If riding and working with horses requires anything of a person, it requires principles. One must be firm in their beliefs and their requirements for their education as a horsewoman or horseman as well as the care of their equine partner. Obviously no barn is perfect, but there are certain things that are always red flags when shopping for a place to board or ride. In my experience, these features of a farm are always the makings of an impending disaster.
A La Carte Services****
Whenever a business wants to nickel-and-dime its customers, I’m always hesitant to continue my interactions with them. It’s not that I’m looking for something for free; rather, it’s that the business is likely very desperate or in some sort of financial straits. It’s not the boarder or student’s responsibility to pull the barn owner or manager out of debt, but the a la carte services set up a situation that allows for exactly that.
Think about it this way: do riders need legal counsel to negotiate a contract for every lesson or interaction with their trainer? Of course not. But that’s the sort of relationship that a la carte barns will create. It’s never a good idea to work with someone who will bill a person on the quarter hour to “teach” horsemanship or charge per each leg clipped… If this is a strategy to save money, frankly I worry about the person’s financial house and want to remind them that they’re in the wrong business to be economically sound.
How important is the care of one’s horse? Obviously, it is the single-most important thing in owning a horse. If a horse is not in good health, a horse is not rideable. It is as simple as that. There are certain people I would trust with anything in the world, including any future horse I may have. But not everyone who has handled a pitchfork and has a checking account to support a horse should be trusted with its care, let alone the care of other people’s horses. Even if someone must apply to and be accepted into a co-op boarding situation, there is no guarantee that someone is actually capable of all the things required to maintain a horse’s health.
For example, I am the first to admit that I am not capable of being a horse’s sole provider. I’m great with small animals and exotics, I’m able to provide human First Aid and CPR, and I’m capable of dialing AAA for my car. But horse care? I can spot a bad case of colic, I can do a decent sweat wrap, and I can groom like no one’s business. But anything more advanced, I genuinely fear messing up. I’m terrified of giving shots. I know which medicines should be given IV or IM and which sized needles work best, but when it comes to the actual practice of finding a vein to give a shot, I panic. Thankfully, a vet is always just a phone call away. But that’s not always the case, and there’s never a guarantee that someone in a co-op board situation would know what gashes on legs or which bites or limps will require immediate veterinary intervention. So unless you know every single person involved in your co-op situation, I recommend steering clear.
Now, hear me out. I grew up at a neighborhood type barn. It was a great situation at the time, especially since my parents weren’t horse savvy enough to look at factors beyond “how far away is this place?” (In their defense, Atlanta traffic is abysmal 24 hours of the day.) I was fortunate to have great trainers there and made a lot of friends. I rode and worked with all types of horses, and I had some really great opportunities there. But there were so many times that I was answering questions for neighborhood parents and babysitters while saving small children’s hands from getting bitten by the angry sale or boarder horses.
I see and recognize the value in a neighborhood barn. If this sport and lifestyle are all new, then a neighborhood barn is a great way to learn more about horses. But if a rider intends to pursue this sport with any kind of intention to compete at higher levels or go professional, it is highly recommended to seek other types of riding opportunities or other barns.
Are there any places or practices that have made you give your thirty days’ notice? We want to know! What sort of things make you cringe at ever stepping foot on the property?
****Edit March 23, 2018: It has been brought to my attention that I need to be much clearer in my explanation of “a la carte” barns. Training packages are obviously a great way to tailor the care and maintenance of a horse. Some horses need to be ridden five days a week and others, two. But the type of situation I am referring to is the situation where they truly nickel and dime a boarder/rider. Like, “blanketing will cost $10 a week” and “if you want to feed a different grain, there will be a 10% additional charge and you must provide your own grain” and “if we must provide you with a helmet, you will pay for each use of our adjustable Troxel that looks like it came out of a My Little Pony greeting card.”