Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Don't Shoot the Manager

Boarding Probs | Horse Collaborative

Oh my, have I been there!  The Boarding Farm...the one with no contract, no guaranteed level of care, substandard facilities that looked good at first glance, no ability to meet my standards, bitchy, judgmental fellow boarders who seemed to delight in every mistake I made...where I boarded anyway.  The "why" is very important here, and that's where this is going to start.

There are lots of reasons for putting your horse in a place that might not be the best for either of you. Finances comes to mind immediately.  Most of the places which I later found unsuitable were the best I could afford at the time.  I was never able to opt for self-care (or what used to be called "rough board") because I worked.  And I had a child.  And I had bills to pay apart from my board.  So I went where the ad shouted a price within my limited budget.

The second factor that often plays here is proximity--to home, to work, to family--that makes regular visits to the barn for you or your proxies (those kind-hearted friends and relatives who will "run to the barn real quick and stick some goo on Fuzzbutt's cut, pleeeeeease") a possibility.  Close is great, but it's not always optimal on the care side.

The third is social connection.  The linked article does a very good job on the subject of irritating rail birds and how (not) to deal with them (or become one), so I won't rehash it.  I can't count the number of times I've heard a friend fuss and fume about substandard practices then end with "But I can't leave because the manager is my BFF!" (or cousin or husband or what have you), or "All my friends are there", or "They have a great program for the kids".  There are the barns with marketing-savvy managers and an active and addictive social life fostered by the management and including holiday parties in the lounge, egg hunts in the fields, on-site lessons and shows, and networking galore.  It gets obvious very quickly if the other owners in the barn are folks you want to run away from.  And it's equally easy to let socialization cloud your thinking when you look at your ribby horse with the depressed affect and just gloss over his misery.

If you're willing to put up with inconveniences, you're more likely to find the care you require for your equine partner.  If not, well....

Now that you've been at the New Barn for a month and have noticed that the stalls are only mucked twice a week and the water buckets and troughs are home to unidentified life forms, and now that you've learned that that cheap board was a come-on that masked a nickel-and-dime approach (my personal fave was the $10 "blanket adjustment" fee that applied if you chose to blanket your horse and continued to apply even if the manager never had to touch horse or blanket), what's a horse owner to do?

Dogs and miniature humans are not
always  welcome at all barns.  If you
need to have either in tow, check first.
There are rules that apply to this and any other space-rental situation.

1. Pay when the rent is due.
2. Ask politely if changes in specific management practices are possible.
3. Follow the barn rules.
4.  Don't take it upon yourself to feed or hay your horse without permission (boy, does that screw with the rest of the horses in the barn!)
5.  If you don't like it, leave.  Period.

There are obvious ways to avoid getting stuck for years on end in a bad situation.  Carping and bitching and posting nastiness on social media are not among them.  They're all on you, the prospective boarder.


Start by making a list or chart (I'm a teacher, so I'm a big chart/rubric person) of all of the boarding facilities within a reasonable drive time of your home and workplace.

Check each personally and at random times.  Sometimes the manager won't let you in because of security. That's okay.  You can still eyeball the place over his shoulder and look at the horses on turnout to see if they look happy and healthy.  Hang around long enough, and you'll catch a boarder on the way in or out who is willing to chat for a minute.

In your chart, include all of your Must Haves.  If you have to have an indoor, eliminate the barns that don't.  Don't believe you can go somewhere and talk them into putting in an indoor (or anything else) after you're in place.  If you want a wash stall with running hot water, then that should be on the chart.  If you want to keep your vet, farrier, or dentist, that also should have a slot.  This is why charts work better than lists.  Big check marks and blank spaces are easy to see.  If cost is an issue, make sure you find out the whole cost up front.  The barn with the $10 blanket-checking fee also charged $5 to put a dose of meds in the horse's feed bucket and $15 to stand with the horse during vet, farrier, or dentist visits.  Those fees add up very quickly until that $400/month "find" becomes a $600/month burden.

And while you're mathing, find out whether your vet, farrier, or dentist charges extra to go to the barn you've chosen. Distance matters to some.  Craziness matters to others.  Add all that in as well.

Check the barn's insurance.  The manager should know whether the horses are covered under a blanket liability plan (like I have).  If not, add in the cost of owner liability insurance.  It's not expensive, but it's another cost to consider.  And if the barn looks rattier than you'd like, add in health and mortality insurance if your horse is young enough to qualify (usually under 18, though the age limits vary by carrier).

Don't assume you can somehow fudge your way around the math.  Cutting out vaccines or farrier visits or (as one of my boarders did) telling the manager that the vet is not to be called unless your horse is "bleeding out the eyes" (she only lasted a few months here) are not going to help your horse or your bottom line.  Cheaping out is a great way to wind up with extreme expenses later on.  That's why this stuff is called "preventive".  It prevents bankruptcy.


Double check that everything is as it should be including such things as actual room for your tack.  Some barns advertise a "heated tack room" but don't mention that you can't leave your stuff there.  If all is not well, you should have second- and third-choice barns noted on your chart.  Find out what the lead time is for making a switch, then don't hesitate.  The only thing more miserable than owning a horse you really can't afford is keeping that horse at a place you hate to visit.  The $10 Blanketing Fee place was also home to considerable rude treatment of my then-ten-year-old daughter until she simply didn't want to go there anymore.  That's not a happy ending.

If you're looking for a barn, go out there and chart them.  You'll find something suitable if you don't let yourself be blinded by Famous Trainer creds or to-die-for stalls and indoors.  Realism and barn hands are the only working parts in the horse world.

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