Self Care Boarding Questions

I dream of having my horse with me on my own property, but to do that means moving me and her. I’ve looked at moving to another full-boarding place but can’t find anything I like, but today stopped by a place with just a ‘horse boarding’ sign - no business sign - and went in for a look. Met someone I know there who has boarded there for years … but it’s SELF CARE. You get a stall, and a field and that’s it. I feel like this could be a good experiment to see if I COULD handle having her on site - a baby step. I’m REALLY tempted - and really scared. I’m out to see my girl most days anyway, but having that little bit of caretaker when I’m not around is nice.

So my question is for those who have gone down this road, what can you teach us?

Go for it just make sure you have a backup barn just in case it doesn’t work for you. Have a good vet/farrier you can ask questions. I did it for about a year but ultimately decided I don’t want my own horse property because half the fun of riding for me is the social comraderie and riding by myself is boring. I know friends who did it and love it. It is very freeing once you realize you get to truly make all the decisions on feed, hay, super scrubber water troughs :grin:

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My barn is mostly self care. Owners do throw hay twice a day. Anything else…cleaning, bedding,supplements, blanketing, etc, etc is up to the owner. I have boarded at this place for many, many years. I like having that control. If for some reason, I can’t do the cleaning, I can usually get one of the other boarders to clean for me. I baggy supplements and the owners will dump them when they feed.

It would give you an idea how much work is involved and some of the costs.

It has worked for me.


My barn is 100% self care, like you describe. Everything (feed, bedding, whatnot) is provided by the owner, everything is done by the owner. I LOVE it. I love having total control over my horses. They have stalls and fields and are turned out around 12 hours a day, sometime left out overnight if the weather is good. I’m there at least twice a day, more on the weekends, but I live within five miles of the place too, so that makes it nice.

The only real downfall is if you need or want to go out of town for a few days - then you have to find good help while you are gone. Our barn people are pretty close, so it’s generally not an issue.

The barn does maintain the fencing and any maintenance needed in the barn, and keeps the arena watered and dragged.

As a teen I kept my horse in a true self care barn. Five girls paid rent to the landowner and did everything ourselves. We ordered shavungs, hay, etc. There were no facilities it was a true backyard place. Owners were non horsey and invisible. It worked fine.

As an adult returning rider I keep my horse in a self board barn structured as a club. It works great.

It requires that you accept full responsibility for your horses care. In my current barn if you need time off you can get a half lesser or pay a barn member or trade jobs with your friends.

I was super nervous when I started doing self care 3 years ago but I can confidently say I’m so much more knowledgeable now then I was then. I also don’t think I could ever go back to full care. I like buying the quality hay I want to buy, I like feeding what I want to feed, I like deciding how much turnout my horse gets, I like deciding how often the water tank gets scrubbed, I like deciding when my horse needs a blanket and when she does not.

That said, I live 4 minutes from the barn so it’s doable for me. I also have sort of a share- care situation with other owners that my horse shares a pasture with. So I help take care of their horses and they help me with mine and we split all the barn chores evenly. I love the people I board with and we get along great and are very much on the same page and have the same standards.

I have unfortunately been in a situation where I was share-caring with some truly awful idiot horse owners and it was a freaking nightmare. I was stuck dealing with people that were totally incompetent and had no business even owning horses let alone doing self/ share care and that period was seriously one of the most stressful periods of my life. But now I love my barn family and I look out for their horses and they look out for mine.

So if you’re going to do it, hopefully you live close and have a good community at your barn that you can work with and get help in case of emergencies.

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Self care is 100% responsible. You feel like crap you still have to drag yourself out there to tend to your horse. Are you the type of person who that is a doable thing? Or do you know someone who can fill in and take care of your horse if you wake up with a migraine that has you wanting to hide in the closet?
Do you frequently only have a limited window of time for horse things? If so you might end up not having much ride time since you will use your allotted time doing chores and other care things.

Does this barn have storage space for your bedding, hay, and grain?

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I boarded for many years at various levels, from full care to partial care to self care. I think experiencing partial/self care is a good way to test how involved one wants to be, will enjoy, and has time for.

Due to having shouldered much of the responsibility of caring for my horses during the boarding years, I feel I was better prepared for moving them home after we purchased our own place. I’d already done pretty much everything but arena and pasture maintenance, including minor fencing and plumbing repairs.

It was never a problem, in my experience, to trade off chores with another boarder, or two, when one of us needed to travel, was under the weather, or if a horse had to be attended to multiple times per day (blanket changes, whatever).

Met one of my dearest friends in a place like this, and we’re still very close almost 35 years later.

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I did some version of it for years. A couple of places were co-op places and a couple were lease the barn and maintain the fields and fencing type arrangements.

Will you have to feed every day or twice a day every day? If so, then having it be close to your home will be important. If each border only has to feed one or two days a week, then distance is less of a worry. One place I boarded had 6 horses, so each person was responsible for a day a week. We rotated one weekend day.

As long as:

  1. There is someone trustworthy who can step in in a pinch if you cannot get there
  2. You commit to 100% doing your work and don’t go into it thinking “eh, if I feel bad, someone else will cover for me”
  3. The facilities are safe
  4. You meet and like the other boarders
  5. You’re comfortable with the possibility someone else will use anything you leave there
  6. You’re up for the task of sourcing hay
  7. You’re up for the task of whatever cost/work-sharing there is for property upkeep if the actual owner doesn’t do that himself
  8. You’re ok with someone else feeding if you feed on a shared schedule
  9. You’re ok with someone else managing blankets or stalling vs turnout of those things are optional, OR you will get over there to do those things yourself
  10. You’re ok doing any of those things with the other boarders’ horses if it’s shared duties

Then I’d say it’s a great middle ground.

I did this twice. Once was my then-6 month old whom I boarded at a partial-care facility. The BO was there twice a day taking care of his own horses, he fed boarders (there were only a few) if we wanted (no extra charge), he went and picked up hay and then gave us our own piles and added the bales to our monthly bill, but we were 100% responsible for cleaning stalls (he provided bedding, included in the cost of board.

The 2nd time was behind where we are now after we moved to our farm but before we had fencing. I was 100% responsible for all stall/paddock time, all feeding, all stall cleaning, and purchasing hay. At the time she was quite content to let me plop a round bale in the paddock, which is what she did for her horses in the bigger pasture, and she cleaned up when I rotated paddocks - she was very particular about cleanup and had the equipment so it wasn’t a big deal and she was clear up front - “I’ll do it” LOL

Those were great situations for preparing me to bring them home. I learned more along the way about pasture management and things I did and didn’t like so I could make decisions about our new place

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This could describe many" full care" boarders experiences that have been shared on here.

Before you take the leap make sure you have a source of hay year round. I think finding a reliable feed source is the hardest thing when going solo with horse care. If the horses at his barn are all in good weight/ health and appear well cared for and the place is clean I would certainly give it a try.

I find horse keeping easier than my what my Jersey cow or Boer goats require on a day to day basis. What I love most is that no-one is making the care decisions but me.

I think you will find someone willing to trade on feeding and other things if the need arises.

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I’ve been doing self-care for 10 years now. The barn where I board has a separate section of the property for self-care and my gelding had been up in full care until circumstances allowed me to bring back a mare I’d previously leased. Self care was really the only way I would have afforded the two of them, so down they went to the self care part and they’ve been there ever since. I like it. I have my own hay shed/tack shed (and the tack side has its own door so hay doesn’t get all over my stuff) and a little deck my dad and I built from leftover wood from our new house deck, and I have a little bistro table and chairs and potted plants. I built new fencing about 7 years ago, and my horses have more space (72’x24’ corrals). I feed the kind of hay I want rather than what the ranch offers, and have 100% total control over how I want things (and I have a great grandfathered-in boarding fee.) I have full access to the amenities that full care has (3 arenas, the property trails) and trailer storage, etc. It’s the best of both worlds, being able to have my horses live the way I want with slow feeders for the easy keeper gelding and a special diet for my elderly mare, but not having to do the maintenance on fencing or dragging the arenas or anything like that. Plus, I get to be around people (I’m a bit of an introvert and can be perfectly happy on my own, but I do like to chat and ride with my barn community).

The way the ranch is is set up, full care is in one section, and there’s about 4 of us in self care on the opposite end of the property (but closer to the entry road) although one of the mare motels was just converted over to a self-care co-op situation. I used to live farther away (maybe 8 miles) and work was between the house and the ranch, so I’d go feed in the mornings, backtrack to work, and then reverse it in the afternoons (work–> ranch–> home) but I moved 7 years ago, and now the ranch is only 2 miles from home and that’s a quick run in the morning to feed. I generally go twice a day, but have been able to work out the occasional day where someone else will feed for me at least once or twice a day if it’s a day trip. If I’m gone overnight, my dad usually pitches in for me then.

I can’t ever say that I’ve regretted doing self-care. I enjoy it, I like my little private area of the ranch (and love morning tea at my little table if the weather is nice where I can sit and watch my horses eat – also a nice place for lunch while waiting for the hay or the farrier) It can really suck if you ever feel down in the dumps physically. I’ve had one kidney staph infection and didn’t know it … (thought it was food poisoning, still went to feed and clean and drove my gelding that day – total death wish apparently, and cue my shock when I went to the doctor the next day and she got the test results and told me what it was) I was taking care of my horses the morning the doctor told me to go to the ER because they needed to take my gallbladder out (heck, I even rode my bike to campus for class that morning). Self-care doesn’t really allow for ‘breaks’ in life, but it does feel pretty worth it listening to my horses whinny a hello when I show up at the barn. Having a good backup person to fill in for you can be a make it or break it moment. Like when I broke my knee falling out of a cart, and my dad had to fill in for 6 months to do the heavy lifting (at least gallbladder surgery was easier, I was able to feed on my own once they left me go home from the hospital, which was 2 days after surgery, but Dad wouldn’t let me muck for another week after that until the staples came out)

I love ordering my own hay. My easy keeper gelding needs certain hays (the ranch feeds an orchard or something similar grass and that gives him the runs so he’s on teff and bermuda and I order that myself since we’re in self care). I don’t have a lot of room to store hay, but I have a regular supplier and I have set up a hay group for 2 other people in our self care and 1 of the full care ladies who’s horse needs different hay than the ranch provides. I order, they get me the money and then I’m there to pay and direct my hay guy as to what goes where. It’s taken me a while to learn to manage time and prioritize, but I’m pretty confident I’ve got stuff down pretty well now. I have enough time to clean and ride (having tidy horses helps since they go at the end of their corrals so it’s just a quick scoop up, I don’t use shavings under their shelters except in winter because they don’t poop on their mats the other 3 seasons of the year), and then dinner is fed when I’m done riding.

I honestly feel like I’m happy where I am, and I think to get me to want to move my horses to my own property, I’d probably need a gazillion dollars (even if I won the lottery for a million, they’d probably stay put, I’d put that money to use buying a better hauling vehicle than my ancient Jeep). I love what I have been given in terms of my self-care space, and how private it feels, yet I’m totally connected to the whole ranch community because full care people ride down all the time to do that little trail loop. It’s the best of both worlds, in my opinion.


I did 100% self-care for 13 years. No better way to learn, IMHO. We did everything from replacing 600’ of old, BAD fencing to stacking hundreds of square bales. If there was something we wanted to do and didn’t know how, we hit up COTH and/or You Tube for tips :wink:

Totally prepared me for the day I bought my own 10 acres. I knew how I wanted it laid out and how to make it work efficiently.

As others have said, it’s totally doable if you’re truly up for the challenge.


Having done both self-care boarding and kept horses at home, I would say doing self-care at another facility is a complete pain in the ass. The care stuff, making decision about feed, getting good quality hay, treating minor injuries, is all pretty easy if you have good common sense, read, and take advice from others that are knowledgeable. Just be aware that you will make mistakes and no one will die (unless you make a HUGE mistake and have a horse that is a flower). But going to the barn twice a day everyday to feed, turn out, turn in, is a pain, if you don’t have a lifestyle/job that is conducive to that and if you live too far away. I leave for work at 6:30, and in the winter, it’s still dark. Getting to the barn before that, and then home to shower, and then leave for work, is impossible.


I do not disagree with the fact that driving to the barn that is any distance away to do chores 2x per day is a real nuisance.

I just want to say that morning chores can be set up to be doable in a way that does not require going home to shower. Clean stalls at night, set up feed/hay so you are either not having to touch much of anything (whole bale small hole hay nets for example) or you are touching it in a way that you are not getting dirty (pouring grain thru the bars of the stall versus going into the stall). Provide enough water so that you are only having to fill once per day, etc.


Unless you can make it to where it’s a once-a-day visit, as we were able to do.

Stalls were only for feeding (if truly necessary) and injury lay-up. 99.9% of the time, they were out 24/7 on lots of acreage.

BUT if your self-care situation doesn’t permit that, as yours obviously didn’t, then yeah - that twice a day thing can be tough if you don’t have good help.

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A great deal depends on how well the property is set up for self board. Do you have room for a ton of hay? Is the layout easy to navigate?

At my club barn, we have timed electronic feeders in the lofts, or people use hay nets, or they pay or trade tasks for someone to feed either morning or dinner, depending on their horses needs. So no one needs to come twice a day.

Typically people come down for a couple of hours that fits their schedule and builds the horses care routine around that. We have access 24/7 but the arena lights are on a timer that cuts out at 11 pm.

We have a great setup with stalls and small runout, and then each person has an individual loft with a door that locks right above, the same size as the stall. I can get 2 tons of hay (8 months) or a bit more in there. Feeding is physically easy because you drop the hay. We have drains and faucets and hoses between every other stall so water is easy. My mare poops outside and is tidy so cleanup is fast. I think my basic feed and clean chores take about 20 minutes per horse if I’m efficient.

Fortunately we have a group ethos of good responsible care so while everyone does things a bit differently all the horses are well cared for. People who are strapped for time will also get half leasers who do all the chores the days they ride, and often pay a couple hundred a month too. It’s a big barn, 60 horses in 3 separate stables. People also develop their own friend groups in their barns and will team up to help someone in an emergency.

It does mean “horse” is a dominant part of your day and your life. But it’s great transition to keeping horses on your own.

As a kid, at my self board barn we could only fit about 3 bales of hay in our tack cupboards. I had a ton of hay delivered to my house and stacked in the car port. My mother used to drive the hay to the barn in the trunk of her car. The barn was less than a mile away on quiet suburban streets. This worked fine but eventually she had grass sprouting in the trunk carpet.

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