Barn shopping: what constitutes quality?

Well folks, me and Rudy will be starting a new adventure soon. I will be attending Purdue University for a Master’s in Entomology come January of 2014!  The luxury life of living outside 24:7 and occasional days in the 70s in December will be over. Time for this Southerner to experience Indiana winters.

About a week ago my parents and I took a long weekend trip to search for apartments for me and barns for Rudy. Shockingly, we had more barns to look at then apartments. 9 barns to be exact. Good new is, I was able to find the right fit for both of us! Which proved harder to do in West Lafayette, IN than expected and I had to do a lot of evaluating and weighing what factors are more important to me then others. I have listed my top 5 of what I believe constitutes a good boarding facility.

1. Good personnel: To me, you can have the nicest facilities in the world, but if the people that run/own the facility do not have exceptional horsemanship and passion for horses I won’t even consider you. The reason it was harder to pick a barn for Rudy over an apartment for myself is because I have to trust these strangers with the care of my horse. That isn’t easy for me to do. I want to be at a place where the manager is in tune with the different horse’s personalities, know when something “isn’t quite right”, how to handle emergencies, etc. It was apparent to me within just a few minutes of conversation whether I was being “sold” the facility or the owner/manager was genuine and allowed their facility and their own horse knowledge to sell itself. The horse must be put first. This can be applied to a quality trainer as well (although that was not my top priority as the jumper scene in West Lafayette is slim to say the least).

2. Turnout: My horse lives outside right now but he has been exposed to various turnout situations from only 3-4 hours a day, 10 hours a day, over night, or 24:7. The more the horses are turned out the better, in my opinion. I appreciate a place that values turnout as much as I do. However, I also believe there should be turnout options. Not every horse can be turned out in a large herd. I encountered a lot of barns where they were steadfast in their opinions that a herd dynamic is better. That’s fine, it’s an opinion. And we all know there are a lot of those in the horse world. But when I am getting a tour of a facility and ask about private or semi-private turnout and the barn manage proceeds to give me a lecture on how a herd system is better and that my horse will adapt, I am immediately turned off. There may be truth in that, my horse may adapt, but there are always exceptions and I like for a place to have options for those exceptions. The quality of the turnout fields is also vital. There were a lot of facilities that it was clear there were too many horses on the property. The turnout fields were dirt and would likely turn to mud and freeze come later in the winter season. Many claimed there was a drought this past summer, but there was a few facilities that had beautiful green grass despite being 10 minutes away from the others with dirt pastures.

3. Ventilation: This may be lower on the list for some people, but Rudy has previously experienced allergies prior to adjusting his diet and moving him to a stall with higher ceilings and better airflow. Because Rudy will be shifting from being outside 24:7 to being stalled a lot (since we will be moving in the winter turnout may be limited due to weather) a comfortable stall with adequate ventilation was important to me. Related to this, I preferred the stalls to be bedded with shavings as opposed to other more allergy prone materials. Many farms used sawdust. One barn used this pelleted material, that was cool and seemed like it would be OK (but it was too far). A lot of the farms were older, as a lot of aspects of the West Lafayette/Lafayette, IN area are. Coming from Raleigh, NC that was a bit different. Many of the barns had low ceilings and the hay was stored above the barn. I also preferred AT LEAST 12’X10′ stalls. 12’X12′ or larger would be ideal, but did I mention most of these facilities were older? Rudy is 17H and has a long body. He is perfectly comfortable snoozing in a 10’X10′ stall at the horse shows, so I figured a 12’X10′ stall would be fine to live in at home.

4. Quality feeding program: Hay. Hay is important as a forage component for horse’s nutrition. Especially for Rudy to successfully adapt from being on grass 24:7. Currently Rudy is on a very high quality first cut grass hay twice a day (despite being out 24:7 he still gets hay! I hate to leave my current barn.). It’s a vibrant green and smells delicious. I always took a peek at the prospective barn’s hay. It didn’t have to be a grass cut, some had an alfalfa mix or something else, but if it smelled nice, looked green and healthy, I was sold. I am not a fan of round bale in the pastures, I think it just sets up horse’s to fight over it and the hay really isn’t high qualiy any way. The second aspect of a good feeding program is grain. Rudy does very well on Blue Seal Sentinel LS. It is a low starch extruded feed with added probiotics for easy digestibility. Since switching to this grain Rudy has improved tremendously, becoming bolder to the jumps and more confident. I desired a facility that would allow me to continue to feed him this. I didn’t expect a cut in board price, I know most places have a select grain that is supplied in your board (or some have a few different options but of one brand) and any additional supplement or different grain must be provided at the owners expense. However, a lot of  facilities when I brought up bringing my own grain they would again attempt to lecture me on how their grain is sufficient and their horse’s do well on it and that grain is not necessarily essential to a horse’s diet. Yes, I agree. Forage should make up the largest portion of a horse’s nutrition but this is what works best for my horse and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Again, the horse should come first, not loyalty to a brand of food just because you get a discount.

5. Footing/riding areas: My horse is an athlete so I want to be able to keep him in the best shape possible. To me, a big fancy ring isn’t necessary. I am more then happy with a flat grassy area to set up some jumps. An indoor in Indiana was important though. As long as the footing is good, I am happy. I also preferred area to ride outside of the ring. There was a lot of options for that in Indiana. It was so spacious. Many places had field to ride in, trails, etc. The place I ended up choosing actually had limited outside areas to ride, but because it met my criteria for the top 4 attributes I had to compromise. There are turnout fields I can bring horses in from if I wish to ride out there and I believe I can find my way to the perimeter of the property and ride around. Good enough for me!

Any areas that appeal to the human’s comfort are of second interest I am not interested in a high-end lounge or beautiful potted plants every where. While those things are nice, they aren’t what I focus on when choosing a facility. Even my dad, a non-horsey guy, understood this. The most expensive facility we toured was beautiful. It had a very large indoor ring, large outdoor with great jumps, paved aisle ways with little rose details, and a huge extravagant lounge with flat screen TVs. Upon arriving our tour was immediately started in the lounge and I was told I wouldn’t even want to ride any more because I would just want to hang out at the barn. Red flag! Tour proceeded and we were show the turnout areas with no grass, and horse’s that looked fed but were not blooming with exceptional care. When going through our decisions my dad said he didn’t like that place because there wasn’t enough emphasis on the horse. Smart man. Cross that one off the list…

Ultimately, Rudy will be going to a terrific place with a barn manager that I adore. She reminded me of myself and appeared to have a tremendous work ethic and love for horses. She also lived on the property which was a plus. It’s a privately owned place with just a few boarders and only a 15 minute drive from my new apartment. And the other exciting part is that there is a hunter/jumper trainer that comes every other week! That was an added bonus. I am very excited for our new journey! Minus the cold…I could do without that.

A follow up post with pictures galore will come once we move in January!

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