When I look for a potential place to board I first look online to see if there is a website. If there is I look through it reading every link, looking at the pictures and paying extra special attention to the boarding page. It gives great information - fee, what is included for that fee, what you should expect for the fee beyond grain/hay/turnout (such as blanketing, hand walking, holding for vet/farrier) etc... If they have a for sale page that gives you a clue as to the type of horses they have and what they do. It doesn't mean you should avoid a place becasue of this, but if you trail ride and end up at a place full of hunters and there are no trails and everyone looks down on your western saddle, you might not be the happiest and if youa re the sole jumper in a reining barn you might not have access to the things you need.
After that I call the barn (or I just skip to calling if they do not have a website) and speak to the BO or BM. I ask about what I saw online. Is the fee correct (it can change without being updated)? There are a host of questions I ask such as:
-How big is the stall? (a basic question, but important to know) Or how large is turnout area if pasture board? Is there shelter available?
-Type of bedding? How often is it stripped? Are there any days you don't clean?
-Feed/Hay - type, amount, how often? Can I have a different type? Does it cost extra or do I have to provide it? Can my horse get more if she needs it? Does that cost extra and how much?
-Turnout - how often? Any policies about rain/snow (only b/c 1 place I looked at would not turn out if it rained and had to wait 3 consecutive sunny days before turned out again). How many per paddock? What happens if my horse is getting beat up by a pasture mate?
-Extras - blanketing/fly mask, holding for vet/farrier, hand walking if hurt etc.. How much extra?
-If Gem were to get hurt, colic, etc..do you call me or the vet first? If you can't reach me what is your policy? If I'm at work and can't get there, will you handle it until I can? Who is your vet? Can I use a different one?
-Who is your farrier? Is it 1 farrier for the whole barn or can I use a different one? How often does he/she come? How do I get on the list?
-Worming schedule - is it up to each owner to do it responsibly or do you do that? Do I provide wormer or you? When do you worm and with what?
-Hours of barn operation? Its important to know if they expect it to be empty from 7pm- 7am and those are the only hours you are not at work.
-If the place has a lesson program - How often do you give lessons? Can I use the arena during this time? How busy/typical number horses in arena at one time should I expect? (Another bad experience with a 60 x 90 ft arena and 6 people cramming ill behaved horses at one time in it). What trainer do you use? Can I bring my own in?
-Tack room - are there lockers? Saddle racks? Do I need to provide my own? Is it out in the open where the arena dust covers it all or in a seperate room?
-Is there a lounge? Bathroom (only been to 2 barns with one and I would pay extra just to have it :) ?
Lastly, I visit the farm in person when the BO or BM is avilable to walk through it with me and answer any questions. I ask specifics on what I see.
-Which stall is Gem getting? (Since I have 2 I try to get them stalls close by if I can and ask about that)
-Where will my specific tack go? Locker? Saddle rack? Can I have more than 1 saddle?
-Can I park my trailer here? Cost?
-Which pasture is Gem going to be in? I look at the fencing and grass. Is it in good order, electric, wire?
-I look at the arenas and see how well the footing is kept up. I ask what the footing is? How often is the indoor watered? Are there weeds in it?
-If there are trails (this is my first barn with them) - where do they leave from? Who takes care of them? Who do I report a problem to?
Finally, look at the horses and the areas that are there and see how good they look.
-Are they happy? One place I went to all the horses bit and were so unhappy looking, there was no way Gem was going there.
-I look at the hay and grain. I know less than I wish about hay, but I do know outright bad hay when I see it.
-I look in the tack room. Are there locks on everything suggesting that someone has stolen in the past?
-I look at the condiiton of the stalls - are they clean? Do they appear the stated size? Are water buckets full? There is always a horse indoors it seems. Look at that stall. Does the horse have hay to eat? Water to drink?
-Look at the grounds and see if it is clean and tidy or if stuff is left everywhere in piles?
It seems like a lot (and I know I forgot things), but if you go through with all this in mind you have the best chance of picking the right place. I'm not saying that all or any of it is so important that it is a deal breaker. That's a personal decision everyone has to maek on their own. I'm not saying that the place has to look like a Bahama Spa resort and cost $50 with everything thrown in for free. What I am saying is that if you ask all this you will walk away knowing EXACTLY what your $xxx a month is getting you. You can rest easy knowing that of all the places in your area of interest, THIS was the one that had the most going for it for what you can/want to afford to pay. You will be able to go to the barn happy knowing what to expect and any changes will be icing on the cake.
One last note - don't pick a place based on what it COULD become when the BO/BM gets around to doing a thru z. I'm sure the BO/BM has every good intention of doing all the things that you want. But money and time run out and things break that need fixed and new people come in with new problems to solve. If you are not happy on day 1, there is no guarantee that it will get better on day 30 or day 365. This is your friend, your partner and they are looking to you to put them someplace safe and comfortable so that they can give you the performace you are looking for. Do your research. Look around. Choose carefully.
Oh and SIGN A CONTRACT that has everything written out carefully and specifically!