Selecting a Home for Your Horse

A boarding stable with options for a horse owner.
A boarding stable with options for a horse owner.

Boarding your horse or keeping him at home?

Conservative or liberal - religious or agnostic - no cheese or extra cheese? There are often two sides to an issue, and among horse owners, two basic options are frequently debated: Which is preferred: Keep the horse at home, or board the horse at a stable?

Housing horses at home

Housing horses at home

A suitable pre-existing barn makes the decision easier, but consider your time and workload before deciding if home horse housing works for you.

The question of personal preference is most often limited by circumstances. If you live in the city or most suburbs, keeping your horse at home is rarely an option. If you live in an area where zoning codes and your property are suited to keeping your horse at home, you have to decide which works best for you both financially and practically.

For those who are fortunate to have the choice, this article covers some basics that you should consider prior to making a decision. If living circumstances don't permit the at-home option, this guide helps you pick a suitable boarding facility.

Costs of horse housing, feed, and care

According to an American Horse Council Foundationref survey (2005), the average annual expense for owning a horse is $2,882. Keep this in mind when you purchase a horse or are given a "free" horse.

This figure includes all of the expenses for the average horse, including feed and bedding, boarding and training, medical care, hoof care, transportation, and more. The majority of these expenses are not directly affected by where you board your horse. The two largest categories of expense are Feed, Bedding, and Grooming supplies and Boarding and Training expenses. These expenses typically consume $1,038 (36%) of the total cost of maintaining an equine.

Let's see, $1,038 divided by 12 gives us $86.50 per month per horse! WRONG - what is missing in the survey is the cost of the land, barns, fencing, and the labor that is required to keep everything clean and safe. Expect to pay much more than this no matter where you keep your horse.

Keeping the horse at home

Calculating the true cost of keeping a horse at home is beyond the scope of this article. Each situation is unique, and the calculations can be complex, especially if the property needs major improvements, such as structures and fencing.

Boarding stable

Boarding stables have a wide range of accommodations and prices. The best way to get a general feel for cost and available amenities is to call and visit a number of boarding facilities in your area.

Consider the following:

  • Location
    This is a major cost driver. Stables close to or in town are more expensive, but don't forget the costs of transportation and your time if you must travel a distance to visit your horse.
  • Stall/Paddocks
    Expect 12 x 12 stalls with rubber stall mats and automatic waterers. Ideally, ample lighting is provided and the barn is well-ventilated. Look for clean, nicely bedded stalls with clean and functional waterers.
  • Riding areas
    Access to groomed arenas is preferred. Examine the footing in riding areas to determine safety for your horse. Horses require exercise to maintain their health.
  • Training/exercise areas - round pens, hot walkers
    When you can't ride, having access to round pens and possibly a hot walker are necessary for exercise.
  • Training services
    Many boarding facilities have resident trainers that can be turned to for horse and/or rider training. This is an additional expense, separate from boarding fees.
  • Turnout availability
    A horse's mental well-being requires turnout time, ideally with other compatible horses. Expect to pay more for this service.
  • Blanketing services for show horses
    If you show your horse, or require that the horse's coat be maintained during winter months, blanketing services may be requested, for a fee.
  • Trailer parking
    Many boarding stables provide horse trailer parking. This may cost more.

A matter of personal preference

We are all different, and what may be a perfect situation for one person may be disagreeable to another. There are a few more things to think about when you are looking for a horse boarding facility or considering boarding at home.

  • Available riding areas
    good boarding stables have groomed arenas and round pens that are generally better than what the average person has at home.
  • Barn culture
    Every barn has a culture influenced by the owners and other boarders. For some, participating in this culture is very rewarding. For others, this may be an annoyance.
  • Cost
    Expect to pay $250 to $750/month for basic boarding, depending on location and amenities. You can pay more for exceptional facilities or in combination with a training program.
  • Housekeeping
    Most people prefer to have someone else keep the stalls and breezeways clean. However, a few people enjoy the barn chores and like to spend time with their horses while they work.
  • Health
    A number of diseases are more common in boarding stables. Higher quality stables require that all boarders be current on vaccinations and worming. Some don't care at all. Beware!
  • Location
    Select a stable close to home, even if you have to pay more. You are much more likely to spend time with your horse if you have quick and easy access.
  • Routine services
    Many routine health services are cheaper at the boarding facility than at home, especially if horse owners coordinate farrier and veterinarian visits.

The decision is yours

Where and how you board your horse is subject to your personal preferences and the resources you have. In general, maintaining a horse at home is more expensive than boarding. Many people fail to consider the true costs of their labor, as well as the ongoing expenses of maintenance and repair.

Horse ownership is a very satisfying and rewarding experience. These amazing animals provide inspiration and companionship that is very personal and unique. Take care in selecting a home for your horse that complements your lifestyle and provides for the needs of your horse.

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.