Jason and I have been boarding retired horses for almost a decade. One conclusion that we have come to through the years is that many of our boarders (I am referring to the people here, not the horses) come to us with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in regards to boarding. When I hear some of the stories they tell about things that were (or more typically were not) done in their previous boarding situations it is no wonder their tension levels appear to be reaching astronomical heights at the mere thought of taking the leap and trusting another farm with their horse. If I had genuine reasons to wonder if my horses was being fed or had water I would be a basket case as well, not to mention moving my horses ASAP.
I must have been lucky in my boarding days as I never experienced a truly awful situation where I honestly needed to wonder if my horses were receiving appropriate care. From time to time there were things I would have changed, but I’ve even felt that way having my horses at home. I might be able to give them the exact program I want in terms of feed and turnout, but their are other trade-offs that come with having the horses at home.
On the flip side of the coin we have met a few people who have what appears to be self created PTSD from their boarding experiences. On a few occasions we have been told extensively how special and unique their horse’s needs are, and the description of these needs always starts with the declaration that no one knows their horse(s) like they do, and apparently no one is capable of ever knowing their horse like they do. We then proceed to hear about their amazingly high maintenance horse’s needs for special this and special that, and can’t handle this or that, and of course they are sensitive about everything and anything to do with turnout (they don’t like being hot, being cold, cannot handle flies, can only stay out a short time, cannot handle group turnout etc.).
All of these special requirements and descriptions are usually followed with the statement that if all of these special things, routines, feeds and supplements are not followed the horse will suffer dire consequences. We do have a couple of residents that are very high maintenance, however it never has anything to do with being fussy about turnout or needing 14 special supplements and special feed. Is it wrong of me that I sometimes wonder if their previous barn owners and managers had PTSD from dealing with this?
To be fair when horses come to our farm most of them are going through a pretty dramatic shift in lifestyle and training demands, so they may very well have been the horse described to us that could not survive without their special feed, their special supplements, special ointments and sprays, and their special turnout needs all while being handled with kid gloves. What we usually find is the horses in question become a lot more “normal” as their daily life takes on a more natural routine, and over time their owner finally begins to believe us when we tell them that they do, in fact, own a pretty normal horse with pretty normal needs.
We generally start things off following the old program to the extent that we feel comfortable. There are some things we simply are not going to to do, and if the owner cannot get comfortable with that then we don’t allow the horse to come at all. We provide a lot of mental health support to the owner as we gradually shift the horse’s program to a much simpler, more normal approach to life. Sometimes we can literally see physical signs of relief as the stressed out owner gradually realizes that we are not crazy, we really are going to take good care of the horse, and we really might actually know what we are talking about when we tell you your horse is – gasp – normal.
Horses, and especially caring for horses, seems to create almost unlimited scenarios to stress out all of the parties involved. After all, even if you do everything absolutely perfectly, horses will still find ways to get injured, sick or maim themselves in some way. I’m pretty convinced that horses could live behind foam fencing with padded shelters on laser leveled land with nary a tree branch in sight and they would still manage to get hurt. It is no wonder there appears to be a lot of people in the horse world suffering from PTSD.