Tips on Hiring A Horse sitter
by Debora Johnson
Those of us who have horses know that they need care seven days a week, 24 hours a day--just like a child. Whether you have your horse on your own property or board your horse it is always a concern when your vacation time is near. As a boarder you have more freedom. You only have to worry about not being available in case there is a problem. As an owner of the property where you have your horse and/or board horses you have to worry about who is going to be responsible in your absence. This is a BIG worry for most of us! The following are some of my thoughts (from a boarder's perspective) that might be of help. I would also like to add that when our horse's care giver goes on vacation my husband and I house and horse sit for them.
Before You Leave On Your Trip
There are a number of preparatory items that can be taken care of before you leave on your trip. This will make it easier for the horse sitter to take care of business while you are away.
- Make sure all horse related appointments have been taken care of or cancelled during your absence. These may include routine shots, farrier appointments, hay or feed deliveries. Make sure that your vehicles (trailer and pulling vehicle) are ready in case of an emergency transport.
- Contact your vet's office to let them know that you will be away and provide the sitter's name, telephone numbers, etc. Also provide a written letter giving authority to have medical assistance given to your horse. If you have boarders make sure they have provided the same type of signed letter. Sometimes it is necessary to have these notarized. That depends on the local laws and vet requirements.
- If emergency medical care must be given to your horse, make sure that the vet also has agreed to provide that care, in your absence, and will agree to receive payment for services rendered, upon your return. The vet might have another suggestion as to how they want this type of circumstance handled.
- Provide the vet and the sitter with any major medical or mortality insurance policy numbers that may be required. We have these as a permanent part of our horse's records at the vet's office as well as readily available in the barn.
- Make sure to provide the parameters of emergency care. For example, I do not want colic surgery done on any of my horses. Make sure to spell that out so that the horse sitter and attending vet will know you wishes. Do NOT leave this to chance! A euthanization authorization must be provided for the sitter or someone else who will be available in your absence.
- Walk the fence line to make sure all gates, fencing, locks, etc. are in place and in working order. Check to make sure that no nails or screws are sticking out. Check to see that no tree limbs or any other object has taken down a fence post, etc.
- Set a time for the sitter to come and meet the horses and become acquainted with their routine, your barn, etc.
- Written instructions are vital. Include feeding instructions, supplements, cleaning instructions, and turn out instructions. Have a central display in the barn which is easy to follow. We use a magic marker board in the feeding area.
- On each stall have a picture of the horse along with that horse's pertinent information: feeding instructions, supplements, medical instructions, and include any bad habits the horse might have. (Kicking, biting, weaving, etc.) Your sitter needs to know any bad habits for her own safety.
- Have medications stored in a central location where they can be found easily. Make sure that the sitter knows how and when to use the necessary meds.
- Have the sitter come in advance of your departure to do the entire routine, including meds or injections, if necessary. That will put everyone's mind at ease.
- Leave a copy of your itinerary along with the hotels, etc. where you can be reached, if necessary. If you will be unreachable make sure to have a stand in contact who is familiar with your horses so that they may help, if necessary. Make sure it is OK with them.
- Have the sitter write down a daily record of what was done.
- Make sure to have the horse sitter sign a liability release for property injury or horse related injury.
- Make sure that horse sitter has anyone who comes on property while you are alway also sign releases.
- Contact all your boarder's that you will be on vacation. Give them the dates you will be away. Provide the horse sitter's name and contact information to them, as well.Notify key people the dates you will be gone and who will be taking care of your property. You may want to give your neighbors that info, too.
Where Do You Look for A Horse Sitter?
- A neighbor who has horses and/or hands on horse knowledge whom you trust.
- A horse friend whom you trust.
- Word of mouth
- Call your vet's office and ask if they have a referral.
- Ask your farrier for a referral of someone that they know to be reliable.
- If you belong to a horse club inquire there.
- On line horse chat rooms may be of help.
- Ask horse trainers.
- Local pony clubs may keep a list of approved sitters.
- Local 4-H clubs may keep a list of approved sitters.
- Ask at the local horse feed stores.
- Local vet schools may have students interested in horse sitting.
- On line horse sitter directories.
- Check with horse sitting services. They are actually an established business!
Helpful Questions to Ask When Hiring A Horse Sitter
- Ask for reference names and numbers. Call them.
- Ask horse experience.
- Ask medical experience with horses.
- Ask what to look for when checking over each horse in the morning and evening. Find out if they will include the eyes, overall body, feet, hoof, look for swellings, heat, colic symptoms, off feed, etc. That will give you an idea of what they really know.
- Introduce potential sitter to each horse. See if any horse has an objection. They let you know! Defer to their judgment!
- Have them handle your horses to make sure they know the safe way to handle large animals.
- It is best to have a sitter with insurance certification (cya) However, this is not easy to find unless you go through an agency..
- Make sure that you have all your sitter's contact information, as well.
What Are You Asking Your Sitter To Do?
Be very specific as to what your horse sitter will be doing. Will your sitter be giving injections and medications, providing first aid, wrapping feet, bandaging, feeding and watering, giving supplements, exercising, lunging, riding, and turning out horses, cleaning stalls, staying in your home, feeding the barn cats, as well, or managing the entire farm in your absence. Make sure that he/she knows what you require of them. As I have noted above, do a walk through of a complete routine. This is the time for the potential horse sitter to ask questions, not when you are away on vacation. It is also the time for you to observe them interact with your animals.
Have a book that is easy to navigate which has all the pertinent information in it relating to the farm and horses. Go over it with your potential horse sitter. It should contain a number of items.
- Daily feeding schedule.
- Daily turnout schedule.
- When to blanket, if necessary.
- When to be in paddock or sacrifice area.
- When to be in stall.
- How long at grass?
- What to do with specific weather conditions.
- Each animal's name, picture, and pertinent information such as illness, allergies, habits good and bad, and any special instructions. If the animal is boarded also include the boarder's contact information on that sheet.
- State who has access to your property while you are away. This is for your protection as well as the sitter's protection, as well.
- Provide information pertaining to the property such as water provided by a pump and well. (Contact maintenance number in case there is a problem with water). If fencing is electric ribbon, for example, show the sitter how to fix a ribbon strip and provide the necessary repair parts.
- Have the local animal shelter number and others to contact in case a horse gets out.
- Provide emergency contact list.
Come to an understanding about the pay schedule. It is always good to have a written contract of some sort so that there are no misunderstandings as to what is to be done and how much is to be paid.
Good luck! Happy hunting.