Is your horse’s hay going missing? Do you suspect it’s one of your stablemates or fellow boarders stealing your horse’s hay or feed? For those who aren’t privileged enough to have their own private stables, or those who just like the convenience and social aspect of a yard, hay theft is a common problem. We’d like to call it “borrowing” because most people hate to think there’s a thief within their social circle and their “happy place” (as the stables are for most horse owners). But the reality is, whoever is taking your hay or feed without permission is committing a crime in the form of theft or larceny.
So what can you do about your horse’s hay going missing? Well that depends upon two things…do you know for sure who’s taking the hay, and do you know whether or not the person is associated with the yard (i.e. are they a fellow boarder, do they work for the yard, or complete outsiders)? Why do these things matter? Well first of all, if the person stealing your hay is a complete outsider, they are most likely stealing the hay to resell it. Sure, they could be taking it to feed their own horse, but if they have their own horse, the cost of hay is the least of their problems. If they are an outsider, you’ve got a slightly bigger problem on your hands because if they’re willing to resell your horse’s hay to earn a profit, they’ll most likely resell anything else they can get their hands on like rugs, toys, brushes, saddles, lead ropes, horse halters, and any other tack not nailed down or secured in your tack box- especially electrical devices like hair clippers. Now before you get all paranoid, keep in mind that most of the time, the offender is not an outsider, but rather an insider, such as a fellow boarder. We’ll get back to warding off an outside thief in a moment, but first a comment or two about a stablemate that is stealing your horse’s hay or feed.
It is not enough to just suspect someone of stealing your hay. You must have definitive proof. Even if someone else in the barn observed a fellow boarder taking your hay, technically that is not enough proof (it would be considered hearsay). However, if the person who saw them taking your hay confronted the thief right then and there, or you confronted the thief with the information given to you by a third party, there’s a good chance the thief will not try to take your hay again. Of course, if they were smart, the hay thief would try again a couple of weeks later. That way it would appear as though the thief hadn’t been caught after all, and they were innocent all along. But assuming no one has seen the thief, making accusations without hard proof can lead to embarrassment, a bad reputation, and at some yards, grounds for removal. Horse people don’t like drama! How do you get definitive proof? The only real way is to record the thief in the act using either a video camera/phone if that is at all possible, or using CCTV with motion activated cameras. If you are lucky enough to film the hay thief in action, you have a few choices. You can turn the footage over to the yard owner and let them deal with the hay thief, you could turn the recording over to the police, or you can confront the person yourself. Obviously, if it turns out to be the yard owner, option one is out of the question, but you have a fourth option- you can just pack up your pony and get the hell out of there (which is probably your best option at that point)!
But what do you do if you don’t know whether the thief is an outsider, an insider, or you’re just becoming senile? Most people don’t want the hassle or cost associated with cameras, so what’s left? Here at FillyGirl we’ve heard of all kinds of outlandish ideas like setting hidden mouse traps inside the hay, lacing the hay with a non-lethal poison (which is not only cruel to the animal that ends up with the feed, but probably illegal), writing a note and leaving it on the bales that says “you’re being watched,” hiding in a stall all night and waiting to catch the thief in the act so you can give him/her the old “Shanghai Surprise,” and tying up so much rope around your bales that the thief won’t bother with your horse’s hay and will instead move on to someone else’s. The most practical solution, however, regardless of who the thief is or what they’re doing with the hay, is the following: color your hay and/or feed with natural food dye. Coloring your hay with natural food dye will not harm your horse, and if it is dark inside your barn (to the point where the thief can’t see that they’ve stolen dyed hay), and the thief feeds it to their horse, it will not harm them either. The colored hay will make the hay worthless to “outsiders” trying to resell it, and it will also deter all would be thieves at your yard once they either see your hay (or they see their horse with red lips the next morning). Yes, technically, if you feed your own horse the top layer of hay from the bale, and they drink some water, they too might have red lips 🙂
Natural food coloring comes in either liquid, gel, or powder form. For your purposes, it’s easiest to dilute the liquid coloring with water in an old spray bottle. NOTE: if you are using an old spray bottle, make sure you wash it out very thoroughly. You’ll need a decent amount of coloring, so we recommend McCormicks Red Culinary Food Coloring. It only costs $12.67 for 32 ounces on Amazon vs. the local supermarket where you’ll find plenty of food coloring, but the available sizes will be smaller and generally cost much more (around $4.00 to $5.00 per ounce). You can adjust the ratio of water to food coloring depending upon how dark you want your solution, but whatever you do, don’t mess with the powders as you’ll end up with a mess on your hands (literally and figuratively), as you try to transfer the powder to the spray bottle. Once you’ve mixed your solution at home, just take it with you to the barn next time you go and spray away at your bales. There’s no need to soak them, just make sure you get as much surface area as possible. If you’re performing this task in the winter, try to do it indoors to avoid frost developing on the hay. The same technique can be used for feed, though it’s a bit more of a burden as you’d have to spray each meal and let it dry before giving it to your horse. For feed, you may want to try locking up the bags in some type of trunk or container with lockable latches like this Rubbermaid 24 gallon storage box.
Have we presented a fail proof method for stopping hay and feed thieves? Of course not. If a thief is determined to steal something, be it your computer documents, your car, or your jewelry hidden in your underwear draw at home, they will get it. But like most theft prevention devices (think car alarms, house alarms, and physical locks), food coloring will act as a deterrent and make any hay thief think twice before stealing YOUR hay. If they see the food coloring, it’s just not worth their time to have to strip off the outer layers of the bale, hide the evidence (the colored pieces they discarded) and hope the coloring doesn’t come off on their hands or gloves. And if the thief is unfortunate enough not to see the colored hay under dim lighting, well then prepare to catch a thief “red handed”!