And three things you should do after they’re hired.
It’s that wonderful time of the year when we eat too much, spend too much, and very often travel away from our furry family members to visit the not-so-furry family members. We won’t count Cousin Eddie.
BEFORE YOU HIRE
- Ask for references.
Every professional horse sitter should be able to provide current client references.
Specifically, ask for references with similar needs to your own. I usually ask to speak with clients that have geriatric horses, since two of my horses are in their late twenties.
Once you get the referrals, call them! As a member of the millennial generation, I understand that calling people … on the phone … where you have to, gulp, talk … especially to total strangers … can be weird. But texting and emailing just won’t cut it here. And, hey, you’re just going to talk about horses. Even the most introverted of equestrians — i.e. me — can handle that much.
- Ask them about their experience.
During the interview — which, yes, you should absolutely have an on-site, in-person interview before hiring a sitter — I prefer open-ended questions.
Rather than asking them outright if they know how to spot colic, instead ask them about their own horse experience. Are they current horse owners? Did they grow up riding? What disciplines did they train or compete in? What led them to becoming a horse sitter? Did they have any other jobs in the horse world? How long have they been horse-sitting?
Anyone can Google the definition of colic before an interview, but you can’t fake years of horse experience during a real, honest conversation.
- Ask about the nitty-gritty details and get it all in writing.
Is the person you’re speaking to actually going to be the person taking care of your horse? Or will it be a staff member? Is the horse sitter insured? What happens if there’s a medical emergency? Do they have reliable transportation? How much do they charge per visit?
All of this should be agreed upon and written down in a contract that’s signed by both parties.
Paperwork protects everyone involved.
AFTER YOU HIRE
- Be honest.
If Clover sometimes kicks out at dogs … tell the horse sitter.
If Sugar the weanling has only seen a halter a handful of times and isn’t really halter broke … tell the horse sitter.
If Lady occasionally is not very ladylike when she sees a feed bucket and starts terrorizing the whole herd in a hangry boss mare episode … tell the horse sitter.
In reality, our horses are creatures of habit. They might normally be angels, but we know there are extenuating circumstances that can make them act out of character. A horse sitter is someone new and exciting and shiny … think plastic bags blowing across the dressage arena during an event when you have an eight a.m. ride time.
Horse sitters aren’t there to train your horses either. They’re there to provide the best care possible while you are gone. So give them all the information they need to accomplish that.
- Let everyone know you hired a horse sitter.
Boarding stable owners, farriers, veterinarians, nosy neighbors … everyone important to your horse’s life should be made aware that someone new will be caring for your horse.
On that note, the horse sitter also needs to know who else is authorized to be on the property. Relevant neighborhood information — kids on motorcycles, neighbors that fire guns, roads that easily flood — is also helpful.
- Leave a list of instructions.
And if you want twenty pages of details … go on with your neurotic self … equestrians embrace minutiae.
At the very least, write down this info and leave it somewhere handy:
- The basics like your cell phone. Names and phone numbers for your vet, farrier, helpful friends and neighbors. Designate one person as an alternate emergency number if you can’t be reached.
- Barn/property information. Codes for any gates or combination locks. Possibly draw a map of the farm, so your sitter knows where everything is and exactly what you mean by the “back” pasture.
- Info about each animal on the property: where he sleeps, feeding instructions, feeding and turnout schedule, behavior quirks, etc. This isn’t exclusive to horses either. Don’t forget to leave instructions for any other pets on the property.
- Blankets, rain sheets or fly sheets, and at what temperature do you want them off or on? Do you want the horses wearing them in the barn or just when turned out?
- Leave pictures and/or identifying information for horses with the list of instructions.
- Make a copy of your horses Coggins or insurance papers — or keep a digital copy on your phone that can be easily sent — for emergencies.
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.