Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Boarding realities and fantasies

It is very difficult to weigh out what the most important factors are when boarding your horse. There is no perfect situation unless you have unlimited funds, and still it may not be perfect. For me the number one reason I keep my horses at the facility I am at is the trainer. However, there are many things I would change if I could about the facility and how it is run.
In a perfect world (or if I wasn't financially constrained about where I keep my horses) my priorities are lots of turnout, good modern footing, and quality hay. These things all lead to a healthier athlete, and should be part of a competitive show program. Different horses can have very different characteristics and requirements. Consequently, a horse stable which is ideal for one horse may be a disaster for another.

When researching different boarding stables, don't forget to ask about their turnout routine. Having a good turnout regime can make a huge difference to your horse's mental and physical state. My friend at Springfield Stables wrote a fantastic post about turnout. I know many of my readers are of the same school of thought and are aware of the wonderful physical and mental benefits. Regular turnout (and I mean in a space where the horses can move, not a tiny pen for 20 min) eliminates the need for daily lunging, it also keeps horses in better physical shape by allowing them to move around. In order for all space to be fully utilized, the facility has to be well planned out. I get so frustrated seeing tons of wasted space and teeny tiny turnout pens. Fences should be sturdy, horse safe and in good repair.

Bedding: For your horse's health and safety, as well as his/her warmth and comfort, the stall bedding is also extremely important. Poor quality bedding can have a critical effect on your horse's health. It goes without saying that the horses' stalls need to properly cleaned and not just the poop picked out. Moisture promotes mold growth, and excess ammonia (a noxious gas from urine that irritates the airways). And when the stalls are cleaned the bedding must be properly disposed of, or kept far enough away from the horses, not sitting in a huge pile breeding flies. The barn should have good ventilation, smell relatively fresh, not like manure or ammonia.

I would love if my horses' stalls were lined with the ComfortStall® Equine Flooring System and then bedded with some nice dust free shavings. I like straw too, but at the rate Mazzy eats it, I'm not sure that is the best long term choice for her :-). However, it is the best choice for now to keep her stitches clean.

Safe stalls: Above all else, materials used in horse stalls must be substantial. No sharp edges, no screws sticking out, or small spaces for them to get a leg caught in - to me this seems like a no brainer, but unfortunately it is not. A horse is a big, powerful animal, and one kick could take out a wall…and a hoof or damage a knee as well, leading to months of healing and no riding. So, if a material looks thin, it probably is. The size of the stall itself is also important for horse health. A horse 16-hands tall will be at least six feet long, nose to tail, meaning even a 12-by-12 foot stall is only twice the horse’s body length. Since a horse cannot decide to go out for a stroll if he’s feeling cramped, it pays to avoid making him spend boring hours in a cramped space. Inside of that stall, they have nothing but time on their hands and that time can easily lead to mischief. A bored horse will look for trouble, chewing on stall walls, kicking and making a fuss. That’s tough on the walls, tough on the horse handlers, and extra tough on the horse. Giving the horse a view of the aisle or the great outdoors, with stall gates or even horse-friendly windows, is also helpful in keeping horses healthy and happy, and avoiding behavioral “issues” or vet bills for the horse. Of course in my dream world I would love a palatial 14 x 14 stall with an attached paddock, however, the majority of the time I would like them to be out in the pasture.

It is essential that someone knowledgeable will check on your horse frequently. If there were to be an accident in the stall or if your horse suddenly got colic, there needs to be someone on hand to notice promptly and to be competent enough to deal with the situation. At least when the horse's stall is cleaned and when they are fed they should be given the once over. This will eliminate the horse having to stand around until another boarder notices that his eyelid is half ripped off, or cheek sliced open. It is never fun to arrive in the evening to find an injury that no one noticed all day, thus requiring an emergency evening vet call.

Feed: Quality. What are the horses fed? Are the hay and food supplements of high quality, or just the cheapest available? No matter what age of the horse, or activity state, proper nutrition is important and can contribute to a sounder horse and a better athlete. My preference is timothy hay, however the barn I keep my horses (not where Mazzy is currently) does not offer that choice. Alfalfa comes with board, but I have to pay an additional $100/month for oat hay or orchard grass hay. Anything more than two flakes of alfalfa am/pm is extra $.

Quantity. Do the horses get all the food they need, or is there a quota (2 flakes 2 times/day) and the owner is responsible for the rest? A horse should receive at least 2 percent of his body weight per day in good quality digestible forage. So that means a 1200-pound horse would need 24 pounds of hay each day. If average flake of hay weighs around three pounds, that is 8 flakes a day (depending on the weight)! Frequency. How often are the horses fed? It should be at least twice a day and preferably more (access to quality pasture qualifies as a feed). Mazzy is a growing girl and therefore an eating machine! She would starve to death on the normal feed ration. I have to feed her an additional 150-200 lbs of timothy pellets/week, soaked beet pulp, rice bran, and Triple Crown Complete to keep weight on her. She is in heaven at the layup facility getting all the hay she can eat!

Buckets. Are the food and water buckets kept clean? Is old food removed each day and the buckets cleaned out well, or simply new food dropped on top? Water. Do the horse have adequate access to clean water? Thankfully we have automatic waterers. I also provide my horses with Himalayan salt licks.

The general facility upkeep is important. When things break are they fixed properly, or are they gerry-rigged together. Eventually a nice facility will become run-down if it is not properly maintained. Horses are tough tenants and there are contantly things that need fixing.

It is so nice to visit Mazzy and not need to reclean her stall, scrub her buckets, soak her down with fly spray, or find new injuries. She is clean, well cared for, and happily eating. All I have to do is enjoy her company. It is pretty darn close to a perfect situation, too bad it will eventually have to come to an end. If only I could win the lottery, my horses would be living a pampered lifestyle!


Stephanie said...

Excellent post! I agree that it is hard to find the perfect barn or boarding situation and the better things are the more expensive it gets! Most times we have to sacrifice in some parts to get what we want. Like your having to pay extra for more hay, BTW i don't think 2 flakes 2x a day is nearly enough for most horses. However it is one of the easier issues to overcome.
Poor turnout or rickety dangerous stalls would be an automatic pass for me.
I'm glad to hear that you were able to find such a wonderful rehab place for Mazzy, she deserves with what she has been through.

Marissa said...

Sigh... I am constantly dreaming of the ideal situation for my horses. It usually involves me winning the lottery, quitting my job, buying an estate and tending to their every need all day long. I am pretty happy with the two farms where my horses are now. I try to keep in mind that the things I don't like are unrelated to my horses' quality of life. The stalls are always clean, the buckets are scrubbed, the turnout is good, the hay is good. The things that bother me are human-related problems (laundry pile is a mess, aisle isn't always neat, jumps need painting, etc.) and therefore shouldn't really be as big of a concern. Still, in an ideal world, the barn would be immaculate... A girl can dream.

Floating Social Media