Check a barn electrical panel to make sure it's in good order and inspected.
Photo: Rebecca Gimenez
In a recent online "Horse Behavior
and Safety" course with University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) I asked my
students to contribute their ideas as to what concerns they should look for in
selecting a new stable for their horse.
At this point, they had participated for two weeks in an intense online
course that focuses on handler and horse safety in numerous situations, and
facility safety concerns from barn fire prevention to trailer safety. Their answers and tips were quite insightful--and I would like to share them with you. Out of the hundreds of students and comments, I have trimmed them down
for this blog post.
First, numerous students noted that it's nice to visit by
appointment, but that you might want to consider "just stopping by" a couple
days after your appointment unannounced. What goes on when people are
expecting you to visit is sometimes different that what happens day-to-day. Several noted that they like to talk to other boarders and working
students about any issues with how the facility is run to get a feel for the
daily ins and outs of maintenance and attitudes towards safety. Others said they like to watch some lessons
being given and just observe for a couple of hours at feeding time and while
the barn is being cleaned so they can see if the management and staff
are doing safe practices with horses (especially leading them back and forth to
Some of my concerns reach into environmental care, such as whether
the farm fences off the ponds and water sources so that a) horses don't
destroy the riparian environment, and b) no horse falls into the ice in winter. Others branch into asking if they keep the
horses out on pasture as much as possible (considering the weather), so they get
to be a herd and simulate mother nature's environmental effects (exercise,
grazing, grooming, etc.). Yes,that's a
medical concern too, because frantic bored horses
in stalls for too long get themselves in trouble (cast, colic, kicking, stereotypic behaviors, etc.). These resonated with many students who shared similar issues with current and past barns where they've boarded.
I like to look at where they keep trailers and vehicles away--preferably away from the barn so that the fire department (or veterinarian) has
room to reach the facility in an emergency, but also so that there's room to
load and unload horses safely and preferably not on asphalt.
One of my very accomplished students, Jo, actually owns a
large barn and contributed:
Check the fences. All of them. Yourself.
(Boarding barns don't always put your horse in the paddock you were told he'd
would go in).
Check the feeding routine. Be there at feeding time if possible to see how it
is done and if the procedures they say they follow are actually followed,
especially if they are letting in large numbers of horses without individually
- And lastly, do they
have stable safety rules posted in a prominent place? Are these rules enforced
and do the other boarders know what they are?
Sharon, another student echoed her sentiments: "I would like
to see good 'horse-proof' fencing (if there is such a thing). I would even be
satisfied with 24/7 turnout. If they were stabled, I'd want it to be
light and airy and ventilated--I have seen so many stuffy barns with humidity
and lung problems."
New horse owner Verena said, "I would want to see some
fire extinguishers--especially the big ones--and make sure they are in the green zone." She went on to agree about checking stalls, fencing, and feeders/hay feeders for nails, broken, boards and wire.
Felicia agreed with the above observations and then noted, "Whether
it is my trailer or the owners of the facility allow boarders to use theirs, it
should be in an area easily accessible to retrieve and load my horse in an
emergency--like taking it to the vet. I
look for 'No Smoking' signs and keeping an eye out for anyone smoking near the
barn (if visiting to check out the place for the first time I would look on the
ground for cigarette butts). It would be a bonus if there were stall doors on
the outside of the barn that led to a paddock(s) in case of emergencies like a
barn fire. Sprinklers would be the grand prize winner! Finally, one of the
major things I would like to see is that the hay and bedding is stored in a
separate building away from the barn."
Nancy was particularly concerned about maintaining a
rotation schedule for grazed paddocks so that the horses had a chance to eat
grass, and the paddocks get a chance to rest in between, and provide a more
natural environment for the horses.
Although this might not seem like a safety issue, we know from research
that horses that have room and time to socialize with a herd and spend time
exercising tend not to get themselves in as much stress and do dumb things to
get themselves hurt.
A Canadian, Sharon's concerns harked back to this past winter. "I would like to find some way to open outside doors easier," she said. "The main doors are often sliding doors at many facilities and the snow/ice
build up so much that it makes it nearly impossible to open them. If you can't get your horse out, that is a
major safety concern."
In response Jo said, "I designed my barn with overhead garage doors at each end of the aisle...I don't have to move any snow to open them.".
Monica is very detailed and says she likes to ask, “How many
people are trained in first aid and equine first aid? Who is the specific vet and
farrier for emergencies? Do they conduct safety audits on a regular basis, for example, check gates, secure latches? What about perimeter fencing around
the property in case a horse gets out of the paddock?"
Then she really hit on a good one: "What
experience/training do the stable owners and management have, and are they present
to oversee people that work there who may not be as experienced?"
Other items that she mentioned were, "Halters on or off in
the stalls? Other animals on the property (dogs) that have access to the
horses? Check the feed room for signs of rodent infestation."
Ann is another list maker, and after agreeing with many
others above, she noted that she wants to see “run-ins in the field
providing shelter from heat, wind, rain, and snow. Most importantly, a certificate of a fire safety inspection,
which is annually updated.”
Lastly, Colleen asked, "Is a responsible person on the
premises 24/7/365? What safety procedures are in place (emergency
telephone numbers, first-aid kit, fire extinguishers, mandatory use of helmets)? And,
Is the local fire department trained to handle horses in emergencies?"
What are your thoughts? How would you contribute to a similar
checklist? Did you go though a good
check of your current facility when you moved in, or did you rely on the good
name of the facility or a friend’s recommendation? How do you communicate your concerns to the
barn management when you find a broken item or safety concern?