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Warning Signs at Barns

I read this post from The Plaid Horse and thought “those are all very meta, thoughtful reasons to reconsider a trainer or barn, but surely there have to be some really good crazy stories, right?”

Reader, I have two of them.

I have been at six different barns in the fifteen years (!) I have owned Tristan.

Two have them have been truly exemplary. They’re second homes, every tiny detail is accounted for and managed, the people are lovely – they’re just amazing. My current barn is one of those two.

One of them was very good and had many, many positive things, but some noticeable drawbacks. Nothing that made me move but enough that I might not give a wholehearted recommendation to anyone and everyone seeking a barn.

One of them was just fine! It was a friend’s backyard basically and it suited precisely what I needed it for – nine months of rehab turnout for Tristan while I focused on grad school. Care was top notch but it was a fence and a run-in shed and that was that.

One of them was quite decidedly meh. On paper terrific, some really great experiences and memories, but a LOT of weirdness. Some of it concerning. Some of it just weird.

One of them was an actual three ring circus.

It had 50 stalls in two long aisles. They turned in/out by opening stall doors and chasing horses. Down a steep hill and around a corner to a turnout. They had 3 basic groups of turnout. Then they brought them in the same way, after already throwing hay. Many horses went to their own stalls and chilled. A not-small number ducked in and out of several stalls, resulting sometimes in multiple horses in a stall fighting it out.

They once quarantined an incoming horse because it had Cushing’s.

There was no actual trainer on site. There was a barn owner who was some combination of burned out/really terrible/older/sick of the whole thing. There were 20 year olds who taught up-down lessons. So there was a huge, beautiful indoor – and a tack room to die for, and a viewing lounge also to die for – that barely got used.

After about 7 weeks there, when I had already started quietly investigating other barns to move to, I arrived at the barn in the evening to discover that Tristan was colicking very badly. That they had thrown his evening grain on top of his morning grain – my horse who at that point in his life ate every scrap of everything and kicked for more – without even noticing. They did not notice he was colicking. For 48 hours, I slept in a chair in front of or in his stall because I did not trust anyone. He started colicking on Monday; on Thursday, we left the barn under literal cover of darkness and I ate my 30 day notice.

A few months later, the barn owner’s daughter’s ex-boyfriend came to the barn on a Saturday and waved a gun around screaming, then attempted to fire at both the daughter (who was sort of kind of the barn manager and was living in an apartment on site) and the barn owner. The gun misfired, and soon after the police got there.

In Googling the barn for this blog post, out of curiosity, I found that one of their barn workers was arrested for neglect after horses in her care at a private facility were seized and taken to a rescue with a body score of 2.

So, all of those would be warning signs. That barn was the first I moved Tristan to after my college barn, which was amazing. I didn’t yet know what to look for and what not to look for. I liked the facilities, the access to the local state park, the distance from my house, and many other things. The nutty management did not show up until a few weeks in. Now, I’m much, much pickier and more neurotic about the people I trust to care for Tristan.

(One of the barns I looked at to move to during that whole phase came highly recommended and the trainer spent our entire conversation, which included a tour of the facilities, chain-smoking and flicking the butts everywhere. DUDE. NO. That was a really obvious warning sign, too.)

8 thoughts on “Warning Signs at Barns

  1. Oh my! I haven’t boarded too many places, and while I absolutely cannot recommend one of the places, it definitely wasn’t THAT bad! Glad you and Tristan both survived and are in a great place now!

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  2. Somethings Trainers and BO’s hide well at initial showing off of the facilities and can only be found out through actually being there. I’m glad that Tristan ended up being ok, so scary when the people we hire don’t pay attention to our horses health,

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  3. I’ve been lucky in that the majority of my horse-owning life, mine have been at home. The barn I boarded at in college was not fantastic, but I did a modified self care where I cleaned my own stalls, and the facility was relatively safe, if not fancy. I got out right around the time things got bad, with the owner deciding to board about 3x the amount of horses the property could comfortably hold in a desperate bid to “make money” at boarding. The second place I kept a horse was just to access an indoor during winter, and the issue there was the owner not adequately feeding or watering my horse (despite me providing all my own feed, including hay). It was a temp situation so I just made sure I visited every day to throw hay and hang extra water buckets, and then was able to relatively gracefully extricate myself from the relationship when the weather got better. Of course then things got ugly when I had to reposess a lesson horse she was leasing from me because he also wasn’t getting fed 🤦‍♀️ last (and longest) barn was totally fine, actually just built a new facility right down the road from me (which was so convenient! Haha) and I can cheerfully refer people there any time, even though I brought my horse home in anticipation of having zero riding time while we built the house.

    We have an equestrian college in town so a few more “boarding barns” than I think you’d typically expect for our area, and gosh there are some doozies. I’ve toured a few places with friends and gotten a straight up “RUN, don’t walk, AWAY” vibe from a few places.

    But I definitely love a good “crazy barn or trainer” story as much as the next person. Your 3-ring circus barn did not disappoint! I cannot believe they just ran the horses in and out 🙈 (although another local barn does that…. Yikes).

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  4. The image of all the horses just running out to turnout and then running back in again at feeding time is the stuff of Disney Princess Dreamz (TM), but only if they all go into the correct stalls and don’t kick the shit out of one another in the process!

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  5. The barn I grew up in did just that, opened the gate and let horses in (Not 30 at a time) and they all knew where their stalls were. Not saying it was a good idea but it was done when I was 10-12 LOL…

    crazy some of the stories though. i had the one barn that fed foxtail to our horses then had to cover the vet bills for 15 horses due to injuries to their mouths (Remus was one). And also they were the ones who turned horses out in snow covered fields with no hay all day long. They got a flake in the evening and that was it. Didn’t stay there long. UGH I am sure i have some more back in my memory LOL thanks for reminding me how crazy some people are!

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  6. I have boarded two places that I left without notice. And one that I gave 30 days notice and the owners became incredibly nasty: they stopped feeding my horse and locked up my tack. That led to some very interesting conversations.

    I have two horses and I let them in one at a time. otherwise Carmen tries to get into Irish’s stall (she knows that he’s fed more). I can’t imagine 30! But I have seen it before.

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  7. Ugggghhhhh… those barns that just open stalls and let the horses run out (or worse, in) scare the heck out of me. I knew a guy who nearly died because he bought two horses that came from a barn that did that, and the first time he tried to bring them in at home, they literally trampled him and left him for dead. Eeek!

    And I have a similar story about a lunatic waving a gun around a barn. Except he actually shot the guy he was waving it at. It makes me feel both better and worse that I’m not alone…

    This is why I’m a crazy stalker about people in the horse industry. I do like a full background check before I take on new clients any more…

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