May 2020 - So You Want to Keep Your Horse at Home?
Written by by Nan Meek
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 04:54
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Lifestyle pros and cons to consider.

by Nan Meek

For equestrians sequestered at home and locked out of horse boarding facilities during the COVID-19 crisis, the most difficult dilemma has not been whether or not they could find toilet paper. It’s been the uncertainty around when they could get back to the barn and back to their horses.

For others, like me, who keep their horses at home, it’s been heaven to walk to the barn three times a day to feed, to get out of the house to clean stalls and paddocks, and to ride in the neighborhood arena and on nearby trails. I may regret missing the clinics and shows I had planned, but I can still hug my horses whenever I want. I give thanks every day that I have my horses at home, now more than ever.


Current stay-at-home orders that keep equestrians away from the barn have freed up more time for horse farm fantasies: Glossy magazine ads showcase beautiful horse properties. Daydreams abound with horses grazing in green fields just out the kitchen window. Imaginations turn to what it would be like to see your horse any time you want. Sigh. If only.


But wait … why not turn dreams into reality? If you add rent or mortgage costs to the expense of boarding, sometimes the cost of a residential horse facility seems sensible. Factor in the time spent commuting to and from the barn, and sometimes keeping your horse (or horses) at home looks logical. Sometimes, those magazine ads are just simply irresistible.

How to Learn What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

No amount of hanging out in boarding barns can give you all the knowledge you need to make an informed decision about buying horse property. Not even the most experienced barn rat – I mean, serious equestrian – truly understands everything that goes on behind the scenes to maintain and operate a horse facility. But here are some good ways to learn:

Experienced real estate professionals can give you all the information about the property, the neighborhood, the financial transactions involved in buying a horse property, and more. Experienced equestrian realtors often have personal knowledge from keeping horses on their own properties, and can advise you about living with horses at home.

To find out what “you don’t know you don’t know,” talk to equestrians who keep their horses at home. Different people have different perspectives on the trade-offs, and there are always trade-offs: time, or money, or time and money. So, talk to as many at-home horse-keepers as you can, to get a variety of perspectives and advice.

Then, to really discover what you’re getting into, live the life for a weekend to get a taste of what’s in store if you purchase your own horse property. Offer to fill in for a friend who keeps horses at home. Take over the three-times-a-day feeding, stall cleaning, bucket scrubbing, fence mending, emergency vet calls at 3 a.m., and whatever else occurs, because something always does.

If you’re really cut out to keep your horses at home, you’ll revel in so much time spent in the barn even when not on your horse. You’ll drop into bed after the evening barn check, exhausted and fulfilled, ready to sleep soundly and rise early to do it all over again tomorrow.

Or, you may realize that paying someone to do some or all of those chores, although expensive, will give you the satisfaction of having your horses at home, plus the freedom to pursue the other interests in your life. Alternatively, you may discover that driving to and from the barn, paying board, and not having to work 24/7/365 is really a good thing, and the fantasy of keeping your horse at home can remain just a daydream.

Whatever you decide, you’ll know that your decision was made on rational advice and information about the pros and cons of living with horses at home.

Pros and Cons to Consider

When you’re considering whether to invest in horse property, think about these pros and cons, and what trade-offs make sense for your family and your lifestyle.

Pro: More time with your horse, because proximity makes it possible. If you like to hang out with your horse, this just might be the biggest “pro” for you. No more commuting from home to barn – the barn is at home!

Pro: Knowing your horse better, because the more time you spend with your horse, the better you’ll be able to tell when the first signs of colic appear, or a respiratory situation is developing, or an abscess is coming on.  

Pro: Flexibility, because when your horse is at home, you can choose when to ride, when to do barn chores, and when to just admire the view.

Pro: Stress relief, because there’s nothing better than time spent with your horse, whether it’s an early-morning nuzzle, a relaxing curry, or even grooming the arena. Many horse activities are meditative.

Pro: Social life, because most horse property is surrounded by other horse property, and horse neighbors have a lot in common. In times of trouble and moments of joy, they understand you.

Pro: Horses become a family affair, because familiarity creates a bond. When your horse is on your own property, your family becomes familiar with the animal that used to take you away from them, and even non-horsey family members take more interest over time.

Con: Work, because you either spend more time doing chores, or more money paying someone else to do them for you. There are more chores involved in keeping horses at home than any boarder can imagine.

Con: Time off, because horses need to be fed, watered, and/or cleaned multiple times every day. If you want time off for a social life or vacation, you need to find someone to take care of your horses while you’re away.

Con: Service providers, because you’re no longer at a boarding barn where your regular vets, farriers, and trainers regularly do business. Sometimes your regular service providers can continue to work for you; sometimes you need to find new resources.

Con: Expenses, because it always costs more to keep horses at home than you expect. Spreading the cost of facility improvements or maintenance over one or a few horses, versus over the 20, 30, or more at a boarding barn, is very different.

Con: Responsibility, because it’s all up to you. There’s no longer a barn staff available to help you pull a shoe that sprung, or provide first aid for an unexpected injury. Your trainer isn’t right there to help with whatever new quirk your horse mysteriously develops.

Con: Learning more, because you need to develop a working knowledge about a wide variety of subjects: horse care, naturally, but also drainage, construction, and a whole lot more. Horse property owners need to know at least a little bit about a lot of subjects, including when to DIY and when to call in the experts. Sometimes that can mean the difference between life and death.

Last but not least, here’s a pro and a con: One horse can easily become more, because horses are herd animals. If you have one horse, you need a second to keep the first horse company. But then you need a third, so the second horse has company when the first horse leaves the property for a clinic or a show.

Sometimes you need a fourth horse, to keep the third company so the first and second horses can go out on a trail ride together. The pro or con depends entirely on your perspective!

Keeping Your Horse at Home

For every tempting fantasy of your horse nickering to you through the early morning mist as you walk into your own barn, there’s the grounding reality that if it’s your barn, it’s your responsibility. It’s all down to you, for better or worse, in good times and bad.

One thing I know for sure: For this lifelong horse lover, keeping horses at home is more joy than the opposite. The joy of horse nuzzles is outweighed by the burden of cleaning paddocks in the pouring rain. The joy of doing night checks wearing a down jacket over flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers beats the sore muscles from moving mats and fixing fences. The joy of looking out the window at my horses as I write these words is worth more than words can convey.
Now, I’d better get to the barn to feed them lunch before they put a dent in the wall or poop in the water bucket.