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Winter Woes at Boarding Barns

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  • Winter Woes at Boarding Barns

    This is quite simply a rant. Why is it so hard to find a boarding barn that can take good care of the horses in winter? I'd say 90% of the barns I've left have been due to winter care. Along those lines...what are the must ask questions when touring barns not during wintertime? What I've accumulated over the years is what hay do you feed, how often, how much, what is the quality, are roundbales kept in slow feed nets, are they replaced as soon as they've been eaten? Do you allow blanketing? Do you blanket or are the owners responsible? Do you have water heaters? Here's my list in no particular order of barns I've had to leave in the dead of winter. None of these barns gave me any issues the rest of the year. I know working in winter is hard, exhausting, cold etc I've done it in the past. I don't think I have super high unreasonable expectations.

    There was a ton of ice around the barn so they decided to let the horses run across it in a mass to get to their stalls for feeding...half the horses declined and stayed in the field, my horse (was starved in his past before me) ran over the ice wiped out and tore up his SI area. Barn owner never called me I found him crippled once the ice/snow had melted enough for me to get to the barn.

    We had a super wet warm winter with gobs of mud so they didn't want to drive the tractor with the roundbales into the field so they switched to square bales....one flake per horse per day in January. Horse lost a significant amount of weight, moved and still never recovered until Spring grass

    Barn owner informs me when I went out with my horse's winter blanket that they don't blanket. That I'm basically not allowed to blanket him and no horse needs a blanket regardless of age, body condition, coat etc.

    Barn fed super high quality gorgeous green round bales that are $$$ - but failed to mention that they put 1" slow feed nets on them so my horse struggled to get enough to eat and developed Heaves from constantly 24/7 trying to pick hay out.

    Barn owner fed decent roundbales but in an effort to save money would wait 4ish days after they were eaten down to nothing to put out more...even if there was snow/ice/really cold weather. Every time confronted and asked to put a bale out would say oh yea I'll do it tomm and would hope you wouldn't show up to check.

    Ground went from mushy mud to frozen creating rocky hard uneven footing, barn owner texted me and said my horse looked a little stiff. He has arthritis and had a vet follow up apt already scheduled which I let her know and she said ok sounds good. I came out a day or two later to find him in a founder position with pounding front pulses and she casually mentioned that it was taking him half an hour to walk across the small field to come eat and had been getting progressively worse for a week. (It was snowy my company was merging with another so workloads were high I normally go out more often)

    Current horse is fine but moving soon to a better fit for this winter where I know he'll be pampered and won't have issues but I think I'm seriously going to tour ALL of the barns in my area in Feb during a snowstorm to either keep them on a possible future list or cross them off forever.

  • #2
    You generally pay a premium for high quality care and facilities. The only way to get it exactly the way you want it is to do it yourself...at home. I've never encountered your scenarios so I guess I'm very lucky. Good luck!
    Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!

    Comment

    • Original Poster

      #3
      Originally posted by Calvincrowe View Post
      You generally pay a premium for high quality care and facilities. The only way to get it exactly the way you want it is to do it yourself...at home. I've never encountered your scenarios so I guess I'm very lucky. Good luck!
      I prefer the social aspect of boarding, I didn't mind self care because I did the care myself but still had people to ride with but the farm sold. It's sad because some of these places I was with for years before issues popped up. Due to arthritis my past 2 horses prefer to be out 24/7 but it's hard to find pasture board with a higher quality of care. Some barns I was able to upgrade to a stall during winter and then return to pasture board. One barn I did pay premium pasture board almost the cost of stall board elsewhere and they originally had 3 horses on 2 acres and cut that in 1/3 which wasn't sufficient. I've had great positive experiences too it's just getting old. I ask tons of questions, go multiple times, tour multiple barns and scavenge for any info through people I know or online before moving.

      Comment


      • #4
        I think that the more horses on a given property the more mud, ice, and overwork for staff there will be in winter. You might do better boarding in a much smaller private situation, maybe somewhere horses stay in pasture 24/7 with roundbales and shelters.

        Also probably helps if your horses are similar in type to other horses. If you have an older hard keeper on a field with easy keepers and the feed is designed for them the older horse may suffer.

        But honestly being there every day is the major way to catch problems before they get out of hand.

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          A number of these barns were small private situations that's actually my preference, one only had 6 total horses. Only one barn was a huge massive boarding barn. My horses almost always are boarded in pasture 24/7 with shelter and hay with feeding 1-2x daily. Sometimes feeding is on the fence, sometimes it's in a barn. The main problem seems to be actually keeping hay in front of them that they can eat. I don't think type matters. The last horse was a fat as a house QH. Was he going to die or be too skinny without hay....no. Was he going to be miserable, cold and hate life without it...yes

          I will say that the current horse is young and turning out to be a bit of a harder keeper so the new place will be able to cater to that and currently won't be successful just chucked out to any pasture. I'm perfectly happy where he's going.

          I would love to go to the barn every day but that's one of the reasons why I pay good money a month for board. I can't be there ever day. I have a really busy job/career, dogs, goats, cats, chickens, a house I love working on projects at and a boyfriend. I split my time up as best as I can but I'm specifically paying so that I don't have to be there every day. If there's an emergency or medical issue I can make it work short time. I'm there 3-4 days a week spaced out which should be sufficient.

          Comment


          • #6
            A lot of your points relate to very real challenges of winter horsekeeping, especially the challenges of keeping horses out on pasture during winter weather.

            IME, people expect to pay less for pasture board vs. stall board. However, IMO (from having been a BO for many years) is that this is not a realistic expectation. Getting hay out to paddocks/fields in nasty weather can be a logistical nightmare. During rainy periods running a tractor over soft ground can cause a lot of damage. The alternative, taking adequate hay out by hand, can be grueling to impossible depending on the setup. Preventing waste of expensive hay during a bad hay year by using nets or other types of feeders is responsible management.

            Blanketing horses pasture kept horses is very inconvenient to say the least. You've got to carry blankets out to the herd through muddy/icy conditions, change blankets in a herd setting with horses milling around, lug the muddy blanket back to the barn, hang it to dry, and remember which horse out of 15 it belongs to. I think it is completely reasonable for a BO/BM to refuse to provide blanketing services for pasture boarded horses. The other option is to allow clients to handle the blanketing themselves, but this is also problematic. Many clients are not going to show up to pull that blanket when the temp skyrockets to 65 degrees after a week of cold temps, and then the BO is stuck dealing with it after all.

            Conditions like extremely hard ground and icy patches are a fact of life in areas with true winter weather. There's no way a barn can obliterate those risks. If your horse is prone to have tender feet, he really needs to be stall boarded to get a break from the hard ground each day. If you are in an area where icy conditions occur, consider shoeing your horse with borium or tap in studs for added traction. In snowy areas where snow tends to be wet and packs in the horses feet, consider snow rims inside the shoes.

            Overall my advice would be to consider switching to stall board for your horse (which it sounds like you are), adjusting his shoeing during the winter, and also, consider changing your horse's diet during the winter. For example, if you are at a barn that is not feeding adequate hay, or you are unsatisfied with the hay quality in relation to your horse's needs (a common issue for a hard keeper during a bad hay year) consider adding something like senior feed, beet pulp or hay pellets to his diet during winter months to ensure no weight loss.

            And just to be real here, you say you know how hard it is to do winter barn work, but it is a practical fact of life that staffing a barn adequately during the winter is extremely difficult. Physically it is extremely difficult to spend 8 hours a day working outdoors 5-6 days per week during miserable winter conditions. It costs $$$$$ to hire, supervise, and maintain acceptable job satisfaction among barn workers during the winter months. Sometimes no matter how much you are paying it's hard to find people who will show up and do the work.

            You sound like a very caring owner, and I think you are correct in your decision to move to a place that will "pamper" your horse during the winter months because realistically, based on what you say, I think that's what your horse will do best with.

            Comment


            • #7
              OP, you are expecting way too much from small farm owners who are just taking in a few extra horses for extra money. They are not professional boarding barns and you will not get professional level care. They are regular people who have small farms, and may or may not have good horse keeping skills. Don’t confuse “private” with “elite.”
              "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                I'm going to go ahead and respond to some of your points below but to be honest I think all barn owners need to take a good look at their business model and if they're not able to provide adequate care don't take on those boarders or charge more. My #1 complaint with most of these is around communication. Tell us if our horse is injured and tell us as much as you can related to how you care for the horses when we tour the barn. I ask as many questions as possible and honestly think I need to print out a sheet to bring with me.

                Originally posted by BeeHoney View Post
                A lot of your points relate to very real challenges of winter horsekeeping, especially the challenges of keeping horses out on pasture during winter weather.

                IME, people expect to pay less for pasture board vs. stall board. However, IMO (from having been a BO for many years) is that this is not a realistic expectation. Getting hay out to paddocks/fields in nasty weather can be a logistical nightmare. During rainy periods running a tractor over soft ground can cause a lot of damage. The alternative, taking adequate hay out by hand, can be grueling to impossible depending on the setup. Preventing waste of expensive hay during a bad hay year by using nets or other types of feeders is responsible management.

                At a few of these barns I was actually paying the going rate for stall board in the area. I will happily pay extra for adequate care. I do agree that most people won't pay more and that's where it gets tricky

                If you can't provide adequate hay to a pasture horse don't board pasture horses. They should not be out in sleet/snow/below freezing weather on a regular basis without hay. In NOVA no way would one flake of hay per horse be enough for any horse to remain healthy - this borders on animal cruelty and the amount of weight my horse lost in less than 2 weeks was proof. If round bales aren't put out for a day or two that's fine. If you're going to use nets then TELL any potential boarder that is the case. This was made worse by the fact that they went from 6 horses to 12 sharing two round bales with nets on them, the bottom of the pecking order horses were screwed. She also let one bale run out frequently before refilling so for days it would be 12 horses fighting over one single round bale with a slow feed hay net. The paddock area for winter at this barn was a dry lot there was nothing else to eat.


                Blanketing horses pasture kept horses is very inconvenient to say the least. You've got to carry blankets out to the herd through muddy/icy conditions, change blankets in a herd setting with horses milling around, lug the muddy blanket back to the barn, hang it to dry, and remember which horse out of 15 it belongs to. I think it is completely reasonable for a BO/BM to refuse to provide blanketing services for pasture boarded horses. The other option is to allow clients to handle the blanketing themselves, but this is also problematic. Many clients are not going to show up to pull that blanket when the temp skyrockets to 65 degrees after a week of cold temps, and then the BO is stuck dealing with it after all.

                If your policy is to not allow blanketing then TELL your potential boarders. For me it's a deal breaker and I never would have moved my horse there. That is not the norm in my area. Of all the barns I've boarded at, taken lessons at, worked over my entire life every single one has blanketed a number of horses depending on need. Some were blanketed by the barn, some by the owners. Never did I think it would be a policy that I'm not allowed to blanket my horse. I live 8 minutes from my barn, last year he was blanketed maybe 10-15 nights for the full year, I'm not a heavy blanketing person with a sheet, medium, heavy expecting multiple blanket changes on a daily basis. We went from 63 degrees to under 20 with snow in a 24 hour period, I wanted my horse to wear a blanket for one night to help deal with that temperature change.

                Conditions like extremely hard ground and icy patches are a fact of life in areas with true winter weather. There's no way a barn can obliterate those risks. If your horse is prone to have tender feet, he really needs to be stall boarded to get a break from the hard ground each day. If you are in an area where icy conditions occur, consider shoeing your horse with borium or tap in studs for added traction. In snowy areas where snow tends to be wet and packs in the horses feet, consider snow rims inside the shoes.

                Of course ice and hard ground happens at every single barn every single year. My horse had never had any issues with tender or sore feet so I had no idea he might have an issue and he had shoes on. I'm not even remotely upset about him being sore and having issues but I'm furious that a horse that was completely unable to walk sitting back on his hind end essentially in a full blown founder stance didn't elicit a phone call to me. He should have gotten vet care sooner and I am so thankful that he came out of it completely fine with no long term issues.

                Overall my advice would be to consider switching to stall board for your horse (which it sounds like you are), adjusting his shoeing during the winter, and also, consider changing your horse's diet during the winter. For example, if you are at a barn that is not feeding adequate hay, or you are unsatisfied with the hay quality in relation to your horse's needs (a common issue for a hard keeper during a bad hay year) consider adding something like senior feed, beet pulp or hay pellets to his diet during winter months to ensure no weight loss.

                His diet will definitely be changed this year, last year he did really well on senior. Unfortunately he can't be on stall board. He's got hock issues and needs to be out moving as much as possible. Stall care makes him really stiff and sore. I found the unicorn boarding situation where he can come in for really bad nasty weather but will be out the rest of the time.

                And just to be real here, you say you know how hard it is to do winter barn work, but it is a practical fact of life that staffing a barn adequately during the winter is extremely difficult. Physically it is extremely difficult to spend 8 hours a day working outdoors 5-6 days per week during miserable winter conditions. It costs $$$$$ to hire, supervise, and maintain acceptable job satisfaction among barn workers during the winter months. Sometimes no matter how much you are paying it's hard to find people who will show up and do the work.

                Honestly I picked a different career because of this. I tested it out and I can't do the physical work required in the cold weather day after day. I wish it were normal to charge more in winter to properly pay the workers when your workload basically doubles because of cold, ice snow etc.

                You sound like a very caring owner, and I think you are correct in your decision to move to a place that will "pamper" your horse during the winter months because realistically, based on what you say, I think that's what your horse will do best with.



                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Originally posted by Palm Beach View Post
                  OP, you are expecting way too much from small farm owners who are just taking in a few extra horses for extra money. They are not professional boarding barns and you will not get professional level care. They are regular people who have small farms, and may or may not have good horse keeping skills. Don’t confuse “private” with “elite.”
                  Only two of the barns that were small were not full time boarding barns providing 100% of the income to the owners. For the few small backyard farms I boarded at my only expectation was a field with a few buddies, water available, hay in winter and one grain feeding a day which was written out in the boarding contract. If you're not able to provide that then don't take my money.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by stargzng386 View Post

                    Only two of the barns that were small were not full time boarding barns providing 100% of the income to the owners. For the few small backyard farms I boarded at my only expectation was a field with a few buddies, water available, hay in winter and one grain feeding a day which was written out in the boarding contract. If you're not able to provide that then don't take my money.
                    You said this in post 5, “A number of these barns were small private situations that's actually my preference, one only had 6 total horses. Only one barn was a huge massive boarding barn,” which leads people to conclude that all but one prior facility was a small, private situation.
                    "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I think the take home point here is not to assume anything - ask lots of questions even if they seem obvious and check your boarding contract. For example, it never OCCURRED to me that a barn I moved to did not have electricity or running water! They were off grid and had some solar power and there were light fixtures in the barn but they didn't work.
                      Also, I am frequently surprised at how little some BO/BMs know about horses, often not enough to realise when something is wrong.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        This thread makes me want to beat my head against the nearest wall. The OP is obviously determined to get her way and argue with anyone pointing out something she doesn't want to hear. The bottom line is that OP, you need to build your own barn and do your own work and manage things the way you want them in order to be happy. If you enjoy the social aspect of a boarding barn, why not open your barn up to board others? With such quality care, you're bound to find your stalls full!
                        http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fentre...24774504235082

                        http://fentressfieldsequestriancenter.com/

                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #13
                          Originally posted by Palm Beach View Post

                          You said this in post 5, “A number of these barns were small private situations that's actually my preference, one only had 6 total horses. Only one barn was a huge massive boarding barn,” which leads people to conclude that all but one prior facility was a small, private situation.
                          Sorry for the confusion in my mind small private barns are smaller boarding only facilities not running lesson programs/training etc. The smallest barn was a house with 6 total horses, 4 of theirs 2 boarders. The boarders were just extra $ to contribute towards their horse's care. The middle group, most of the barns, were smaller boarding facilities without any regular lessons, no school horses or set required training but the owners full time business and job is the boarding barn all of their income is made off of boarding. The large barn had 60+ horses, full lesson program with lesson horses etc.

                          Lessons learned and questions added to my list. demidq I can't believe they wouldn't have any electricity or running water or at least mention that when you came to see it. Did they haul in water for the horses or use a stream/pond?

                          From the comments here it's better to go to a smaller private barn and it's better to go to a bigger barn where their whole business is boarding because I'm asking too much from a smaller barn lol I think that's the problem you can't win either way.

                          Not all of my experiences have been bad, I'm still friends with tons of old fellow boarders and old barn owners. I've had great experiences and learned a lot. I always pay my 30 days and thank them for their hard work caring for my horse, I've never burned a bridge or really told any of them why I'm really leaving. I don't badmouth them or spread stories to anyone about my experiences.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I’ll be the odd one out and say I don’t think your expectations are too much, OP. Most are basic safety and/or standard of care concerns.

                            Letting horses have a free for all over ice to get to their feed is a no-go for me. Only feeding one flake of hay a day in the winter would make me move (assuming of course that these are not 20 lb flakes...). Not communicating better about the state of your foundered pony is a little concerning. I could understand if perhaps they don’t know the signs of founder, but they should at least recognize that the pony was not normal and communicate the severity of the symptoms.

                            The not blanketing thing is a deal breaker for me but I can’t put that on the barn. If you didn’t ask about blanketing before move-in that’s on you. That doesn’t mean you should continue boarding there, but I can’t fault a barn for a policy like that. Likewise, I wouldn’t be irritated over the slow feed hay nets. It may not be right for your horse but I can’t fault the barn for using them as a way to keep horses eating all day while still conserving hay.

                            I have found small barns to be more accommodating than the big ones. But I also feel like small barns are often run by people who may not have as much horse care experience.

                            I toured numerous NoVA barns a few months ago and none of them felt “right”. Thankfully I found a barn out in Warrenton that is fabulous, provides fantastic care, and puts up with my slight ocd and the desire to be overly involved in their care (ie: I text the BO what blankets I want on them). I recognize that this is over and above what most barns would do and I am so thankful for where I’m at.
                            "People ask me 'will I remember them if I make it'. I ask them 'will you remember me if I don't?'"

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by stargzng386 View Post

                              The middle group, most of the barns, were smaller boarding facilities without any regular lessons, no school horses or set required training but the owners full time business and job is the boarding barn all of their income is made off of boarding. The large barn had 60+ horses, full lesson program with lesson horses etc.
                              I just have to point out here that it's not possible to make a living wage (or to pay an employee a proper wage) if you are relying on boarding income from a small or medium sized facility. The numbers just don't work. I think it's not a surprise that such a facility would be cutting corners.

                              There's no perfect solution because a facility that charges above the going rates is going to have trouble attracting customers. Customers looking for field or even stall board without a training program are typically very cost conscious when searching for facilities. OTOH, a facility that is economically healthy from having an active lesson/training/sales program is going to prioritize those horses over the field boarders (or non-training boarders) simply because that is where they are making their income. Over the past 10 years I think the boarding market has really changed and that high quality pasture / field board options are disappearing as people have realized that it is not a profitable service to offer.

                              OP, please realize, I'm not blaming you. I'm simply pointing out some economic perspectives here. We are actually on the same side here as one of my least favorite things about running a boarding barn is that customers seldom value a lot of the expensive "details" that have a huge impact on their horse's health and well being. Things like well safe/sturdy fences, well maintained pastures, grading/gravel for proper drainage and prevention of deep mud/erosion, automatic waterers, and adequate high quality hay are crucial for the proper care of a grazing animal such as a horse.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                I don't find any of these requests to be unreasonable, especially if you are paying for FULL pasture care. I have a 29 year old ottb that is very high maintenance/hard keeper that couldn't be stalled because he weaves and I feel the same way as you. I'm actually shocked that people are defending these "small time" boarding barn owners. Some of this stuff is bordering on neglect, especially in the winter!
                                Read my adventures with my 4 year old OTTB, Scott's Truluck at: Scottie's Journey, Rehabbing and Retraining a Louisiana-bred OTTB http://scottieottb.blogspot.com/

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                                • #17
                                  OP, it sounds like you need a professionally run and managed boarding barn--no matter whether it is large or small. You will pay for quality facility, care and MANAGEMENT. It is worth it IMO.

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                                  • #18
                                    I also don't think the OP is really asking for too much....Yes, running a boarding barn is not easy or cheap, but it does need to be done well and basic horse care needs to be taken care of!

                                    I have my own farm with 4 ponies so I know the struggles. But we have safe paddocks, always have hay out for them (wether it be mud season or during the winters, and boy do we get winters!!). Its honestly not rocket science but it is work. Its tough to lug hay out when there's snow and its windy and cold, but it does have to be done. It takes longer for sure in the winter, but accomidate that into boarding fees.

                                    My guys pretty much get along but even I split the hay into 4 seperate piles. I can't imagine having 12 horses eating from 2 and sometimes 1 hay bale. Or feeding 1 flake per horse per day (my 13h ponies get 4 flakes a day!!). And to have them running in on the ice to get into the barn??!! You should see the salt we put down. We use about a dump truck a year and have it split into 3 different places. I spread it to the paddocks and sometimes in the paddocks at the gate where it can get icy.

                                    Now I bring my guys in every night so its easy for me to fix or change blankets. But if I ran a barn, I wouldnt think having the owner do blanket changes would be a big deal. Straps can be taped up so they don't fall down but can still break if theres an emergency and they get a leg caught in it etc. I have done this before if I have a farm sitter and don't want them going into the paddocks that often.

                                    OP - I hope you can find the perfect place for your guy. I honestly wouldnt think it would be too hard, but it must be!

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                                    • #19
                                      Barn staff often won’t call about small injuries or lameness because they know taking care of it odd going to be added to their workload.

                                      Making an effort to show barn staff that you appreciate and will pay them for the extra care shown to your horse can combat this. I’m sure you’d be happy to pay to have your house brought in and held for the vet. Tell them.

                                      Soooooooo many horse owners are misers, or just too poor to have horses. Make sure you communicate to that barn manager and staff that you are not one of them. I prefer a mixture of bitching and tipping and being East going about the small stuff. People will be a lot more interested in catering to your particularities and your horses special needs if you thank and compensate them for their efforts.

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                                      • #20
                                        One thing that I have found over the years is that the barn tends to have better care if there is a hands-on BO (who doesnt go south for the winter!) The combination BO/BM often has a better handle on how they do things and has their own horses to consider. If the BO is not horsey and the barn is run by a hired BM (who may just be someone working off board) I have found a greater chance of poor decisions and the cutting of important corners.

                                        It is probably useful to write up what your expectations are so you can see if a prospective barn can meet them. So stuff like "blanketed in 0 degree weather by barn" or "needs X flakes of grass hay/day. and X amount of Y feed" . Other stuff you have to see and still no guarantees...

                                        OTOH, I know of some drama locally where a horse co-owned by two families was brought to a boarding barn. Then they started insisting that he needed special hay, and couldnt go in the turnout that the BM had indicated, and BTW they would pay separately...

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