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Boarding Woes - Advice Needed, Please

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  • Boarding Woes - Advice Needed, Please

    Hi everyone,

    This is obviously an alter, and I'm limited as to how many details I can give because I want to keep the barn and myself anonymous, but I need your help (warning, this is long).

    Advice/suggestions/success stories would be most appreciated!

    I have been at a barn for almost two years now, and overall, have had a good experience. Here are some of the pros:

    * Great dressage training at a great value. I have participated in clinics outside of the barn which has underscored the fact that the training is correct and has positively advanced both my horse and my abilities as a rider.
    * Feeding regimen is good - great grain, proactive management (meaning the owners communicate with me regularly to make sure I'm happy with her weight and energy level.) This has not been my experience with other barns, so I view it as a big plus.
    * Nice group of folks - laid back, relatively little drama.
    * Location - within a 10-minute drive of my house. In the past I have driven upwards of 45 minutes both ways.
    * Price - Board rate is higher than some places I've been previously, but lower than most pure-dressage barns in our area.

    When I moved to the barn, I had some concern about its shabby appearance, but as many of you have said - the horse doesn't care about dirty tack rooms or cobwebs. The barn owners are good people, but have limited funds and time, so we (the boarders and my wonderful hubby) have pitched in with landscaping help, barn cleaning, and big-ticket items like grading, bush-hogging, etc. to help improve overall appearance. This is appreciated by the barn owners, and I'm happy we could help, but the barn has continued to deteriorate.

    It was our choice to help, and I don't begrduge the time or money spent, but I believe the deterioration has started to impact my horse's health and I'm growing a bit concerned. Three horses have come in from the pastures in three weeks with puncture wounds/scratches, including mine. After the first, the vet encouraged barn owners to walk pastures... it has never happened. In walking my horse's pasture, I found the culprit - a large, pointy branch with blood and horse hair on it.

    I prompty removed it, and mentioned it to them, but was concerned that they had not walked the pasture. Another concern is the amount of mud/muck around their water buckets. It's wet right now everywhere, but this is a result of laziness since the buckets are allowed to overflow when being filled. I've had ongoing issues with my horse's feet, including his first abcess and a nasty case of thrush since moving here due to the lack of mud maintenance. I have mentioned it, and even offered to help move the buckets to higher ground, but nothing ever happens.

    The barn has also been through approx. 5 barn workers in approx. a month and a half when there was relatively no turnover before. Each week it's a new person, and there are differing reasons for why the old worker left.

    Finally, the worst of all is the footing in the arenas. The drainage is horrible, and the arenas are not maintained at all. I haven't been able to ride my horse in them for three weeks. I'm talking fetlock deep mud and ice, not little puddles. I try to ride in the pastures or out on the trail as much as possible, and understand when the weather is difficult, but a lot of problems are a result of their lack of maintenance. When questioned about the footing, the barn owners are defensive and do not agree with the boarders' assessment of it as "unrideable."

    I like the barn owners, I want to help, and I want to keep my horse here, but I am responsible for his health and safety. I do plan to speak with them about some of my concerns, and tell them I understand the difficulties they are facing, but that I and other boarders are willing to help or raise board to see some improvements. This has been suggested to them before to no avail.

    Am I better to cut my losses and leave? Anyone here experienced this?

  • #2
    You own a horse to ride. I don't see the point in paying good money to not be able to ride in the ring. In two years they have continued to let things deteriorate. High turn-over of workers is a bad sign.
    You have already spoken to them about the water troughs with no changes. Not going out into the pastures to look for the source of injuries would be a deal breaker for me- that costs no money for them but they failed to do that.
    Things will only get worse not better.
    I would be looking around. If you can't find a dressage only barn working around a few barrels or jumps in a ring rather than dodging ice and mud puddles seems like a step up to me.

    If the owners don't agree with the boarders' assessment that the rings aren't ridable then nothing will change.

    I don't like clutter and excessive cobwebs in a barn. I think that creates a fire hazard.
    Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


    • Original Poster

      Thanks SonnysMom...

      Funny how your post sounds an awful lot like that voice in the back of my head which I've learned to listen to all these years.

      And you nailed my frustration perfectly when you pointed out that walking the pastures doesn't cost any money. It's small things like that that really test my patience, because everyone can find time and money for that.

      So, is it worth it talking to them and pointing out my concerns? I like these people, do I owe that to them?

      I am exploring my options, but there is nothing close by that will work, so it's going to take a week or two. I am looking for barns that practice other disciplines and would allow me access to a riding arena, so perhaps I could have my current trainer come over and teach.

      Thanks for your advice and help - this is no fun.


      • #4
        You are paying them to provide a service. You're not pleased with the service being provided, and it also sounds like what was promised as part of the general standard of care isn't happening.

        I have no problems with the occasional barn help day where boarders chip in to get certain big tasks done, but it sounds like this sort of thing is happening on a regular basis, and more for general maintenance. I'd have a problem with that mainly because my time away from work is limited and valuable, and I don't care to spend it cleaning up other people's property on a regular basis, especially if it turns out that I'm doing the exact tasks that I'm paying the BOs to do.

        It's time to start looking around for a new situation. I don't think I know of a single person who's had any luck at all having big issues (footing maintenance being a common one) addressed consistently or permanently. Most of them have ended up moving, and a few of them have just sucked it up and worked around the problem.
        Full-time bargain hunter.


        • #5
          I would say

          definitely explore your options. see what else is out there and available.

          If you have a competition horse you do need to be able to ride it, and an unusable arena is not a good thing.
          What does the trainer say with regards to the footing?

          If the barn owners do not agree that it is unusable then they are not going to do anything.

          The moving the water buckets and the walking the pastures you can help with as you obviously are, but you can't change the arena footing.

          But it will really depend on what else is out there in your area.

          If you find something you like/can live with, when you give your notice to the current barn, you might mention that it is negotiable, as you do like a lot of what they do, but that the use of the arena is important to you.
          Then they can decide if it is worth the effort/cost of fixing the arena in order to keep customers.

          But make sure you do have somewhere to go in case they say it isn't.

          Good Luck
          Melyni (PhD) PAS, Dipl. ACAN.
          Sign up for the Equine nutrition enewsletter on www.foxdenequine.com
          New edition of book is out:
          Horse Nutrition Handbook.



          • #6
            I once told a BO that I was thinking of moving because there was no place to ride.

            The indoor was always packed: the trainer started working horses immediately after breakfast, with two kids lunging her horses at both ends of the arena as she rode around them. That ended just as the horses came in for lunch. Immediately after lunch the lessons started. Group lessons.

            The outdoor was completely unrideable: rock hard with deep holes from horses running through deep, clay mud.

            That weekend they brought in sand so the outdoor could be used.

            Worked out well for everyone... the boarders could actually go to the barn and ride their horses. A rarity before that.

            Except, the BO and trainers resented the heck out of me afterwards.


            • Original Poster

              Thanks everyone!

              Really appreciate everyone's feedback - sounds like I need to continue to add to my list of options and have a viable alternative when I talk to the barn owners.

              I have a demanding job and a lot going on, so while I say I don't begrudge the time and money we're spending on maintaining the farm, I guess I kind of get burned out after months of the same old thing.

              Thanks again for your help!


              • #8
                Truthfully if they ask why you are leaving when you give your notice I would tell them. I would mention that you would consider coming back once the ring footing has been improved.

                In your OP you indicated discussing moving the water trough and that boarders would be willing to pay more board to fund certain improvements. No go on both of those. That tells me they are not that interested and talking to them again will not change anything.

                Leave on good terms so that if they get their act together and improve the footing in the ring, do some basic maintenance and move the water troughs then it gives you the option to come back at a later date. Don't burn your bridges but be honest why you are leaving.
                Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


                • #9
                  You and others have already voiced your concerns and nothing happened, so I would find another place and leave. And as always, have a quick move plan in case the current BO's tell you to get out now or care rapidly deteriorates. Also, start now taking home unused items so your move can be a one trip and out affair. The owners know what's wrong and apparently have no intention of fixing anything so it's time to go.
                  You can't fix stupid-Ron White


                  • #10
                    Just remember one thing before you move: It can get worse. (and often does!)


                    • #11
                      I think you're done here.

                      It sounds to me like they don't-- or didn't-- have the money it takes to keep up with big things like footing and grading. Now it sounds like those problems require a very expensive fix. Defensive or not, the BOs just may not have the money. I can't speak to the employee turn over. Neither should you. Technically, it's not your problem or business.

                      Don't get mad. Just realize that it was good while it lasted. But many, many barns out there seem to have "life spans" precisely because they cost more to maintain than most BOs can get in board. You benefitted from 2 years of that.
                      The armchair saddler
                      Politically Pro-Cat


                      • #12
                        Just exactly what everyone said.

                        I'm in a similar situation and we as boarders have been working it through and been getting it solved for years. I'm done with it now and I am leaving. I have found with the economy and so many people having gotten rid of their horses, there are a LOT more and better options now.


                        • #13
                          Sounds to me like you need to look for a new barn. A lot of the changes you want cost a lot of time/money. Good, steady help (the kind that checks paddocks, and doesn't quit after two weeks, etc.), grading, and arena footing cost a lot of $$$$. Doesn't sound likely to happen in this situation. Especially since in this economy, if the BOs raised their rates to cover those things they would probably lose business.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by mvp View Post
                            I think you're done here.

                            I can't speak to the employee turn over. Neither should you. Technically, it's not your problem or business.
                            I disagree. High employee turn-over is her business. In her OP she stated the BO has no time or money. If something the barn owner is doing is causing the turn-over that is unlikely to change. More turn over means the barn help doesn't know what is "normal" for your horse. That may mean they are more likely to not as quickly notice a colic.
                            Higher turn-over makes it more likely the feed schedule and amounts are altered. (Let face it 3/4 scoop to one person is not same as to another and I have never been at a barn that weighs every meal)
                            Five workers gone in 1.5 months is troubling. That seems high even for this industry but especially in this economy. Will the horses miss a meal if the next one doesn't show up one day?
                            With high turn-over I would begin to worry about if my horse is being fed their correct medicines and supplements during the transition/learning curve.
                            If BO gets a reputation for high turn-over it will make it harder for her to get good help. Good help start to figure maybe there is a reason BO has gone through so many employees in a short amount of time.
                            Do you get the notice that you have 48 hours to move horsey since barn is closing because they can't find/keep workers to keep the barn open?
                            Maybe BO just had a streak of bad luck. Maybe BO isn't paying market rate so isn't attracting the better help or maybe BO is making poor personnel decisions when the others have quit and is hiring the first applicant to walk through the door.
                            High turn-over would have me very concerned on many levels.
                            Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by BeeHoney View Post
                              Sounds to me like you need to look for a new barn. A lot of the changes you want cost a lot of time/money. Good, steady help (the kind that checks paddocks, and doesn't quit after two weeks, etc.), grading, and arena footing cost a lot of $$$$. Doesn't sound likely to happen in this situation. Especially since in this economy, if the BOs raised their rates to cover those things they would probably lose business.
                              BeeHoney, you took the words out of my mouth! I actually can't tell how bad things are, really, from the OP. (Mud around the water -- I don't think you can say the abscess happened b/c of that -- it might but it might not; more important is how is the mud in the rest of the paddock? If completely muddy, ok, but if there's just mud around the water then I'd say the OP is being overly fussy. But as I said, I can't tell).

                              But things like bush hogging take expensive equipment and time, which is expensive too. In the summer, mowing is my biggest expense. It sounds like they don't have enough $$ coming in to do such maintenance. You'll have to probably pay more to find a place that does all these things.

                              In a way, if you could figure out how much everything costed, and get the other boarders behind it, you could theoretically approach the BO and let her know you are willing to pay $XX more a month in order to get these things. But in reality it probably won't work like that.
                              Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


                              • Original Poster

                                To clear up a couple of tihngs...

                                Hi everyone, thanks again for your advice, think I get the gist from everyone's posts. Went down to the barn tonight and there are two new barn workers.

                                A previous poster summed up my concern about turnover perfectly (thanks for that!)... it's not that I want to be in anyone's business, it's just that they're not sticking around long enough to get to know my horse ... that's a problem for me. Plus, due to my job, I am often at the barn late at night, and alone. Some of the employees who have cycled through have seemed nice enough, but some are a bit unsavory, and that makes me a bit uncomfortable.

                                Finally, I do agree that raising board can be a concern in this economy, but we have approached the owner about raising board to fund certain improvements, and it has been a no-go.

                                Lasty, as it relates to the mud around the water trough... I have wondered if I'm being too fussy. I pride myself on being anything BUT that kind of boarder, so I try to be super-careful and am always willing to pitch in and help instead of just complaining, but I could be just honing in all my frustrations on one thing. I mean, the mud situation is bad at the gate and at the water trough. We're talking knee-deep at both places, although it has gotten better at the gate as my DH has kindly worked on it a bit b/c the pasture gate was not able to close last year. It can close now, but it still does not latch completely b/c he had to remove so much mud before doing a bit of grading. The BO's have not moved the latch on the gate to accomodate the new fence level, so the gate has been a hassle to open and close for over a year now, but it's workable.

                                The mud around the water buckets never improves because workers or the barn owners themselves allow the buckets to overflow when they are filling them. It creates a swamp that never goes away. My horses's hooves get muddy everyday, and I've been having an epic battle with thrush. Sort of under control now, but I do think the muddy water area may be contributing to that problem.

                                Finally, the barn owners are also the trainers, just to clarify.

                                Thanks again for all your help, lining up options now and will hopefully find a place where I can bring my trainer in. Looks like I'll be out daily to check on things until the horsie is out.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by SonnysMom View Post
                                  I disagree. High employee turn-over is her business. In her OP she stated the BO has no time or money. If something the barn owner is doing is causing the turn-over that is unlikely to change. More turn over means the barn help doesn't know what is "normal" for your horse. That may mean they are more likely to not as quickly notice a colic.
                                  I should have been more clear. What is the HOs business is an acceptable standard of care. How that's delivered isn't her call. I can't imagine being a BO who had to get my boarders' approval on hiring and firing decisions.

                                  Originally posted by Myhorseatemyalter View Post
                                  Thanks again for all your help, lining up options now and will hopefully find a place where I can bring my trainer in. Looks like I'll be out daily to check on things until the horsie is out.
                                  That's what I'd do-- give notice and quietly accept that I had to put in a little bit of extra supervision for the remaining 30 days. If I read you right, you'd like the BO to travel to meet you elsewhere. If so, you obviously need to tread lightly as you attempt to leave this barn on very good terms. Or perhaps you mean a different trainer?
                                  The armchair saddler
                                  Politically Pro-Cat


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Thanks MVP,

                                    Totally agree... I don't want to be involved with hiring/firing decisions, just want to make sure my horse is receiving great care. And yes, the barn owner is also the trainer, so will hopefully be able to exit without any hard feelings.


                                    • #19
                                      Change is always difficult, but I urge you to re-read your post from the standpoint of a stranger...no emotion, all fact. What would you advise anyone else who had written that post? I think the answer will come to you very quickly.

                                      I moved our mare to a barn where my daughter's friends were riding. My daughter really wanted to be with her friends so I overlooked my initial concerns about some of the conditions because the owner seemed so nice when I met him and the stalls were immaculate.

                                      Our mare lasted less than 18 hours in that barn. We dropped her off in the evening and she went into a clean, fresh stall. The next morning we showed up to find her in a tiny, shabby paddock with missing rails, nails sticking out everywhere, rails sticking up out of the snow where they must have fallen weeks before and nobody bothered to put them back. She had a cut on her leg from a metal hay rack they had simply left on the ground in the paddock.

                                      It was snowing out, but we ran home, hooked up our trailer and got her out of there. The owners were very difficult about it and didn't return one cent of the $600 board we had paid them the previous night, but I look at it this way: they showed so little concern for our horse's safety that our mare could have literally stepped out of that paddock and been off down the road in a heartbeat. If they cared so little about our mare's safety, we were willing to eat that $600 rather than risk an enormous vet bill or worse.

                                      Move your horse, for your horse's sake and your peace of mind. Best of luck to you.


                                      • #20
                                        Along with the slow steady deterioation of the property, the rapid turnover in help would be a red flag to me.

                                        Well treated, promptly paid help doesn't leave that fast. It sound as though for whatever reason funds that should go into maintenance and pay is being diverted.

                                        It also sounds as though the downhill slide will continue.

                                        The next thing to slide will be payments to the feed and hay dealer.

                                        Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                                        Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.