Sunday, November 30, 2008

Be kind to your barn manager: Part 1

Note: It takes me a while to get to my point here. Bear with me! A dear friend of mine has a lovely arab/quarter horse cross, about 15 hands high, named Chuckie. He's among the sturdiest, most sensible animals I know. My friend Patrice loves him fiercely, and like many owners (including me, I suppose) she tends to romanticize Chuck. In fact, she doesn't seem to see the same horse the rest of us see. What do I mean?

Chuck has a bit of spunk (the arab in him), and in an agreeable way he can be a character. In Patrice's eye, though, he is a spirited rogue--a barely tamed desert pony that only she can ride. For years Patrice insisted on individual turnout for Chuck. "He's like a stallion!" she would protest. "He'll kill a horse if he's in the same field!" Beside her, Chuck stood placidly in cross-ties, hip cocked while he rested on one hind leg. No one could dissuade Patrice from her fears. For years, Chuckie had his own field no matter how crowded the other fields became.

Recently Patrice moved to another barn, and she arranged for individual turnout there. After she moved, she discovered that individual turnout carried a surcharge of $50/month. Imagine my shock when she told me a few months later that Chuckie was going to go out in the gelding field with the other horses. "Won't there be a blood-bath? Equine carnage?" I joked. Patrice offered a lame rationale but it was clear to me -- a must-have in horse care became optional when it was no longer free.

Oh, yeah, my point was...
Okay, here comes my point (thanks for bearing with me). It's about barn management. For years Patrice's original barn manager gave Chuck individual turnout--at no charge--even when space was tight. There were times when this created a juggling act, with workers rotating horses throughout the day. As a Sunday worker, I can attest that it was a major hassle.

Sometimes boarders forget that there are costs associated with horse care requests, whether it's labor or resources. Let's face it, I'm a high-maintenance client myself. But I try not to ask for special favors, I swear! If I can't decide if a request is legit, I ask myself:

  • Is my request in line with the board rates and service contract, and with what other boarders are getting routinely?
  • If every boarder made this call/request, how would it affect the barn manager? Would he/she go crazy?
  • What are the estimated costs in labor, and would I be willing to pay for this extra service?
  • Is this part of routine care or is it in the "special favor" category? If it's the latter, consider compensating the manager for the extra time.
  • What is the true impact on my horse's safety and health?
The answers to these questions have made me put down my cell phone on more than one occasion. It also helps me to think of the barn manager as a horsie daycare center director. I have two special wondrous babies -- that happen to be horses -- but the director has 24 or so in his or her care, and at least that number of doting parents. The moral of the story is, be considerate of your barn manager. Ask for the care that your horse needs, not what you wish he or she could have.


  1. I'll bet Chuckie made out just fine with the other geldings too. He's probably having the best time of his life now that he has friends. Being kind to your barn manager at all times is always a good idea too.

  2. I love this suggestion. My family runs a boarding facility and we are blessed with great boarders but there have been those in the past that make you want to pull your hair out. We had one lady that had her three horses turned out together- with nobody elses- and she claimed that somebody elses horses were beating her babies up. As much as we tried to convince her that her two geldings would pick on her mare (nothing big, but they would use get a nick or two) she adamantly refused to believe that her horses were "bullies". It drove me insane. She had also gotten behind on a months board and tried to claim that her horses were underweight and called the sheriff. When the sheriff came out he couldn't believe it. There was nothing he could do for her because her horses looked fine. (They actually looked better than when they came, because they were obese when they first came in) I don't necessarily think that this lady was trying to be a royal pain in the neck, but so many times owners are blind about what their horse really is. I love all of my horses, but I recognize their quirks, which I think is important as a horse owner. It really helps the barn owner. On the flip side, it is important to bring up concerns and questions that you have. One of our most meticulous boarders has brought things up that have let us improved the way that we run the barn.

  3. Gotta love horse ownership ... there are so many people out there who are ridiculously high-maintenance, and some who are entirely laid-back. I kinda hope I'm somewhere healthily in the middle.

    This is a good post for me to keep in mind right now, as I'm still a pretty new horse owner. Ace is at a small barn ... I'm the only boarder ... and he gets excellent care. I just have to be willing to do what I think is best, but not give the owners too much trouble. If anything, I err on not using my own judgment. The good thing is that, while we don't completely agree on every little detail, we respect each other and will do what we need to as long as our horses get good care and stay healthy.

  4. I wish that every boarder who called up this past month requesting that we remove the MIDDLE or BOTTOM layer of their horse's blanketing scheme would somehow stumble over this post.


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