The barn…it can either be a place of zen-like solitude, or worse than a high school cafeteria at lunch time. In all of my years as a horsewoman, I’ve had the opportunity to board my horses at many a wonderful facility. Indeed, when looking for the “right facility” I have a mental checklist that goes far beyond my horse’s accommodations or the arena footing (though those are important things), and I’ve gotten many a surprised look from friends and horsey acquaintances when I have shared this list with them. I consider everything from lights and wash racks to the number of people I will be sharing space with in the tack room and the availability of parking. When you’ve been riding as long as I have, you learn what is important…and also what drives you nuts.
I can’t tell you have many barns I have left because the facility owners have decided that it would be best to add 15 more stalls without expanding the rest of the facility. There is nothing worse than carving out those precious 2 hours of your day that you can spend with your horse, only to arrive at the barn and find that you have no place to park, nowhere to tie your horse for tacking, no place to turn out or an arena with 10 kids zig-zagging in all directions and nowhere else to ride. To accomplish what I need to accomplish with my riding, I need to have a little space.
When I go out to look at a perspective barn, one of the first things that I do is check to see how many stalls are on the property and I weigh them against the amenities…the second thing that I do is ask the boarding owner or manager if they plan to expand the facility at any point in the near future. I know my needs, and my needs center around being able to get to the barn, ride, turn out and groom my horse without fighting for space.
#2 Barn Drama
Okay, to be fair, there is probably no barn in existence that has managed to avoid the plague of “barn drama” completely; anytime that you get a group of people together in such close quarters on a recurring basis, there is bound to be a little friction here and there. However, the issue of “barn drama” is one that can turn a fortress of solitude into a loony bin very quickly.
I have found that the issue of barn drama can usually be traced back to a handful of things…1) disgruntled boarders who feel they are not getting their needs met, 2) horse people who have a lot of time on their hands and thus horses have become their only outlet, and 3) young people and, sadly, women (I chuckle a little at this, because I am a woman). Teenagers and women seem to have the most propensity for gossip, and this causes friction; couple that with a facility that caters to people who like to “hang out” at the barn even when they aren’t riding, and you often find that the barn can become a place of stress. I like to get out early, ride, interact a bit with friends that I happen to see, and then get on with my day…I don’t have the luxury of being able to spend my whole day out at the barn, so this is something that I consider when I look for a facility. I like to show up unannounced and get the “vibe” of the place by chatting with other boarders, before I make a commitment.
#3 Sticky Fingered Boarders
Few things in life really get me upset; I’m generally quite calm and easy going. However, getting out to the barn and finding that an entire bottle of ShowSheen has magically disappeared, or that half of my grain has been “borrowed” by another boarder chaps me a bit. Most horse people are very generous and don’t mind sharing with others, so long as whatever is used is replaced, but it often seems that there are one or two boarders at a facility who don’t share my thoughts on replacing what you borrow.
In considering a boarding facility, I like to take a good look at the tack and feed room situation. Preferably, I like to be at a place where I am only sharing space with a few people in a locked tack room; if I know who I am sharing space with intimately enough, it is less likely that things will go missing. If the facility only has a large, community tack room, I take great pains to label my products and only keep the tack and equipment that I absolutely need on a daily basis in the tack room; the rest (including medicines, show tack, extra products, etc.) lives in my horse trailer.
#4 Laid Back Management
No one likes to spend time at a place where overbearing rules and structure govern, but on the flip side, it is also uncomfortable to be in a position where there are no rules at all. When it comes to a boarding facility, certain parameters should be set for boarders, and if boarders go outside of these parameters, management should step up and remedy the situation. Indeed, most boarding facilities have a list of general “rules”, as well as unwritten codes of conduct, and most people are good about following these rules without question, but if left to their own devices without management intervening, people can have a tendency to start doing things their own way.
If it is generally known that the arena is used only for riding and no turning out, but one or two boarders consistently “push the envelope” without being reined in by management, it can quickly feel as though you and your needs are not being valued as a boarder. For this reason, I like to “interview” the stable manager just as intensely as I “interview” the facility; if the manager is experienced, kind, and has a good sense of business, this is generally a good sign.
#5 Overbearing Neighbors
This is something that seems to go hand in hand with “barn drama”. No matter how great the facility, there are always going to be those few people who believe that they know more than anyone else and aren’t afraid to make it known. I have been around the block in the horse world many times, and I have picked up a lot of information; I’m happy to share what I know with people when they ask, but I don’t walk out into the arena when someone is riding and tell them that they are using the wrong bit. Overbearing neighbors who like to look at everyone else’s horses or capabilities and pick them apart – either to their faces or to other boarders – can turn a comfortable barn into a war zone.
This is probably the most difficult aspect to consider when choosing a boarding facility, because usually it isn’t apparent right off that these people are lurking around. Instead, I like to project my “live and let live” philosophy from the start to anyone who I encounter so that it sets the tone of our relationship. I care for and ride my horses in the way that I believe is best for them and for me, and if I need help, I will consult a trainer or veterinarian, and I generally feel the same way towards my neighbors.
There you have it…the top five things that drive most horse people nuts at the barn. While I’ve written in a somewhat tongue and cheek fashion, these are real concerns that can taint your “horsey time”, so consider them when you are looking for your next barn. Your time at the barn and in the saddle should be the most enjoyable part of your day!