Boarders... do you know what your horse is eating?

How common is it at a typical boarding barn for the boarders to have no control or knowledge of what their horse is eating? Both in terms of the type of food and the amount.

I feel like I would expect this at a training facility where the head trainer is put in charge of the horse’s full care from start to finish… but not necessarily at just a regular boarding facility?

I’ve worked at several barns where the owners were feeding all kinds of customized things, not sure if they paid extra or not but they were at least allowed to if they wanted to. However in my short time looking at boarding barns as a customer instead of an employee, it seems to be that some places don’t even let you make adjustments to the amount your horse is getting, let alone the brand or type of food. Just wondering how common this is… thanks!

Not uncommon at all.

There are for sure two sides to this coin and I can see both sides.

The barn owner has to deal with Susie owner who insists Dobbin is too skinny/fat and wants his feed changed up/down when Dobbin is not even close to too skinny/fat and changing their feed will have a negative impact. Or Susie wants Dobbin to have more hay because they read on COTH that Dobbin is not getting enough hay but Dobbin is already bedding himself in the large hay ration he is getting.

And then there is the other side of this coin, where the BO has a different opinion on feeding and their opinion thinks that all stock sweet feed is the best thing ever and so what if the vet said Dobbin is IR.

I am fine with the BO making feeding decisions, but I want a say. (Said by someone whose horses are at home.)

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I’ve seen all ranges on the spectrum. Most smaller barns allow for more customization. Some require you provide grain, some provide a few kinds if you want something different you can bring your own. Larger barns tend to want to simplify and you must use their provided grain. Most barns allow you to feed supplements but they must be in containers, baggies or smartpaks. I’ve never been at a barn that dictated how much your horse was fed but I’ve been at barns that either don’t feed as much as you’ve asked and one that overfed my horse to the point where I had to leave. Personally I know my horses well, I’ve done a lot of research on nutrition and I won’t board at a barn where I can’t control their feed within reason. I’m happy to take recommendations from the barn owner but ultimately it’s my horse.

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My sentiments exactly. Seems unreasonable to me to not let horse owners make changes to their own horses’ feeding regimen if they want to! Edited to add that I do realize that some barns try to keep it extremely easy on purpose so maybe that type of place just isn’t for me or anyone who wants to control their horse’s nutrition.

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I think it depends on both the type of barn and the type of owner.

As previous posters mentioned, the smaller barns tend to be a little more “customizable” and willing to feed multiple types of grains. However, I’ve also found that the smaller barns are usually being run as a mom/pop/family operation (with little to no paid help) so they want things to be as simple as possible (i.e. – all supplements must be in SmartPaks or prebagged; no opening 5+ supplement buckets to scoop things out, etc.).

With the larger barns, they tend to only offer 2-3 grain options though I have found most are willing to “mix” various grain types (i.e. – 1/2 qt of grain A, 1 qt of grain B, etc.). With the larger barns, I think it helps if the boarded horse is ridden in a similar discipline as the majority of the horses there, as the BM can then know the “normal” horse condition for horses in that discipline. For example, when my (eventing) horses boarded at a hunter barn, the BM kept trying to fatten them up!

The owners that come out multiple days/week tend to know what their horse is getting. The owners who might be your more casual type, only come out a few times/month, etc. usually have no clue what their horse is getting and it is up to the BO/BM to adjust feed up or down if they feel the horse needs it.

What I have found works best for me is if my horses are getting a “base” feed amount (i.e. – 1/2qt or 1qt 2x/day) + Smartpaks everyday, and I have permission from the BM to feed them an extra amount of grain (~1/2 qt) on the days I ride them/work hard. I usually feed them some ration balancer, fat supplement (if needed), etc. on those days as well. This allows me to adjust things up or down as I see fit without having to bug the BM about going up or down on grain as my horse’s condition allows. However, I am the type that rides my horses 5-7 days/week and goes out to the barn almost every single day (even if just to groom). My setup would likely not work as well for a more casual owner who didn’t visit the barn that often.

I agree with the previous poster who said happy to take recommendations but ultimately it’s my horse so I make the final decisions.

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The few times I have been at barns like this, my experience was that the BO/BM thought they knew everything about horses (when they were really bordering on the edge of incompetence) and no one else knew anything. I didn’t stay long at any of those places (and those places are actually how I got into my “feed a base amount, I’ll feed anything additional and adjust up/down as I see fit” program).

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It is VERY common, and many times it boils down to cost. Hay is expensive. Grain even more so.
I’ve been at one barn where your horse was weight taped upon arrival, and every 4-6 weeks thereafter, by the BO. Hay was weighed before feeding and each horse was fed according to their weight. Thankfully, nutrition was a strong point with this BO.
Another barn, you got X flakes, period. If your horse was starving on this ration (which in this case was happening) the BO wouldn’t say a word - was too intent on getting that board check rather than saying ‘hey if your horse needs more I need to charge more’. In that particular case the HO finally showed up, was shocked at the condition of her horse, but she paid a bit more for more hay.
The barn I’m currently at, feeds 2 ‘grains’ and a VM. They provide nice hay and plenty of it. Supplements are bagged by the owners so barn staff can easily feed. However, BO is a bit too easy going when it comes to ‘Dobbin needs more/less’. I’ve seen a whole lot of wastage going on.

So I guess, it all depends on where you are but I don’t find it uncommon at all.

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I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. One barn had around 30 stalls and the feed room was totally off limits except to drop off supplements. Even when dropping off supplements someone was liable to “check in”. The feed board was a convoluted symbol system and while I knew the brands fed, j had no control over volume. Mare looked great but I didn’t love the secrecy.

In contrast, I’m at a 12 stall barn now. There’s a robust “menu” of options and then they’ll feed anything else if provided (and provide a discount for owner supplied grain). Anyone is welcome in the feed room and feed amounts are very clearly posted. If something needs to be adjusted the owner is quick to flag down an owner and chat. I prefer this level of involvement and communication.

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IME it’s fairly common for boarders to not have “control” over their horse’s ration. Knowledge is a bit different. It’s very common for barns to have a feed chart that indicates how much and what type of grain is fed to each horse. So folks could look at that and see that part of the diet. IME hay rations are less commonly written up in a chart and boarders only know what those hay rations are if they are at the barn regularly observing how hay is fed.

In my experience, the best way to control my horse’s feed has been to be up front when barn shopping. Dobbin does best on XYZ diet. Can your barn provide that?

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Here it is pretty standard that barns provide hay, hopefully a choice of grass and alfalfa, and the owner provides any grain or supplements. Current barn has about 30 horses, and feeds grain 1-2x per day based on horse requirements. Hay is fed based on what is written on the dry erase board by each stall, so I can make a change if I think it’s needed if horse is getting fat/thin or work load is changing (I also tell the BO of course). I think BO will make adjustments for other horses that have less involved owners. She also spends an inordinate amount of time doing special feed rations like soaked hay and beet pulp, and mixing supplements for several horses. I put my horses’ supplements in little plastic tubs that they can just dump and mix, which also allows me to make changes without bothering the BO about it. Each horse has their own can in the feed room for grain that the owners bring, and a plastic SmartPak drawer for those of us who provide packaged supplements.

The barn where my retired horse lives is more of a private place with about 8 boarded horses, most of which are air fern Arabians vs. my 17H racing bred QH. The setup there is pretty similar, but I do have some issues from time to time with my horse being underfed because they think he eats the same as a 14.2H Arabian. It’s not that they’re stingy about the hay, just a couple people who help with the feeding don’t grab that extra hay that he needs for his body size.

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Super common, I’d even say it’s the norm. “Full care” boarding facilities are not “custom care” boarding facilities and for good reason. If everyone got to customize their horses care and make decisions on blanketing, turnout, feeding, etc, barn chores would be so much more work and things would be a lot more expensive. Instead, go to a barn that matches your definition of “full care”. See what they feed and if it would work, see what the turnout/ blanketing schedule is and if it would work, because THAT is the part that you control.

There are very few barns that will feed whatever you like and do things exactly your way. Too many boarders get themselves caught up in drama because they think it should be “my horse, my rules” and that’s not at all how it works. It’s “their barn, their rules” and you’re free to leave if you don’t like it.

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I’ve seen every point on the spectrum. I’d say the most common at boarding type barns are 1) barns where the boarders don’t even know what brands of grain the barn feeds much less what their specific horse eats, and 2) barns where the boarders have some general understanding of the grain options and can tell the manager Dobbin is too fat/skinny but then leave the changes up to the BM.

That said, I’m the type that cares and I’ve sought out the custom care at both ends of the price spectrum.

The rule at my retirement barn is that you can choose any grain that the local feed store carries. Each horse has a can, and they bill separately for grain as you go through it. If the BM thinks he needs more/less, she texts me a photo if I haven’t been out in a few weeks and we discuss. We also have discussions about when it’s time to put the muzzle on or move to dry lot, since we have a ballooning issue in the summer :slight_smile:

My training barn is also basically fully custom, but you pay through the nose for that kind of care. It’s all-included in the board rate though - they don’t charge extra for anything. They have every ProElite grain available, plus some other stuff, and several hay options. If there is some rational reason you need to feed something different, they’ll bring it in for you. At least once a week the BM will pop by while he’s being tacked to ask if I’m happy with how he’s looking, or let me know that one of our supplements needs to be re-ordered. They get a quarterly hay analysis, and are happy to give me the report to update my FeedXL account and make sure I’m happy. Anyone who wants can schedule a time to meet with the nutritionist during her twice yearly visits, otherwise the BM goes over everyone.

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In real life experience, I was almost always the only boarder that cared to know what and how much my horse was eating. My fellow boarders just didn’t care, they boarded because they wanted to go to the barn and ride and not have to deal with any other care items.
To that point, I’ll also say that very rarely did I have a BO who knew squat about equine nutrition. So, it was always frustrating as a HO who did want to know and did/does have some clue about equine nutrition. Always they’d want to throw more grain for a hard keeper, never more hay.
As a BO, I offer full board and partial board - owners can bring their own hay and grain if desired, or I can provide it, but I’ll only pick up Seminole feeds, I’m not driving all around town to six different stores. One or two supplements is fine, but if you want more than that, you provide it in SmartPaks or other packaged form that contains all supplements per meal in one package.

From the BO perspective, there’s multiple reasons why one might now allow boarders to dictate what their horse eats, or bring their own feed if its something the barn won’t feed, etc. Storage space is a huge reason, as well as cost, and convenience. If someone has a small feed room, they don’t have the ability to store 15 different grain types, whether or not it’s costing them any more money (i.e. horse owner brings it). It’s also much less convenient, even if you have the storage space, to have to pull grain from 15 different cans at each feeding, instead of from 2-3 bins. These are things that I am currently willing to put up with, because I limit my farm to eight horses max. If I had a 20+ or 30+ stall facility, there’s no way. I’d offer 3-5 feed options (i.e. a standard 12% pellet, a senior feed, a ration balancer, a growth feed), and if you don’t like any of them, you’d be free to board elsewhere.

I understand, though, being a boarder, and having a horse that needs something the barn won’t provide. If the barn won’t provide it and won’t let you provide it, sounds like that barn just isn’t a good fit for you, time to look elsewhere (or not move there in the first place). No single barn can accommodate every single possible horse. It doesn’t make them a bad BO, it just makes it not a good fit.

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Several friends of mine have no idea what their horse eats at their boarding barn, or even really care what they’re eating.

At all the barns I boarded at I made sure to know what my horse was being fed. One of the barns didn’t like their owners knowing because they didn’t want owners giving input on feeding. Most of the others are happy to let me in the feed room and let me know what each of my horses receives. I personally wouldn’t stay at a barn that didn’t let me make feed requests or didn’t want me in the feed room. But that is a criteria when I look at boarding barns.

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No knowledge and no control are two different things.

Typically people who have gone from lessons to full board and only visit 4 days a week don’t have a very full idea of horse feeding, and may not be able to say what kind of hay or brand of grain their horse gets.

I did self board as a kid and now as an adult. When I’ve needed to have a horse in temporary full board, I’m able to have an informed discussion. I know all the local hay types and suppliers, and all the local bagged feed options. When I visit I pay attention to when the horses are fed, how much, and what type of hay. I also keep an eye on their condition, and the condition of all the horses, just out of curiosity.

For me going into a place its important that they are feeding a good quality hay. I have an easy keeper that I feed a vitamin mineral supplement in a beet pulp mash, and I would expect to supply that VMS as it’s expensive.

When my horse was at my friend’s barn, I was allowed to feed her a hay snack before we rode. When the other project horse was at a training barn to get started, the hay was well out of reach in the loft and I just trusted she would get fed on schedule. Her condition was good so I figured all was well.

This was my one and only boarding experience. I didn’t last long. It became kind of passive aggressive. I have horses at home as well, and was only boarding the one I had just bought (the trainer brokered for me) through the winter, but I suspect the BO had hoped I would keep her there longer. But after I suspected she may have ulcers and asked for an antacid to be added to her feed (at the vet’s recommendation…long story there as well), her grain was cut back to only a “handful” each day, making it impossible to add the meds. No other horse in the entire facility ate that little grain, not even the mini.

Apparently it was her way or the highway…I chose the latter.

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I absolutely know what my horse is eating. I trust my trainer (who works with the barn owner to determine his diet), but I still want to know. Trainer and I discuss his weight every now and then–he gains weight easily–but she is usually a step ahead of me, as in, “Yes, I noticed, I already cut down his feed a bit.”

My trainer is great, but I still keep track not only of his feed, but when he is due for shoes, when he is due for worming, etc. I consider that the responsibility of being an owner.

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I know what my horse is eating, and I have always driven the conversation about what my horse is eating. This is one of my basic questions when I talk to barn owners to see if I am the right fit for the clientele they want to have.

At my current farm, they feed Brand X that has been good for their farm-owned horses. If I want something other than Brand X and their feed mill carries it, they will order it in for me at no extra charge. (This has been my experience at other farms, though in some cases, the charge was that I had to provide a metal grain bin for it. No problem.) If the feed mill does not carry it, and I wish to provide it at my own expense, they will allow that. I decide when his feed increases or decreases in view of his physical condition and run that by management, but it happens. I also provide all supplements in pre-packs.

I was once at a farm whose new barn owner revamped the feeding program and decided to overhaul what my horse was eating without consulting me. She also didn’t look at the board and think “Hm, this horse eats less than the small ponies, I wonder what’s up with that,” she just decided that he was going to eat something different. I flipped out because the horse had a history of laminitis, was pre-Cushings at that point, and it was spring. Horse was mad he wasn’t getting 6 quarts a day of something tasty, but he lived through it. :slight_smile: She turned out to be a great barn manager- but she had come into the position with the understanding that this was a show barn and the clients are generally not involved in horse care decisions, and while that was true for most clients at that farm, it was not true for me. I’d been at the farm for awhile at that point and most of the other clients who did want to be involved to that degree, and who were educated enough to be involved to that degree, had moved elsewhere as the farm’s focus shifted. This is why “I design my horse’s feeding program with input from my vet. In the past I have made X arrangements with other facilities. Is this in line with the degree of involvement you expect?” is a good question to ask if you’re looking to move in.

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I wish I could go back to myself 4 months ago and tell myself to ask this question… for some reason in my naivete I didn’t think it would be this big of an issue to simply request basic info / small changes to my horse’s feed :joy: Lesson learned!!

One thing that has been bothering me is everyone got on the ration balancer for easy keepers train, without knowing how much needs to be fed. So I know several horses, even at my expensive barn, who are getting a handful of RB twice a day. The one the barn feeds is supposed to be a minimum of a pound per day, though less for a pony. The hay is good but is not tested, so it’s hard to say whether the handful of RB is enough. When I took my mare off a RB and switched to a V/M I knew I’d have to pay for the latter, but ok…

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