Perhaps your horse has just had a surgical procedure to repair an injury, clear colic, or address a serious medical condition. You can't take him back to the boarding barn yet. He needs supervised care. What are your options?
First it is important to know the difference between a Lay-Up Care facility and a Rehab facility. When I refer to Lay-Up care, I mean a place where your stall-bound horse is going to get supervised care perhaps around the clock. A rehab facility in contrast, is a place that rehabilitates the recovered horse through supervised and medically appropriate exercise that helps the animal regain strength, balance and stamina before returning to work. Rehab facilities will be covered in its own article in this blog.
Sometimes there are facilities that your vet or the veterinary hospital may recommend or refer you to. If you're lucky, you know a local horse expert who has been around for several years, and he or she may know of a good lay-up facility. A word of mouth recommendation from someone you know and whose opinion you trust is usually the best resource when it comes to finding a service provider in your area.
If you do not have this advantage, it is up to you to do your due diligence in finding the right place for your horse. Since each case is different and you must always bear in mind the exact needs of your horse, the following is meant as guidelines to help you identify places where your horse will receive the care he needs, and you will be able to sleep at night knowing he is safe and sound.
You will need two lists to prepare for your interviewing of Lay-Up Care providers. The first list is the one your vet gives you outlining the specific needs of your horse. The second is a list of questions to help evaluate care providers. You are going to want to have a clear understanding of their capabilities, skills, experience, and the facility's features and amenities before you decide on which provider to entrust your horse with.
First you need to have a very clear understanding of what your horse needs. Does he need special feed, frequent small meals, hand walking, strict stall rest, dressings changed, cold hosing, wrapping, poulticing, etc.... Have a detailed list of absolutely everything your horse needs in the way of care and attention. If you are not certain you have a complete understanding of what your horse needs on a daily basis during his recovery, be sure to ask your vet. This is your first list.
Next you need to prepare your questions for the Lay-Up facility. Luckily, this article is going to provide you with a list you can print out and use when you are calling places or talking to them in person.
Where is the facility? Is it close to your home or office so you can get there quickly? (Note: sometimes it is worth the trade-off to have better quality care a little further from home, it's your call depending on your horse's needs , your schedule flexibility and options available to you).
How far are they from the nearest veterinary hospital for large animals, in case your horse's condition requires a return to the hospital? Does the Lay-Up provider have transportation to take your horse to an emergency clinic / veterinary hospital if needed? If not, do they have access to reliable, safe and responsive horse haulers?
How long has this person / company been in business? What are their qualifications? Do they have any specific and relevant medical, veterinary, or equine education and training, e.g., are they a licensed veterinarian or chiropractor, horse massage therapist or veterinary technician? If he/she is not a vet, which local vets do they have a close working relationship with in the event of an emergency?
Is the Lay-Up care their primary business? Does he or she have other business interests or outside employment? Is the Lay-Up Care provider going to be the only person interacting with your horse? If they are going to be off of the property, who provides care and supervision of the animals? If they have support staff, what is their training and length of service? What types of conditions does the provider specialize in or have a lot of experience with? Are they a post-surgical facility, a lameness facility, a foaling operation. How many horses do they care for at a maximum? What is the ratio of care takers to animals?
What is the cost of lay up care and what is included? What specific services does the provider offer? Are you charged daily or weekly? Ask if everything on your vet list is a service they do, or can provide. If it is not included in their rates but is available, ask about additional charges for a la carte services. Always get as much detail as possible. If you are not getting direct answers to your questions, this is a red flag. Professional providers who have been in business for several years have a very good idea of how much labor is required to administer treatments or services and should be able to provide you with an estimate.
Does the Lay-Up Care provider have insurance? What does their policy cover or exclude as it applies to you and your horse while in their care and on their property? Is the business licensed or registered with the local and / or state governments if this is required?
What does the facility look like? Is the fencing sturdy and safe? Is the barn clean and organized? Are the stalls well maintained, well bedded with good absorption, drainage, air circulation, clean water, and light? Are there secured places to store medications and supplies? Are there video cameras installed in the stalls so that the care provider can keep an eye on the horses overnight or between feedings? Are the cameras accessible by internet so you can view your horse remotely? This is becoming a pretty common practice as the costs of technology come down and webcams are readily accessible.
What are the provider's rules about visiting hours, providing your own care to the horse, or bringing in your own care providers? If the facility can't provide a needed service, can you bring another professional in to do this work? Asking about hours is the courteous thing to do. In some cases, these providers are working very long hours and a little thoughtfulness goes a long way.
These are some of the most common questions to ask as you are interviewing Lay-Up Care providers. Perhaps you will think of others. Hopefully this list will help you keep track of the details that matter, providing you with valuable information so that you can make the best decision possible for your horse's care.
Our horses are a big investment not only financially, but also emotionally. These two lists can help keep you focused on finding the right Lay-Up care provider for your horse and hopefully avoid the pitfalls that occur when expectations are not clearly communicated.
For the downloadable MS Word document, please return to the first page of the blog. It is available there.
Disclaimer: This article in no way provides legal or financial advice to the reader. Please confer with your attorney, accountant, and / or insurance agent to determine your liabilities and risk.