I love researching barns. Even as a kid, when – save for a few particularly brutal winters – I kept my horses at home, I was obsessed with researching local barns and thinking about what it would be like to board at them. I’ve been working on a “boarding barn must-haves” post on and off for months, and have pretty strong opinions about the kind of facilities I (a) trust with my horse and (b) don’t feel grumpy about pouring money into.
When we moved back to NYC last fall, I spend weeks on end researching what felt like every barn within a 90-mile radius of Brooklyn. I took lessons at several, and eventually settled on a place in Northern NJ. It’s not the closest to my house by a long shot, but it is worth the extra time in the car.
Specific things I love about it:
Finding a good trainer is kind of like finding a good therapist – not everyone works well together, so in addition to finding someone who knows what they’re doing and treats horses well, a good personality match is important. Sarah really checks all the boxes and I’m lucky to have found her. I appreciate her straightforward teaching style, and she’s very correct and focused in her work with the horses. It means a lot to have someone I trust to hop on my horse for a training ride or, you know, mid-lesson if I’m having one of those “I’ve forgotten how to ride” days.
Incredible horse care
I live an hour from the barn on a good day, and there are almost no good days in NYC. I also work full-time and run a nonprofit in my “spare” hours (lolol) so I currently get to the barn only a few times per week. This means that wherever I board needs to really pay attention to their horses. I’ve boarded at places in the past where I knew that if my horse came in from turnout with a puffy leg or gave himself a minor scrape, I would be the one to find it. That’s not a problem when you’re at the barn 5 to 7 days a week, but it wouldn’t work for me now.
The trainer and managers at my current barn really treat every horse as if its their own. I also appreciate that things like grain, blanketing and basic first aid are just taken care of and factored into board – particularly after coming from California, where literally everything beyond “toss the horse no more than 4 flakes of hay per day and sometimes give him turnout” required $5 fee after $5 fee – before you know what’s happened you’re paying an extra $500 a month for your horse to sometimes be fed grain.
Just the right size
I don’t like riding totally alone, sharing an arena with tumbleweeds and horse-eating monsters; Marley is steady and I trust him, but horses are large, spooky animals and accidents happen. That said, I also don’t like riding in overly-crowded arenas, jockeying for space with a lesson, someone trying to jump a course, and fiery Grand Prix dressage horses (this was my last barn in California).
My current barn is really just right, size-wise. There are between 20 and 25 horses on property, and only one trainer. This means that lessons are easy to work around, and I’ve rarely shared an arena with more than two other people. It also means that unless I’m at the barn at really crazy hours, there is generally at least one other person around. It’s a great balance.
Fun, no-drama barn family
I grew up keeping horses in my backyard, doing Pony Club, and generally riding in every scrappy, random way possible. I honestly didn’t realize that there were lesson barns where you just showed up and had a perfectly groomed, tacked up horse waiting for you until I moved to California and started looking for barns. I also didn’t realize just how much drama could exist at barns.
Different strokes for different folks and all that, but this sport is too time-consuming and way too expensive for me to be stressing about barn politics on top of stressing about the fact that I have forgotten how to ride. I’m so grateful that Sarah keeps us all in line and runs a tight ship focused on the things that matter most, namely good horsemanship.
Lots of turnout
Marley spends way more time at whatever barn we board at than I do, so his happiness is pretty critical. He’s not a hot horse, but he’s extremely social and loves being a part of things.
(adorable side story: my barn held a gymkhana last weekend that I had to miss due to a work commitment. Marley was in his stall while all the hubbub was going on and was so upset to be missing the action that they actually pulled him out so he could participate in the carrot challenge. I love this horse and his weirdness so much.)
Anywho – I believe turnout is really important for horses’ mental health. In California this was constantly a struggle – at many barns you’d pay a ridiculous upcharge for your horse to be “turned out” in a 20′ x 20′ sand lot for two hours each day. I’ve found that Marley is much happier and more rideable if he’s stretching his legs and getting to interact with other horses. At our current barn he’s on day turnout and goes out from around 7am to 4ish in the afternoon daily as long as the weather isn’t miserable.