I remember a young new horse my parents bought me when I was fifteen years old. She was an Appendix Quarter Horse (back then they called them running quarter horses). She was part Thoroughbred and part Quarter Horse and when I took ownership of her she was only a year and half old. You could tell she was going to be very tall.
I was very young and didn’t know anything about nutrition and at that age, I must admit I really didn’t care. After all how many young kids want to learn about nutrition and how much a horse needs to eat to keep weight on. We boarded her at a stable not too far away from my home and everything seemed great. I was waiting for the time when I could start riding her and the months went by slow. After about six or seven months I had someone come to me and tell me that my horse was losing too much weight and I needed to talk with the barn owner and ask him to increase the hay. It was the first time that my eyes were opened to how thin she was. I couldn’t see it before and neither could my parents.
Once you go through something like that, you never forget and I have never forgotten it either. I think about that mare many times while I am feeding the young horses at my barn and I decided when we opened our facility that I would make sure I treated each horse on an individual basis and feed them accordingly.
I hear many stories of how barns will treat horses the same no matter what the weather or temperature is and the hardy horses do great but it can wear down a horse that doesn't grow a heavy coat or is mentally a little fragile. Some people have the belief that if you throw them out in any kind of weather or herd situation, they will adjust and it will toughen them up. I have seen this go both ways. Sometimes a horse does figure it out and adjust to the elements and herd and many times they can become more stressed.
This is where a strong and knowledgeable barn owner will keep a watchful eye on the fragile horse and make decisions and changes according to how the horse is doing. Sometimes all it takes is putting a blanket on during the cold months and sometimes it means changing herds to find a better suited herd. I truly believe that if you treat each horse individually and help them along once in a while, they will flourish once they figure out they are safe and they can keep themselves warm and most importantly, they can get enough hay to eat.
It’s funny as a barn owner now; I hear similar stories to my own about horses that are struggling when potential new clients come to our barn for a tour.
If you want to set your barn apart and make a difference in the life of the horses in your care then do not treat them all the same. Some breeds are very similar and then there are many that are as opposite as can be. You can't treat a Miniature Horse like a Draft Horse. It doesn’t work. Can it be more work at times? Of course it can. Is it worth it once you find a good fit? You bet!
Don’t follow what other barns are doing. Set your standards higher for the horses at your farm and watch your business grow and people will notice and talk. You will earn the reputation of having great care and happy horses. Don’t forget why you got into this business to begin with. Because we love horses and we want the best for them.
I wish you the very best in your horse business,