It is the dream of many a boarder to bring their horse into their very own backyard. After 17 years of backyard horse-keeping, I can definitely say that I am still enamored with the lifestyle. However, keeping horses at home is not for every horse owner and not for every horse. Here are five questions to ask yourself before you take the plunge.
A guest blog by Mary Lynne Carpenter of The Backyard Horse Blog.
1. How solid is your knowledge of horse care?
As the person responsible for your horse’s care, you will have to make all the decisions about your horse’s daily schedule, diet, and exercise. No more asking the barn manager or fellow boarders to take a peek at that cut on your horse’s leg.
You will be the only one treating it and/or making the decision about whether or not to call the vet. You might have family help at home, but even in that situation, you may be the person with the most horse knowledge. I strongly recommend having a broad knowledge base of all-things-horse before you bring one home.
2. How, when and where will you ride?
Riding your horse at home by yourself can be a very different experience than riding at a boarding facility. Are you accustomed to riding alone, either without an instructor or without other riders, or do you have a plan for inviting company? Do you have an enclosed space with safe footing and adequate lighting for riding? Is your horse willing to leave any pasture mates behind and be ridden alone?
I love to ride but struggle to fully pursue my riding ambitions without adequate facilities, instruction or company at home. Not all backyard horse-owners chose to ride, but if riding is super important to you, think long and hard about whether or not you will be able to ride at a similar level at home as you do as a boarder.
3. If you only board one horse now, how will you provide your backyard horse companionship at home?
Theories vary about the welfare issues involved in keeping just one horse by themselves. I myself have kept everything from one horse alone to a maximum of four horses. I have often thought that having as many horses as possible gives any horse the closest thing to what nature intended: living in a group. My horses generally seem more anxious to me when I have just one or even just two horses at home (two horses can get quite buddy sour).
That being said, I have ridden one safely alone when he was kept by himself and had pairs of horses that separated easily from one another. Your facility space, your income, and your horse’s personality will also affect your choices. If you are hesitant to buy or adopt a permanent companion, you might consider home horse-keeping with a friend or temporarily fostering a horse from a rescue.
4. Do you have a team of trusted professionals to assist you in your backyard horse-keeping efforts?
Backyard horse-owners are known for being “do-it-yourself-ers”. Even so, not everyone grows their own hay or trims their own horse’s hooves. Most aren’t veterinarians with DVM’s. Many still need the input of riding instructors or horse trainers to improve their riding.
Make sure you have a team of professionals in place to help you. Find out if they will travel to your property (or are accessible by horse trailer if you have a truck to haul one. In many cases, you can rent a trailer). And if you ever need to leave home on vacation or in an emergency, it helps to know trusted farm/pet sitters that can safely care for all your critters when you are away.
5. How will you maintain your current horse community or create a new one?
One of the main benefits of boarding is the ready-made horse community that comes along for the ride. Many people underestimate how much they will miss frequent interactions with other horse owners. Social media may help, but it is not the same as actually being at the barn.
No longer being a part of knowing “who is doing what with which horse” can feel very isolating. Do you have a strategy for how to stay in touch? Planning joint rides or participating in boarding-barn events like tack sales or horse shows are good options. Alternatively, you might enjoy finding a new tribe by joining a local horse club or volunteering with a program like 4H, Pony Club, or horse rescue.
Backyard horse-keeping has been the adventure of a lifetime for me, but it is not all butterflies and sunshine. Despite some dark days, getting to know my horses on such an intimate level has been very rewarding for me in a way that boarding never was.
If you would like to learn more about my experience with keeping horses at home, you can sign up to follow my blog The Backyard Horse Blog: Living the Dream and the Reality of Keeping Horses at Home on WordPress.
Mary Lynne is a backyard horse-owner who lives in the Mid-West. She loves to ride and write. Her work has appeared in Equus Magazine, The Horse Magazine, Horse Network, The Plaid Horse Blog, Medium.com and Horse Nation.