Horse people are picky. So picky, in fact, that we are willing to drive miles and miles each way and spend an exorbitant amount of money every month just for a barn and training program that is perfect for our needs.
Sure, we could lower our expectations, but if our wallets and schedules can accommodate higher board or more time on the road, we sign on the dotted line. And usually, when we find a barn or program that makes both horse and human happy, we settle in and stay for a while.
When situations change, however, it can be daunting to find a new barn after you’ve become accustomed to doing things a certain way. In addition to choosing a barn where your horse will thrive, remember that you also have to be satisfied. It’s no use picking a barn with sumptuous amenities for your steed if they don’t show as often as you’d like, or the trainer focuses mainly on hunters and you show in the adult amateur jumpers. I shouldn’t have to be reminding you of this, but sometimes, we are so desperate to find a new barn that we overlook the basics and forget to ask questions other than, “How much is board?” Remember to be picky – you’re paying, after all!
Photo by Dani Maczynski.
What do you expect out of me as a client?
Most high-level show barns only offer one option to boarders and clients: full care. “Full care”, however, means something different at every barn, so it’s important to discuss expectations from the get go.
Are clients, for example, responsible for washing and storing blankets at the end of the winter, or is that something the staff will take care of? Are clients expected to pack their tack trunks for shows? Who will hand walk my horse when he is injured?
Full care can mean anything from rarely laying a hand on your horse to tacking up at home and pitching in when the grooms get busy, so establish your role as a client so that you’re not caught off guard.
What is the barn culture like?
For most of us, part of the enjoyment of boarding at a show barn is the camaraderie with other clients, both at home and at shows. Ask things like: Are there other clients your age? At an average show, how many clients and horses are there? Is the trainer laidback and friendly with clients or is there a more distinct hierarchy? Try to get a real sense of what your daily experience will be like.
Photo by Dani Maczynski.
What do other clients love the most about training and boarding here?
Moving to a new barn is a big commitment, so don’t be afraid to ask around. Before I moved to my current barn, for example, I sent a message to an acquaintance who trained there just to pick her brain. I wanted to know what her experience as a client was like, rather than solely communicating with the trainer and barn manager. Her response was resoundingly positive, which gave me an extra boost of confidence to move my horse there.
What does the next year look like?
In addition to being picky, horse people also like to plan ahead. Ask about the show schedule – when, where, how often – to see if it aligns with your needs. Can the trainer accommodate your work schedule?
Does the trainer have his or her own showing goals separate from the clients? I’ve often found that trainers who have their own horse and ambitions separate from simply coaching clients tend to have better horse care programs and are more in tune with the horses. Of course, that’s not an end all be all, but it is nice to see a trainer still invested in his or her own riding.
Photo by Sportfot.
How will my horse be treated?
This is an obvious one, but it’s not necessarily something to ask aloud. Rather, observe the status of the horses on the property. Are their coats glossy? Feet solid? How are they turned out at horse shows? You can often tell a lot about a trainer and his or her program by the appearance of the horses, so taking a tour of the property before you move in is a good call.
There are other questions to ask, of course, but do your research and take your time before you pack up the trailer and move. Your horse’s health and happiness comes first, so any barn you choose should be comfortable and relaxing for all four-legged residents.
Feature photo by Tori Repole.