Nick and bite marks that horses will receive either from playing or fighting with each other will make your job as a barn manager much more challenging to say the least. I didn't realize how much I would be dealing with these kinds of issues when we opened our boarding barn years ago. The one thing I have learned more than anything about this subject is that what may be happening out in a herd is not always how the boarders see it. Educating will be a huge part of your job when it comes to this part of herd management and you will have to make some very tough decisions along the way that might result in losing a boarder or two. Not everyone will see things the way you do when it comes to nick and bite marks and horse behavior.
There have been a couple of times throughout the years where the nick and bites marks were excessive to say the least. A few small marks are one thing but I have seen horses with marks all over their body and I have been willing to move a horse in those situations. How many are too many and when do you say enough is enough? Do you have an alternative paddock or private turnout for this type of horse? These are questions that you need to have an answer to and something to really think about when setting up your barn and paddocks. Having alternative paddocks to move a horse when you need to is an asset for any boarding business.
Nick and bites marks are not fun and defining what is unreasonable will definitely be an individual decision that only you can make as the barn owner. If you have a boarder that is truly unreasonable about the nick and bite marks than you might want to suggest private turnout for their horse. During the show season I will have boarders that put their horse on private turnout so they can avoid the nick and bite marks their horse may get because they play so much. This is usually a gelding trait and private turnout is an easy fix.
The truth is you can't control how a boarder is going to react about a nick or bite mark. All you can do is educate them and if you have an alternative like private turnout than you can offer that as on option. I have had a few boarders ask to have their horse moved to another herd because of the nick and bite marks and I always look at each situation on an individual basis. If the horse is playing constantly and the marks are few than I may not move the horse. In many cases the horse will just start playing in a new herd and most likely the same thing will happen. Some horses are huge players and it will depend a lot on the age of the horse and the herd he is in. Some of our herds are much more playful than others. I always look at each horse and their personality and decide from there. This part of herd management always keeps me on my toes!
If two horses are showing aggression with each other then I will look at the herd and those two horses in a much different way. I am much more willing to move a horse if the problems are due to constant aggression towards each other.
One thing to think about
If you start moving horses each time you have a request you will make your job unbelievably hard and the stress will become more than you could imagine. Moving horses is something that I don't do unless it is serious. If a herd is settled in and getting along great than I am not going to make a change because of a request and have to deal with the change in herd dynamics. Many times the best option is private turn out and you will have clients that are happy to pay the extra cost for private turnout.
Overreaction and the blame game
When you come across a situation where the boarder is starting to overreact to bite marks than you really need to make sure that person is educated on what is really going on in the herd. I have had this situation happen a few times and once I take the time to educate the person and have them watch with me exactly what is going on, many times they settle down and start to relax.
Once in a while you will come across a person that overreacts and there is no changing their mind. They are upset and not only do they make things much bigger than they are but now they want to blame the owner of the horse that is equally involved. It can get ugly if you don't get control of the situation fast.
As the barn owner is it your responsibility to not let this issue get out of control. Feelings can get hurt easily when someone starts making hurtful remarks about another horse. It is hard to believe but it happens and you need to make sure your clients know this is not allowed in your barn. The problem is that as women we tend to get emotional about everything and our horse is at the top of the list. Saying something bad about my horse is like saying something bad about my child to many people and it can get out of control quickly. As the barn manager it will be your responsibility to stop this before it ever starts. You might need to be extremely direct and honest with your client but it is all part of keeping a barn running smooth and the atmosphere positive.
As a knowledgeable barn owner it is essential to have a very good understanding of horse behavior and really know your herds. You are going to be asked constantly many questions about what is going on in the herd and there will be times when you have a boarder that sees the situation much differently than you do.
Not everyone will agree with you
You need to be prepared because not everyone will agree with you when it comes to your view of playing and fighting between horses and the nicks and bite marks some horses seem to acquire on a daily basis. You might be asked to move a horse in certain situations and that is fine but if the same horse has the same issue no matter what herd you place him in, than you are going to have to talk with the owner and come to a point where you say no and offer private turnout. I have said no to moving a horse a few times over the years and have offered other options. This can be difficult but it is a very real part of running a barn and you will gain confidence in your decisions the longer you do it. It is a balancing act to say the least and no two situations will ever be the same. Look at each issue as it comes and think about it before you make a decision. Too many times early on I made decisions out of pressure and moved a horse and I regretted it later on. There was even a time or two when I move a horse and the situation became worse. I learned a ton about running my barn and making decisions too fast from those situations. There were also a few times when I should have moved a horse sooner than I did.
Take the time to really figure out how you want to handle these types of issues and what your boarding facility can offer for alternatives. When you have a good understanding of what you can offer for paddocks and turnout than it will make your job so much easier in the long run.
If you would like to know more about this subject and many more between the barn owner, manager and boarder, please check out my book, "The Total Horse Barn Manager Makeover." This book is the most honest book you will read about barn management and problem solving real issues that come us between the barn owner and the client. You will never look at barn management the same way and this book will encourage you and help you run your barn with confidence.
Thank you for the great question,