Wouldn’t it be great if we all had enough land to be able to keep our horses at home!! Sadly for most of us, that isn’t an option and if you’re not lucky enough to have your own land you’ll need to find a livery yard or boarding stables. So what should you be looking for in a livery yard and how can you tell a good one from a bad one?
Most horse owners keep their horse at a boarding yard but the type of board, as well as the facilities available, can range drastically but picking the best option for you isn’t always easy, especially if this is your first horse.
The first question you need to ask is what type of livery will best suit you and your needs. For example, do you want somewhere where they’ll exercise your horse for you or do you just want a place to keep your horse and are happy and able to do all of the work yourself? Whatever your needs and requirements are there’s a type of livery to suit you. Sometimes referred to as board rather than livery this is just terminology and there’s no actual difference between full board and full livery.
Self-board or DIY (do-it-yourself) livery
Usually the cheapest form of livery, your horse is provided with a stable or stall (some stables will also provide you with hay and bedding) as well as access to a field or paddock. After that everything else is your responsibility, although some stables will also turn your horse out for you. If you keep your horse on a self-board arrangement you’ll have to make time to care for him a few times each day.
Pasture board or grass livery
Horses kept at grass livery have 24/7 access to a field with a shelter but as you would expect no stable. As with self-board, you’re responsible for everything to do with your horse so you will have to provide his feed, hay, etc. In some areas, pasture board isn’t available all year round to the weather conditions at certain times of the year, for example, if the ground is too frozen for horses to graze. In cases like this, the livery yard may have an arrangement with another stable but if not then you’ll have to find an alternative place for your horse during those months.
Sometimes called assisted self-board this isn’t provided by all stables but does offer an option for owners who want to keep their horse at self-board but aren’t able to visit multiple times a day. With an assisted livery arrangement you’ll get help with things such as feeding and or turning your horse out and bringing him in although the help that is provided will vary from yard to yard.
Partial board or part livery
One of the most popular livery options, it’s ideal for owners who don’t have the time to fully care for their horse(s) but do still want to be heavily involved with your horse. The full range of services will differ from yard to yard but generally, they’ll include feeding, mucking out and turning out/in. Some yards will include organizing vet and farrier visits too, although the cost of these will be your responsibility.
Full board or livery
Full board is by far the most expensive way of keeping a horse because of the amount of work the yard puts into looking after your horse. Horses kept on a full livery agreement are not only mucked out, feed, etc but are also groomed and exercised. This type of board is popular with people wanting to train a young horse or those who want to prepare their horse(s) for competition.
Some riding schools offer a working livery arrangement where the cost of keeping your horse is reduced in return for allowing him to be used for riding lessons. This isn’t for everybody and certainly isn’t for every horse. If you’re considering keeping your horse on a working livery arrangement then you’ll need to seriously think about whether it is going to be in his best interests, would he really be happy with lots of different people of levels of ability riding him? This can also sometimes limit when you’re able to ride your horse too.
Where do I go to find the right boarding stables?
It can be pretty daunting when you first start looking for the right boarding stables for your horse, especially if you’re a new horse owner. Speaking to both vets and saddleries in the area is always a good place to start because of their contact with multiple owners and horses. While it’s unlikely they’ll recommend anyone particular yard for you they will certainly be able to give you a few ones to look at.
What do I look for when finding a livery yard
There’s a huge number of livery yards out there and while they generally will all offer the same types of board the level of service they provide will differ from yard to yard. That said there are a few things that, in my mind at least, are important in a yard.
Is there somebody on site all the time?
While it doesn’t matter if they don’t technically live on-site I wouldn’t even consider a yard if they didn’t have someone there all of the time. Some boarding stables will share the responsibility, much like shift work so that there’s always somebody there 24/7 while others will have one member of staff who lives on site. This is important for two reasons, security and the horse’s welfare. If a horse is taken ill overnight then you want there to be somebody who’s on hand straightaway.
How much grazing does the stable have?
It’s widely excepted that each horse requires at least one acre of grazing so do the stables have enough land for all of the horses to graze? If all of the horses aren’t turned out at the same time then obviously they don’t need quite as much land. The quality of the grazing, as well as good pasture management, are also important, is there a rotation scheme, have the toxic plants been removed, etc. When looking for a place to keep your horse it’s easy to look at the stables and nothing else but the grazing is just as important.
What’re your first impressions of the livery yard?
We don’t pay enough attention to our first thoughts when looking for a yard. If you walk into the yard and immediately feel something is wrong then listen to that and don’t keep your horse there. Whilst your horse’s happiness is obviously the most important thing you need to be happy with where he’s kept too. Would you be relaxed with him being there, if you needed help would you be reluctant to ask for it? Moving your horse from stables to stables is going to be stressful for him so you need to ask these questions before settling on a yard.
Are the horses stabled there happy?
How do the horses already kept at the stables look, one sign of a yard that puts the horse’s welfare at the center of everything is how the horses look. If they look happy and relaxed that it’s a good sign that they’re the most important thing to the owners of the yard. If the horses look miserable and on edge then alarm bells should be ringing.
It’s always a good idea to speak to some of the horse owners too if you can, they’ll be able to give you a good insight into the yard.
Nearest and cheapest aren’t always best
While it can be tempting to stable your horse at the place nearest to you this isn’t always going to be the best, the same is true for the cost. If you’re really lucky you’ll find the perfect yard is just around the corner from you and has very reasonable fees but in most cases, this isn’t going to happen so you need to be prepared to travel a little further and possibly pay a little more. After all your horse’s happiness and wellbeing are the most important things.
What do you do when you’ve found the right yard?
Once you’ve found a yard where you think your horse will be happy the next thing to do is agree terms with the owners/managers. Not all yards will require it but it’s a good idea if you both have a contract, this will help to protect both of you but will also set out what is required on both sides.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉