Running Like Clockwork

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Horses are creatures of habit and have a propensity to fret and become anxious if things change. People quickly learn that adhering to a schedule greatly increases the likelihood that their horses will stay healthy and happy. Get off schedule and things fall apart.

Businesses are very much like horses. Experienced stable owners have learned how important scheduling can be to keep their business running smoothly. Schedules become crucial to stress-free operations as facilities grow in size, the number of trainers and instructors increases and the mix of disciplines broadens.

Record-keeping vs. Scheduling

Don’t confuse record-keeping with scheduling. Both are critical business functions, but each has a different purpose and a different impact on operations.

Record keeping is tracking events and activities that have already occurred. It is historical. Scheduling, on the other hand, involves forecasting. Scheduling means planning both the daily and occasional business activities that occur (or should occur) to keep your operation running smoothly.

The more you plan ahead, the more you put your business on autopilot and the greater the likelihood that operations will run smoothly. All equine businesses need a master schedule that lays out plans for the year as well as shorter-term schedules to keep staff and clients aware of daily or weekly events and responsibilities.

Let Us Count the Ways

Scheduling makes a business owner proactive (anticipating regular needs and events) rather than reactive (responding to a crisis or need). For example, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there are going to be conflicts when six instructors and a few dozen boarders sharing a multi-arena facility want to move to the single indoor come winter. Scheduling anticipates crunch times and solves problems before they actually happen.

Shirla Mitchell at Mystic Valley Hunt Club in Gales Ferry, Conn., solves the problem by scheduling different instructors on different days. Boarders know that 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. is the most lesson-intense period, while mornings and late evenings are less crowded with activities. At Chrislar Farm in Rowley, Mass., boarders are told that the training of young horses has priority at certain hours in the morning. Then riding lessons begin. Boarders can check the lesson schedule to see if there is a private lesson for an advanced student or a group lesson for beginners.

When managers put things like manure disposal, hay deliveries, tractor oil changes or farrier visits on an automatic schedule, the likelihood that any one of those chores will turn into a time-consuming crisis (like running out of hay) is minimized.

“When you schedule things like hay and shaving deliveries,” says Chris Cassenti of Chrislar Farm, “they just miraculously show up.” Eloise Joder of Joder Arabian Ranch in Boulder, Colo., recognizes how much she depends on her Kabota tractor and John Deere Gator. She makes sure their regular oil changes are one of the first things scheduled for the new year.

Scheduling Increases Efficiency

When maintenance chores like tractor oil changes, barn painting, fence repairs, driveway grading and pasture reseeding are scheduled, they are not only going to get done but will also be less likely to blow the farm’s budget. Regularly scheduled maintenance can keep minor repairs from becoming major ones and helps managers anticipate cash availability as more expensive items come up.

The annual maintenance schedules for all of the machinery at Knoll Farm in Brentwood, N.Y., is penciled onto a calendar in the farm’s shop. Staffers continually note any maintenance problems in barns or arenas and turn in written requests for repairs. Each day, farm director David Gribbons schedules these on a printed sheet that is turned over to the farm’s three maintenance personnel.

At Mystic Valley, as soon as a show event is over, the farm schedules advertising for the following year’s event in order not to miss publication deadlines. An annual marketing plan can help farms schedule the advertising or publicity deadlines of their targeted publications. No missing that stallion issue they really wanted to be in.

Perhaps most importantly, a well-prepared schedule means that it isn’t a crisis if the barn manager breaks a leg. Someone else can check the master schedule to see what needs to be done today, tomorrow or next week.

Keeping Staff Relations Smooth

Scheduling creates a consistent set of expectations for both staff, clients, suppliers and support personnel. Grooms and stable helpers know exactly what is expected of them and when. Instructors and trainers know when to expect clients and when facilities will be free.

When multiple instructors are sharing the same facilities, however, schedules and communication of those schedules becomes critical to good human relations. At Knoll Farm, Gribbons’ office staff prepares a daily master schedule that stays in the main office. From that master, schedules are drawn up for each groom, each school horse and each instructor. These are posted around the barn and in tack rooms for the staff to consult. “Grooms always know what number of stalls they have that day. They know what horses they need to get ready at what time for what trainer,” says Gibbons. Similarly, instructors know what horses they have for students and where they will have lesson space.

Clients Appreciate Schedules, Too

“In the horse business, the horses are easy,” jokes CeCe Flint of Willow Glen Equestrian Centre in El Cajon, Calif. “It’s the people that are hard.” Schedules can help here, too, because they clearly communicate the who, what, when and where of a farm’s activities to clients as well as staff. Boarders know when the farm is open, when arenas are available to them and when their horses will get various types of care. Lesson students know the times well in advance when a horse and arena space are reserved for their use. Training clients know when they can come to watch their horses work.

Gay Stanton, director of Buena Vista Riding School at Little Gopher Canyon Ranch in Bonsall, Calif., keeps a big board in her tack room with the daily work times for each horse and student clearly posted. The board reminds lesson clients where they are in their lesson cycle (they sell six-week packages) and communicates to training clients how much work their horse is getting and when.

Joder uses a quarterly newsletter to communicate scheduled events, including shows at the farm, vaccination sign ups, deadlines for their quarterly worming reports and any other important dates. The soda machine functions as the barn’s bulletin board at Willow Glen. An easel in the indoor viewing room at Chrislar Farm announces upcoming events such as shows and scheduled visits by the veterinarian or horse dentist. Whatever the system, every barn needs to develop its own method of communicating schedules to its clients.

When customers plan ahead, suppliers can, too. That leads to friendly and supportive business relationships. Scheduling farrier or routine veterinary services well in advance leads to good relationships with horse-care professionals. Regular deliveries and regular payments help feed, hay and shavings suppliers plan and manage their own businesses more efficiently.

Scheduling Improves Finances

Scheduling is also an extremely powerful tool for budgeting, inventory control and cash-flow planning. Knowing how many times the farrier is going to see how many horses or how many times hay will be delivered can help a farm manager project expenses for the year. Projecting how many lessons the farm will give or how many horses will be in for training provides essential income information. That data can be plotted on a month-by-month basis to develop a more accurate cash-flow budget.

When scheduling indicates that several major purchases are going to converge in one week or month when income is also likely to be down, the manager will not be unpleasantly surprised. Instead of taking what seems like a cash surplus in the farm’s bank account to buy new saddles for the school horses, the manager will know the money needs to be put aside to cover next month’s bills.

A good system avoids spoilage of supplies and schedules provided by individual horse owners allow Knoll Farm to use a central ordering system to reduce supplement costs. Owners turn in a monthly schedule of the supplements they want their horses to have and the farm orders the needed inventory, which is then stored in a separate 18-foot by 12-foot room.

Good schedules can be another tool for billing and for backing up farm records. Chrislar Farm keeps master schedules in notebooks in the office. Daily schedules for training, lesson and medical attention are written on worksheets that then go on clipboards; staffers sign off on each event as it is completed. At the end of the day, the work sheets go back to the office for record-keeping and billing. “Schedules flow into account sheets,” Cassenti notes. It’s a lot of paperwork, she admits, but the system not only communicates the day’s events but also provides backup records.

When the Plan Doesn’t Work

No matter how well planned at the start of a year or quarter or month, sometimes the schedule doesn’t work.

Run your schedule, Gribbons says, rather than letting the schedule run you. When a crisis happens, absorb the changes it creates and move on. Don’t let a colic crisis or farrier with the flu become a scheduling crisis, too.

Sometimes when schedules don’t work out, it may be a symptom of a problem that needs to be addressed. Maybe the schedule didn’t work because the manager unrealistically planned too many activities in one place at one time. Or schedule breakdown might signal a need for a change in personnel or better use of staff time. It might point to the need for a better way to communicate schedules. Persistent scheduling problems in one area may indicate a need for a revised business plan.

For example, if there are continuous crunch times in the indoor or on the cross-country course while other rings stand idle regardless of the season, maybe it’s time to find a new mix of lessons, training, boarding, breeding or even pricing that makes better use of the facilities.

Pricing guru Robert Cross, author of “Revenue Management,” tells how he noticed his barber’s shop was jammed on Saturdays and empty on certain weekdays. By convincing her to change her pricing to reward customers who came in on light days while charging a premium for high-traffic days, he showed her she could fill her schedule and increase her income.

More Businesslike

Schedules delegate authority and create teamwork, allowing managers the freedom to travel to shows or take a vacation knowing things will stay organized while they are gone. Potential boarders or lesson clients investigating their options can quickly figure out if the barn’s schedule fits their own when they see a clearly-defined schedule.

Such planning also becomes an important record if the IRS ever challenges whether the farm’s owner is in business or merely indulging a hobby.

Finally, as a proactive business tool, scheduling can help you work more closely with accountants, bankers and other business advisors. It is a business practice that adds value to the operation in the eyes of third parties like regulatory bodies, taxing authorities and even potential investors or buyers. And it makes it more likely the business will survive when the founder decides to cash out and schedules his or her departure.

What to Schedule

The Master Annual Planner

  • Horse Care (shoeing, dental care, worming, vaccinations, health certificates for traveling horses)
  • Staff (lessons, training, horse exercise, barn maintenance, tack maintenance, vacations, show travel, staff meetings, annual performance reviews)
  • Facilities Use (arenas, other workout areas for lessons, training, boarders, paddocks, turnout areas, pastures, shows or clinics on the farm, vans or trailers, especially during show season)
  • Business Administration (updating horse records, updating client records, payroll, payroll taxes, billing, quarterly estimated taxes, computer backup)
  • Inventory management (hay, grain, shavings, supplements, tack and horse equipment, barn equipment)
  • Farm maintenance (daily stall cleaning, manure removal from property, pastures and paddocks, facilities, tractors, vans, trailers)
  • Marketing (annual marketing plan, month-by-month advertising schedules, publicity contacts for shows, clinics, other special events, client newsletter, Website maintenance)

The Daily-Weekly Schedule

  • Horse Care (feeding, daily medications or supplements, grooming, lessons or training time, exercise or turnout)
  • Staff (daily horse care, lessons, training, horse exercise, barn maintenance, tack maintenance, facility maintenance)
  • Facilities (arena times for lessons, training, boarder riding; horse times for paddocks, turnout areas, pastures, wash stalls or other shared areas)
  • Business Administration (updating horse health and usage records, updating client records for invoicing, updating personnel records for payroll, bank deposit)
  • •Farm Maintenance (stall cleaning, manure storage, dragging or watering arenas)

Tools of the Trade

COMPUTERS: Most equine business software packages have limited scheduling functions and are mainly used for record-keeping for horse care.

However, small to medium-sized businesses may find sufficient daily scheduling capability in The Ultimate Equine Business Pro or The Ultimate Breeder’s Pro (Pica Publishing; (303)278-9109; www.eqwi/pica). Both programs include a full package of horse records plus an annual planning calendar, marketing actions calendar and arena-use schedule. The Ultimate Breeder’s Pro package adds daily vet chart and pedigree functions.

Other software options are HorseTrak Business, HorseTrak Professional and HorseTrak Gold (HorseTrak Horse Management Software, 1-800-798-4422; www.horsetrak.com). HorseTrak Business has a monthly calendar and a separate services scheduling function that notifies you when that service is due and allows you to print out To Do lists. HorseTrak Professional adds record keeping functions for multiple owners and breeding operations. HorseTrak Gold adds more powerful accounting and pedigree capability.

Also, specific to the equine world, is EquiMonitor (WF?Young, 1-800-628-9653; www.absorbine.com). EquiMonitor tracks expenses and activities for shows, breeding, feed, farrier, vet visits and supplies. The program can also create customized reports.

Act! for Windows (Interact Commerce Corporation; 1-877-386-8083; www.act.com) and Now Up-To-Date for Mac (Power On Software, Inc.; 1-800-344-9160; www.poweronsoftware.com) are general business software packages combining a contact database with daily, weekly and monthly calendar functions. Though not specifically designed for equine businesses, their monthly calendar functions allow advance scheduling of multiple repeating events.

PRE-PRINTED CALENDARS, PLANNERS AND FORMS: Monthly wall calendars with large blank squares are a ubiquitous master-scheduling tool. Some barns like the desk blotter-size monthly calendars with lots of room for notations. Smaller operations report success using notebook systems like the Day Runner, Week-At-A-Glance or Day-At-A-Glance personal planners for their master calendars.

CUSTOM FORMS: Barn managers can create custom scheduling forms using a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or the tables function within a word processing program like Microsoft Word or Corel Wordperfect. They can fill in their form template on a daily or weekly basis, then print out as many copies as they need. Or they can print blank forms and fill them in by hand.