Having horses, whether your own or clients, comes with responsibility. One of those responsibilities is ensuring the welfare of those animals on your premises. This will often include the timely provision of services undertaken by external businesses such as vets, dentists or farriers. Similarly, as a civic responsibility, you also need to take steps to ensure the animals, clients, and visitors remain safe while on your premises. This applies to any visitors to the yard from the clients themselves to their friends and family, vets, farriers, instructors and even your own staff. But where do your responsibilities lie over third party services providers, and how well can you limit control of those visitors to your yard?
The level of control you can exude over visitors to your yard will be determined, to an extent, by the livery packages you offer. Those yard owners offering full livery packages with full day to day care of the animals included will be able to select, coordinate and oversee the visits of farriers, vets and suchlike. On the other hand, yards that offer DIY packages, or packages where the owner carries out all or some of the day to day care will often find they have numerous different service providers visiting the yard every month and little control of who they are or when they arrive. Below we suggest some practical action that can be taken to make sure everyone on the yard remains safe and a line of communication remains open between all parties.
Just who are they and why are they there?
The most important factor is to make sure you know who is there and when they will be on the yard. It is not unreasonable to expect a livery client to notify you of any impending visits from any visitor they have organised independently, and- unless agreed otherwise- for them to attend and oversee the service. The last thing you want to see if a complete stranger leading one of the horses across the yard!
When you take on a new livery client, its worth mentioning who your yard farrier, vet and horse dentist are. It may be for ease that horse owners change their provider to be able to easily coordinate visits and cut costs. Others may have preferred providers they have used for a long time. When a new client arrives, they should complete a horse details form and on that form, you should include a space for the name and contact details of their preferred farrier, vet, horse dentist and any other equestrian professionals, such as an instructor or chiropractor, that they regularly use.
Check their credentials… and insurance
One of the biggest problems is making sure service providers are actually competent and able to do what they have been asked to undertake. It is not unreasonable to request details of service providers credentials and registrations, and most importantly their insurance details. Links to verification sites for some industry professionals can be found at the bottom of the article.
For service providers such as freelance grooms and instructors, you need to make sure they are competent and insured. Anyone coming onto your yard and handling animals can be a potential risk, more so when handling unfamiliar horses in an unfamiliar environment. Anyone coming on to your yard to undertake paid services such as schooling, stable services and the like should hold custodial liability insurance, more commonly known as ‘Care, Custody and Control’, as well as industry-specific insurance for the services they undertake. These insurances should cover them for any loss, injury or damage in the course of their work not only to themselves and the horses they are working with, but also a level protecting your property and other people and animals on your yard arising from their actions or negligence. As the main service provider, you are well within your right to request copies of all associated paperwork and insurance prior to their visit to your yard.
Even if a service provider has all the right paperwork, you may still have concerns with their work ethics or practices and as such reserve the right to raise concerns with owners, or advise you no longer want them carrying out their service at the yard. As yard owner, it is in your interest to keep everyone safe- including the animals- and if you feel substandard services or practices, even by accredited professionals- are putting people or animals at risk, then action must be taken.
Do they need supervision?
For livery packages that owners do the work themselves (such as DIY), you would expect them to attend for services such as farriers and vets, as they will have arranged these appointments themselves. But what if they cannot be there? Is the farrier or vet capable of locating the right horse, or handling it whilst services are undertaken? Do you really want strangers wandering around on the yard or in your fields? You can enforce a rule that horse owners have to be there for these visits to oversee and supervise, and most importantly to make sure the right thing is being done!
If they are unable to, then they could ask you if you could supervise on their behalf. You could opt to do this, but are not obliged. As an incentive- and useful if you or staff are on the yard anyway- you can charge a holding fee charged per 15minutes or, if no direct supervision is required, a fee to bring in and turn out the horse before or after the service and for the owner to know someone will be in the vicinity for the duration of the service. However, if you are overseeing the appointment, you need to ensure that you know the date and time of the appointment and what they are actually coming to do. Make sure you also have the contact details of the service provider in case they are late or there are any other issues that arise.
Make the rules clear from the start
When a potential client views the yard, let them know if you have any restrictions on visitors because this may affect their decision on whether they’d like to bring their horse to you. Some yards no longer permit external instructors or trainers due to previous problems or insurance issues or may enforce the use of just one nominated vet or farrier. If this is something you restrict, make sure potential clients are aware of this before they sign up.
If you have specific visiting times or rules in your livery contract regarding supervision or notification of visitors to the yard- including service providers- make sure you point these out. If there are any rules you feel particularly strongly about, make sure you include these in your contract. Clarity on the yard rules from the start will make sure everyone knows what is expected of them and make it easier to deal with any problems that may arise in the future.
Do they pose a biosecurity risk?
Biosecurity is a risk too. External services providers will visit a lot of yards and handle a lot of equines in the course of their work and this can lead to cross-contamination and the potential spread of disease. The more service providers you have visiting the yard, the higher the risk. Whilst best practice would be for the service provider to bear this in mind, with many it is something not prioritised often using the same equipment, clothing, boots etc that they have used for visits to other yards. It is very easy for service provider to have unwittingly come into close contact with a disease-carrying horse and then potentially bring infected materials on to your yard.
If you have a biosecurity agreement in place on the yard, horse owners should be aware of this, and notify the service providers of these requirements prior to their visit. You reserve the right to refuse entry to anyone to the yard who you feel may compromise the safety or welfare of the animals in your care. Simple precautions can be taken such as requesting visits earlier in the day- when they will have visited fewer animals, or providing a coverall for them whilst at your yard.
What if you offer those services too?
If your yard offers assisted services such as mucking out or holiday cover, or instruction or schooling, do you want a third party coming to your yard to undertake those services as well? Not only does this add to the visitors to the yard, but services like holiday cover and schooling are the most likely to be unaccompanied visits in the absence of the owner and therefore posing a higher risk. In addition, if these are services you offer in-situ on the yard and these are being ignored in preference for an external service which may be cheaper, do you really want to be losing that potential income?
Many yards that offer instruction or assisted services no longer allow freelance grooms or instructors on the yard because they can provide this service themselves. This is not an unreasonable step to take. However, not all instructors and horse owners gel and it’s understandable if this is a restriction that may put off potential clients. As an alternative, you could permit external instructors but add a surplus fee for the use of the arena or facilities which gives you back some of the lost income. You could also arrange regular clinics with external instructors for which you can charge an additional fee and again take advantage of the need for external instructors but gives you some recompense as well as being in control of when they are visiting and using the facilities.
Is it costing you money or inconvenience for them to be there?
If a livery client is paying an external service provider to come to your yard and carry out a paid service, they may well be using your lighting, water, electricity or other facilities. Is it your responsibility to foot this bill for utilities or wear and tear? While most services will only be very light use, services such as clipping- particularly for several horses or ponies- will continually use power if on mains, and this will add to your electric bill unnecessarily. Some yards have now brought in a fee for clipping on the yard to cover external freelance grooms, or even owners themselves, using the yard’s power for their clippers and suchlike. A fee per horse of only a couple of pounds for clipping seems barely worth it, but if you’ve ten horses being clipped on the yard and each one is clipped twice over the course of the winter that £40 will certainly help towards the electric bill.
You also need to make sure that the visit times and services are not disrupting your yard routine, nor inconveniencing other livery clients. The last thing you want is for clients to turn up of an evening with the intention to ride, only to find a jumping lesson going on and the arena blocked for the next hour. The yard routine must be considered as well. There is no point turning a horse out if ten minutes later the farrier arrives- make sure owners are aware of the yard routine and that they try to be considerate of this when booking appointments. It is your yard and you can certainly dictate set visiting times for service providers to be on the yard, particularly in the case of the need to use facilities such as an arena. Such services should be arranged for less busy times- i.e avoiding evenings or weekends- and not when everybody wants to exercise their horse. You can also specify other services must be carried out within certain times, for example in the morning, if you know you other staff will be on the yard to oversee.
Making sure that you do not need to be clearing up after service providers is to be noted as well. It’s not good a farrier leaving nail ends all over the yard, a freelance groom leaving hair blowing about, or an instructor leaving a huge course of jumps out in the arena. Make it very clear that for any external service providers, the yard and its facilities should be left as it was found. If they do not keep to this, then the responsibility lay with the ower. They should not expect you or your staff, or other clients, to be clearing up their mess.
Set a List of ‘Approved Service Providers’
It is not unreasonable to provide clients with a fixed option of a ‘yard’ farrier, or vet, that you know of and can recommend. This is the ideal option if you are responsible for the day to day care of animals and makes it easier for you to coordinate visits. Another option for large yards with many owners is to issue an approved list of service providers that clients can choose from. This could start with a short and basic list of service providers that you have checked the credentials of, and are satisfied that they are qualified, competent and insured to carry out their services. You can keep a record of this and ask each of them to send you renewals of accreditation or insurance each year to continue their approval for your yard. If you have a new client, who wishes to use a service provider not already on the list you can request details and add them to it. If you are going to make this compulsory, you need to ensure this is communicated to potential clients when viewing your yard.
They should follow the rules too
It is not unjustified to expect all visitors to the yard to abide by the same rules you would expect of your clients or your staff. It should be the responsibility of the owners appointing such service providers to make them aware of important information regarding yard policies and rules. Dogs on the yard, no smoking and closing gates may seem obvious to some, but for visitors that are unfamiliar with the yard, or who do not extend these simple courtesies should be made aware in the first instance. You are within your right to ban any serial offenders from the yard.
Offer a set day for group booking a preferential service provider
More often than not, service providers will offer preferential rates for multiple horses on one visit. This is advantageous for horse owners who can coordinate vet visits, shoeing or other services to all be undertaken at once, and save themselves money. It is also advantageous to yard owners who only have one block visit on the yard thus restricting visitors and being in control of who is on the yard. Communication is the key with organising such group appointments- arrange with the service provider in good time, trying to ensure it is a convenient time for most- weekends or later afternoons are usually most agreeable- and make sure let your clients know who is coming and when they will be there. Many larger yards have a set visit time for farriers (for example, every 6 weeks) and vets (for example, monthly) so clients know when they are coming and can book in the interim of visits if they need anything doing.
What about other potential problems?
There are other factors to include as well that can affect the safety and security of the yard. Any external service provider who comes to carry out services when they are not accompanied or supervised by the owner poses a risk- often required to enter fields, unfamiliar animals, using facilities or needing access to secure areas such as tackrooms. If you take security seriously, you need to ensure details like key hiding places or padlock combinations are not readily given out by clients, and that it is clear if they are restricted to certain areas during their visits.
Any service provider bringing any electrical equipment on to the yard also needs to have taken precautions. Any items that need to be plugged into your electric- be it clippers, extension leads, massage pads- should be PAT tested so that they and you are satisfied these are safe to use and do not pose a risk to those on the yard or your electrical system.
Overall, most external service providers are competent and experienced professionals who visit yards day in day out and should be aware of the risks. Considering the points raised above, as the yard owner or manager, it is not unreasonable for you to seek more details or verification of people visiting the yard to put your own mind at rest that there poses no necessary risks to yourself, your staff, the animals or the other clients.
Below are some associations that can be used to verify the accreditation, qualification of certain professional enterprises. Whilst this covers most services mentioned above, some are not governed (such as freelance grooms), or registration with the appropriate associations is non-compulsory. If in doubt, request copies of memberships, qualifactions from service providers for your own satisfaction:
Farrier- Farriers Registration Council
Vet- Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
Riding Instructors- British Horse Society
Coaches and Grooms- British Horse Society
Equine Dental Technicians- British Association of Equine Dental Technicians
Equine Physiotherapist- Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy
Equine Behaviour Therapists- Society of Equine Behaviour Consultants
Equine Chiropractors- British Animal Chiropractic Association or McTimoney Animal Association