They hay buffet

So, we run a boarding facility. 8 large lush turnouts1 acre on average, three paddocks that are dry (100 x 50). We have one “super” turnout that is 6 acres. Total support of 14 horses.

We feed hay 4 x’s a day; once before morning feed, noon, evening before grain and again at 8 PM when we close the barn.

My problem is a boarder who visits daily, loads up her arms with hay and walks it out to her horse. She also stuffs the install hay net with 2 to 3 large flakes. I have been cordial, even teased a little that she is going through this effort when we have it under control. She is in the mind set that they will eat it if they are hungry. We have had the discussion re founder, etc etc etc.

Time for the “Talk” would appreciate constructive ideas…my preferred approach is to simply tell her that she cannot do this any more.


Your barn, your Rules, your hay.
If she bought her own hay would you care?
Do you put hay in turnouts?
Asking as you mention feeding at noon when I assume horses are out.

Re: founder
Your hay would have to be really high carb/alfalfa to founder a horse.
More danger from grain fed or grass.
(says the owner of a mini who tried to founder 3yrs ago, resulting in a lot of online research & vet advice on feeding)


Why can’t she feed her own horse more hay? Is he wasting it?

I really dislike when barns police the hay situation. Unless it’s being totally wasted, I don’t see an issue with someone giving more hay to their own horse. Horses should have hay available 24/7 unless they are overweight or going to founder, in which case they still need hay just in a net.


I guess it really depends upon breed, we have Morgans and IF they were fed this much in addition to being on lush pasture they would die from being over weight


Your barn your rules.

It probably would not hurt to discuss the issue with the boarder, learn why they keep adding more hay, etc.
But in the end, it is your barn, your rules and if this boarder does not like that they can find another barn.


My guy gets a flake before breakfast and then is current turned out for about 8-10 hours during the day in a dryish lot with some hay during the day. This will flip to overnight turnout soon but sameish turnout time.

I generally add a flake in the evenings to a slow feeder hay ball in addition to what he gets in his portograzer in the evening. I prefer my guy has more hay overnight when he is in his stall for the longest time in between feedings.

I agree with the comments that unless it’s alfalfa or high carb, it’s not going to founder an average horse or cause any issues. If my gelding wasn’t prone to weight issues, I would prefer to offer him more throughout the day since they are grazing animals.

I agree with trying to understand where she is coming from. If it’s a cost thing, could you just have a hay surcharge or something you charge her? It is your barn and your rules, but this seems like there could be some solution to appease both of you.

I’ve often (read dang near always) given my horse extra hay when he was boarded. Being conscious of costs to the BO, I purchased my own extra hay and feeders / nets and of course fed out said extra hay myself except at the last barn that had a “you buy it and we’ll feed it” policy.

In your situation, it seems unclear what the boarder’s motivation to feed extra hay is and what your objection to it is. Ideally, that would be discussed between you and your boarder. Ultimately it is your barn and you can make whatever rules you like of course.


What exactly is the issue? If it’s getting wasted than can you tell her she has to put the hay in slow feed nets, or a porta-grazer/haygain forager for outside? Or tell her to buy her own hay.

It’s been shown time and time again that horses really should have access to forage nearly 24/7. Obviously this doesn’t work for every horse, and can get complicated in a boarding situation. But I would have a hard time telling a boarder that they can’t give their horse extra hay (within reason), especially when the science is on their side.


I’m with others. What is the issue here? Is it that you don’t want someone to be messing with your hay? Are they wasting it? Is it something else, do you feel your care is being slighted?

I don’t find adding 2-3 flakes to a hay net egregious, especially if they’re in that stall over night. A standard haynet can’t fit that much hay in it to begin with, so if she’s adding 2-3 flakes, how many flakes are you putting into it, one?

A healthy horse can eat one 4lb flake in 30m… 2-3 flakes won’t last much more than an hour and a half - certainly not all night.

For perspective… my 5 y/o mare, who is out on grass during the day and in a dry lot at night, gets two hay bags, each stuffed with as much hay as I can fit - which is usually 5 flakes each.

It’s my experience that average boarding barns don’t feed anywhere near enough hay, and I’ve known many boarders like your own who have done that… and as BM, I’ve allowed it. But – perspective being key here – my philosophy is 24/7 unfettered access to hay, which is exactly why my geldings have access to a roundbale and my mare, who is housed alone, has two giant hay bags at night. Does she waste it? You betcha. But I can rest easy knowing she never runs out of food.

In a boarding barn it is industry standard for the horse to have no hay access at all after hours. This is not a compromise I am willing to make, which is why I keep my horses at home.


Agree we need more information. I know for certain that my horses would waste hay if they were given hay while on pasture. I also have two horses that are already overweight and even if they would eat it, they don’t need it.

If the horse is eating it, and not overweight, I would question whether the standard hay amount is enough. But if the horse is maintaining weight appropriately on the standard rations, then yes - you should tell the boarder that adequate hay is being provided and the horse does not need more, unless she wants to buy it herself. (If the horse is already overweight, I would probably change that conversation).

I don’t think horses need hay 24/7. And I find that when they do, they tend to waste it by picking out the best hay and leave the rest behind and/or sleeping in it and/or peeing on it. But it’s a fine line between “just enough” and “just right.” It’s easy at home - it’s my money, my horses, my hay bill. But in a boarding barn, that’s not the case.


In a general sense I find this to be true, in the sense that horses are not eating around the clock. They nap. They take breaks. They sleep. I still prefer to give them the opportunity to do so, if they choose. My gelding herd has a routine that looks something like this:

The bulk of their uninterrupted hay consumption occurs in the hours between 8 PM and 5 AM. I was actually really surprised to find this to be the case, but in thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. Around 5 AM they play and start to anticipate grain. They hang out by the front gate watching and waiting patiently for their bucket lady. After grain anywhere between 7 am and 9 am depending on our schedule, they play/groom each other and then nap until around 11 am. After a nap they eat from the hay for a few hours, usually around 2-3. If it is hot, they will then get some downtime in the shade/shelter to escape the flies. Around 5 PM they play and run around for a good hour and then it’s grain time. After grain they go back to the hay.

So they aren’t at the hay 24/7 - they tend to come and go as they please.

There is certainly an art to feeding ‘just enough’ that the horse consumes all of its hay in one sitting. In a perfect world I’d prefer to drop just one flake every hour for the mare I mentioned above… but given those are the hours I prefer to sleep, she gets ~10 flakes broken between two hay bags. She totally wastes it – but the good news is, my geldings are less picky. The hay that she is too good to eat, then goes in a muck-tub for the geldings. They are thrilled for any opportunity to eat hay that isn’t behind a hayhut and haynet, so I do reduce hay wastage that way.

I’m still stuck on “large, lush pastures” but “hay 4x a day”. I have 2 OTTBs and one is in a grazing muzzle! Not to mention the pony and warmbloods. They spurn hay for the most part unless they’re in because it’s hot, then they just pick.


I wondered about this. Many barns advertise their fields as large and lush - which objectively could be true. To us, anything grass-like and green could be considered lush. But, a horse’s palate is subjective.

Pastures are not one type of grass. They are usually dozens, if not hundreds, of different varieties of plants and greenery. In any given pasture in my area, you can have clover, timothy, rye, sedge grasses, marigold, ironweed, bluegrass, crabgrass, fescue, goldenrod, solidago, verbana, coneflowers, garlic mustard, snakeroot, Queen Anne’s lace, you get the picture… Of these plants, only a handful are considered edible to a horse.

I think for any given pasture space that isn’t meticulously mowed, carefully seeded, and regularly maintained, you are looking at biodiversity that most horses don’t find appetizing. It would be generous to say 50% is edible in most pastures. Those choice bits are almost immediately overgrazed in a pasture that sees daily turnout of more than few horses. A one acre grass pasture cannot sustain multiple horses every day, in my experience – not without overgrazing in some areas and overcrowding/overgrowing plants in others. Then there are the seemingly perfect clumps of grass they won’t eat for whatever reason - could be someone peed in that spot two years ago, could be manure, could be its stressed and doesn’t taste right.

It’s handy having goats for this reason - they tend to raze down the plants horses won’t eat, and vice versa.

My horses won’t touch hay if they’re on grass. If horses are eating the hay regularly, it’s a sign that pasture is overgrazed.


In my experience, the two barns I was in that policed hay, had the skinniest horses. One of them I boarded at and my horse lost 200 pounds in a few months. A QH pony. I left obviously asap but they would post passive aggressive signs “No extra flakes at NIGHT!!!”

Hay locked in the hay loft.

On contrast, I moved to a higher end dressage barn. The BO would always say, feel free to throw more hay if you need. She always made a point of it knowing my horse was a hard keeper.

Not saying either of these are OP but it doesn’t rub people the right way.


Ok, I have fat ponies now and around here, most bales of good hay are massive 3 strings, so 3 flakes can easily equal 20+lb… I would also be peeved if a boarder is showing up daily and giving her horse an extra 20+lbs of hay a day that isn’t needed. Is horse actually consuming the hay, or is it getting wasted? Are you annoyed by the cost of what she’s taking, or the interference?

Does your contract have any specifics/limits on how much hay is provided? If not, maybe an amendment is in order with a surcharge for hay beyond whatever your current feeding rate is, and that any increases or additional feedings need to be arranged through management.

Unless horse is thin, an extremely hard keeper, or the hay is low quality - an extra 3+ flakes a day could easily make horse obese.


If you want to tell her she can’t do this any longer, tell her. You don’t really need to give her any reasons - your farm, your rules, and if she doesn’t like it, she can decide whether she wants to stay under those conditions or move.

If it’s a question of $$$, you need to decide whether you’d be okay with this if she pays for the hay. (In that case, I would hope you could accommodate but could envision at least one reason why you can’t.)

If it’s a question of horse health, it’s her horse, so I would be willing to let her make the call on whether the extra hay is okay. Subject to the caveat that if the horse is in group turnout and there’s another horse that can’t handle the hay, she has to stop. Although it doesn’t sound like that’s the case because you have let her do this so far.

if two string bales this could easily be half a bale or more on addition being given hay four times… if this horse is not obese I would be surprised

I believe my horses would think I was overworking them making them eat all that hay


One of my mares easily gets half a bale at night, and morning and eats it all. On round bale and pasture during the day. If only they were all easy keepers!

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It’s not clear how many hours the horses are out on these pastures.

But the “lush turnouts” are a bigger founder risk, all else equal, than hay, unless allowing a free for all buffet makes the horse obese.

Is her horse fat? Is he IR?

She’s not wrong, but she also isn’t “right” in that they will self-regulate and not over-eat. So it goes back to - is her horse fat?

What’s your contract state?


OP needs to find the motivation for owner feeding extra hay. OP is already feeding 4xs a day. I would believe the horse is getting adequate nutrition in the amount fed, with bonus grazing time.

Mine get adequate hay, in their daily feedings, do not need more. Hay is about to stop when they finally get out on free grazing times at night turnout. Spring grass growth has been slow with cold weather, so timed turnout getting stomachs used to grass has been slow They wIll continue to get their grain and wet beet pulp when brought into stalls each AM, hay would just be wasted. I am not of the belief that horses need to be constantly eating. They walk away from hay, group up under a tree out in good pasture, not eating. They all are now well-fleshed without being obese. Other horses may need a bit different treatment, but we have done things this way a lot of years with good results. No skinny horses here!!

If horse looks good, then I would have a real problem with owner DAILY giving extra hay. May sound selfish, but all those “extra flakes” given out by other posters, cut right into my budget. They add up to a large volume of hay! Hay costs money AND labor costs to put in the barn. It adds up when you kave expenses calculated per horse, yet one person is using more than you figured. Hay is NOT getting any cheaper, and adding 2-3 bales a week, at even the cheap $6-7 the little bale, times 4 weeks a month is over $70!!!

OP does need to get this settled with the boarder. Boarder needs to quit feeding extras, pays a larger board fee, buys their own hay (and puts it in the barn storage THEMSELVES), or tells boarder to move on. None of this “Oh it is only a flake or two. Just a few extra handfuls for Spot.” That hay ALL cost BO her hard-earned money, was never free.

You can be a nice BO, but you can’t be wishy-washy when it cuts into the barn budget. BO is NOT there to subsidize your horse ownership expenses, same as the Vet or Farrier. Visiting you, medicating or working on your horse costs them money, time they need to be paid for. Horse owner needs to pay ALL rheir own horse expenses.