Even if you have cared for your horse in the past, it is easy to overlook questions to ask at a new boarding facility. I have compiled a list of questions to get a feel of what is offered at the particular facility in question. You can often incorporate these questions while taking a tour of the farm to determine whether the farm will be a good fit for you and your horse. There are no right or wrong answers to many of these questions, but the closer the answers are to how you want your horse to be cared for, the better chance you will both be happy and comfortable with the farm. Even though it may sound a bit creepy, doing an internet search of the barn manager, owner or farm name may yield some information. Ask how long they have been boarding. A newer barn that hasn't boarded horses before or a newer barn manager may go through some "growing pains" before settling in on a system. Often newer barns can get the boarders that have been asked to leave other facilities in the area. These are some things to take into consideration. Always ask for references.
On the farm tour, take a chance to look at the facilities. Walk in a stall to get a feel of how it is bedded, if the water buckets look clean, how the hay looks. Do the horses look happy and healthy? Does the fencing look in good repair? Walk in the arena and feel the footing. Does the tack room have adequate space for your equipment? Ask about barn rules. I would prefer a facility with a list of rules because that means that farm has a system that works for them and they are willing to enforce that system. If I can abide by those particular rules, I will consider that farm. If I can't, it is a farm probably won't be a good fit for me. Don't expect the barn to change it's system for you as a boarder. It will probably lead to resentment from both parties in the future. I am not talking about little compromises, but the big ones. If a farm doesn't do more than 2 hour turnout, don't expect to get 8 hour turnout for your horse. It may be able to be accommodated, but it probably won't be a viable request.
Feed is an important consideration. Asking what type and amount of grain is fed, as well as hay is crucial. Are you able to supply your own grain at cost, reduced cost or added cost? If you supply your own grain, who is responsible for picking it up? If you are, do you have the time and ability to do this? Is there a maximum amount of grain included in board? If your horse requires more, can you pay for extra grain?
Can supplements be fed? Is there an added cost? How are they to be supplied (baggies, Smartpaks, etc.). Can you feed liquid supplements? Medications? Is there a fee for feeding supplements? If your horse needs to be fed more often than the barn feeds, is this allowed and who is responsible to the feeding?
What type of hay is fed and how much and how often? It is important to me to have forage available for my horse as close to free choice as possible without being wasteful. My barn allows small mesh hay nets that are kept filled. Is hay available during turnout if there is not much grass?
Clean fresh water is crucial. How often are the troughs cleaned? Are there water heaters in the troughs in the winter? Is water always available in stalls and turnout?
Know the cost of board and be able to pay when it is due. Some farms take credit cards, paypal, checks or cash. See which the farm prefers and be sure to pay on time. Boarding is a very low profit business and many times the farm is waiting on the board to order the next shipment of hay, grain or shavings. When I did boarding, my average cost for hay, shavings and grain per horse was $200 per month. That did not include electricity, fencing, maintenance costs or my labor. The profit margins are very slim. Many barns rely on keeping stalls full in order to keep in business. This is where honesty and communication are important. Oftentimes a compromise can be found in a situation if both parties are honest and respectful to each other.
Along with board, are there any other fees? Is holding for farrier, vet, dentist, etc. included? If not, are you able to hold your horse or pay to have someone hold it for you? Are there farm vets or farriers? Can you use your own vet or farrier? If your horse is injured, who takes care of the injuries? Do not expect the manager or owner to be responsible for injuries without offering to compensate them for it, even if they don't ask for it. Along those lines, can you administer your horses shots, if necessary or is that only to be done by barn staff?
What is the preferred method of communication-white board, cell, texts? I found texting to be the most efficient method for me. A text meant I didn't have to panic-a phone call can induce many boarders into a state of panic.
What type of riders are the other boarders? Do they compete or ride for pleasure? Are they experienced or first time horse owners? Are they adults, children or a mix of both? Are there arena rules? A lesson program that does not allow you to use the arena when in session?
If you are a competitor, does the farm have trailer parking? Is there a cost?
Are there vaccination requirements? Deworming requirements? Are horses allowed to have hind shoes?
Do they have a bathroom/porta potty available?
Do they turn out in inclement weather? Do they allow blankets? Is there a blanketing fee? Will they remove blankets during warm days? Is there someone available to do that?
Are there stall fans in the summer? Will they fly spray if you supply the spray? Is there a fee?
How do they introduce a new horse? Can they change turnout groups if the group doesn't get along after the initial adjustment?
Keep in mind that the more intensive the management offered, the higher associated costs to boarding. It is not just one horse they are holding for the vet or farrier, it is multiple horses. Holding for the farrier is a minimum of 20 minutes per horse for a trim and can be up to 1-2 hours for shoes, depending what is being done. All the little extras add up in time and labor costs.