are easy to keep weight on and some, know as hard keepers, can be challenging to maintain a healthy weight. Note that severely overweight horses are also prone to health problems just as much as underweight horses. If all the horses are an unhealthy weight, that is a problem. A big red flag is if all of the horses have a dull coat and a big belly because that is a sign of  intestinal worms.Something that is easily preventable.

 Even retired horses need their feet done, it's a big clue on how well they care for their animals

Even retired horses need their feet done, it's a big clue on how well they care for their animals

My big clue to how a barn is run is the condition of the non-working horses feet. Often barns will have older, retired, lame horses; even ponies or donkeys for one reason or another that are not being worked.  They still need their feet done. Often these horses do not have shoes, but should have their feet trimmed regularly. I have seen big top barns have donkeys or ponies in the back of the property with hooves that look like skis, which is very painful for the animal. 

One other barn tour tip I can give you is to just observe.  Be sure to observe the current clients in the barn. Do they seem to be happy, content, annoyed or angry? If there are young students around, how do they treat each other and the horses? Are they supervised? Try and get a sense of the overall atmosphere and decide if it is something you are comfortable with.

There are many options out there. It is important to do your research before signing up for something that will require a sizeable commitment of your time and money. Every barn is different and finding the right one might take time but it is worth it in the end.