I am going to take you back for a minute to my early years. I grew up with horses but in Los Angeles County where boarding is completely different as far as turnout than Wisconsin. There isn't much land available so there really isn't much turnout. Most horses are stalled in large pipe stalls and they stay in that stall until you come to get them out. Some facilities will have little dry lots that you can turn your horse out for an hour or two but the horses are not in an enclosed barn mostly because it is too hot most of the year. Growing up through my twenty's I didn't have access to large herds and understanding herd management. I really didn't learn about it until I moved here to Wisconsin twenty five years ago. It was an eye opener because I had never seen so much land accessible for horses. Open fields everywhere with groups of horses everywhere you go. I loved it!!! I started learning fast about herd turnout at the horse farm I worked at. I learned more about horse behavior and herds the first year I worked at this farm then all my early years put together in California.
A few years later we opened our horse boarding business and the horses came. As each horse came I would always ask the owner about their horse's personality. Were they on top of the herd, in the middle, or always on the bottom? Were they easy going or not? Most of the time the boarders didn't know the answer and so we had to start from ground zero. I did a lot of watching horses and their behavior to see if we had any red flags. With this many horses coming in the odds were high that we were going to get a couple aggressive horses and I would have to make sure they were placed in the right herd. My plan from the beginning was to always keep things consistent with the horses. If everyone in the herd got along good then I was not changing a thing. I realized very quickly that forty horses was much different than four when it came to herd management. There were days that I felt I was in a chess match and placing horses in the right herd was definitely challenging at times.
Looking back all those years I have to say this was the most difficult part of the job. I worked very hard to put the horses in groups where their personalities meshed but it always didn't happen and since all of them were new to our barn within a months time I must say it was crazy and stressful at times. No one likes to come see their horse and find a new bite mark or cut from another horse or even worse lame due to a kick. It was magnified during the first couple of months of our barn opening. I truly believe now you can read many books on herd management and behavior but when you have to do it yourself and study the horses there is no better classroom. Moving a horse from one herd to the next because you see a problem will always be part of the job as new horses come in and others leave.
After many years of boarding horses we still once in a while get a tough horse into our barn that has been on the show circuit and has always lived in a stall. Learning to be outside for the day with other horses can be challenging at first for these types of horses. I work hard and watch closely when we get a horse like this so we can make the transition as easy as possible and in a couple of cases over the years it has taken a horse a full month to adjust to being outside with other horses. Patience and watching their behavior is key.
There are so many opinions on how to put horses together. Different boarding facilities in our area all do it different. I believe it depends on how much land a boarding stable has designated for paddocks and more importantly how many paddocks do they have available for the horses in their care. You can own a lot of land but if you only have one paddock, you will have a greater chance of issues with horses. Some places put all their geldings in one herd and all the mares in another. Some of them mix them. One of the biggest complaints I hear from potential boarders is that the boarding barn they are currently at does not have enough paddocks to be able to move horses if a big problem develops. If their horse is at the bottom of the herd and can't get to the hay (and is losing weight) or is always being picked on then they are stuck. The barn owner doesn't have any other options.
Now I know that having more paddocks never guarantees that horses will always get along. You can have two horses together and have all kinds of problems. I think the biggest way to make the job of herd management a little easier and cut down on problems is to have enough paddocks to be flexible if you have to move a horse. You will always have scuffles with horses but if you can cut down on them by having more flexibility to move a horse when it needs to be moved it will make a huge difference and your job will be much easier in the long run.
The best thing for your horse business is to fence off plenty of paddocks so you can have great flexibility. I can promise you that you will have horses that don't get along and when they cross the line and get hurt the bigger problems happen with the owner of the horse. I have been there and it is not fun. I can say that from experience. Many people go into the boarding business and after they are opened they realize pretty early on that they need more paddocks. Herd management can be easy if you plan ahead in this very important area. You never know what kind of personality you will find until you put a horse in a herd and see how they get along. Are you prepared to make changes if need be? Herd management will be one of the most important parts of your job and you want to make sure you are prepared and ready for the unexpected because it will come.
I have learned a tremendous amount through these years about herd management and I have had my share of mistakes and reading a horse's personality wrong. I am always learning and new situations are always on the horizon. That is what makes these beautiful animals so amazing. They each have their own personality and if you watch them long enough you will be amazed at how easy they are to read. To this day I still love to go out and watch them in the paddocks. They always make me smile.
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! I wrote my newest book to give you an in-depth look into the business of boarding horses and all that it entails. This post today is one small example of what my new book addresses. If you are boarding horses or are planning on it, please check out, "A Step By Step Guide To Starting And Running A Successful Horse Boarding Business." It is a very comprehensive book on boarding horses and covers every part of it from building your barn or stable to solid barn management. I wrote this book because I realized there is an information gap when it comes to this subject and my goal is to help others so they don't make all the mistakes I made when we first opened our boarding facility. I want you to be prepared for the crazy and wonderful new career you are going into.
I wish you the very best in your horse business.