Keeping a horse at home is not an easy option as the maintenance of grazing, fencing, stabling etc. is both costly and time consuming. Additionally as horses are by nature herd animals, providing equine companionship is preferable to keep your horse happy and avoid behavioural problems. This in itself can become a headache, particularly in situations such as when one horse is ridden and the other is left alone or if one falls ill.
For many horse owners the option of keeping their horse at home or renting grazing land is just not viable. Therefore many horses and ponies are kept at commercial or private livery yards and there are certain advantages of keeping a horse at a good livery yard including:
In general livery yards will offer a number of service levels for keeping horses. The type of livery service that is chosen will very much depend upon the time available to devote to the horses care, budget, accessibility in terms of travelling to and from the stables i.e. by own vehicle, public transport or a lift with someone else, and proximity of chosen yard to the horse owner's home.
The types of livery offered are:
DIY livery - where a stable/field shelter and grazing are rented. All the work and responsibility for looking after the horse is undertaken by the horse owner e.g. feeding, turning out and bringing in from the field, mucking out, cleaning the field of dung etc. - essentially all that is required to keep a horse 7 days a week. This is the most cost effective option for keeping a horse. It is ideal for those people who have time to look after their horse, but may also like the company and support of other horse owners afforded by being part of a livery yard. In many cases yards will also offer additional services for DIY livery at a pro rata cost such as feeding or turning out etc. as requested by the horse owner. However be advised that this last option can end up costing you more than part or full livery as some yards will charge for literally everything, from changing water buckets to filling haynets and picking out feet as these all require a time commitment by their staff and time is of course money!
Grass livery - this is very similar to DIY livery, with the horse owner looking after the horse themselves but on a grazing-only basis.
Assisted DIY - this is an enhanced form of DIY livery offered by many yards who recognise that horse owners enjoy the pleasure of the daily looking after of their horse but simply cannot commit the time required morning and evening due to work or family commitments. Assisted DIY offers an agreed daily package of services in addition to the rent of the stable and grazing and usually includes putting in feeds in the morning, changing to outdoor rugs (as required) turning out and/or bringing in. The owner then carries out all the other duties of horse care. There is of course an extra set charge for these services, but assisted DIY livery is a good compromise for those who simply cannot be at the stables to look after their horse the twice a day that is required on DIY livery.
Part Livery - this is where the livery yard assists in the daily care routine of the horse to varying degrees as required by the owner. Part livery usually includes feeding, mucking out, changing rugs, turn-out and bringing in from grazing. Many yards will also prepare the horse for the blacksmith and vet visits or any other health care as required. The horse owner is only responsible for grooming, riding and other routine care of the horse such as bathing, tack cleaning etc. As horses benefit from consistent day to day routine this is a very useful livery for busy working horse owners who are unable to provide this routine themselves, or who simply wish to spend the time they have with the horse by handling and riding rather than performing stable chores.
Working Livery - offered where the horse is kept at a riding school. The horse is looked after by the stable staff and the cost of keep is partially offset by the horse being able to be used by the riding school clients for riding lessons. This livery arrangement can limit the use of the horse by the owner and is not suitable for all horses as they may be ridden by novice riders which may not suit the horse's temperament.
Full livery - where the livery yard undertakes the entire daily care, riding, and other associated tasks for the horse on behalf of the owner. The owner will simply notify the yard when he/she wishes to ride the horse and the horse will be prepared for them beforehand i.e. groomed and tacked up ready for them to ride. Full livery can also cater for specific needs such as preparing a horse for competition, or breaking and schooling with additional charges for someone to compete your horse on your behalf if required. Full livery is the most expensive way to keep a horse and does not allow a close bond to be established between horse and owner. However, for many who wish to own a horse but work long hours or live away from home during the week full livery is the best/only option.
Once the level of livery has been chosen very careful thought should be given to the choice of livery yard. The horse's basic needs must come first and the choice of yard should not be compromised for the owner's convenience. For example a large ménage is no compensation for inadequate grazing and equally just because a yard is near to the owner's home doesn't necessarily mean it is best for the horse.
Facilities and standards will vary from yard to yard from the most basic stables and grazing to luxury livery yards with horsewalkers, indoor and outdoor arenas, CCTV, solariums etc. Prices will of course vary accordingly.
It is important that prospective livery yards are visited and that the horse and owners requirements are discussed in depth with the yard manger/proprietor, to ensure that the yard and services are suitable and that the horse and owner will both be happy there.
When visiting the livery yard first impressions count but it is important to look beyond fixtures and fittings. The horses living there should look happy and relaxed the stables have clean bedding and be well ventilated with adequate turn-out for the number of horses at the yard. The facilities do not need to be five stars but above all should be safe, well-built, 'horse-proof' and correctly maintained.
Indicators of a professionally run livery yard are a well-managed yard routine with clear rules, worming programmes and care arrangements, on-site security and night time staff to provide care should a horse become sick in the night, and a livery contract with transparent and fair pricing.
There is no legal requirement for livery yards to be licensed or registered in the UK but The British Horse Society operates a livery yard approval scheme, to provide horse owners with a useful guide.