A Letter to Boarding Farms

Lilly and Final sharing a stall. Photo by Hannah Forte. Lilly and Final sharing a stall. Photo by Hannah Forte.

I have read my fair share of “letter to the boarder” articles addressed by the farm manager, owner or trainer. I appreciate those letters and the insight they provide into the inner-workings of caring for fur-children. I recognize that board costs have to cover hay, electric bills, arena footing maintenance, bedding, fixing fence boards, manure disposal, care, grain, and the list goes on… but I also hope the boarding farms acknowledge the boarders efforts in turn.

I have had my horses at home, I have worked at boarding and training farms, and now I find myself in my last year of undergrad, and I have boarded my own horses throughout my college career. I rely on excellent barn staff to take care of my prized possessions, especially when classes and work get hectic. And in turn, I try to be the best boarder that I can be.

I insist that each of my horses have ground manners- no aggressive behavior, no destructive behavior, although I cannot always control when a horse acts like a horse.

I try to simplify their feeding and blanketing demands, although I will admit that I do have three relatively difficult keepers. They are old and sweet, but each have particular dietary requirements.

However, I will go out of my way to supply their funky grain/hay, and to cover the costs myself. I will work on whatever blanketing system you have, giant tags, color coding, particular leg straps, because I appreciate not driving out several times a day to do it myself. I keep up with the vet and farrier, worming and dental schedules, because that is my job as a horse owner.

Recently, I was forced to find one of my horses a new home, within 30 days, right as winter was setting in. It wasn’t just me looking for a new horse home, it was at least 20 of us who had been kicked out to make room for a new trainer.

I had several people tell me, “I can’t imagine what I would do if my boarding farm did that. What will you do?” And the only response I could summon for the first two weeks was, “Cry a lot, then call your mom and cry more. Then start making phone calls.”

I worried. I worried about his weight. I worried that winter is difficult on an older horse, especially a Thoroughbred who is prone to ulcers and likes routine. I worried about my horse who has experienced colic episodes before at the hand of less than ideal farm management.

What I don’t worry about? I don’t care if there is an arena, I will figure it out. I don’t care if the paint on the barn is peeling, or if the fence boards don’t all match. I don’t worry about aesthetics.

The flip side of this story is the part of the horse community that I love so much.

With the help of wonderful horse-friends I found a new farm for Brisco. I didn’t feel the need to go see the facility before moving him in; the sound of enthusiasm in the owner’s voice was all that I needed to hear. I was sold.

This is someone who will put the needs of my horse first. It is not fancy, but he is happy. He loves the environment, and even though we have only been there a week, I have not worried a minute since moving him in. Every day when I see Caroline, she tells me how he is drinking and eating, if she has changed his blankets, and has already memorized his quirks.

This is my answer to “letter to the boarder” articles: make sure and appreciate your boarders in return. The horse community is a small one, and word will spread on how you run your facility.

I will tell everyone that will listen how happy my horse is, how kind you are, how accommodating you are. And when people ask for a farm recommendation- I will have suggestions. I will have experiences. I will never speak poorly or spread rumors, but if someone asks, I will always tell the truth.

I will be forever grateful for farms that measure their success in loyal clients and healthy horses. For those who are quick to dismiss the welfare of the horse in favor of prestige, I am disappointed that a place boarders loved so much could turn on us so quickly.