It doesn’t matter whether you’re a trainer, an instructor, a breeding manager or a facility owner. If you’re in charge of an equine operation of any size, shape or type, you have a million items on your daily to-do list. And regardless of your official title, you likely wear a multitude of hats every day. Toss in a personal life, and the responsibilities on your shoulders can make you feel like Atlas holding up the world. So how do you handle it all and still find time to eat, sleep and enjoy life? We talked with three equine facility owners who have found a way. Here, we share six strategies based on their successful experiences for taming your scheduling and getting your to-do list done.
Rule number one for any successful time manager is delegation. If there are tasks you don’t absolutely have to do yourself, and they’re cutting into the time you should be devoting to your primary responsibilities, then hire someone else to do those chores. Stan Penton—who, with his wife Christine, owns Normandy Farms in Littleton, Colo.,—is a big believer in delegating. “For the past five years, we’ve tried to get as out of the nitty-gritty as possible and use others, and their time and services,” says Penton, who actually has a full-time job off the farm. Two full-time barn workers handle most chores. Two trainers lease space while a third professional conducts occasional special events on the farm.
Quarter Horse trainer Gord Wadds—who owns Gord Wadds Show Horses in Ovid, Mich., with his wife, Kim—relies heavily on family to share responsibilities. Son Justin, 20, manages the facility with help from a full-time employee. Wadds has a part-time assistant trainer who works horses at home when he’s on the road. Another part-timer helps with grooming, saddling and post-show equipment care. The family’s 16-year-old daughter, Jolene, already an accomplished horsewoman, assists with youth instruction. And Kim pulls her fair share, as well. For instance, she’ll often head to shows ahead of her husband with a few horses and clients. “When I get there, the stalls will all be ready, so I can put the horses straight in, and I can be schooling horses and helping clients 15 minutes after I arrive,” says Wadds.
Like Wadds, Carol Fleck—who owns Partridge Hill Stable in Barre, Vt., with her husband, Greg—counts on family to share the work load. “Our farm is family run. We don’t hire outside help, so I would not be able to have my smoothly run program without the help of my husband and daughters,” says Fleck. “We all pitch in when we can and where we need to.” For instance, despite having a part-time job away from the farm, Greg handles feeding, cleaning and barn maintenance. Youngest daughter Ashley has a training business on the farm, and both she and sister Hollie pitch in as needed. Sometimes, boarders will also assist in exchange for lesson or board credit.
2: Schedule Your Vendors
Penton admits he’s learned the hard way how important it is to schedule vendors rather than be at their whim or do the work himself. For instance, he used to fill his own dumper trailer with manure and drive it to the waste management facility once or twice each day. Eventually, he realized it was actually cheaper and far more time efficient to have the waste management company do a twice-weekly pick-up at his farm.
He’s learned similar lessons about shavings, which he used to get for free from a local wood mill, but only based on availability, which ran in binge-and-starve cycles. And about hay, which he once picked up himself but now has delivered. “If you don’t do it logically, you waste time and have to work around other people,” he says. “Now, we pretty much have everything on a weekly or monthly schedule.”
3: Communicate the Schedule
Monday morning meetings help Wadds keep his staff abreast of tasks for the week ahead. Based on the meeting, Justin creates a job list for his assistant. Similarly, Penton believes in planning to keep his schedule on track. “The staff has daily, weekly, monthly and yearly jobs that are pretty much pegged out, even down to what time to do the feedings and drag the arenas,” he says. “We’ve had to be pretty specific because we have a lot going on.”
Calendars play a pivotal role in managing and organizing time for Wadds and Fleck. Wadds keeps calendars in the house, the show barn and the office; his wife puts the whole show season on every calendar at the beginning of each year. When a client calls with questions or a show schedule gets altered, a calendar is always handy.
Rather than multiple calendars, Fleck uses a single portable calendar. It has enough room for writing in her schedule, plus lines on each side to jot down reminders. She attaches to it a computer-generated printout of customer names and phone numbers. “Carrying it back and forth from the house to the barn saves me time,” she says. For instance, she can change customer lesson times on the spot, without a game of phone tag, whether she’s taking a call in the barn or talking to a client face to face. “And I am able to look at this calendar at a glance to add vet, farrier, bedding and other appointments,” she adds.
Fleck supplements the calendar with a sectioned, spiral-bound notebook. She has sections for veterinarian and farrier information (such as contact numbers, schedules, and what’s been done to individual horses). Deworming information goes in another section and breeding notes in another. “It makes an easy, at-your-fingertips reference,” she says.
4: Use Technology
“I’d probably be lost if I weren’t computer literate and didn’t have some good Excel spreadsheets,” says Penton, who uses his computer for everything from work schedules to billing, turnout schedules to stall assignments. Likewise, Kim Wadds uses the computer to help with office paperwork—in particular, to streamline the billing process and plan finances. Fleck relies on her computer for some basic word-processing tasks, such as creating lists of vet immunizations for customers, and riding, board, lease and training agreements.
5: Know Your Limits
No matter how organized you are, there’s only so much you and your staff can do in a given day, week, month or year. You have to know your limits and be prepared to say no sometimes. Wadds, for instance, won’t take more than 20 horses into his training program. As a general rule, he also limits instruction to riders with horses in the program. And, he recently stopped standing a stallion at his farm so he could focus on his core business services. With the stud, he explains, “We couldn’t get everything on the plate done.”
Wadds also restricts the duties he and his staff handle for clients. “It’s very easy for trainers, especially young trainers, to feel that if a client is paying, then the trainer has to do everything,” he says. “In our program, we tell clients from the beginning that we will teach them to be increasingly independent. Our clients all learn to band, braid, put in tail extensions—many times, that’s part of our instruction.”
6: Analyze Your Time
“Anyone doing this or any other business has to examine their use of time, and relate it to their goals,” says Penton. In essence, he says, you need to ask yourself if a particular duty is making the best use of your time in terms of profit and goal achievement. For instance, if you’re an experienced trainer, does it really make sense for you to clean stalls and fix fences? Or would you be ahead of the game if you hired a low-wage helper, freeing more of your time to train?
The Pentons, for example, once had a highly successful lesson program. “It was bringing in about $100,000 in revenue,” says Penton. But once they factored in the related expenses and time commitment, he says, “We realized that it wasn’t actually a smart use of our time or space.”
Putting even one of these strategies into practice can help you manage the multiple tasks in your day. Incorporate all six, and you have the potential to tame your schedule completely, allowing you to accomplish your professional goals—and still have time to enjoy your personal life.