In the ten years I have owned my horse, I have boarded him at nine barns. That may equal about one a year, but some I was at for several years, others a week or two. Some I boarded at more than once. Most of the reasons I had for leaving had to do with too much barn drama. If you're a horse owner who boards, and you spend any amount of time at the barn with your horse (as opposed to retired horses who pretty much are just living out their lives being cared for by the barn), then chances are you have encountered barn drama in one form or another.
The very first place I boarded, I was a new horse owner but truly passionate and eager to learn. I was naive of course and knew nothing about barn drama (which is akin to office drama except it often includes the horses, other times it doesn't). I was just trying to be friends with everyone (which I have since learned can be a big mistake) and learn all I could about horse ownership. I found out the hard way that being a "newbie" horse owner is frowned upon by those who have had horses for many years (even if they never learned a thing about horses). After about a year at the first place I had learned enough to know it was time to move on.
I moved to what was, at the time, a "small" barn. It had been owned by a single family (a rich family) who had put a ton of money into the place, which was simply for the use of their daughter and her friends. It was now owned by a millionaire race horse owner who wanted it for his mares. I was his first ever boarder. Great. No barn drama, right? Wrong! The owner himself was drama enough. Since the place was new, he and his daughter (who did not even live there) made constant changes. Other boarders came and went. Eventually, they wanted to make money on it so they raised everything and made it a full board facility (when I had moved there, it was an extremely inexpensive rough board situation, and was actually very pleasant). Eventually, almost everyone left, including me (I had been there for over 4 years, leaving once for 2 weeks but coming back because the place where I went had owners who were less than pleasant and did whatever they wanted with my horse's care, not what I asked them to do).
I found a new place right up the street (I try to keep my horse close to home, as I like to see him every day, and I enjoy taking care of him mostly myself). This was a big barn, but the price was good and I had the opportunity to work off my board. I had learned a lot by this time and had changed quite a bit myself. I can say I honestly never had a major complaint about this place. The owner was a very nice person who did not allow barn drama. If anyone had a complaint, they went to her and it was talked out privately. A bit over a year later, they raised the board so high I could not afford to stay.
I moved with a friend back to the first place we had both boarded (and where we met, our horses as well as us had become close, so we stuck together for the most part). The person who had produced the most drama for me had left, and the place now offered rough board. We were there about a year when a bad winter hit and my friend's horse broke a leg in the paddock and had to be put down. With her gone, my horse losing shoes all the time due to the huge property, and with the strict barn rules, I sought out a new place.
I went to a private barn whose owner I had met a few year's prior when another friend was looking for board for her new horse. The place was perfect for my horse's needs. As an elder horse now, he had insulin resistance and needed strict control of grass and diet as well as exercise. The stall he moved into was an old foaling stall, and very big. Lots of room for a horse to move, which he needs. Perfect! It also had a double dutch door to his own private paddock. Perfect! I could control his grass intake, they had a perfect sand arena. The property was everything my horse needed, it was rough board and affordable. Perfect right? As I have long learned, people are all so different that finding someone you will get along with in every way, including caring for your horse, can be rough (especially if, like me, you need most of the control in your horse's life and care). Suffice it to say, I was there about a year. I knew before anything happened that I was going to be asked to leave. The change of things in recent months had caused a huge rift. I learned then that barn drama was not only prevalent in large barns but small ones too... usually, however, between the owner and boarder.
I contacted a friend and moved to her barn. However, due to my horse's special needs (Cushings and insulin resistance) she did not feel she could care for him as well as he needed. This was her private home and she had to keep strict policies for insurance purposes.
Since I am very involved in my horse's care (not only because of his special needs but because of my deep bond and love for him), I needed to find a place that was relaxed and would allow me to make the "rules" for my horse's care. After all, I reasoned, I am paying them to care properly for my horse, to keep him safe, to follow the guidelines for his care that I had spent YEARS researching and getting just right.
I guess having a horse with "special needs," a horse I am bonded to deeply, and love with every ounce of my being, a horse that literally saved my life, has made me a bit different than other boarders. I have done tons of work to get his diet and regime under control. I only needed a barn that would follow that as closely as possible.
My friend helped me tremendously. Since she had felt she could not give my special needs horse the best possible care, she sent me a long list of places to try. On that list was a name I recognized. I had met this person at horse shows (I had in the meantime become a show photographer). I fell in love with her horse and had talked to her at every show. I called immediately. Within a week, my horse was moved to her place (which was back to the town I preferred to board in, and had boarded in at 3 different places). And, almost a year later, we are still there. And still happy.
I have resolved that no place will be perfect unless I own it myself (a dream for one day, I hope). My horse doesn't have the huge stall or run-out at night, so in winter and bad weather he is in at night (which is tough with his Cushings and bursitis, as he needs to move a lot). However, in the summer when the weather is nice he is outside almost 24/7, which is ideal for any horse. It is the most reasonably priced place I have ever been to, full board (though I choose to do most everything myself so I can stay close to my horse). I have never been to a place with so little barn drama (actually, there's really none).
A few people I have boarded with at other places are also at this barn (which is considered a "small" barn, but is leased rather than owned and the most relaxed, reasonable rules I have ever come across). The lady who runs place is super reasonable, nice and respectful. She "lets" me take care of my horse MY way, clean my own stall on days I can and she does it on days I can't. There is NO place better, I am convinced of this!
I no longer worry about my horse if I can't be there. She follows my "rules" and my horse is VERY happy. Nothing and no place will be perfect, but this place is close. I have no plans to leave... unless I get my OWN place, or if my close friend (whose horse passed so many years ago) gets a place close enough for me to be there daily.
No barn drama, having people to talk to, being useful (in my case as I love helping) and most of all not worrying about my horse when I cannot be there, is very important. This kind of place is almost unheard of and it's all about the caretaker!