Horse-sitter For Hire: Handling Helicopter Moms & Their Horses

A guide for both sitters and those needing them!

A happy horse is a healthy horse. Photo by Kate Boggan

So you’re an equestrian and you want to go on vacation. When you’ve finished laughing at yourself for that childhood fantasy, the biggest obstacle to that dream becomes immediately apparent: “Who will watch over my darling horse(s) while I’m away?”

Maybe you board your horse at a top of the line, full-care facility. In this case having someone look after your baby is as easy as letting your barn owner know you’ll be out of town and to call if there’s an emergency. However if your horses live in your backyard, things can get a little more complicated: you’ll need a horse-sitter.

Horses aren’t like dogs and cats; not just anyone can be responsible for your herd while you’re away. Finding the right horse-sitter can seem daunting and being a good horse-sitter takes some effort. As someone who’s been recruited to horse-sit ever since I was able to drive, I’ve compiled two lists that will hopefully help both parties have positive experiences.

The barn I frequently horse-sit for. Complete with cattle in the background. Photo by Kate Boggan.

What to look for in a horse-sitter:

  1. Does this person know horses? A horse-sitter needs to be able to conduct themselves safely around horses, which means they need a basic understanding of how horses work. The more experience in this field the better. This means that while your neighbor’s 6th grade daughter might be a convenient option, she may not know that if you run up behind a horse you have a good chance of getting a hoof to the face.
  2. Can this person recognize what is and what is not normal behavior in a horse? Horse-sitters have to know the basic signs of colic. Bonus point if they know how to check vitals. They should know when a horse is acting sick and that if one doesn’t come up for dinner time you should probably go look for them.
  3. Is this person a responsible, reliable individual? This might seem like a no brainer, but if a person is consistently running late or forgetting appointments I don’t really want them looking after my horse. Forgetting a supplement or a whole meal can mean big time problems for your horses.
  4. Would you trust this person to haul your horses for you? This one isn’t essential, but it’s a nice peace of mind to have. In the event of an emergency I would want to know that my horse-sitter could take my horses to safety or get them to a vet.
  5. Will this person have adequate time to devote to my horse? I can personally be guilty of overcommitting and stretching myself too thin. When I know I will be watching someone’s horses though, I make it a point to try and clear my schedule as best I can. You don’t want someone rushing through a feeding and potentially missing an important detail.

Not the barn resident I signed up to look after! Photo by Kate Boggan.

How to be a good horse-sitter:

  1. Keep the owner updated. Especially that first night let the owner know how their baby is doing. I would say 95% of horse people are guilty of being helicopter moms/dads. It takes a huge weight off owners’ shoulders and gives the owner more faith in their horse-sitter hearing from them while they’re away.
  2. Ask for written instructions. Whether they’re handwritten, in a text or scrawled out on a whiteboard, and even if they are the most basic of basic instructions, it will make your life easier if you have something to reference while the owner is out of town.
  3. Get an emergency contact list. Much like human babysitting, a list of numbers to call if needed is very helpful. Aside from just the owner’s contact, ask for the vet’s, farrier’s, trainer’s, and any other contact that could help in an emergency.
  4. Stick to the routine. Horses are creatures of habit and the majority like to stick to a routine. Do your best to keep them on their normal schedule. A happy horse is a healthy horse.
  5. Get an agreed upon payment beforehand. Discussing payment can be awkward, but it’s much better to go into a situation with a firm price than assume you’ll be paid one amount and get offered another at the end of it all. This will keep both owner and horse-sitter happy and help you get hired for the next job.

How any horse person ever has the funds for even the shortest weekend getaway after all the feed, board, farrier, vet and training bills baffles me. But if you are so fortunate and are able to take a vacation, hopefully these tips will help you find the perfect person to look after your most prized possession while you’re away. And if I ever ask you to horse-sit for me, fair warning, I am helicopter mom to the max!

Horse-sitting is extra rewarding when it involves hacks on my retired event horse. Photo by Kate Boggan.

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