A question popped up on FB that is near to my own situation and so while I have limited endurance experience to speak of I feel like my vast experience with boarding in 3 different states in vastly differing barns allows me to spew out my own opinion on the subject. That and it continues to snow heavily in the SE where I moved specifically to avoid any more of this weather causing all my elderly patients to cancel their appointments today leaving me with nothing else to do.
Boarding and endurance. Does it work?
Why, yes, I believe it does.
This is actually a strange questions since pretty much every other equestrian discipline relies heavily on boarding/training barns. I think this is due to the sport lending itself towards the backyard enthusiast since training is not really a prerequisite and there are so very few actual trainers/training barns in the country.
That being said, I don't think it is much of a hindrance if you do need to or decide to board your horse instead of having the lovely beastie outside your front door. My one piece of advice is to learn how to prioritize and let things go.
The biggest difference in boarding, in my experience, is the lack of control you really have. Your horse is on someone else's property and therefor you must obey the rules they impose. Taking the time in advance to learn those rules, figure out what you can and can't live with, and what you are able to do yourself will save you a lot of headache and stress in the long term. Having a good understanding of your breaking points is really important.
Once you know exactly what you must have in place for a happy/sound/stress free existence, everything else can get tossed out the window. Well, with careful monitoring to make sure your happy/sound/stress free existence is staying that way.
Some things to ponder, keeping in mind how important these are to you:
- Turn Out
- Other Horses
- Riding Availability
- The Extras
1) Turnout - this is my #1 priority with Gem. If there isn't actual real live grass like substance and a whole lotta room, it isn't going to work out for us. I can't ride as often as I'd like, so with plenty of room to graze at least I know she isn't losing her fitness super fast and I don't have to worry about her becoming stiff or stocking up standing in a stall all night. She is out 24/7 on 35 acres. Perfection.
2) Other Horses - Gem is lowish on the totem pole, so while I don't really mind her being out with others those others need to not be leaving gaping, bloody holes in her hide. I don't want to always worry if my mare will be sound when ride time comes up because she is getting in fights with her herd mates. She is out with 6 other mares. Not perfection. She is holding her own and very rarely shows up with a mark, so it is definitely livable. I carefully watch this however and if she ends up getting beat up this is high enough priority for me to move her.
3) Nutrition - this can be a real big stressor especially since endurance requires a pretty good understanding of general horse nutrition. I've had to do a lot of soul searching about nutrition at the current barn and my endurance goals. Gem is fed in the pasture with the 6 others which means I can't control her nutrition unless I can be out there at feeding time to pull her out and feed her separately. The barn feeds at 8 am and 4 pm when I am at work making this not possible. I don't particularly like her current grain and mass quantity, but so far she is doing ok on it. I do add vitamins to a nice mash after all my conditioning rides and I am looking into options for a different grain for these as well. This is just one of those items that I have had to learn to let go of. I can't change it and keep her where she is and unless there is a specific problem that I can relate to her grain intake I'm just learning to live with it.
4) Riding Availability - while needed for endurance conditioning, most participants have a trailer and so trail access on site isn't so big of a deal. Gem's barn has a small outdoor sand arena and about 2 miles of grassy tracks surrounding the property. It is enough to keep us busy on the weeknights when I am fighting daylight. I trailer out to real trails on the weekend. If you don't have access to a trailer or not enough time to get to the trails, then having more room to ride on property may be more important.
5) The Extras - things like a secure tack room, lights, lounge, bathroom, blanketing services, farrier etc... These used to mean a lot to me when I first began to board, but now mean pretty much nothing. When it comes to endurance the frills are pretty much just that - frills. You can get all your conditioning and competing done without any of these. I keep my tack in my trailer since I go out so much. I don't care about a lounge or bathroom and can put on and take off my own blankets on the very rare occasion Gem needs one. A farrier looks at Gem twice a year.
The last thing I want to mention is about the bond you build with your horse. The biggest downfall to boarding is the tendency to only stop by when it is time to work. While others have the built in necessity to feed, water and clean up around the place that gives the horse/rider time to be together in a more relaxed and playful manner, the boarder tends to go out with bridle and conditioning plan in hand. I am very guilty of this having such limited time to get to the barn and needed to use that time to maximize my conditioning. I noticed a big change in my relationship with Gem at Pow Wow when we spent so much time just relaxing together and her knowing I was the treat/food/hay/water dispenser. I really need to make a bigger effort to go out to just say hello more often and I would encourage anyone else who boards to do the same.
Now your own situation may allow you to figure out a partial care or self care situation where you do get complete control over a lot more things than I do. Figuring out how much control you really need to be successful will depend on your horse and your own personality, but I would encourage you to take along hard look at the reality and learn how to let go of the things that really don't matter.