For the first-time horse buyer, the search for somewhere to keep your horse is an important one. Many horse owners own or can rent a paddock. However, for those who live busy lives and who want a ‘hassle free’ option, or for those who don't have a very hardy horse who can live out in all weathers, a livery yard might be a better choice of home for your horse.
What do you want from the yard?
Make a checklist of facilities you wish from a livery yard.
Most will have a schooling area, but this can range from a partitioned section of the field to the equestrian equivalent of a health spa. If what you enjoy is off-road hacking, buy a local Ordinance Survey map and identify where the bridleways are, since livery yards often spring up around them.
Go for a walk along them, to check they have been properly maintained.
If you prefer to school, decide when you are most available to exercise your horse. If you work full-time, then ideally you need a floodlit or indoor ménage so that you can still exercise during winter months.
If your horse is easily spooked, riding in floodlights may not be an attractive option.
Livery yards who offer an indoor school can charge considerably more.
Consider the social side
Do you want a social yard? If you are someone who enjoys hacking alone and gets easily annoyed by other people’s mess, then a smaller yard may be preferable.
Does being with those of your own age group matter? Some yards are dominated by teenagers with their ponies, whilst others attract young professionals, some are family-friendly yards and others still will have older clients. This will determine the atmosphere and culture of the yard.
Consider specific horse requirements
If your horse has particular dietary needs or has an ailment, catering for this could become a priority in your search. Having a yard owner and other clients who are sensitive to your horse’ needs will be important.
You can decide the level of service you require from the yard.
DIY, part or full?
If house prices are high in your area, the price of livery for your horse will likely to be high as well. You can pay anything from £100 per calendar month for basic DIY livery to £800 for a 5* full livery deal.
With DIY (do it yourself) livery, you provide all the care for your horse. The yard owner is in charge of maintaining the facilities: ensuring safety both people and horses, that basic equipment is provided, and that horses have water access. Most DIY livery yards offer to turn out in a morning, or feed and rug up in an evening for a small additional fee, so that the owner does not need to visit twice a day. DIY livery is an ideal option for anyone who doesn’t wish to pay for someone else to maintain their horse but who is willing to labour.
The ‘part livery’ option involves the yard staff providing some or all of the care. The range of services depends on the yard and can be flexible to the owner’s budget and needs. This option is best suited to those who work full-time in the week or those that do not want to become too involved in horse maintenance. Usually the horse must fit in with the yard’s routine, often with restricted grazing hours, so you must consider whether this would suit your horse and your routine.
‘Full livery’ describes a service that provides both care and exercise for the horse. It can be expensive, depending on the level of training the horse undergoes and the reputation of its trainer. This is a good choice if you wish your horse to be fit and ready for the competition season and do not have the time to prepare the horse yourself. However, it does take the control out of your hands and so not ideal for those who want to enjoy a relationship with their horse and the full ‘horse owning’ experience.
What reputation does the yard have?
You should enquire about a livery yard’s reputation before choosing one. Some yard owners are known for their negligence, others are known for controlling a very tight ship. The ideal owner sits somewhere in between. Note that most livery owners do not come from a customer service background, therefore their primary goal is seldom to provide maximum satisfaction for their customers.
A yard approved by the British Horse Society has undergone certain quality checks that ensure a certain level of professionalism from the yard owner and a level of quality from the facilities. However, you do pay in your livery fees for this assurance.
What is the yard actually like?
When you visit the yard, look around the full area. Are there corners they do not wish you to see? Are all the stables of equal size and quality? Do the fields have secure fencing? Is your horse likely to settle well? Is there adequate grazing or is grazing restricted by a rota? Does the school have adequate flooring and drainage for when it rains? Is the place clean and presentable? Is there calm and order?
If you have an opportunity, speak to other customers on the yard. This will give you an idea of whether other people are friendly and welcoming, and can be indicative of customer satisfaction (though, of course, it could also be that someone is having a particularly good or bad day).
Check that the yard owner uses a good quality livery agreement
Ensure the yard owner provides a suitable livery contract. Liveries are businesses. Not using an agreement (or using a single page agreement) will be a good indication that the yard is not run as a business. The importance of using a livery contract is that it makes clear to both sides what the obligations and responsibilities are. Having a contract in place can often prevent many disagreements.
Compare our agreement to the one the yard owner presents to you. The three most important things to identify are:
- notice period to be given by you or them
- payment method
- what else the agreement includes and excludes
The contract may state that it could be terminated at any point by the livery owner if the client causes grievous damage or harm; if this is the case, ask them to stipulate what they mean, otherwise you may find yourself turned out for something as little as grumbling.
Consider small, local yards
Lastly, ask around for small yards. Most of the smaller (cheaper) yards don't have websites or advertise.
Staff working at your local feed shop will be able to tell you where they are and who to ask for on arrival. Many of these work off local reputation and can provide just as good facilities as the larger yards.
Further useful information and documents
There is more information (from a yard owner's point of view) in our article about how you can start your own livery yard. Some of this information relates to customer care (both of horses and owners) so might be interesting to read.
Otherwise, we recommend that you look at our livery yard contracts to see what terms should be in any that you might sign. You can always suggest that a yard owner uses a Net Lawman agreement.