Hello there everyone,
Before I begin, just wanted to give people a heads up that I've created a skype account - live:elk.otter .If you send a contact request, please include your deviantart username. I will not accept requests from people I don't know.
I've run across countless people who simply adore horses yet have never had them in their lives. Unfortunately, many of them fall into barns that have poor safety and care practices because they don't know any better. If you are looking for your first barn, here are some tips for you.
1. When you arrive at a barn, trust your eyes. It does not have to look like pristine thoroughbred farm in Kentucky, but there are several things that should send off red flags - poor fence lines (fences that are broken, include barbed wire, rusty or sharp surfaces, are held together with haystring/ductape, simply not there, etc.), broken gates and siding, and trash in the yard.
Look at the pastures the horses are in. During winter, all pastures essentially turn to mud and ice, but there should still be hay supplied for constant grazing. During the other seasons, most pastures are rotated to allow grass to grow, so there should be at least a healthy green stubble covering the majority of the turnout. If the ground has been reduced to dirt, it is likely that the field is overcrowded. Remember that there should one acre of grazing area per horse.
3. Notice what the staff and clients are wearing. Sneakers are fine for a pony ride, but if they are riding or allowing people to ride without a heeled boot, they run the risk of someone getting dragged. Some barns keep a stack of old riding boots for people to slip on instead, although you will probably have to buy your own at some point.
If anyone is riding without a helmet it should send up another warning signal. Adults are not required to wear helmets by law but plenty of barns require it anyway. Look to see if the helmet fits right - the strap should not be able to slip over the chin and the helmet should be comfortable snug. If there is a child without a helmet, it is not a safe barn.
4. Look at the horses. Our equine friends often lose and gain weight, but most horses at the barn in question should have a realistically even topline - meaning no bony backs. Eyes should be clear and glossy, coats should have no unexpected lumps or bumps, and there should be no sores or rubs around the horse's head or back.
Also notice a horses gait. Lameness can be hard to spot for a beginner (I'm terrible at it myself) but if a horse is obviously off or limping, be weary. Even the best horse owner in the world can't prevent occasional lameness, but if it is a common sight, the horses may not be taken care of correctly.
This can be hard to judge, as horses have very different personalities, but try to see how alert they are. Even the mellowest of lesson horses should give some sign that they see you - a flick of the ear, pausing, raising of the head, or, if your lucky a nicker. If a horse doesn't respond to you, he might be overly exhausted or so bored from the same routine that he doesn't even bother anymore. Similarly, if a horse spooks at a simple movement, they could be overly fearful.
Take a peak into an empty stall. Water and grain buckets should be clean. The bedding should be light and fluffy all the way down to the floor. Large, stiff clumps of settled pee and excessive amounts of poop mean the stall has not been properly cleaned.
5. Look for patience. No matter what a horse has done screaming at him, beating him, or forcing him isn't right. Nerves get frayed and sometimes a horse deserves a good smack on the butt, yet being impulsive isn't the way to act around horses. If you get frustrated or angry, it's a good idea to take a break.
In no way am I a professional horse person. These are just a few things that dismay me and the only thing I can do about them is right a journal. Every rule mentioned here can be broken once or twice - people make mistakes - but make sure it isn't a pattern.