Choosing a new Livery Yard can be a daunting experience. Not just financially or logistically, but emotionally too! How will you get on with the yard owner, what are the other liveries like and how will your horse settle in are all important thoughts that will go through your mind even if you think you have found the most perfect of yards. Don’t just look at the yard. Really look. Don’t just see the yard as a whole and think it looks great. Delve deeper.
Here LiveryList brings what we feel are 4 less considered- but equally important- factors to be considered when choosing a livery yard.
- Your horses new environment. Its not just the look of the stable and the fields that matter, but other elements to your horses environment too. If your horse is an ‘active’ horse in the field and enjoys a good gallop around with his field mates, is there the same opportunity at this yard? Equally if your horse is older and wanting the calmer life, is it ideal if he is turned out with several crazy ponies who spend all day terrorising other members of their herd with their antics!? What can he see over his stable door? Some horses are used to being able to see other horses out grazing, or being exercised in the school and do not adjust well to a new view of an empty stable or brick wall! Is there plenty for them to explore in the fields? Horses love a good roam- trees to scratch on, dusty bits to roll in in the summer, plentiful grass to much on or greeting other horses over the fence and a horse may not be as happy to be put in a field with only four fences to walk and nothing to occupy their mind. Have you looked in the fields, i mean really looked? Are the horses happy or stood at the gate waiting to come in? This is always a good indication if the horses settled at the yard are content in their surroundings. Something that may completely miss any thought, and a ‘terrifying prospect’ to any horses in particularly rural areas, may be cattle grazing close to the yard. I was once at a yard that had sheep grazing next to the school- hidden behind a hedge i shall add- all summer long. My mare from then on decided the school was a terrifying place to be with these snuffling creatures only partially seen but there nonetheless and schooling never was quite as simple ever again! Is the fencing in good condition and secure? Barbed wire tied together with baler twine is nothing in comparison with smart post and rail. Not all yards can afford the best in fencing but poorly maintained fencing can pose a risk to horses and humans in the event of injury or escape. Same as considering the condition of the rest of the yard. A well presented yard often indicates yard owners or managers who take pride in their working environment, are well organised and good at managing their time meaning in turn they will take greater pride and efficiency in caring for your animals as you would do. Useable equipment and plenty for everyone is helpful- no good with 23 horses on DIY and two wheelbarrows and a broom between you all! This cannot be taken as rule of thumb though-merely an indication- as i know plenty of fantastic yards who are also some of the scruffiest!
- Logistics of the yard for humans. Have you considered the logistics of the yard- where is the nearest tap to your stable, is there a hose you can wash off with, and are the fields auto-waterers (nothing worse than trudging to fields with buckets of water slopping down your legs on a rainy day!). What are the rules on poo picking fields? A favorite chore i am sure but some yards can be strict and have a set number of barrows to clear every week. Others not so and simply harrow the fields at the right time of year to release any liveries from the risk of tipped barrows by inquisitive ponies, and the delight of poo picking in the rain! Talking of fields… where are the fields for each herd- especially the one your horse may be in? Some yards offer grazing close to the yard in the winter, but you may find yourself walking down or across roads or tracks, or crossing several other fields with other horses in to access summer grazing. Is this ideal for you if this is the case? Do you have to source and supply your own bedding and hay? Sometimes it can be easier and cheaper to find a yard that bulk buys hay and bedding and sells direct to liveries. Just let them know what you want and it magically appears in your storage area on the yard. Otherwise you could have a future filled with finding never ending bits of shavings in your car and seeing how many bales of hay you can fit in the boot! The muck heap. Another delightful task. Where is it? do you need to contribute to a trailer being taken away every few weeks or is there a static muck heap at the yard? Is there a tack room? more importantly is it secure? Is there any history of break-ins or thefts at the yard. A secure tack room is so important, especially if you have lots of bits of expensive kit to store. Make sure it meets the requirements of your insurance too. Most insurers require no windows (or at least window bars) and mortice locks and unbeknownst to many horse owners a majority of tack rooms do not meet these criteria making any tack insurance completely invalid. Also is there a school? is it outside? Are there lights? No good if you want to ride of a darkening evening in the winter and you have no light! Little things like this can make all the difference to exercising your horse so important to check at the time, not assume and then discover just as you tack up at dusk! Have a ‘walk through’ around the yard as to your normal tasks and see if you can spot any flaws of difficulties you may face- turning out, bringing in, fetching feed and hay, visiting the muck heap, getting to riding areas and the like.
- Yard social life. One of the draws for keeping horses at a busy yard is the social life and riding companionship it can offer. Large yards often have someone to hack out with, school with, and toddle off xc schooling or for beach rides together. Many yards now have regular non-equine get togethers such as Christmas meals and BBQ’s where whole families are involved, making the yard a really social affair. Busy yards can offer the potential to find new friends, ‘partners in crime’ to travel and compete with and knowing that in your absence or illness there would be plenty of riders willing to exercise or care for your horse if needed. Did you meet any of the other liveries when you visited the yard? Ideal to chat to them not only to see what sort of people the yard draws in, but also to get any feedback they offer about the yard which can be invaluable. Does the yard hold any events of its own? Perhaps a small summer show, clinics or visits from feed companies and suchlike (like Spillers when they bring the weighbridge and advise each livery on their horses diet- a great social and informative event to be had there!). Some yards even club in with other yards to offer events and you may find that- if not at your yard- there may be other events and facilities within a short distance away. Any local yards offering hire of XC courses, riding club venues or offering clinics can be nothing but beneficial for you and your horse to attend, without needing to travel miles away. Don’t be put off by the first people you meet at the yard. Most yards will have a combination of other livery types- older riders with companion horses, younger riders who do PC trailed round by their parents, serious competitors off competing every weekend, natural horsemanship types, the people who borrow stuff without asking- each yard will have their own mix and generally all new liveries will slot in somewhere!
- Rules. Some yards have weird rules. Fact. Make sure you try to suss any out before committing to moving as these could seriously impede on your plans or cost you more money than you thought. Now we all know running a yard is not cheap, so many yard owners will find other ways to increase their income. My top ‘weird rule’ at a yard i was on was that only one nominated person could ever attend to your horse in your absence. So in the event that you were ill, and your ‘nominated person’ was away, at work or ill themselves, you had to have the yard care for your horse at their set daily rates, irrespective if you had plenty of other volunteers offering their services free of charge! Another common rule is that no ‘outsiders’ are allowed to ride your horse unless on a specific share or part loan agreement (i.e you friends cannot just turn up and ride your horse out), or that ‘outside’ instructors cannot teach at the yard. Often common if the yard owner is an instructor, or there is one already in place at the yard. Not ideal if this then means you need to travel and hire facilities to have lessons elsewhere with your preferred instructor. Use of facilities can also cause issues, especially if there is a booking system in place. Some yards will just allow free rein in the school, any riders share at their discretion whether schooling, lunging or jumping, other yards have strict procedures in place to limit the number of riders, what can be done when and this can often cause stress if you turn up wanting to ride and the school is in use. Nothing more annoying than wanting to ride (and there being plenty of room in the school) but not being allowed as its ‘booked’! Make sure you try to delve deeper into the rules of the yard during your visit- look for any signs put up around the yard or check with the yard owner or manager what the rules are regarding using the facilities, instructors and the like.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully will open your mind as to the more unusual factors to consider when looking for a yard. Good luck!