If you’re into natural horsekeeping, getting all your needs met in a boarding situation can require quite a bit of planning and forethought, not to mention tact and diplomacy! To help you get the most out of your boarding situation, I’ve created a list of the hot topics of contention between riders and stable owners, along with ways to keep everyone happy in each situation.

1. Feed
You want your horse to get the type and amount of feed most suited to his needs, which may change from season to season. Many stable owners, on the other hand, are more interested in having standard feeding procedures, not a different kind of food for every horse. There isn’t a lot of money to be made in boarding horses, and they don’t want to pay for the extra labor necessary to feed each horse a specific or varying program. Plus, extra feedings in the middle of the day often disrupt the barn schedule, causing undue excitement in the horses that are not being fed.

Solution: Since most stable owners charge just enough board to cover their expenses, asking them to supply extra or special food at special times is asking a lot. Offer to pay extra for special food or special feedings, including tipping the stable hands for their time. If you are doing an extra feeding, you can also bring your own feed daily and take your horse to an isolated area to feed him. This ensures your horse gets what he needs, but isn’t disrupting the other horses.

2. Supplements
As with feed, you want your horse to get whatever supplements he needs, and this often changes over time. A stable owner considers extra supplements extra work and time, and may be less than willing to administer them. And some stable owners may not understand the reasons behind the supplements you are choosing to feed.

Solution: Be understanding of the stable owner’s point of view, and try to educate him/her as much as possible (tactfully, of course!) on the supplements you have chosen for your horse. In addition, make the job as easy as possible. Put each day’s or feeding’s supplements into film canisters or containers so all the stable hand has to do is dump it in the feed. Remember, it is your job to keep track of the supplements. Count them to make sure they are being given in the right amounts, and keep the supply constant. The stable owner shouldn’t have to track you down to get more!

3. Hay
In most cases, you want your horse to get as much as he can. Hay is great for his physical and emotional health. But for a stable owner, stocking large quantities of hay is difficult because it requires a significant cash outlay and a lot of extra space. Some stable owners would rather pay weekly for grain and feed more grain and less hay.

Solution: If your horse lives in a corral, or has a stall with a run, buy round bales so he can munch any time. Some barn owners will also feed more hay if you pay extra. Finally, you can always bring your own. Some stable owners will let you keep a bale of hay in front of your horse’s stall, and will even feed extra hay at mealtimes. Remember, when boarding a horse, always express your appreciation and pay extra (to both stable owner and barn help) when necessary.

4. Turnout
As with hay, the more turnout your horse gets, the better. From the stable owner’s point of view, though, lots of turnout isn’t always a possibility. They may have limited space, not to mention limited staff. Plus, footing may be an issue, and horses may be kept in when it’s raining because wet pastures are easily torn up by hooves.

Solution: First, always choose a boarding situation that offers turnout. Second, you may be able to pasture board your horse (assuming he can fend for himself in a herd situation). Pasture boarding isn’t a good solution if your horse is a hard keeper or doesn’t do well in groups. Third, you can pay someone to turn your horse out for you if the barn owner doesn’t want to do it. Finally, if your horse doesn’t get as much turnout as you’d like, you can always ride him more to compensate.

5. Natural remedies
As a holistic horseperson, you have absolute say in the type of medications and healthcare your horse receives regardless of your boarding situation. Many stable owners are less inclined to use natural remedies because they don’t understand how they work and are often under pressure from the stable veterinarian to use conventional methods.

Solution: Stand your ground. You have the right to choose what kind of healthcare your horse receives. However, because probably neither the stable owner nor the stable vet understands how these remedies work, you’re going to have to provide this kind of care yourself or be available to give instructions. For instance, if your horse gets sick, be prepared to leave work or your dinner to go take care of him. Give the stable owner all your phone numbers so you can be maximally available. You might also need to leave instructions for natural remedies, and a list of situations in which they should be used for times when you’re not available. The stable owner will usually do his or her best to accommodate you, then switch to conventional medicine if the natural remedies are not working fast enough. If you’re not available, you have to be willing to accept whatever treatment the stable owner deems necessary.

6. Farrier and veterinarian
You may want to use a different farrier or veterinarian than the stable owner does. You are interested in custom services from a professional of your choice; in contrast, the stable owner wants to deal with one farrier and one veterinarian for the sake of convenience.

Solution: You have the right to bring in the farrier and veterinarian of your choice so long as you schedule your own appointments and show up to hold your horse (and pay for the services). If you’re unwilling to take these steps, then you’re more than likely going to have to accept the barn owner’s choice of farrier and veterinarian.

7. Vaccinations
You want to support your horse’s immune system with natural methods, and have concerns about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. You want to use as few vaccines as possible. The stable owner, conversely, is concerned about protecting all the horses in the barn using a standard procedure. Most stable owners feel that vaccines are both harmless and effective, and prefer to vaccinate all the horses at once (since this is truly the most effective way to vaccinate). They feel that horse owners who don’t want vaccinations just want to save money. Custom vaccination programs can cause complications in record keeping, not to mention headaches with the stable veterinarian.

Solution: Choose the middle ground. Agree to a minimum of vaccines rather than refusing them all. Allow vaccinations for the most dangerous diseases, such as encephalitis, tetanus and rabies. If you have a chronically ill horse, or a horse with a poor immune system, ask your own veterinarian to write a letter stating that vaccinations could be harmful to him. If the barn owner insists on vaccinating, you have two options: move your horse, or get the barn owner to agree to pay for any problems arising from vaccinating your horse (since the labels on vaccines state they should only be given to healthy animals). It’s a rare barn owner who will agree to this, but it does make a point.

If you truly want to avoid vaccines, you can have titers done to show your horse is already protected from certain diseases thanks to previous vaccinations (some vaccines create a lifelong immunity). A negative titer doesn’t mean your horse isn’t protected, but a positive one shows he will not benefit from additional vaccination. Titers are less reliable for influenza and rhinopneumonitis. A titer is an extra step you can take to help convince the barn owner you are not just trying to save money, since a titer costs more than the vaccine.

Once you’ve chosen your vaccines, make sure you’re really getting what you want. If you choose to give the influenza vaccine, give the intranasal version, which gives year-long rather than just two-month immunity. Also, if you choose to give only tetanus and encephalitis, make sure you’re not also getting rhino or flu in the package too. Some vets will charge less for just two vaccines, but actually give a vaccine for all four.

When it comes to holistic horsekeeping, boarding and how you work with your barn owner boils down to the following three steps: educate, compromise, and when necessary, pay extra!

Madalyn Ward lives in Fischer, Texas. More information can be found at www.holistichorsekeeping.com, www.yourhorsebook.com, and www.horseharmony.com.

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Dr. Madalyn Ward, DVM graduated from Texas A&M University in 1980. After nine years of practice, four at her own Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, she remained frustrated about many aspects of conventional medicine. In 1989, she started seeking out information and training in alternative healing. She is trained in Veterinary Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Bowen Therapy, Network Chiropractic and Equine Osteopathy. She has authored three books including "Holistic Horsekeeping" and "Horse Harmony". Visit holistichorsekeeping.com and horseharmony.com