Deciding whether you should keep your horse at home or board it at a stable is a big decision. Thankfully, it’s easy to weigh the pros and cons of home-horse keeping vs using a boarding stable- and if you try boarding and it’s not a great fit- you can always change your mind and get ready to bring your horse home.
In this article, we cover some of the major pros and cons of boarding vs keeping a horse at home. You’ll learn:
- 5 major advantages to keeping a horse at home, and 4 huge drawbacks you might not have considered
- 6 perks of boarding your horse at a riding stable, and 3 things that stink about horse boarding that no one really talks about.
- Finally, I share my experience as a horse owner who has spent years boarding horses at stables and passed many years happily caring for horses in my own backyard.
Boarding stables aren’t for everyone, but keeping horses at home has big challenges to overcome. Here’s a guide to choosing which is right for you.
Pros and Cons of Keeping your Horse at A Boarding Stable:
There are definitely benefits and drawbacks to boarding your horse at a riding stable. For one monthly cost, boarding stables provide inclusive care- and often, a built-in social circle of others to ride with.
Many horse owners find that boarding stables help them get more enjoyment out of the time they spend with their horse. Instead of being consumed by never-ending chores, boarders get to devote all their horse-time to the fun parts of horse ownership!
The Benefits of Boarding
BOARDING FARMS ARE FULl SERVICE
After keeping horses at ome, it’s an amazing feeling to know that you have someone else to clean your horse’s stall, feed him several times a day, handle his turnout, and do all the necessary horse chores on a daily basis. Good barns provide stall cleaning seven days a week for horses in stalls, and are staffed by incredibly attentive people who pay attention to even the smallest issues that come up.
VETERINARY COSTS CAN BE SHARED
While keeping a horse at home comes with astronomical surcharges for veterinary farm calls, vets often include a large boarding stable in their weekly rounds. Even at small boarding stables, sharing a vet call with other boarders is one way to save money if you choose to board over caring for your horse at home. When you can split a $75 farm call fee among three or four other horse owners, the savings add up!
BARN FRIENDS ARE FUN!
The social benefits of boarding can’t be underestimated 1. Connecting with other humans does so much for our health and mental health. The social aspect of boarding barns is a huge pro, in my book. At a boarding stable, you’ll spend time with people who have a shared interest, doing something you enjoy.
A boarding barn is one of the best ways to make friends as an adult, since it’s a shared hobby. 2 At a big barn, there are always people to hang out with, head out on the trails with, or accompany to horse shows.
BOARDING GIVES ACCESS TO AMENITIES
Unless you have a million dollars to spend to prepare to bring your horse home, keeping a horse at home means you won’t have a fenced arena, wash stalls, or a climate-controlled tack room. When boarding, you often have access to these amenities and more.
Indoor arena access is a major reason that many horse owners choose to board their horses- since with an indoor arena, it’s easier to enjoy the hobby year round. (You only have to ride horses in the snow if you want to!)
BOARDING HORSES = FREEDOM.
When you board your horse, you have the freedom to go on trips, stay at home if you are ill, and take care of other aspects of your life without neglecting your horse’s care.
One year during my season of keeping horses at home, a terrible ice storm hit our area and cut electricity to the farm for a week. All of my horseless neighbors headed south to stay with friends and family or take an impromptu vacation but because I had three horses at home, I had to remain in the farm to make sure the horse’s had access to food and water.
The Barn Handles buying feed and bedding
If you board your horse, you won’t have to worry about finding hay, feed, bedding, or any other necessary supplies. In many seasons, especially during droughts, these resources can be difficult to find at a reasonable price. A boarding barn will have the manpower to unload and stack hay bales and the buying power to be able to purchase at a good price.
The Drawbacks of Boarding
That pro list sounds pretty good, right? Well, before jumping in to get your horse in the next open stall at the boarding barn nearest you, consider the downsides:
Boarding can be expensive
Boarding will seem very expensive, though in part this is because, when we keep horses at home we see small costs (that add up!) and not one big monthly bill. Remember, when you board, you are also paying for the staff and insurance as well as the actual facilities.
The commute might keep you from riding
When I purchased my first horse, the closest boarding stable was an hour away! Determined, I made that commute several times a week for years- but I wouldn’t recommend it! For many, having a barn that’s 30, 20, or even 10 minutes out of the way may mean that they don’t ride as often as they would otherwise. In my opinion, this is often outweighed by the social aspect of having horse friends at the barn or being part of a trail riding group like trail riding groups that form on meetup.
you won’t get along with everyone
While boarding barns can be a great place to make friends and enjoy the benefits of horseback riding, you won’t get along with everyone. Depending on the unique culture of the stable you choose, there may be barn snobs and even bullies. Read my guide to dealing with barn mean girls and horse show bullies here.
YOU have less control
When you board your horse, you have less say over how he is cared for than if you kept him at home.
The stall may not be cleaned exactly when you think it should or the hay net hung with the particular knot you prefer. You’ll likely also be required to follow the farm’s health policies, which might not match your preferences. When you board your horse, it is more difficult to implement complicated feeding or care routines.
Pros and Cons of Keeping your Horse at Home
I won’t lie, the years I got to enjoy looking out my kitchen window and seeing my horse grazing were uniquely special. Because I had a perimeter fence that allowed me to let my horses graze the entire property, it wasn’t unusual to wake up to see a horse grazing just outside my window. I’d wager that every horse owner has the fantasy of bringing their horse home to live. There’s a lot to be said for keeping your horse at home, but there are a few disadvantages.
Advantages of Keeping Your Horse at Home
Keeping a horse at home is cheaper
You can save money by keeping your horse at home because you aren’t paying for the staff, amenities, upkeep, and liability insurance required for riding stable to care for your horse and maintain the property on a daily basis.
You have more supervision of your horse
You see your horse several times a day when you keep them at home. This close supervision allows you to detect any problems or injuries as soon as possible. Often, health issues or injuries can be caught early just because you noticed something was off and wandered out to check on them.
Keeping a horse at home allows you to bond
Knowing about your horse is an important part of developing a relationship with them. Learning what horses like can help us form deeper bonds with them. At home, you are in a better position to observe all of this.
In my experience, nighttime checks are one of the best parts of keeping a horse at home. When the evening air is still and your horse is quietly munching in their stall or snoozing in their paddock, that’s my favorite time to softly drop in and share a special moment with them.
Horses at Home are Always there
Honestly, it’s incredible having your horse right outside your home. They’re there to greet you first thing in the morning and waiting for you when you get home from work. You can visit and ride whenever you want without having to drive to a boarding barn.
Keeping a Horse at Home means more Control
When you have your horse at home, you have complete control over how he is cared for. You can control the environment, as well as the people and other horses around your horse. You can do things exactly how you want when you keep your horse at home.
The Drawbacks of Keeping Your Horse at Home
When keeping horses at home, you’re responsible for finding hay and bedding as well as figuring out a way to get it to your farm, unload it, and store it. You are also in charge of property maintenance- that means mending fences, keeping water troughs from freezing in the winter, and keeping the barn in good condition. There are no sick days or even vacations unless you hire help.
Because most horse owners who keep horses at home do not have an indoor arena, they have to stop riding in the winter or on rainy days. Without a wash stall, you might find yourself hosing your horse off on the muddy ground. Without a secure tack room, you might have to keep saddles in your horse trailer, which is vulnerable to theft.
Cost ebbs and flows
When you bring your horse home, you may not have a large monthly boarding bill, but you will have significant expenses several times a year when a hay shipment is required. There’s also no one to split the vet hospital call fees with. Combined with a larger mortgage to support a horse property and, in some areas, the savings is minimal
You’ll be more Isolated
Once you finally get your horse home, you might not have any friends to go horseback riding with (unless you load your horse and haul them back to the boarding stable… which kind of defeats the purpose, right?)
My Thoughts as Somone who Has Done Both
When it comes to deciding what is best for you and your horse, I believe you should first establish your priorities and then consider which options will best meet those priorities. For me, especially as I age and want to travel more, the 1. freedom, 2. access to an indoor arena, and 3. social community absolutely make boarding a horse at a barn better than keeping horses at home.
For many people, though the most important factor is probably your budget. Keeping a horse at home can be expensive, and you will need to factor in the cost of hay, grain, and bedding, as well as the cost of maintaining the property, such as fencing and barn repairs. You will also need to consider the amount of time you have to care for your horse. If you are working full time or have a family, you may not have the time to clean a stall or turn out a horse every day. Boarding your horse at a stable can be a good solution, but boarding can also be expensive- sometimes much more expensive.
Research sources used for this article:
- Williams, K. (2018). Cowgirl Up: An Ethnography of Gender at a Horse-Boarding Facility in the Rural Midwest [↩]
- Plummer, D. L., Stone, R. T., Powell, L., & Allison, J. (2016). Patterns of adult cross-racial friendships: A context for understanding contemporary race relations. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 22(4), 479. [↩]