For any horse owner choosing a livery yard is an important decision and it can be a particularly difficult decision for the first time horse owner.

Currently livery yards do not need to be licensed in the UK. However, the British Horse Society run a Livery Yard Approval Scheme that ensures livery yards approved by the Scheme comply with the latest health and safety guidelines and are insured against public liability with livery yards under the Approval Scheme inspected annually. Therefore it is always best to locate a livery yard approved under the Approval scheme if at all possible when considering choosing a livery yard at which to keep a horse.

Other factors to take into account when choosing a livery yard are:

Types of livery offered

Some livery yards may offer a range of different types of livery, whilst others may offer only one or two types and the first thing to decide is the type of livery that will suit horse and owner and find livery yards nearby that offer the type of livery required.

Location

Whilst most horse owners prefer a livery yard close to home, for some a livery yard close to work can work equally well, allowing the horse owner to stop off on their daily commute before and after work to attend to their horses. For those that enjoy hacking a livery yard with close access to bridleways may be preferable.

Facilities

Facilities offered by livery yards can vary. Whilst most will include a secure tack room and somewhere to store feed, other facilities that may be offered are riding arena, show jumps, cross country course, parking for horseboxes and trailers, horse walker, wash/clipping stalls, hacking across farmland. If riding will mostly be done in the evenings after school or work then it is important that any riding arena has lights, as otherwise riding in the dark winter evenings will be impossible.

Grazing

At most livery yards fields are shared between a number of horses allowing them to interact naturally as a herd, but some livery yards offer individual turnout for stabled horses where each horse has its own paddock to graze during the day. Although a shared field allows horses to behave naturally it does mean that there may be occasions where a horse suffers injury from a bite or kick from another horse although such injuries are usually minor. Individual turnout will ensure that a horse cannot be kicked by another, but horses are herd animals and so a horse may be stressed if not given the freedom to interact with other horses and be part of a herd.

Some yards offer grazing for stabled horses all year round, others may restrict or cease to offer grazing during the wettest months of the year when the ground becomes waterlogged. It is important that any grazing has some form of shelter from wind, rain and sun, either by way of trees or hedges or in the form of a field shelter and that fencing around fields and paddocks is well maintained.

Stabling

Stables should be at least 10 foot x 10 foot for a pony and 12 foot x 12 foot for a horse. Traditional wooden or brick stables around an open yard may provide the horse with more interesting viewing when stabled whilst stables within a barn complex provides shelter from wind and rain for both horse and owner and provide more warmth in the winter. Automatic waterers within stables ensure the horse has constant access to water with no need to carry heavy buckets full of water into the stable on a daily basis.

Visiting/riding/turnout times

Some yards offer flexible access allowing horse owners to attend to their horses, turnout and ride throughout the day and evening with little or no restriction on times, whilst others may impose time restrictions when the yard will be open to owners, may require horses to be brought in from their daytime turnout by a certain time each day, or there may be restrictions on times when riding arenas can be used so it is important to ensure that if any restrictions exist these will be suitable.

Price

It is important to ascertain what is and is not included in any livery price. Whilst some livery yards offer use of any facilities (eg riding arena, show jumps, cross country course, parking for horseboxes and trailers, horse walker, etc) within their livery prices, other livery yards will charge extra for use of such facilities.

Security

The security of horses, tack and any horsebox or trailer to be parked at the livery yard is an important consideration. Fields where horses are visible from the roadside with no security or with a gate or fencing that could easily be broken to remove a horse could make the horses easy targets for horse thieves particularly if the road is a quiet one, especially at night. Tack rooms should be lockable (and kept locked when not in use) as most insurance companies won't pay out otherwise if tack is stolen. Horseboxes and trailers parked where they can be viewed from the roadside without locked gates into the yard makes it easy for thieves to realise there are vehicles on the yard that could be easily driven out at night. Some livery yards have owners living on site giving extra security, whilst others are left completely unattended at night.

The decision

It is always a good idea to visit any livery yard to check out the grazing, stabling, security and facilities and ask any questions before making a final decision. Although it is not possible to keep any stable yard spotless, a tidy, well maintained and well organised yard will indicate the level of pride that is taken by the owners and employees in their work and the service they provide.