Monday, March 29, 2010

Make-believe barn manager: "He's too thin"

"He's too thin" is a common boarder refrain. In the last make believe barn manager post, I talked about putting hay amounts in the boarding contract, but that doesn't make it an immutable law. Horses are individuals and some will want/need more hay: hard keeping horses, ulcer-prone horses, horses with stall vices are a few examples. Boarders also have their own ideas (I should say we have our own ideas) about how much hay is enough.

All you can eat?
Boarders have expressed the opinion that their board should pay for whatever amount of hay their horse needs. Boarding is not like an all-you-can-eat restaurant.  Just  go to a Country Buffet restaurant and look at the quality of the food. The horse equivalent would be to feed cow hay. That nice, green, timothy mix would be like filet mignon or crab, which you seldom see on the buffet warming trays.  Help yourself to some potatos though.

Good barns do try to make adjustments for a particular horse's needs. There is hardly any profit margin on horse boarding, though, and the barn starts to LOSE money pretty quickly when expensive resources like hay are consumed at a faster rate.  Businesses often use tiered pricing to reflect level of service/use of resources.  Some barns in our area are starting to do this.

What happens when "He's too thin!"
When boarders perceive their horse needs more hay, they aren't likely to suffer in silence. They'll either a) talk to the barn manager or b) self-serve. I think the latter occurs when the protocol/expectations are unclear (e.g., no explicit rules or  fee structure), or when the barn manager is unapproachable or absent. Many barn managers seem hesitant to offer more hay for an extra fee -- I don't know why. Perhaps it's just a hassle.

Tiered pricing: Are you a gold card holder?
I may be a PITA boarder (well, let's say "high maintenance"),  but  I don't ask for something special unless I'm prepared to pay for it.  Some barns don't even permit extra hay, even when boarders are willing to pay -- which I think is crazy. When available, the costs for extra hay can vary a great deal. Charging by the flake was a policy at one barn where I boarded years ago. The cost was so high ($1 per flake) it was not even to make a profit -- it was as a deterrent. Most other barns charged a rate that was basically cost recovery -- little or no profit from extra hay fees. Over the years I've run across these fee structures...

  • Provide your own, barn manager creates storage space
  • Charge by the flake
  • Monthly fee per flake or flakes
I like that last option, since it let's the barn manager plan for usage and there are no surprises for the boarder. Have I exhausted the topic of hay at this point? Remember, I already did parts 1 and 2 of a hay series.  I'd say we're done!


  1. I board at a barn where the super-nice and not business oriented BO doesn't charge extra for hay. Yup. The easy keeper pays the same amount the 19-hand-constantly-eating shire gelding does.

    I think it's ridiculous. I don't really ever plan to run a boarding facility, but if I did, you bet your bottom dollar that super-destructive high-maintenance horses (aka the draft) would be paying more.

  2. Is this really a huge issue? Maybe hay is cheaper where I live, but I've never heard of this being a problem. I can't imagine that anyone would agree to not feed their horse appropriately, just because extra hay was "forbidden." Ours is a small place comparatively, but the horses who board with us get whatever it takes to keep them in good condition, period.

    And by the way, the little Arab/QH cross eats about twice as much as the 17hh shire cross! Shires are generally super easy keepers.

  3. I like how our barn handles it. 10 lbs alfalfa is included in your board. More, or bermuda (which both my horses get because they're easy keepers but like to have something to chew on) costs extra. Everything is laid out clearly on their website:

    I think doing anything "by the flake" is dangerous. When feeding yourself, you learn what is the right sized flake for your horse, but it can vary so much that you can't direct someone else how much to go with. We write the number of lbs. of what morning and night on the whiteboard info cards on each pen. Most of us either have lunch fed by the barn, team up and join in to do so, have a trainer do so, etc.

  4. @Sprinkler my 2000lb 18 hand Belgian Draft eats the same as my and other TBs at the barn. Throwing Drafts into the "they will eat you out of home" category just isn't fair. I have seen many TB's, including my own out eat him on many days.

    But hay and cost is always a sore subject especially in hard economic times and seasons where grass, timothy and alfalfa may be harder to get.

    I have always told my barn managers that if they need more money all they need to do is talk to me about it. I would rather pay more than have skinny horses. Just sometimes it seems to be a pride thing and barn managers just skimp trying to not admit money is tight. The only solution so far I have found is to always keep an open conversation with the barn operators; asking them how things are business wise and keeping a stern eye on everyones horses weight.

  5. Thank heavens my Boys are home now. I can feed as much hay as I want.

    I've been at barns where hay was an issue. It was hard leaving at night after I'd ridden with my horse's hay rack empty. We were allowed to give more hay, but I'm not sure it always stayed in the stall after I left. This was not the owner/operator's doing, but rather a barn manager who had some issues about it.

  6. I just clicked on the "part 2" hay segment...hilarious! I especially love the "control moms". Nice touch.

    Eek. My horse is finally (after a year of feeding adjustments) at the elusive body condition of "five" and now he has decided that he does not like the latest shipment of hay. My barn manager has interpreted this as "he is full". I know this is not the case, but I feel like I have to continually complain and get accused of being a worry wort before any changes are allowed. AND I already pay for extra hay (and feed). I know what is best for my horse! Why does this have to be such a struggle?

  7. Thankfully I have my horses home now, but if I ever had to board and could not feed "extra" hay, I would just add hay stretcher or alfalfa pellets to my horse's diet. (Alfalfa pellets, as per the feed rep's instructions, have done wonders for my older mare who lost weight last year because she is not as much of a "hay vacuum" as she was when she was younger). I have found most barn managers will feed whatever grain you ask them to feed or a boarder could buy their own bag each month. Way easier than dickering over hay if as a boarder you have no say...

  8. I board at a very humble barn, but I chose it because every horse there is in good flesh. the BO is crazy about making sure they all stay healthy.

    I'll give up cedar roofs and fancy stalls for someone who gives a darn.

  9. We struggled with the hay thing for ages. It worked best when we boarded partial-care and provided our own hay - we could feed as much as we wanted and the barn owners seemed willing to feed what we said.

    Right now we board full-care at a wonderful place. She feeds as much hay (nice grass or orchard/timothy) as the horse needs and figures it evens out. She'll supplement with alfalfa if necessary. My mom's QH/Arab gets two flakes AM, one or two PM. My mare gets two to three flakes AM and PM, and a flake of alfalfa PM. Other horses are fine with one flake AM/PM (they are really big flakes, though!).

    I can't even begin to describe how nice it is to not worry about the horses being hungry or going without hay all day. I got so tired of dealing with the hay issue, and now we don't have to!

  10. IMO, the issue is less about "skinny" and more about what horses need to maintain a healthy digestive tract.

    A barn owner who doesn't understand this and limits hay for stalled horses is a barn owner who would never get my business.

  11. Billie, IMO there is a difference between surviving and thriving. I have seen horses on "sufficient" hay at horse shows all the time. The horse isn't unhealthy but IMO he needs extra groceries.

    If you can find a barn manager who cares as much about your horse's glowing health as you do, more power to ya! In my experience, they're struggling to make ends meet.

  12. I board at a full training barn. I'm really the only "boarder" (and even I'm buying partial training/lessons). The horses are all fed hay more or less the same, depending on their personal needs. But no one is charged extra for more. The BO buys large round bales and puts those out in the run-ins. So while outside they eat at will. On average I'd say each horse can pack down the equivalent of 3/4 of a small sq bale per day. Some more than others.

  13. I own an ottb hard keeper, he packs down 15 flakes of hay a day! Four of those flakes are included in my board, the extra is supplied and fed by the barn owner, and I am charged extra, per flake. Works for me!

  14. $1 a flake doesn't really seem like an exorbitant price ... then again our hay is $10-$15 per square bale.

    Hay consumption is a pretty big deal to me as a boarder now. When I finally learned that my horse wasn't getting as much to eat as he should, it felt horrible. He had been shiny and of a decent (but not excellent) weight.

    Even though I am moving next week I'm hesitant to move the horse since his current barn is so generous with good hay. These days it is THAT big a deal for me.

  15. It seems to me maybe this is a more of a problem at barns with inadequate pasture. Our major problem, except for a couple of months in winter, is having to put muzzles on horses in the pasture so they don't get TOO fat. But we have daily turnout on good pasture, so they are barely even interested in the hay. Plus hay constantly available in the barn, plus grain and feed and supplements for hard keepers and horses under hard work(until recently we had a 30+ senior with no teeth, he was tricky to keep weight on). This is pretty much the policy for every barn I've ever been at. Some of these posts are making me realize how lucky I am!

  16. I'd like to point out to Allie that in some regions the grazing season is 4 months long, so hay is the big issue, not inadequate pasture.

  17. Cow hay? Our beef gets the same hay as our Appaloosas in the winter and in summer are pastured on old hay fields that will be turned and re-cultivated in the next year.
    Sometimes owners want hay in front of the horse all the time but don't realize that they don't eat it all and just turn it into their shavings, wasting an expensive resource. That's why I like haybags in stall but of course that's another issue with some people.

  18. Stacey, I'm not sure I understand your response - I'm saying a barn manager who doesn't understand why horses need plenty of hay when stalled (aside from just the weight/condition issues, which is also obviously important) wouldn't get my business.

    We did self-care board when we boarded, so we provided our own feed AND hay, but I would have gladly paid extra if necessary.

    All mine get feed in addition to hay (my senior mare gets 4 feed tubs a day plus 24/7 access to stall, grazing, and hay) but the bottom line is if they can chew, and there are no medical conditions prohibiting it, they need the regular chewing and digesting of forage.

    Fortunately we bought a farm and no longer have to board. One of my big issues with boarding facilities is that many of them spend money for things that don't benefit the horses. I'd rather board at a less "fancy" facility and have the money go to pasture, plenty of turn-out, and nice hay/feed. I realize many boarders prefer the frills - partly why we decided to put our board money (we were boarding three horses) toward a mortgage.

    I was a high-maintenance boarder - but always willing to put my money behind my requests. :)


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