I'm not sure I thought about barns much before realizing I was going to be bringing a horse home that needed an indoor stall to himself. My experiences with horses when I was younger did not include the concept of a barn. Horses lived in a pasture. They got fed hay when needed and that was about the extent of their housing needs. In the winter, they grew thick coats, grazed the 40 acres of alfalfa and grass behind our house, and when a storm came in, they turned tail to the wind and continued to graze. There was some limited shelter, but mostly they turned and moved away from the wind.
Riding in the winter was a matter of choosing to ride despite the cold, the wind, the frozen fingers. I knew when I brought Ashke home that because I work all day, and he wasn't under saddle yet, that I need a facility to ride in after dark. So suddenly I needed a barn with an indoor arena that I could ride in later in the evening. That limits the choices when searching for a place, especially if you don't want to spend an arm and a leg on board.
None of my earlier experiences prepared me for choosing a barn or for the concept of a "barn family". In fact, I hadn't ever heard of that concept until I started reading blogs. And in some ways, that is just as important as finding the proper stabling, or a decent indoor. The "barn family" becomes the people you share riding space with, share tack rooms with, interact with in the aisles and talk to about riding. Finding the right combination of people is more important than I ever suspected and it's taken a while for me to figure that out.
When I saw Ashke for the first time I knew I would need a facility that allowed several things (none of which have really changed from that first decision): 1) an indoor stall where he could be fed separately, 2) a facility that had an indoor arena and 3) a barn that wasn't closed early so I could be out there at night. That was pretty much it. Those are the core of my needs in a barn, but so much else has changed in the questions I ask and the things I really want to see in a place I spend so much time hanging out at.
Without further ado, here are ten reasons why I love my barn:
1) Ashke's stall. The interior of Ashke's stall is 10' x 16'. It is nice and roomy, with plenty of room for him to lay down inside. It has floor mats and they will bed it however I ask them to as long as I let the BO know. (I provide the shavings.) The stalls are cleaned at least twice a day and the manure is stored far, far away from the barn. The stall is stripped every other week, or as needed to keep the bedding fresh. You would think this would be a no brainer, but it is not. At TMR, the stall was only stripped if I insisted on it, then stood over the guys to watch that it was done. It was not part of their process and the barn smelled like pee a lot. At SQA, I had to provide shavings and would always strip the stall before opening a new bag. A bag there would last me about five days. At my new barn, the stall is always clean and well bedded. We can add more bedding when Ashke will be locked inside (like for a snow storm) and then use a little less when he's allowed in turn out and his run.
Additionally, the front of the stall is low enough that Ashke can hang his head out and interact with the horses on either side of him. He can also interact with the people and horses as they wander past. This is his favorite thing to do. He is such an engaged horse, that the more stuff going on around him, the better. He also has several toys (a ball, a safety cone and a hanging thingie) for him to mess with. The BO and I had a good laugh the day we pulled the cone out of his outside watering tub because we both knew who had thrown it in there. He loves to play with all of the things. He is more playful here than anywhere we have been.
2) Ashke's run. Although his run is not huge, it allows him an opportunity to be outside in the sun and to interact with the horses on either side of him or in turnout. It is well tended with pea gravel and has a slight slope to discourage standing water. Colorado clay is nasty stuff, slick as snot and deep, so this spring the barn brought out a landscape dude to scrape the runs flat (or angled slightly for run off) and then put down about six inches of pea gravel. It cost me a little less than $100 but it will keep his feet out of the mud and cut down on our thrush issues. At TMR, I paid for at least $300 worth of gravel for his run but the runs were never leveled first, so there were huge puddles and the gravel always disappeared into the underlying clay. At SQA, there was gravel added to the runs (not ours but others) but it always disappeared into the mud because the runs were not sloped at all. Anytime there was precipitation, he had huge mud puddles and muddy feet. That was a huge disadvantage to being at a barn built in a flood plain.
Ashke has lots of time in the sun in his run. The barn does a great job of getting them out during the day, even when it's fairly cold. He has horses on both sides of him that he plays with, and I think the social aspect of living here has made him a much happier horse.
3) Turn out. OMG, this is huge. We had two hours of turn out a day at his original barn, part of which I paid extra for, part of which we managed on our own. He had Cali and Stoli to hang out with and graze the field, sometimes tearing around like bats out of hell prior to settling down and munching the grass. When we moved to TMR, the turnout was not nearly as appealing. The horses were taken out three days a week into a lot that was a dry lot part of the year and filled with weeds the other part of the year. Most of the horses were in turnout solo, although Ashke got to go out with Cali while he was there, but it really wasn't an environment that was horse friendly.
At SQA, for an additional $65 a month, I could have had him turned out in the round pen for 30 minutes five times a week. By himself. No grazing. No socialization. Just a pen or dry lot that he could pace or stand or fret in. I opted not to partly due to the cost and partly because I did not want to encourage the fretting, dirt licking or chewing on the bars that would ensue. It wasn't optimal, but neither was the turnout situation. I think that was one of the reasons Ashke was so depressed at SQA, especially as time went on. He had limited interaction with people and limited interaction with other horses.
At Morelli, Ashke gets turn out with other horses seven days a week. Sometimes he's in the track turn out, sometimes he is in the field just behind his stall, and he has gone out with pretty much all of the horses in the barn. I think we are working toward getting him in a gelding herd in the track turn out every day once the farm is expanded with the additional land the BO is buying, but for now they don't want to mess up the herd dynamics. He would go into a new gelding herd, with horses he gets along with. We are hoping that putting him in a herd where he can gallop with other boys will cut down on the face fighting over the fence with the other geldings. (We are trying to cut down on him hurting himself - he's smashed the side of his face, given himself a pretty good bump on his cannon bone and has hair scrapes on his neck, shoulders and face.) However, turnout is his favorite thing, ever. He gets very unhappy and head whippy when he isn't allowed to go out.
There are feed tubs in the turn out runs for the horses, with a full bale of hay in the tubs, for the horses to munch on when they are done tearing around the track. It's so awesome that they are allowed to graze together, which is also why the BO is so careful in selecting the groups of horses that go out together.
4) Arena TV. Ashke's stall faces the arena and he can hang his head over the wall and watch what is happening in front of him. I think he must spend most of his time watching the other horses and riders practicing whatever discipline they are doing (he's always watching if I get there and there are riders in the arena.) I think it might be making him smarter and more willing to do dressage. He is such a social horse that being able to watch what is happening (almost being involved) makes him feel so much better, so much happier than being locked behind a set of bars. This barn doesn't care that the horses can pick up their halters and toss them around, or mess with their blankets at the front of the stall, or reach out to people or horses walking by (they can't touch, although the mares can make it pretty intimidating on the geldings walking by). It's such a comfortable and welcoming environment. And it keeps him really entertained.
5) Feed. Ashke gets six flakes of alfalfa or alfalfa/grass mix in two feedings in slow feeder bags. He does very well with the hay this way and it is hung low enough that the horses can feed with their heads down, like they do naturally, without wasting any of their feed. None of the hay is mixed into the shavings, trampled under foot or peed on. They get to eat it all. The hay is great quality and he is looking the best I have ever seen him. In fact, on Saturday when the vet gave Ashke his shots, he said that Ashke was at his optimal weight.
Not only that, but the BO is very much in tune with the horses and pays attention to how the horses are eating. Early in our tenure here, Ashke got a bag of hay he did not like (I don't think he likes Broome) and he pulled the hay he wouldn't eat out of the bag and scattered it around his stall. I saw it and thought I might need to talk to the BO about it, but she saw what he had done and immediately changed the hay he was being given. Without me saying anything! At TMR, I swear to you, the hay could be more than knee deep in the stall (from horses pulling it out of the feed bin) and the horses not eating anything, and the barn staff would continue to heave hay into the feeder. This actually happened a lot and not only with Ashke. I'm kind of surprised that Ashke won't eat bad hay, given his background, but I'm glad that he is picky.
The BO says that one of the great things about feeding in a hay net, is that she inspects every flake that goes to a horse as they are filling the hay nets. That reduces the possibility of feeding moldy or weedy hay to the horses by accident. That was a huge problem at SQA, since the guy they had feeding didn't care of the horse got bad hay or not. That was pretty frustrating, considering they advertised that they had their hay tested. The other thing that is awesome is that if Ashke needs extra hay (starts to lose weight) they will feed whatever he needs at no additional charge to me. Currently, he is getting two flakes of alfalfa and a flake of alfalfa grass mix twice a day. It is rare that I see his hay net completely empty. He does not gobble, but rather rations his portion to give him food to munch on throughout the day and night. Whatever is left in the bag at feeding time gets taken out and put in the corner under his hay net. It's a great system and he is looking better than he ever has.
6) Water Bucket. They use muck buckets for water bins, which provides 30 gallons of water pretty much all of the time. The amount of water available is more than a horse could drink in a 24 hour cycle and the buckets are filled every morning and checked twice daily. The brilliance of this option blows me away. They don't even get a layer of ice on them in the winter, because they are so deep and wide. The barn is not heated, but the size of the buckets and the fact that the horse bodies help keep the barn temp in the mid-20s even in the coldest part of the winter means that Ashke never runs out of water.
Ashke drinks more at this barn then he ever has anywhere else. I love the fact that the BO cleans the buckets about once a week. She even has toilet brushes hung all over the barn for scrubbing the buckets clean before dumping the water. You would think that wasn't such a big deal, but I had to clean buckets at TMR. In fact, they wouldn't even empty the ice out of them if the water froze. I had to raise a huge stink about that in order for anything to get done. I don't know how many times I arrived at the barn at 10:30 and both of Ashke's buckets were empty. He did have an automatic waterer, but it was shared with a horse that dumped his food in it and Ashke refused to drink from it. Plus, the automatic waterers were inconsistent in how well they worked. This system is awesome and it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside when I see the bucket.
Additionally, there is a huge water tank outside in his run that he shares with the horse next to him. He prefers that water tank if he can get to it (when the doors are open) and drinks deeply (3 gallons or more - I counted swallows) when he can get out there. The BO told me they will pull the muck buckets out of the stalls and just use the outside tubs (100 gallons or so) during the summer when the barn is always open.
7) Feeding Supplements.This has been an issue since I moved to TMR. Part of the problem is that I have powered supplements that are being mixed into pelleted and grain feed. Fed dry, Ashke will sift the power to the bottom of the bucket and eat the other stuff. Since the other stuff is mostly a vehicle to deliver the supps, this kind of defeats the purpose. I started Ashke on Equipride when I moved to TMR in 2012. For a while, N and I split the supplement and the barn crew would feed them dry. The biggest issue was that the Equipride was left in the bottom of the bucket and would eventually turn nasty and gross. I needed to find a way to feed the supplements wet.
At some point I was approached by the dressage trainer there and asked if I wanted to join her feed program. Each person would purchase a bag of Equipride (taking turns) and she would set up the feed buckets for the horses, with all participants sharing the Equipride. In exchange for feeding my supps five days a week, I would commit to feeding on her two days off. I readily agreed and joined the program. In eight months I purchased three bags of Equipride (feeding solo, a bag will last me six months) and the fourth time the Equipride ran out the trainer switched the feed to another supplement that a different client was using without checking with the owners. Or even communicating the decision. I was pissed about the change and about buying so much supp without anyone else contributing, so I went back to feeding on my own. After a couple of months of having to be out at the barn five or six days a week, I got set up with a group of boarders who helped each other out by setting buckets which the barn crew would feed. That worked really well until I moved.
At SQA, I fed Ashke daily. I was able to swing by the barn after work and give him his mash, plus I would drive out during the weekend to give him his feed. It was a pain when we needed to be out of town, but it was also good to have the excuse to give him kisses every day.
At our new barn, the supps are fed after the horses have been in turnout. This means they get fed three times a day. The BO has no issue with adding a touch of water and mixing the supps up before dumping them in his bucket. Ashke gets hay while he is in turnout and then he gets his bucket when he comes back inside. The feeder in me is very happy with this arrangement.
8) Amentities. Like blanketing, which we didn't need at TMR because the barn was heated and the horses weren't let outside in the cold, but which I had to pay extra for at SQA. SQA did a great job of blanketing, switching weights of blankets, or changing out blankets if the one on the horse gets wet. It seems like this barn is the same way and it is included in the cost of the board. Trailer parking is free and the BO has been very accommodating about us parking it in a place where we can haul out without getting stuck. (It only took once.) The BO is wonderful and someone I could talk to for hours. More importantly, Ashke loves her. A lot. The facilities are incredible and Ashke is very comfortable being ridden there. None of the spookiness of SQA, great footing and a place for my things so I can play with it whenever I want.
9) Barn community. This was the one thing I didn't realize I wanted when I first brought Ashke home. I ride at night after work a couple of times a week and it's more comfortable when there are people around. The people I have met are really nice, and they all know Ashke by name. A week or so ago, I was getting ready to ride and a woman there said something about going outside, so we went. It was really nice to be able to ride the property line and just chat about nothing. I had that, kind of, at TMR (mostly I had N to ride with) and I did ride once a week at SQA with C, but I never really connected with anyone else at either barn, except K. And K and I have bonded on so many levels over miles of trail. It's comforting to know that most nights there will be someone there to share space with.
10) Trainers. The barn is open to any trainer, so I can bring in someone if I wanted, but I really like the resident trainer I took a lesson with last week. In fact, I can't wait to be able to ride with her again. For the first time I am excited to practice my dressage. I've practiced dressage in the past because its a necessary evil that I have to do in order to do the speed round, but now I think we can really do this. We could get better. We could get good, maybe.
Anyway, that is my list.