Four Weeks In Advance
Schedule routine maintenance. Take care of all routine vet and farrier visits to catch any potential problems-in-the-making-and so your sitter won't have to bother with them. This will leave him or her free to concentrate on day-to-day care-and crisis management, if necessary.
Tip: Schedule a time when you'll be available to discuss any concerns you may have regarding your horse's health. That will make it easier to catch any problems before you leave town.
Tell your vet you'll be away. While your vet is there, give him or her the dates you'll be leaving your horse in a sitter's care. Ask him or her to ensure that your horse will get any needed veterinary care in your absence. Assure your vet (in writing, if necessary) that payment will be made as soon as you get back. Make a refundable down payment, if requested.
Tips: Give your vet (in writing) specific instructions to be used in the event of a crisis, and ask that this information be included prominently in your horse's medical records. For example, if you're adamantly against colic surgery, make it clear you'll agree to any medical treatment for your horse if he colics, but if surgery is required, you authorize your vet to euthanize your horse. Ask your vet to include any major-medical or mortality insurance information-including contact numbers-in your horse's medical records, in case your provider needs to be contacted.
Three Weeks In Advance
Arrange for emergency transport. Make sure your trailer and towing vehicle are in tiptop shape. Fill the gas tank; put air in the tires; tighten the lug nuts; secure the hitch; clean the floor mats, etc. If your sitter will need to borrow someone else's rig, make sure it's available and in good repair. Leave cash-in $20 bills or smaller-to cover trip expenses.
Two Weeks In Advance
Stock up on feed. Have plenty of everything your horse needs on hand-hay, grain, supplements, daily de-wormer, etc.-so your sitter won't have to buy more. Arrange it all in one place, clearly labeled.
Tips: Use stay-on, waterproof labels. Apply labels on cans-not lids, which may get switched. Remove any feed your horse doesn't need to avoid confusion. Provide an uncluttered work surface for your sitter to prepare feed and supplements.
One Week In Advance
Leave written instructions. Detail feeding and non-feeding chores, organized in the order in which your sitter will do them.
Tips: Leave one large instruction sheet, rather than several small ones-a big piece of smooth cardboard works great. Use a thick-tipped marking pen so your writing is easy to read, and won't smudge or run if it gets wet. Post the sheet on the wall in the food-prep area. Match the feed substance name to the one on the label so there's no confusion. Be clear and concise so your sitter doesn't have to wade through extraneous words to get to the bottom line.
Leave medication instructions. Store medications and supplies (such as gauze pads, needles, syringes, etc.) in one location, such as in a metal lunchbox in the fridge. Write down location of medications/supplies, plus detailed instructions on how and when to use them, on the main instruction sheet described above.
Tips: Show your sitter how to treat your horse, and have him or her do it at least once while you're there, so you know it's being done safely and properly.
Leave contact information. On a separate sheet of paper, list all important contact information: where you can be reached (plus an alternate number, just in case); the name and number of your veterinarian (plus his or her after-hours number, and another vet's number, just in case); your farrier; your equine insurance company (if applicable); and a neighbor (preferably one who knows your horses).
Tips: If you'll be hard to reach, tell your sitter to leave daily messages on your answering machine or service. That way, you can call and check for messages when it's convenient. If your horse has mortality and/or major-medical insurance, make four copies of the provider's contact information. Give one copy to your sitter; take one with you; post one in the barn; and leave one inside your house. That way, you or your sitter will definitely be able to contact your provider in case of a crisis.
Dr. Hayes is an Idaho-based equine practitioner who stalls eight horses.
This article first appeared in the May 2000 issue of Horse & Rider magazine. For more on finding a horse sitter, see "Horse Sitter Wanted" in the May 2007 issue of Horse & Rider.