Summer is always a weird time at the stables. Students are leaving their parents to go live on their own and live new adventures… never without Buster of course! 🐴 This change in your life can be exciting as well as terrifying when you’re afraid you’re not going to find the right stables for you and your horse. I’ve prepared a checklist ✅ of what to look at when you want to change stables.
Changing stables: 20 selection criteria based around horse well-being
I identified 20 selection criteria covering horse well-being. I also added a few points at the end concerning other problematics.
Of course you have to adjust these criteria to your needs, and you will probably add some. It’s obvious that that you might find stables that don’t fit all 20 criteria.
I separated them in 4 big categories :
- The stables
- Pastures / paddocks / outside spaces
Let’s go over them.
I based these criteria on horses living in stalls because that’s how the majority of horses live. However, let’s not forget that the ideal life for a horse is to be outside with several friends. They have to be able to lay down on a dry area all year long, with an all-you-can-eat supply of hay or grass.
If your horse lives in stables, here are the criteria:
✅ The stables are calm and the staff is caring ☯
CIt’s the first important thing to identify when you arrive in new stables. Calm stables will be much more enjoyable for your horse.
Let’s not forget that horses are preys and because of that, they are always hyper aware of the noise around them. Stables with a lot of hustle and bustle won’t be ideal for your horse.
However, calm stables don’t imply dead or empty stables. A little life is nice for everyone! 😊
✅ Stables have to be well ventilated and bright ☀
Even better if the horses can stick their faces out.
Firstly, the “bright” part should be common sense. Horses are supposed to live outside. Locking them up in dark stables without a way to look outside can’t give them a good balance in their lives.
Lastly, lthe “well ventilated” part is important for the respiratory problems this can bring. Our horses’ lungs are extremely fragile. Living in a dusty, unventilated, full of ammonia environment can cause important respiratory problems like emphysema. If the stables smell strong or musty, it’s a bad sign.
✅ Stalls need to be big enough
When a horse lives in a stall, its size is really important to take into account. This needs changes depending on your horse’s size.
We estimate that the good surface (in m²) for a stall is (2.5 x horse’s size)².
My 1.63 m mare would then need a little more than 16 m². It’s not always easy to come across 4×4 stalls, but 3.5 x 3.5 m is the bare minimum.
It was calculated to allow the horses to sleep while laying down not too close to the walls. During the day, they have to be able to turn with ease.
Lastly, the ceiling needs to be more than 75 cm away from their heads.
✅ Horses need to be able to have social contact 🐴
As a matter of fact, horses are social animals! They need to live in the company of other horses to live a well-balanced life.
A study was actually conducted about this issue on stallions in a Swiss stable. The walls of their stalls were open so they could smell or scratch each other. The results were really encouraging and show that we need to revamp this habit of “isolating” horses. And the results are good even with horses said “unsociable”. I’ll leave you with the presentation video. It’s very interesting.
Turn out in groups and open walls between the stalls are preferable.
✅ The horses already there are in great shape, the stalls and equipment are clean
It’s great to see how the horses and the equipment are maintained. Stables with skinny horses (or obese horses!), unresponsive, tense or showing signs of stereotypies (tics) are a big red flag! How are these horses living conditions or how are they maintained?
✅ Stalls litter is emptied at least once a week
Horse urine contains ammonia. I don’t know if you’ve ever cleaned out a stall after more than a week but if you have you’d know that smell anywhere. Unfortunately, ammonia is highly dangerous for the horse’s respiratory system. The best thing to do isto empty the stall as much as possible (at least once a week).
Not to mention the problems a dirty litter can cause for your horse’s feet! Indeed, when the litter is too full of liquids, the horse’s feet are always in urine which can cause their frog and their heel bulbs to rot. Bon appétit! 🤢
Also for your horse’s well-being it’s better to use straw rather than shavings, except of course in case of veterinary contraindication (if your horse has respiratory problems for instance).
✅ Stalls are completely cleaned and disinfected often 🚿
Inquire about how often the stables are thoroughly cleaned. Once a year is the bare minimum.
Disinfection can be done more often. However, a too high occurrence can cause skin problems for your horse.
✅ Hay and straw are stored outside of the stables
For the same respiratory reasons and also for safety purpose (it’s pretty flammable) hay and straw has to be stored in another building, as far from the horses as possible.
✅ Sweeping is done without a blowgun
Blowguns are really really handy but they are also very very bad for the horse’s lungs!! And this even if the horse windows to the corridor is closed. Dust stays in suspension for a very long amount of time (hours) even if it’s invisible to the naked eye.
✅ The manure pit is away from the stalls
EOnce again, it’s for your horse’s respiratory system. The manure pit is just a ton of your horse’s dirty litter, and if it’s not good in its stall it’s not good right in front of it either. The horse will be exposed to ammonia and this will hurt its lungs..
✅ Fire extinguishers are in the stables 🔥
You never need them, until the day you desperately do…
As I was saying earlier the ideal life for a horse is being outside with some friends , grass or hay available, clean water at all times and a dry and clean space they can sleep in.
It’s unfortunately too rare to see this level of comfort, although some “active stables” or “paddock paradise” type of stables are starting to be a thing. But even if you don’t have access to these equipments, you can still find solutions for your horse with paddocks. Here are the 2 criteria they have to fill.
✅ The horses have an all-year-round access to paddocks, ideally with grass. 🌱
The ideal paddock has grass and is in great condition all year. Unfortunately, in some regions like for us in the north of France it’s very complicated to find paddocks open all year because of the obvious… mud… So you have to compromise sometimes.
An even more ideal paddock has the horses turned out in groups so they can play with each other.
✅ Fences are in good condition without any barbed wire or creosote-treated wood
To avoid any injury caused by the fences, make sure they are well maintained and don’t have any barbed wires. The injuries these cause can be terrible.
Also try to avoid creosote-treated wood fences which are toxic for the horses (and the environment!).
✅ Free access to forage
Forage is hay and grass. As you know horses in “natural” living conditions spend almost 60% of their time eating. It’s important that your horse maintains a similar “time budget” to its counterpart living in “natural” conditions.
Hay or better, free access to grass or at least a great quantity of it is really important for your horse’s balance, and for its health!
✅ If necessary, 3 to 4 concentrates feedings a day
The ideal would be for your horse to need only forage. Yes, even a sport horse can eat 100% forage and be just fine! It’s not torture 😉 However, this implies a high quality and quantity of forage.
If concentrates are indeed necessary, then it’s best to distribute them in little meals at fixed times every day.
To put it simply, a horse’s stomach is pretty small compared to the weight of what it eats every day. In consequences the stomach has to be emptied often and only a small part of the food stays in the stomach long enough to be digested correctly. That’s why it’s best to give your horse small portions!
In addition, the amount of concentrates is calculated according to your horse’s workload, its physical condition and how the feed is made up. If the meals are displayed, it will give you an idea on how the horses are fed.
✅ The horses always have access to clean water
This may seem obvious, but it’s important enough that we’ll say it. The horse drinks between 20 to 75L/day depending on its work, how its fed, how hot it is… They need clean water at all times.
✅ Horses are turned out daily 🏋️♀️
We’re still following what I said earlier: horses need to be turned out every day in a paddock or to work. The ideal is to have them turned out every day (paddock or pasture) and also ridden work.
The horse walker cannot replace a paddock outing 😉.
✅ Arenas are watered to avoid dust 🌨
Yes, once more, it’s for the horse’s lungs. A dusty ground isn’t great for your horse’s respiratory system. It can cause a performance loss or long term conditions.
✅ Arena ground is neither too hard or too soft
Indeed, ground quality is important. A team of french researcher considered this question. The conclusion was clear: horses working on a bad ground end up with bone, joint or tendon issues.
The ground needs to be drained as well to avoid stagnating water puddles.
✅ You have easy access to hacks 🐎
Nothing better to keep your morale up than a good hack! Besides the fun side, the “unwinding” your horse side and the boosts it gives its energy; it’s good for its physical condition!
Be mindful of the ground you trot or canter on to avoid a too-hard ground!
A word on the other meaningful criteria
The other criteria were focused on horse well-being but let’s talk about some other things that will make the experience perfect! 😊
We can list (and without a logical order):
- the atmosphere with the other riders
- the quality of the lessons
- the price
- the hours of business
- how accessible it is
- weither they respect the mandatory display rules
- the quality and diversity of the available equipment (working equipment or “care” equipment like a solarium, a massage rug…)
- there’s someone at the stables 24/7
- the proactiveness and adaptability of the staff in case of a problem (what happens if you can’t come one day for example)
- the quality of the boarding contract (read everything!)
Everything is to take with a grain of salt according to your needs, habits and priorities of course 🙂
Download our checklist – ready to print!
I thought of you and made you the more complete and printable version to help you.
You can download it here –>
I had to move my mare several times and after visiting several regions in France I know for a fact that some of these criteria are hard to find together. This is, once again, a checklist you have to adapt to your needs, your constraints and what you think is good for your horse. Make some compromises if need be to find the perfect stables!!
I hope this checklist will be helpful.
By the way, are there some important criteria to you that I forgot to mention?
Let us know in the comments!
See you soon for another article,
R&D leader at Equisense
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Crevier-denoix, N., Robin, D., Pourcelot, P., Ravary, B., Falala, S., Valette, P., Chateau, H. (2009). The Sequisol Project : Biomechanical Evaluation of the Effects of Equestrian Track Surfaces on the Equine Locomotor System. Communication, (1), 133–143.
Crevier-denoix, N. Effets biomécaniques des sols sur l’appareil locomoteur du cheval. Retrieved July 2, 2017 from http://www.haras-nationaux.fr
Wolter, R., Barre, C., & Benoit, P. (2014). L’alimentation du cheval (3ème editi). France Agricole.