Horse people tend to go on vacations a lot less than they’d like to. Horses are much more than just a hobby, and leaving them behind when you go away can make things more worrisome than relaxing.

The boarded vs. “at home” horse

If you board your horse out during vacations, things will be a little easier for you. Hopefully he’s at a facility with owners and staff you can trust to care for him in your absence. Perhaps you even have equestrian friends at the facility who can keep an extra eye on your horse.

If you keep your horses at home, it may be a bit more difficult to leave with total peace of mind.  Hopefully you have a trustworthy horse-smart friend, neighbor or farmsitter you can employ in your absence. Or maybe you’re able to ship your horses to a friend’s facility for the time you’re going to be gone.

Regardless of where your horse is housed, a little preparation goes a long way towards worry-free vacations. Here are some things to put in place before you hop on the plane.

The boarded horse checklist

–     Ensure barn owners and staff have the necessary emergency numbers. These include numbers for your vet, insurance company, farrier, ways to reach you while you’re on vacation, and an alternate contact should a decision need to be made if you are unreachable. Make two copies, in case one gets misplaced.

–     Make sure your barn owner, veterinarian and alternate contact understand what your wishes are for your horse in the event of a medical emergency. Have this set out in writing, preferably.

–     Have an account set up with your veterinarian and closest emergency equine hospital, so your horse can receive any necessary treatments.

–     Ensure your horse will have enough feed, supplements and medications for the duration of your vacation. Ensure medications are clearly labeled, with the medication label and prescribing vet information legible.

–     Make sure your first aid kit is well stocked with the basics – poultice, wraps, scrubs, ointments, etc.

–     Try not to change your horse’s feed or routine, or give him any new medications (unless necessary) just before you depart.

–     Make sure your horse’s blankets and other gear (turnout boots, flymask) are easily accessible and well labeled.

–     If you have arranged for someone to exercise your horse while you’re on vacation, inform the barn owner and staff that this person has permission to do so. Lay out your horse’s exercise plan for the rider. Make sure an appropriate liability release is signed.

–     If you do not have someone exercising your horse, perhaps arrange for someone to stop in every few days to look him over and give him a brushing.

–     Make sure all your bills are paid up before you leave, and leave checks for any services to be rendered during your time away.

The “at home” horse checklist

–     Make sure you have a trustworthy person to look after your horses at home – if you are hiring a farm sitter, check references and find out if he or she is appropriately insured and bonded. If you have any concerns, arrange for a secondary person to check in once in awhile to make sure all is well.

–     Have at least one “backup” person who can be called in the event your farmsitter is ill, or doesn’t show up.

–     Write up all instructions and make at least two copies. Include a basic profile of each horse, including any pertinent health issues/history and behavioral quirks. Include all emergency numbers (vet, insurance, farrier, backup sitters, alternate contact, how you can be reached during your vacations, maintenance help, feed store, local emergency numbers for police, fire department, etc.). Include your wishes in the event of an equine medical emergency or life/death decision. Provide a step-by-step outline of your daily routine.

–     Set things up to be as easy and basic as possible. Pre-bag and label grain/supplements for each feeding, if possible. Make a diagram of your facility/fields, labeling where each horse lives and gets turned out. Make sure your horses’ names are on their stalls, feed buckets, etc. Ensure all medications are very clearly labeled, and that the medication label and prescribing vet’s information is legible.

–     Make sure all fencing, equipment and so on is in good repair, and that there are supplies to fix things if necessary (or leave the number for your maintenance professional).

–     Make sure all feed, supplements and first-aid supplies are stocked up.

–     Make sure each individual horse’s equipment is separate, labeled and easy to find – blankets, boots, wraps, fly masks, etc.

–     Have an account set up with your vet and emergency equine hospital in the event your horse needs sudden care. Perhaps have something set up at the feed store as well.

–     Make sure your sitter knows about any boarders or regular staff (barn, maintenance, landscapers) who come out to your farm, and what their vehicles look like, so they can identify any suspicious vehicles.

–     Have a truck/horse trailer ready in case of emergency, or the number of an emergency shipper.

–     Have the sitter come before vacations to go over the facility, horses, your routine and expectations/rules.

–     If you have arranged for someone to exercise your horses while you’re on vacation, make sure they know where all the equipment is, and what your expectations and exercise schedule are. Have things set up so they do not have to ride by themselves with no one else on the property. Make sure everyone has appropriate liability insurance. Make sure the sitter knows this person is permitted to ride your horses.

–     Try not to change any horse’s feed, routine, supplements or medications before you leave. You don’t want your sitter to be left with a potentially negative aftermath when they don’t fully know your horses.

Great expectations

Be careful of your expectations. No one ever thinks others can look after their horses as well as they can – and perhaps it’s true, for we know our own horses best. But if you are too over the top, you will drive away even the best farm sitter. Find someone whose care expectations are as close to yours as possible, but be careful to put into perspective that small scrape on your horse, the ripped blanket, etc. Realistically, as long as everyone gets appropriately fed, watered and turned out, with specific care instructions met, and still has a leg at each corner on your return, it’s all good!

Vacations are only vacations if you leave the responsibility of your horses in capable hands. Sure, things can go wrong while you’re away – these are horses we’re talking about. But the reality is, things happen whether you’re there or not, and if you have the appropriate arrangements in place before you depart, they can be dealt with in your absence.