First off, updates on May. May is currently on her way to California courtesy of Brook Ledge. They are estimating she will be here in a few hours, so until then, I am doing everything in my power to stay busy and occupied (and not obsessing… not at all). I’ll do a full post on all that once she shows up, as we all know horse delivery can be interesting.
As someone who has moved across the country with their horse TWICE into an area where I have never lived, I figured it might be worth talking about HOW I find a barn. Both times I have moved, I have looked for eventing barns, so if you ride in another discipline (or without any competition goals) your process might be different.
Figure Out What You Want
I feel like half the battle is knowing what you want and looking for it. So many people *think* they want a gorgeous facility… but really they want a great community etc. At this point, I have a pretty clear vision of what I need to be happy at a barn:
- Good care (including turnout… and the definition of turnout being several hours in a large field (aka large enough the horse could canter a lap) either alone or in a group)
- Eventing trainer on site
- Solid core group of adult boarders (kids are great, but they don’t get my dirty jokes)
- Safe facility. I really don’t need fancy, but I do need a place that doesn’t do things like tie ponies to cinder blocks in the front lawn because they don’t want to mow.
- Space to hack out. This might be horse-specific, but May tends to do best mentally when a couple of our rides each week are just low-key hacks.
Finding Places to Look
Hilariously, some of the best barns can also be the hardest to find. Google maps has been… an invaluable resource. Sometimes great barns show up on it, but often, it is a great resource to FIND where those pockets of horsey areas are. 5 barns in the area? probably a good sign there are a couple more. 10 barns in an area but they are all arabian barns? Probably best to keep looking for an eventing area. Search terms I have used:
- Horse boarding near ___
- Eventing near___
- Horse trainer near ___
- Horse stables near ___
- Eventer near ___
Then… network. Throw out where you are looking everywhere you can think of. Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, Forums, etc. Talk to your trainer, talk to that clinician you rode with, whoever you can. Horses, and especially eventing, is a SMALL community.
Shoot out some emails. Now this recommendation is a bit of a controversial one. Some horse people never check their emails. Other horse people would MUCH rather you email them vs. call them when they may be in the middle of lessons, etc. I prefer email as a first means of reaching out because it gives us a chance to set up a mutually good time to talk. This was especially helpful when moving to a significantly different time zone. If I don’t hear back in a few days from the email, I do call.
If I email and call and no one gets back to me, I move on. While there are always exceptions, moving a horse across the country includes a lot of communication to make sure your horse doesn’t show up to a dark and empty barn without an open stall, and I have too much anxiety to risk it with someone who doesn’t respond. (Or their barn is full and they arent taking on more clients and calling back someone to tell them that is low on the list of never ending tasks a trainer has to do each day.)
Trust… Then Verify
Also… check the trainer’s record. I am not looking for spotless, but I am checking honesty. Don’t say you’re planning on Kentucky in 2021 only to see that you’ve never shown at the FEI levels… I don’t need a superstar, but honesty would be great.
For May, I am looking for a trainer that has had success bringing students up to the BN and N levels. Also, a trainer that doesn’t feel like I am a waste of time because I don’t have ambitions to reach the upper levels and definitely struggle with fear issues. This means, I want to see their client base have a bit of depth to it. Ideally, I want to see them teach some lessons with students similar to me. Similar can be age, ability, time, money, horsepower, etc. It gives me an idea of what our working relationship may look like in the future. (skipping this step has been a nightmare before)
Same goes for social media. Sometimes trainers aren’t the best at posting things, but you know who are? Adult Ammies. Check out what they post. Do people look well mounted? Safe? Confident? Great! Do people post a lot about falling off? Their horse’s rearing/bucking/bolting? How the answers to all their problems is a new $$$ saddle? Might be some red flags there.
Go Look & Ask Questions
Checking out a barn before moving in is a non negotiable for me. This often means that I am sneaking in barn trips in between house/apartment hunting. Oh well, my husband understands.
I often see people asking for recommendations of what to ask when viewing a barn. I have some general questions, but I tend to keep things SUPER open ended.
For example, I ask “what’s the typical schedule like for the horses?”
Answer I expect: “I usually get here around 8am. At that time, I feed breakfast. While they eat, I throw hay to the fields. Horses get turned out around 9AM. Around 1PM I throw them lunch hay. I’m typically teaching from 2PM – 7PM, so horses stay out while I do that. At 7PM, I bring the horses back in, feed dinner, throw hay, do one last night check, and then leave for the day. Most of my borders are here until 10Pm though. I just ask that they make sure the light are off and everything is locked up before they leave.” (or some version of this.)
Occasionally, you get an answer like this: “My working student (14) gets dropped off around 7AM and feeds the horses before school. I get here around 10 and ride 6 horses. I turn out the day’s group for turnout from 2 – 4. Once the main group of working students in training (12 & 13 year olds) show up, they do the stalls and waters. They bring in the horses and feed dinner before their lessons. I make sure all the gates are locked by 8PM, so you have to be off the property.”
Why don’t I ask, “What kind of turnout do the horses get?” Because you get vague answers like “oh plenty” “5 hours” (really 3) or “we can accommodate whatever turnout your horse needs.” Here’s the thing though, I NEVER move into a barn wanting to be the exception. I want them to take care of my horse like they take care of all the other horses, so I want their standard of horse keeping to be similar to my own.
Most answers can be gained just by looking around. Is the place clean? Are the horses at a good weight? Do they have any horses similar to my horse? Does THAT HORSE look like its at a good weight? (a barn full off fat draft crosses is not a good indicator of how well your 4 yr old thoroughbred will look in their program. And a barn full of fat thoroughbreds might not be a great indicator or how my draft cross will do.)
If you can’t find a single barn that isn’t going things how you would do it… might be time to have a tough conversation with yourself about your expectations. Figure out what is really important and then reassess.
Commit and Keep Saying Yes
It can easily take a few months to settle into a new barn, and not just for the horse. Keep learning about the area as you are in and making connections, but unless there is a care concern for your horse. (aka turns out that nice small group turnout you saw is actually only for horses in training… boarders horses go out in a group of 15 in the smallest field oooorrr when the barn is closed on Mondays, stalls are not cleaned, horses are not turned out, and feed is not fed.) Barring that, give it time. new places are stressful for everyone, but most trainers and barn managers want to see their boarders happy.
Other than that, say yes to as much as you can. Barn party? Yes. Lessons? Yes. Clinic? Yes. It is much easier to start saying “no” to things later vs. trying to include yourself after making it seem like you weren’t interested.
So how about you? If you are considering moving to a new barn, especially if its outside your current area, how do you try to ensure your ending up in a great place?