February 24, 2015

Boarding and Endurance....Second Attempt

Well, crap... I seem to have not only published a half way finished post, but then deleted it once someone took the time to write out a lovely response. Sigh...I think I need a vacation. Anyway...here should be the finished post in a somewhat different format because I can't recall how I was originally writing it and I have added Saiphs comment as well that I pilfered from my email.

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:
  1. Turn Out
  2. Other Horses
  3. Nutrition
  4. Riding Availability
  5. 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.


  1. This was on the original published post that I deleted by accident. This was from Saiph:

    What an odd question to come up. I missed that one. I can see boarding being an issue if an endurance rider didn't have a trailer nor ride-out trail access of some sort, but other than that I'm not sure how boarding would hinder one's ability to do the sport. I had more issues with ride-out access when I kept my horse at home. Since then I've done everything from self care to partial board to full board at a 40-stall facility. I tend to go for smaller barns or barns where a variety of disciplines are accepted: the environment is more laid back and the care more personal. I also avoid barns geared towards big lesson programs: too many kids running around, which makes me nervous bc of the liability, and can make horses that are not used to that environment, anxious. Ride-out trails or land for conditioning on are big factors for me.

    In terms of my horses' schedules and feed preferences, I look for something as much like what I want as possible (field board, with at least one grain meal a day where the horses are separated for graining, good quality pasture, no large mud pits or overcrowded fields, at least one water trough with a heating element in the winter, and free choice hay in the winter), but I keep myself flexible in my expectations. I'm willing and happy to do a lot of my own horse care, including providing my own grain which I leave ready to serve, which makes barn owners and managers much more willing to work with me.

    I think a person that boards can certainly do endurance, with some resourcefulness in cases where the boarding situation is less than ideal.

    1. Sorry I accidentally deleted you Saiph! I really wish I could control her feeding and it really does stress me a bit. Luckily come summer she is pulled off grain all together due to the grass that available and she did just fine last summer like that. If I ever get my own land I would love to do a nutritional analysis of the grass, hay and her and formulate something better.

    2. No worries! Thank you for copy-pasting the comment again. Excellent post!

      Gem is doing fabulously at the barn you have her at! :) I wish my main beast could live off of grass only in the summer and not have to worry. Which is why I have my concerns with one hard keeper who is also picky (Grrrrrr) and one easy keeper that needs daily meds for her arthritis, so that's why I look for a place that offers the graining option. It's always interesting to see how different each person's (and horse's!) needs are based on personalities, sports, preferences and what is available in terms of board in a specific region. As with Karen and Ashke below. :D

  2. As a rider who is hoping to be able to complete our first 25 this year, and who also boards, this is a fairly interesting topic to consider.

    For us, having Ashke in a stall with a run was mandatory. He is very bottom of the totem pole (and loves everyone) which means he's been in situations where he was allowed to eat his ration. That was a contributing factor to the condition I found him in when I rescued him. There is no way I would put him back out in a pasture with other horses. It would stress us both out. It's taken a bit to figure out what to feed at the new barn, but I finally feel like I have that nailed down for now.

    Turn out is hit and miss for me. I am on the waiting list for pasture turn out and once that is available, Ashke will spend several hours a day in the pasture with three other horses, which is what we were doing at Christensen's. Turn out changed at TMR, where they stood in a dirt field (mucky, slick clay when it was wet) dozing in the sun. Until then, we are not doing turn out. He can stand in his run with his friends where it is relatively dry, rather than be turned out in a muddy lot by himself. I am riding consistently enough that I don't think this is harming him. Isolating him in a muddy lot is not good for him emotionally or physically.

    I am boarding where I do for the indoor arena. This is absolutely mandatory for my mental health and Ashke's continuing education. I can ride most weeks in the indoor (unless the temps are in the single digits) and we can do cross-training to help keep him strong and agile.He enjoys the time in the indoor, even when we are working on dressage stuff, because there are poles or barrels or my pole to play with to break up the monotony. (It is my deep belief that horses need variety just like people do. Think of how bored you would get doing the same damn thing every single time you did anything, and focusing on the minutia.)

    Luckily for me, we own a trailer, so not only do I have a six mile trail we can ride across the street, but we also have a gazillion trails within 40 minutes of our barn, some of which can be as long as we want them to be. And we can break up the monotony of trail riding by riding different trails each time (I can tell when we have ridden the same trail too many times in a row because of his interest and engagement.) And I am completely convinced I can find a safe, non-stressful route to the Fairmont Trail and Ralston Creek for the days when we don't want to trailer.

    I am currently going out daily to see Ashke (which is something I did at Christiansen's when I first got him but stopped doing at TMR. I like that he whinnies when he hears my car door close. I feed him his mash and give him a quick groom, then pick his stall. I love ending my day with the smell of horse on my hands and the sweet wuffle of his breath on my hair (minus the goopy ooze from his TC Senior).

    I hope this will get us to our first endurance ride, but either way, it is keeping Ashke healthy, happy and in shape.

    1. Everyone's needs are so different. I love that you have worked hard to find out what will keep you both sane and happy. I really enjoyed having an indoor arena when I lived up north and used it for lots of cross training and even did small jumps. Down here indoors are pretty non existent. Some places have covered outdoor arenas but they are extremely expensive. I wish I had the time to feed Gem dinner at least, but I am at work when she eats and when I leave I need to go pick up my son from his day care. If only there was more time in the day!!

    2. I'm only able to do this since my son is almost 15 and thinks he's independent now. Hahahahaha. And Ashke is only about ten minutes out of my way on my drive home from work, otherwise, I would be back to only seeing him when I have time to work him.