Monday, June 7, 2010

"What's up with my supp?" (Is your horse getting his supps?)

The other night I was on the phone with a friend (Debbie) -- basically trying to talk her down. Her horse has mild Cushings. She moved him to a new barn, and over time he was starting to go downhill. She took him to New Bolton where they did a series of tests. They found that the  Cushings was not under control. The clinic vets had no good explanation, as the horse  was previously being treated with pergolide with good success. They asked her she was certain he was getting it. Debbie sounded devastated as she spoke to me from her cell.  What's happening to her horse???

I have a hunch...
Debbie moved recently to a new boarding facility, and I know a former barn worker from there. It's a nice barn, but it's a big operation with  chronic understaffing and lots of staff turnover. Can you guess what I'm thinking?

Me: Debbie, do you track how much of your pergolide is being used?
Debbie: [pausing] No.
Me: Are you sure he's getting it? Do you know how long it's supposed to last?
Debbie: They leave me a note when he's running low on things.
Me: So, that would be a no.

Debbie -- the likely answer is, he is not getting his meds. 

Taking responsibility

In any workplace -- restaurants, factories, retail, you name it --  things are supposed to happen don''t get done. Barns are no exception. IMHO, it's wise to scrutinize your horse's care. I told my friend Debbie, it's your responsibility to make sure your horse is getting the right feed/meds, because he's your horse. How do you make sure this happens? 
  • Make it clear. Write it, say it, reinforce it.
  • Make it easy. No complicated notes, no conflicting instructions,  if-then statements, no branching diagrams.
  • Make it trackable. Don't be sneaky, or nasty, or accusatory.  Just monitor as best you can and ask management about any discrepancies you notice. 
Baggies, Smartpaks, checklists
As a barn worker I am often frustrated by poorly written, confusing, or absent guidelines for care. Some nitty gritty techniques to help out the barn staff...
  • Put the supps/meds in  a baggie labelled (e.g., Monday am, Monday pm) -- or use Smartpaks.
  • For critical meds, use a clipboard/checklist for each dose to reduce the chance of double dosing or missed doses
  • Feed pellets instead of powder. If barn workers aren't careful in dumping feed, if horses toss their feed around, all that money is dust in the wind.
  • Date it! Date barn notes, give start/end calendar dates for meds--avoid words like "today," "tonight,"  "Sunday," etc.
What is a helicopter mom?
I work at a university where we refer to helicopter parents -- parents that hover over their kid and swoop in to protect them at any sign of trouble.  We roll our eyes, but the honest truth is, those kids do get our attention, because we want to avoid an  encounter with MOM.  Helicopter parenting pays off, even in the horse world. Make things as easy as possible for barn staff, and it never hurts to hover a little...

Stay tuned for Part II.


    1. Riley looks absolutely wonderful! You have a super trainer working him and it's really clear that he is both talented and has a lovely attitude. The progress is worth the biggest smile you can possibly get on your face!!!! *VBWSmile*

      As for the supplements at boarding's one of the reasons I always tried to get to the barn every day. Otherwise, setting the feed out, or daily packets is one of the better ideas.

      I hope your friend's horse gets back on track. It certainly is a valid worry.

    2. Smartpaks are the best way to go in a boarding barn, IMHO. I like your checklist idea and also the reminder to use calendar dates for notes - and not just ones concerning supplements!

    3. Just another tip, for cushings I have used Chaste Tree Berry mixed in applesauce and the horses we've had on cushings (in addition to pergolide) have done WONDERFUL. I wish your friend luck!

    4. Yep, we bag our supplements - it's all in a resealable ziploc bag fed once a day. That way when we change up the supplements, nothing needs to change, we just make up the bags differently.

      Makes it easy if someone else is feeding, too: they just have to know that the horse gets a bag dumped on her evening grain, and we're done.

      Hope the Cushing's case got resolved...

    5. I don't think I want to be a helicopter mom but being one definitely is beneficial.

    6. I decided that the best way to deal with supplements was to feed them myself. Fortunately I only live about 5 minutes from the barn so it's not a big deal but I feel good knowing that exactly what I want gets fed every day. Now, should something come up so that I can't feed, baggies with everything ready to go work very well. I've also made sure to actually show someone else how to do it. I've had too many incidents at past boarding stables where supplements haven't been fed to want to take chances anymore.

    7. Story, I have fed them myself too, and I'm doing it for my collagen supps since it's such a tiny amount and I want to have the control. I'm more like 20 minutes from the barn, but it's worth it.

    8. I cut down my non-critical supplement use when I moved to a barn that fed them for free. I don't like the labor of baggies and it was a BIG help knowing that my horse would get them rain or shine, whether I was there or not!

      Even though the friend in the story didn't totally keep on top of the Cushings treatment, the story reminds me of another similar topic: owners who rely on the BM to feed their horse properly. This topic is near to my heart, ask me how I know :)

      PS: The Simpsons did a fun episode about helicopter parenting


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