If you own horses and need to be away from home, hiring a horse sitter for drop-in care may be ideal for you.
Here are some tips for finding the perfect caretaker and how to set up your absence for the greatest success all around.
Reasons Why Drop-In Care May Be Preferable
In-home care for your horses may be the best option for a number of reasons:
- You need to leave unexpectedly.
- Your home isn’t set up for a live-in sitter.
- Boarding isn’t available in your area or is too pricey.
- You have lots of horses.
- The caretaker can’t stay overnight due to other responsibilities.
- Drop-in care is more consistent and less disruptive for your animals.
Where to Find Good Help
If you don’t have a neighbor with whom you can trade horse care, there are plenty of other places to find a sitter.
Try asking around with your vet, farrier, or feed store. Local stables, riding clubs, and 4H are other good sources.
Always ask for references, and check them to be sure you’re getting a reliable person.
You may not need someone who’s very knowledgeable about horses if all they need to do is check water troughs once per day, but you may also have other requirements for which an equine professional is essential.
Be clear from the start exactly what you need the horse caretaker to do in your absence.
In addition to feeding, giving water, turnout, and mucking, you may need these services performed as well:
- Small animal care
- Garden watering
- Collecting mail
- Putting out trash
- Turning lights on/off or other security
- Barn cleaning
- Accepting hay delivery
- Meeting the vet other health practitioner
- Longing or exercise riding
- Administering medications
Be realistic about how much time you expect these duties to take and how often you want the caretaker to come by your property.
Let your sitter know what hours you want them there, so there are no schedule conflicts (some popular caretakers may be juggling several barns or their own horses).
Pay and Legal Issues
What you pay a drop-in horse sitter usually depends on three things: the caretaker’s experience, the tasks required, and your geographic area, which plays into the going rate.
Your horse sitter may charge a flat rate per day or may charge by the hour, including travel time.
Make sure you have any pay negotiations settled before your departure.
Consider giving your sitter a deposit up front as a gesture of good faith and/or leave a check dated with the final day of service if you won’t see the caretaker when you return.
Some horse sitters who do this as a business may be able to accept credit cards.
Expect to pay more for truly professional equine care, especially if the sitter carries liability insurance.
If your drop-in horse caretaker does not have business insurance, see if they can be covered under your insurance.
A call to your equine insurance agent is well worth the time, as there are many grey legal areas regarding temporary farm care.
You want to be sure your animals and property are covered in case of an incident, and you also want to ensure you’re not at risk should something happen to your caretaker.
If your horse care is complex, or if you intend to be gone for an extended period of time, it’s perfectly appropriate to have a simple contract in place for your sitter.
This protects everyone, even friends and family, should anything come into question.
A Dry Run for Practice
If at all possible, do a trial run with your drop-in sitter before you actually leave.
Run through everything exactly as you normally do, and make sure you discuss any hard-to-catch or difficult horses or those with special needs.
Leave printed instructions or write everything on a whiteboard in the stables. If you have many horses, it’s a good idea to label feed, medications, halters, fly masks, etc.
Make sure everything is clean and organized when you depart; your horse caretaker isn’t responsible for cleaning up the previous week’s muck in the paddock.
Check your hay and grain supplies too, to see that you have enough for your absence.
Planning for Emergencies
Just like when hiring a babysitter for your kids, you want to leave emergency contact numbers for your horse caretaker.
In addition to the numbers where you can be reached while you’re away, leave contact information for your veterinarian, as well as any other relevant practitioners who may be needed (farrier, emergency transport, etc.).
If you’re going to be gone for more than a day or two, let your vet know, and set up a payment method for emergencies, like leaving a blank check or credit card number.
Your vet will probably ask you to leave written permission for them to give care in your absence and may ask how you feel about lifesaving measures.
Other emergency contingencies to think about:
- plans for bad weather (snow, ice, tornadoes, heat waves)
- power outages that may affect water pumps and lights
- evacuation procedures for high-risk fire zones
It’s wise to have a backup person in case the caretaker should fall ill or otherwise be unable to show up.
Let any boarders know that you will be having a stand-in when you’re away.
Don’t forget to leave any keys, gate combinations, or alarm codes for your sitter.
If you have enough horses that you normally need an assistant, consider hiring two drop-in horse sitters, ideally a pair that already work together.
Going out of town shouldn’t be fraught with anxiety for horse owners. Take the time to prepare in advance, and you can relax knowing your animals are in good hands.
Patricia Salem is a writer specializing in equine topics. She writes content for horse businesses and covers international competition for the FEI. Also an equine massage therapist, Patricia is the author of Animal Bodywork Marketing for Peak Results, which teaches animal therapists how to better promote their practices to meet their unique goals.