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Looking for insight with boarding trade offs

Hi forum, I am looking for insight!

I am looking into potentially moving my horses to a different barn but I am struggling so much with this decision. I am northeast of Boston and have two geldings, a 6-year-old and a semi-retired but still rideable gelding in his early 20s. This area is losing barns so I am very limited in my choices, and what I would choose to do if I lived in another area are not the choices I have in front of me.

Boarding is always a trade off and I am having difficulty assessing these trade offs and what is more preferable for my horses versus what is more convenient for me. The basic challenge is around turnout and whether a larger area for a smaller time is preferable to a smaller area for a longer time, and weighing this in relation to my own very strong preference to have trail access, plus some safety concerns, but I include other considerations below.

Current barn pluses:

-Daytime turnout in a small herd in 3/4 acre paddocks, approximately 8 hours in summer and 6 hours in winter (about 5 horses per paddock)
-My horses move quite a bit in turnout. I tracked their mileage last summer using an old phone and they were averaging 9 miles per day for the 6-year-old and almost that for the older boy.
-I like the other boarders and everyone is friendly, although we do not do anything at the barn together and all are significantly younger or older than I am
-Lots of tack storage in large private locker
-I’ve been there 4 years and I know it
-My horses are fed and cared for and it could definitely be a lot worse

Current barn negatives:

-Extremely muddy 8 months of the year. I battled thrush and hoof problems in my horses who generally have good feet from September through April. It was a terrible winter, and some mud is unavoidable, but there were weeks I could not get down the barn driveway due to mud. I could not get my trailer into the yard to trailer out to trailheads (medical emergencies were also in the back of my mind but thankfully my boys did not have any), and by March I was so tired of wading through deep mud just to get to my horse’s stalls I seriously considered selling one just to make it easier to move. However, last winter was just terrible in New England and March is not the mindset to use to make decisions - the past three winters were not good, but not as bad in probably descending order (seems to get worse each year). I ride through the winter to keep conditioning and do not mind snow or cold, but it’s really difficult when the ring is unusable and I can’t trailer out. (As a location specific point: boarding barns with indoors in my area are very unlikely to have any meaningful turnout or significant forage, both of which are deal breakers for me, so I am not considering any barns with indoors - I am also not “in a program” so that rules out most)
-Horses are stalled in 10 x 12 lightly-bedded stalls the remaining 18/16 hours when not in turnout
-Trail system is a 1/2 mile loop that requires numerous wide and deep muddy stream crossings (this could be a positive or negative, since many barns have nothing at all, but is challenging for my 6-year-old who I have to ride out solo, and for my own mental health cleaning the endless mud off legs and hooves that persists even now)
-My semi-retired horse and I like to trail ride as much as we can and this is challenging with current limited access. He is largely sound, but the ring is very small and the constant corners can be hard on him at trot and canter so it’s been a terrible struggle keeping him in work (and he still loves to GO).
-I’ve been on rides with other riders at the barn maybe 4 times in 4 years. While I am used to riding alone, it would be very nice if I could hack out with others, especially for my 6-year-old, who would benefit from a steady trail companion (the others at the current barn are not excluding me; they just don’t ride out of the ring)
-No trailer parking
-Hay supply is good during the day but they often finish hay by 7pm and have nothing until 7am
-Sometimes there is no water in daytime winter turnout (this has been true at 3 barns so far, so while it seems unbelievable to me I am not sure it is necessarily so for the area)
-Horses are allowed in group turnout with rear shoes (this really frightens me)
-Turnout fencing is more of an idea than a solid construct, but mine are both very respectful of fencing (I personally paid to replace portion of electric fencing that was most unsafe, and would continue to do so if this was the only issue)

New barn positives:

-Many trails available with a short horseback ride down and across a roadway
-Small surfaced drylot-style runout attached to each stall so never entirely stalled even when not on drylot
-Trailer parking
-Other boarders appear to be active riders and include hacking out on trails in their conditioning; similar age and life stage (but of course I do not know if schedules/personalities will align)
-Very good horse-safe fencing
-Horses are turned out for 14 hours in summer, 10-12 hours in winter
-Hay provided in good quantities with the intent to be 24/7 forage (this is hard to know until you are there and can see for yourself as I’ve found the idea of what this means may differ)
-Indoor arena for rent down the road (hackable)

New barn negatives:

-Daytime turnout space is drylot and much smaller (about 5000 sq ft), my two horses could be together in double paddock (size above already counts both) but no larger group
-Cannot tell the winter mud situation without living through it
-Fear of the unknown
-Small tack storage
-More expensive but just within budget, not as many fun purchases (current board $800, new barn $950 per horse for reference)

About the same between barns:

-Ring is about the same (small, possibly not maintained in winter - the answer is that it is, but I was told that at current barn too and it is not for 4 months of the year so I take this with a grain of salt)
-Small barns with only a few other boarders (current barn has 5 + owner, potential new barn has 2 + owner)
-Driveways extremely rutted/rocky and likely to be a challenge at certain times of year regardless of mud, but I think this is just life
-Both are about a 30 minute drive

I am heavily considering moving due to what I consider husbandry issues (the mud and others), but it is the dry season and hard to tell how new barn would be in the thick of March. There are some surfaced areas, so it seems unlikely to be as bad, but I suppose one never knows. I left a previous barn four years ago for other reasons that also had very muddy turnout but walkways and driveways were good (current barn is muddy all over).

I have had to trailer my horse(s) to trailheads about three times a month for four years (last 2 years for the 6-year-old) to get in any significant mileage. They are both good in the trailer, but I really prefer not to do this. It’s tedious and a huge time suck when I could be using that time riding and not dragging a horse trailer across the state (we do have some beautiful state parks that I love to ride in, but I would prefer these be a nice trip and not a necessity). I work 4x10s and have some longer time breaks due to my schedule, but also long work days where I’d love to be able to get in a few miles without looping around the same muddy patch four times as the ring is fully occupied or unusable. Having access to any kind of trails in the area I live would be an enormous and rare privilege, even if I have to cross a road to get there. It seems obvious to move to a place with access, but I feel selfish putting my horses in a smaller daytime turnout area when so much of their days are spent without me, and maybe I am just expecting too much.

I can only ride so much per week (I aim for 6 days in summer/4 days in winter, but this depends on weather - disturbingly hot at present), and certainly cannot ride both horses the mile differential of small drylot versus small paddock every day, whatever it ends up being. There are concerns from all angles, however, that makes this not very clean cut, and as we all know this is an excruciatingly expensive hobby to feel extremely frustrated 3/4 of the year.

I appreciate any insight anyone may have. I had a small but tidy barn/field at my home before I had to move for a relocation prior to the pandemic, so I only have five years of boarding experience and do not really know the larger horse community in the area. Maybe it will become clear or things I hadn’t considered will be discussed!

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Personally, I find longer time out, even in smaller paddocks, to be far more beneficial. There’s only so much they’re going to do in less time, no matter how big the space is. Then if it’s knee-deep mud, what’s the point? And are you sure they’re actually even getting those six hours in the winter, if the whole place is so muddy you can’t walk to the barn?

I’m a 24/7 turnout person; my girls have been out 24/7 in either a 8000 sq ft (2-3 horses usually, did have four at one point) or 16,000 sq ft paddock (3-4 horses) for the last three years and are happy. So, the new barn sounds like a no-brainer for me. Out more hours, plus a run-out off the stall, sounds much better, and 24/7 hay?? Sign me up. The accessibility to trails and an indoor arena also seem like a much better situation for you.

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It’s really hard to choose for someone else.

I’d suggest you make yourself a grid, either pen and paper or excel. List all the variables down one side, including trails access, turnout, feed, commute distance, arenas, etc. Think really hard about what’s a deal breaker must have for you, amd also what your top 5 priorities are.

Then give each variable a score for each barn. Maybe both barns are 10/10 on feed and cleanliness, but one is 5/10 on trail access and the other is 9/10 on trail access. Etc

Look at the scores, at your priorities, and imagine your realistic use of the facilities

For me, no trails access or very limited trails is a deal breaker, but lots of people prioritize an excellent arena or indoor arena. Short commute distance is important to me because traffic is congested in our metro area even out in the agricultural areas. But my priorities are not everyone’s.

Read this over again. I would ask current boarders at New Barn about winter mud. It sounds like Old Barn has let things deteriorate to the extent it’s dangerous in winter and spring. That would be a deal breaker for me too. It’s one thing to have muddy pastures for a few months but a driveway that muddy is dangerous.

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I really appreciate this perspective. I would love 24/7 turnout, which I find the gold standard, but unfortunately the only places that offer this are not places I feel are adequate care (and there are only two + a smattering of very backyard type situations, with which I have no issue and actually prefer but the conditions may be worse than where I am).

I am the one bringing them in four days a week so I do believe they are getting the turnout in winter (and muttering to myself every step of the squishy way while hoping everyone behaves because it is so slippery and boot-sucking), and I can see the fresh mud up to their knees on other days (I try to curry out the mud every night). However it is only 6 hours a day, which leaves a very long time to be in a small stall. This is not unusual here, but it is high on my list to try to find better.

For reference, I have to wear muck boots all winter and mud would routinely come up over the entire footbed and partway up the shaft when walking to barn from driveway or from barn to turnouts. Turnout gates are perilous. I’ve been told repeatedly mud is just something that happens and all the other boarders do appear to just accept it, so I want to specify in case I am actually the odd one out.

Personally, I would prioritize more time out in a smaller and dry turnout over a larger space with less time out. Especially if it is a muddy as you describe, and are also having hoof issues. Maybe you can get enrichment toys for your two to have in the dry lot. Or ask if their hay and water can be spaced out as much as possible so they are encouraged to move around in their smaller space.

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I’d choose a smaller turnout for a longer time as well. Years ago someone did an experiment and found that stalled horses in stalls with one 20’ dimension (length or width - so 10x20 or 12x20) moved five times more than horses in the normal (10x10, 12x10) sized stalls. Your horses will get more out of the stall with run than you think.

My first priority is horse welfare. I have certain non-negotiable care requirements for my horse. After that I am balancing horse vs human needs.

I did leave a barn with great care, good trails, good company, etc in large part due to the mud in the paddocks.

I can’t tell how many new barns you’re looking at. Some sentences suggested two, others just one. Are you just trying to decide between current and one new barn? Remember that nothing has to be forever. There will be something at any new barn that will bother you. But it will be different from what your current woe is.

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just a note as we have not boarded a horse since 1993 but were paying $450 then which would be the same a $973 in todays dollars

Ehh…
Mud at high-traffic areas (water troughs, gates) is something that happens, and most barns don’t often have the funds to try to rectify with expensive items such as mud grids.
But, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect mud-free walking paths at minimum. Sounds like they have a serious drainage problem.

I lost many boots in the spring mud in Ohio. I don’t miss it.

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Sounds like the new barn is a no brainer. Poor fencing at the other barn would be a no go for me because even if your horses are respectful, it doesn’t keep others out. I also love in/out situations even if the paddock is smaller. But everyone has their preference….

What is the worst stressor at the current barn? Does the new barn alleviate that stressor?

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I am considering just one new barn: deciding between staying and going. I have been looking at all available board posts since last August in our regional group, and this is the first I’ve found that seems like an improvement in the major ways (less mud, trail access, no long periods of stalling, adequate forage) and is within my area. I suppose that in and of itself does tell me something.

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Right now, it is probably no trail access and needing to trailer out so much (dry season). From September through April, it’s the mud! I hope new barn solves these issues - it appears it should solve one, but I don’t know about the other! I have reached out to a few references.

The longer turnout would be my choice.

My horse lives out in a small dry lot with one companion and a run out shed. The paddock is maybe 60’ x 100’. I know you said your horses wouldn’t be out 24/7, but I thought that I’d share that my horse thrives, even in this small space, because I am an active owner who gets her out to do things 4-6 days a week depending on the time of year. YOU also sound like an active owner who does that, so I think your horses would be fine in the smaller space. The better access to trails would be a strong factor in my decision. Best wishes to you.

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I’ve been at barns with serious mud issues and it’s awful. There’s a big difference between a paddock with muddy areas and a field that’s just slop. If I can barely get around, quite often the horses are barely getting around, too, because it’s so much effort to take a step.

However, like you said, you haven’t lived through the mud season at the other barn. Can you talk to current boarders to get a feel for the situation? The better trails and better-maintained paddocks sound like a much more positive and healthier situation for both you and your horses.

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when you mentioned the mud situation at your current situation both land and stream I thought “this is an ecologic nightmare”

With that much mud I would imagine you would see evidence in the dry season, ruts and scars. the situation alone would have me out of there , fast.

dry lot is perfectly fine for turn out, A small tack locker can be solved with decluttering and prioritizing. Even keeping a rubbermaid in your trunk for those rarely use except in emergency items.

This one is an easy choice. Move

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In some climates or geographic areas within a given climate zone, you can have dangerous mud most of the year, or you can have dry lots. Proper pasture may be very seasonal. Where I live, some pastures hold up year round, some need to be rested November to May, and some are not rested and become destroyed mud pits full of noxious weeds. Usually you can’t keep a proper grass pasture functional year round here unless your horse load is very very low. If you are on dryer upland the grass is dead by August and if you are on wet fertile river bottom land you get horrible clay mud from November to April.

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This!
See if you can talk to someone about the mud situation at Barn #2.
It sounds like a much better fit, but who knows until you know how the mud is. If their private paddocks and the small turn out are all mud, then you are not really further ahead.

If you can’t talk to someone, go looking at their facebook (or any of their social media) page and see if there are any photos from during the mud season.

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Have you straight up asked the owner of Barn 2 what the barn situation is like? Has there been any management done on the paddocks/runs so they don’t turn into bogs? Why not ask and see what sort of response/reaction you get?

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Agree with all above that I would maximize turnout hours, even in a smaller space. That plus the (hopefully actually) 24/7 hay policy would make moving a no brainer for me.

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Me too. My horses were in a stall with a small attached dry lot for years and were happy. Much prefer that to time in a stall.

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