Are you tired of passing up vacations or weekend trips because of your horses? Well, you're not alone. Finding a competent horsesitter is a dilemma faced by thousands of owners. Basically, you have four options; stay home, find a local boarding stable, ask a friend, or hire a professional horsesitter.
Even if you never plan on leaving, if you own horses, you should have someone who can step in and at least feed and clean stalls. Then, if an emergency arises, you won’t have to depend on a last-minute choice of whomever’s available. Better to plan for this situation beforehand at your leisure and feel confident in your selection.
The first step in finding a reliable person is to ask your vet or friends for references. I spoke with several professional horsesitters and all strongly advised using professionals rather than a friend because professionals better understand the 24 hour-a-day responsibilities and are prepared to handle most emergencies. They realize owners have a big investment in their animals, not only financially, but emotionally and that the owner always has the last word on how the horse is treated. If you ask a friend and something goes wrong, it could put a tremendous strain on your friendship. They also advise not using youngsters or teenagers as, despite all their good intentions, they aren’t always experienced enough to handle emergencies. If you use a minor, be absolutely sure to have his parents’ permission and assurance that they will step in if something happens.
When interviewing sitters don’t hesitate to ask questions. You need to know about their horse care background and their personal situation. How much experience do they have with horses and horse sitting? There’s a big difference in caring for your own horses and being responsible for someone else’s. Contrary to what many think, horse sitting is much more than feeding and cleaning stalls. It’s a 24-hour job with plenty of responsibility attached. So the more you know about a potential sitter, the better. Does he have another job? Could he miss work if your horse is sick or needs a vet? How dependable is his transportation? These are all things to consider.
Have prospective sitters go through your routine. Ask questions. Do they know the signs of colic? What would they do if your horse cut himself? Observe how the horses and sitters react to each other. Are the sitters too aggressive or timid? Did they have a problem getting the halter on? Did they open the stall door completely before leading the horse through? Did they turn the horse out safely or did they remove the halter and slap the horse on the rump? What kind of questions did they ask you? Did they want you to write down the feeding schedule and who your vet is? Did they ask where the water and power turn-off’s are or who has access to your property? These are fairly good signs that that person has sitting experience.
In most situations, it’s better if the horses aren’t ridden while you’re gone, but if you want them ridden, have the sitter ride each one a few times before you leave. If you aren’t happy with his riding ability just say the horses are not to be ridden. But it is vital that all stalled horses have some kind of exercise while you’re away, either turned out, put on a walker or hand-walked.
Once you’ve found a dependable sitter, write down your feeding program and any pertinent information including contact numbers, medical histories, insurance papers and a written plan of medical action including a signed permission slip for the vet. Don’t forget your cats and dogs too. State what you will approve, including vet visits, surgery or euthanasia as well as your financial limits. This may seem harsh, but if the horse is seriously injured, the vet can make a better decision about treatment or if your regular vet is unavailable, another vet might feel more comfortable treating a strange horse. Include a contact number for someone who can take over financially if you’re delayed. Inform your vet and blacksmith that you’ll be gone and who will be handling your horses and introduce the sitter to your neighbors.
Owning horses doesn’t mean you always have to stay home, it just means you have to do some research to find a reliable sitter. When you do, provide that person with a well-planned, precise, written set of instructions, then go have a great trip.