I will do my best to give a short version of this topic and my thoughts about it. The question that is often asked is what are the boarders rights if a barn owner/manager is not taking care of the horse and they are not being fed a proper amount of hay and have sufficient clean water? How does a boarder address this issue with the barn owner?
The first thing I want to address right off the top is that every person's view of what great care is will vary from one end of the spectrum to the other. There will be some boarders that have a very unrealistic view of what good care is and everything less than what they expect will be awful to them. I have personally experience this type of boarder and it can be frustrating for the barn owner and often it doesn't end well. Finding a healthy balance on good care and realistic expectations is a challenge for many boarders and barn owners. The simple reason is people have their own ideas about everything. It is definitely something that will take good communication from both parties and education is a huge part of it from the barn owner and manager to a new boarder.
The rights of a boarder
From the perspective of the boarder there is a couple things I want to share my thoughts on. First of all many people don't realize and understand how much it cost to feed a horse and care for them properly. The upkeep of a facility is unbelievably expensive and the constant repairs and maintenance will hit the barn owners pocket book hard. Does that mean that the horses should be fed less hay because the barn owner is trying to save money? Absolutely not!! If the barn owner has miscalculated their expenses and now they do not have enough money to feed the proper amount of hay then that is their huge mistake and they need to find a solution fast and the horses should never have to pay the price.
If the barn owner or manager is not knowledgeable enough to know how to properly feed horses in order to keep them at a healthy weight then as a client you definitely have something to worry about. The other part of a bad situation is that many barn owners become burned out because they really don't have a clear view of how much work it takes to care for horses seven days a week and that includes everything else that needs to be done on a daily basis. They start to cut corners in every area because they are tired and burned out and a boarding facility goes down hill very fast at that point. Sometimes never to recover.
Options for the boarder
As a boarder you have a couple of options. First of all I would read what your boarding contract states as far as care of your horse. I would also have a talk with the barn owner and see what is going on. If the situation is extremely bad where the horses are starving and conditions are not at all adequate for keeping a horse then at that point I would encourage you go through the proper channels whether with an attorney or law enforcement to see what the laws are for your state and what your options are. If the barn owner is not at all receptive to talking and things are not going to change then I would look for another place to board. If the care is not deemed negligent per the authorities then you have a big decision to make. If the barn owner promised you great care and is not providing it then it is time to move on. It is sad to say but in some cases the barn owner is not going to change how they do things.
When you go on a tour of a boarding barn it is only natural for the person giving the tour to make it sound wonderful. After all they are trying to win you over and sign on. Unfortunately what was promised sometimes doesn't materialize. There is no way to control the actions of a barn owner and the care they give. You can only hope that what they say is true and they will give the care they promised. Again, I would always check out a place real good and get references from other boarders about a place you are considering. I would also make out a very detailed list of questions to ask when it comes to feeding, water and turnout and how the barn does it. Each barn will do things differently. I do believe there are many stables that give fantastic care but you need to be very smart about what you look for in a boarding barn.
Don't be cheap when it comes to boarding your horse
I am going to be honest and say that too many people try to save money buy boarding at a cheaper place but they don't realize that many times you get what you pay for. Yes, you might be saving fifty or a hundred dollars a month but if your horse is not being fed enough or can't get to the hay because the other horses won't let him eat then the money you are saving is being wasted because now you have a stressed out underweight horse. You need to look at the entire picture. The same would be true for water. If your horse goes without water or the water is frozen all the time in the winter but you are saving a bunch of money on board then your priorities need to be reevaluated. A horse should never have to go without water or have to deal with frozen water in the wintertime.
Not all boarding barns are bad!
Not all barn owners and boarding barns are bad! There are many great stables and barn owners that do an incredible job caring for the horses in a difficult job. You may have been to one or two bad boarding stables but keep looking because there are many great ones out there. As a paying customer you have the right to quality care for your horse. That means good quality hay and enough of it along with clean water and shelter. Don't except less. It might mean paying more for board but it is better to pay more for board and have great care and no worries then to try and save a few bucks and have a nightmare. Don't be cheap when it comes to boarding. You might have to give up a few other things you enjoy to afford a more expensive barn but you will never regret it in the long run. You can't put a price on great care and a happy healthy horse.
The relationship between the barn owner, manager and boarder can be complicated at times because the center of it all is the horse. Sometimes the barn owners don't have a good understanding of what the boarder is feeling and often the boarders don't understand everything it takes to keep a facility up and going. I wrote "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover" especially with this in mind. I wanted to open up the eyes of both barn owners and boarders to what each other is going through when they work at a barn or board a horse. It is truly the most honest book you will find about barn management and how to work through these kinds of issues.
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business,