A quick note on boarding. Full board usually means that your horse will have a designated stall, and that they will spend the night in that stall. Full board most likely will include daily turnout, whether that's a set number of hours or all day. Feeding grain and supplements to your horse are usual services included with full board. Rough board usually means that your horse will be kept in a paddock/pasture/dry lot all day year round with some sort of shelter. Most rough board offers a lean-to for shelter. Rough board may or may not include the barn staff feeding your horse grain and supplements. To be sure what you're getting, ask the barn manager or owner what exactly full and rough board specifies for their barn.
Both boarding and keeping your beloved horse at home have their advantages and disadvantages. Here's an overview of what you can expect from each.
Boarding Your Horse Pros:
- Someone will be checking your horse daily. If you have to work late, have an exam, are going on vacation, or your kids are sick, someone will be feeding and checking on your horse. You can take the day off, and know that your horse is safe and well cared for.
- If you can't be there, someone else will be. This may be for an extra charge if it's someone from the barn staff, or maybe a friend could be there. Reasons someone may need to be at the barn: your horse is sick (for example colic), your horse needs a routine treatment such as icing his legs, or someone needs to hold your horse for a routine visit from the farrier are just some examples. At the boarding barn, someone can usually cover for you.
- You don't have as many chores. This will change whether you're rough or full board. Different stables will have different policies, but for the most part you can expect to have minimal chores. You most likely won't have to clean stalls daily, fill water troughs, or feed your horse. This means you can come out anytime the barn is open, hop on, and when you're done just pop your horse back in his stall and go home.
- Amenities. Indoor arena, outdoor arena, barrels, jumps, trails, toilets in the barn, and heated tackrooms... Boarding stables are often made with the boarders' comfort in mind. Your own barn may not have as many of the cozy extras that a boarding stable can afford to offer.
- Barn atmosphere. At the boarding stable you can meet lots of great people and their awesome horses. You'll learn tons about different disciplines, different feeds, supplements, and get the inside scoop on the best farrier. You'll also have people to go riding with, or hitch a ride to the weekend show. Each barn has a different atmosphere, and that is a big part of boarding. Unless you're active in your local horse community, you'll miss a lot of this interaction keeping your horse at home.
- Barn drama. First let me say thank goodness the barns I've been lucky enough to board at have a minimum to no drama, but I've heard some stories. Some people feel the need to stir up trouble, or get people excited. This is something to look out for when shopping for a boarding stable (more to come on What to Look for in a Boarding Stable), but be aware it may happen. This can be anything from someone telling you that your horse is fat to someone's tack going missing. It just happens. Hopefully if you decide to board you can find a stable where the boarders are mature and respectful.
- The barn owners/staff will have their own horse nutrition opinions. This isn't a con in itself, more something to keep in mind. Just about every horse person has a different opinion on what horses should be fed, how much, when, etc. Be sure that what you want your horse to be eating is what they're getting. This may mean buying your own grain and bringing it to the barn. This also means that the barn staff are respectful of your decisions. Barn staff may decide to override your decisions, or implement their own supplements thinking it will only do good. It's a good idea to check in with the barn staff to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Don't expect your barn staff to be perfect. Make sure your horse is getting enough food, has fresh clean water, and is getting along with the other horses for the most part. Also keep an eye on the fencing and general barn maintenance. Most stables are great about keeping things safe and tidy, but accidents happen and you'll want to be sure that the barn staff are on top of it.
- Barn staff/owners may not have the same ideas about horse care. This could mean feeding round bales vs. square bales, or not providing heated water buckets in stalls during the winter. This means you'll have to pay extra attention to your horse's condition and ensure that they're being cared for. That might mean stopping out in the winter to make sure the ice was broken on your horse's bucket. If an issue does develop, make sure to follow up on it to, and make sure that it has been resolved. For example, if you notice your horse lost some weight, be sure that the barn staff are following the new feeding plan to maintain your horse's weight.
Keeping Your Horse at Home Pros:
- You are the one solely responsible for your horse's well being. You can feed how much you want, when you want, provide heated buckets, use slow feeders, and put as many toys in your horse's stall as you want. All the decisions regarding your horse's well being are yours to make, and you can make their care schedule as unique as you like.
- Save money. If you have the set up already, you could very reasonably save money on your horsey habit by keeping your equine friend at home. You'd have to run the numbers for your situation, but it's definitely something to consider.
- You have 24/7 access to the barn. There are no barn hours, so you can ride at midnight if you like and no one will kick you out of the barn. If you want to stay up to all hours braiding manes or go for a trail ride as the sunrises, no one will stop you.
- No barn drama. You won't have to worry about anyone borrowing your tack, or inserting their opinion where it wasn't wanted.
Keeping Your Horse at Home Cons:
- You are the one solely responsible for your horse's well being. This means you will need to be home to feed horses every night, and be up in the morning as well. You'll have to haul hay, break ice, fill water troughs, feed grain, and muck stalls-- most likely on a daily basis.
- You will be there when the vet/farrier comes. You won't have a barn manager or stable hand to hold your horse because you're working late, and can't make it for your horse's hoof trimming session. Not to mention when your horse gets an abscess, laminitis, allergic reaction, porcupine quills in their muzzle, or colic (yes, all these have happened to me or my mom's horses while keeping them at home).
- Who will care for your horse if you can't? This is definitely something to consider, and have a back up plan in place. If you have a broken leg, will you be able to do barn chores? What happens when your brother gets married and you have to fly across the country for a weekend? Who will take care of your horses? Some people to think of are family near by, horse savvy neighbors, or older 4-H/ FFA kids that have horse experience. You'll want someone who has enough horse sense to recognize when something is wrong, and understand that they need to follow your directions when it comes to horse care.
There are clear differences to boarding versus keeping your horse at home. A lot comes down to what you're looking for when you go the barn, how much time you can put into horse care, and where you'd like to invest your money (maintaining your own setup or paying someone else).