It’s a fact: The horse business is time consuming and labor intensive. Teaching, training, sales, and other moneymaking activities are just the beginning. The other tasks are endless—cleaning the barn, feeding and watering the horses, grooming, caring for equipment, ordering supplies, scheduling deliveries and visits from the vet and farrier, collecting payments, paying bills.
You may have help with many chores, but odds are you do a lot of the work yourself—and trying to fit everything in makes for very long days. Here, a group of busy professionals share some tips that will help you save valuable time.
1. Get Organized
How much time do you spend hunting for lead ropes, brushes, that bottle of fly spray? “Organize equipment, so you know where frequently used things are and don’t waste time looking for them,” suggests dressage trainer Sharon Curran of Bethlehem, Conn., who maintains a small boarding and training business at her home and also travels to train horses and give lessons at other barns. Once you’ve decided where each piece of equipment belongs, get in the habit of returning it to that spot after each use. “This is something I could do better myself,” she admits.
A place for everything, everything in its place—that’s important at horse shows, too, says owner, manager, and hunter-jumper trainer Sandi Teachman Carlton of Windsong Stable, a boarding and lesson barn in Battle Creek, Mich. When Windsong travels to shows, “I pack all the equipment in the tack area of the trailer the same way every time,” she says. That way, she knows exactly where to find whatever items she needs.
Hunter/jumper trainer Sandi Teachman Carlton relies on a small notebook and her Blackberry to keep her organized.
Organize paperwork as well, says Ellie Schofield, who co-owns Galloways Farm in Parkland, Fla., with her husband, Ken. Keep a notebook with copies of the current Coggins and registration papers (breed and show) of each horse that boards or trains with you. “After each horse show, review all the expiration dates on Coggins tests and memberships, so that they are ready for the next travel date,” she suggests.
Ellie Schofield divides her time between two Florida locations, which makes saving time a top priority.
2. Make Lists
Around the barn, establish a routine for feeding, mucking, turn out, and so on; then post a list of daily chores for the staff. “This helps employees know what needs to be done and when the chores are to be accomplished,” says Michele Edel, who with her husband, Jonathan, runs JEM Stables, a sales and training business in northwestern Connecticut. They use lists to help them keep on top of day-to-day operations, too. “We use a dry-erase board to do a daily list of what horses are to be worked and who will be riding them. We’ll also write times when customers are expected to arrive and which horses they are to be shown.”
Dry-erase boards have a prominent place in many barns. At Windsong, a board in the feed room lists each horse’s grain and supplements. “It’s all written down (with changes written in red for a week) so anyone feeding can quickly set up,” says Carlton. She also carries a small notepad and pen in her pocket, so personal lists and reminders are always with her.
In the Windsong tack room, 4x6 cards above each school horse’s bridle list information that pertains to that horse—girth size, special saddle pads, quirks, and the like. “As riders go to tack up different horses, the information is available to them,” Carlton says, so she doesn’t have to stop what she’s doing to give them the specifics.
3. Tweak Your Schedule
In addition to their sale operation, the Edels act as freelance trainers for a limited number of clients. They work out of two different stables, and they have customers, horses to train, and sale horses at both places. “The scheduling is paramount so we’re not going in ten different directions at once,” says Edel. “We live on the property of one of the stables, so I try to set up at least two lessons, or a lesson and a ride, when we go to the other stable. That way we’re not running over there for just one appointment.”
Smart scheduling is important in the sales side of the business, too. “We get a lot of calls from other trainers wanting us to come see horses they have for sale, so we can assist in finding customers. This can lead to a lot of driving around the countryside,” Edel says. “I try to make sure that we have a group of horses to look at, not just one horse that we have to drive two hours to see.”
Schofield also divides her time between two locations, with up to seven horses on training board at Galloways and additional training and teaching at a nearby farm. “It’s important to be flexible as needed, except when that interferes with taking care of our horses,” she says.
4. Go Electronic
Edel uses e-mail and text messaging to contact her customers and set up the daily schedule. “For me, it’s much faster and easier than the telephone,” she says.
Carlton has also gone electronic. “I have two groups of e-mail lists set up—one for boarders and one for public lesson riders. If I have something to tell either or both groups, I don’t risk forgetting someone.” She also has a Blackberry and uses it to keep up with her e-mails throughout the day. “That saves me at least an hour each night answering them,” she notes.
Schofield relies on her iPhone. “It’s well worth the cost, as I can keep so much on it—my schedule, photos of clients, videos of horses, emergency information on horses and clients—and I can look at the weather radar any time I need to,” she says. “In South Florida, the ‘lightning strike capital of the world,’ we literally live and die by the radar.”
5. Double Up
Double your efficiency by thinking ahead. For example, if you’re going out to the paddock to get a horse, don’t go empty-handed—take along the hay for the other horses there.
Sharon Curran sometimes rides one horse while teaching a student on another. This won’t work if the horse you ride is a total greenie, or one that demands all your focus, of course, because your student should have the bulk of your attention. But often, Curran says, “It not only saves time, it’s helpful.” You can demonstrate the points you’re trying to get across to your student while your horse gets the benefit of exercise. “I don’t want the horses I’m training to think that every ride is going to be a big schooling session,” Curran notes.
6. Be Proactive
Carlton’s motto is, “Do today what you might not have time to do tomorrow.” After each graining, she sets up the next feeding immediately. Each horse has its own small bucket; buckets are loaded on a double-decker cart. Mealtime couldn’t be simpler—the cart is pushed down the aisle, and the feed is poured into the horses’ feed tubs via a small opening in the front of each stall.
7. Dog the Details
Staying on top of details also saves time. Repair broken items immediately, says Schofield: “If I wait, I’ll forget, or the next emergency will take over. This goes along with keeping all farm equipment and the truck and trailer in good repair and regular service, so I’m not surprised by a flat tire or a repair just as I’m getting ready to leave for a horse show.”
“Restock items before they are completely gone—everything from feed and bedding to toilet paper and fly spray,” says Carlton. Carry a notebook in your pocket, as she does, and you can add supplies to your list whenever you see they’re dwindling. “At the end of each day, I enter all chores for that day directly into my computer,” she adds. This ensures that chores aren’t overlooked, and the chore goes fastest while everything is fresh in her memory.
8. Invest in Equipment
A vacuum makes short work of dried mud and deep-down dirt in horses’ coats. Automatic waterers (heated ones, in cold climates) eliminate the need to constantly refill troughs and buckets, coil and uncoil hoses, and so on. Equipment like this costs money up front but saves time long-term; weigh the cost against the value of the time and labor you’ll save.
With all you do, should you be faced with piles of tack to clean at the end of the day? Of course not. Windsong lesson riders are required to clean their bridles after they ride, and boarders are highly encouraged to do the same. Something as simple as dunking a horse’s bit in the water bucket after each ride saves time, Carlton notes, because you won’t have to spend time soaking and scrubbing the bit to remove dried gunk.
10. Think Outside the Box
Sometimes the most efficient way to get something done isn’t the obvious one. Suppose you’re running late, and the horse you need to ride next is really fresh. “It may seem that lunging the horse would take too much time, so you’re tempted to just get on,” says Curran. “But in fact lunging or free lunging saves time, because your ride can be shorter. And because you won’t get into a battle with the horse, it will be more pleasant for both of you.”
In the same way, making the rounds of the barn with a pitchfork late in the day can save stall-cleaning time and bedding. It’s easier to remove manure and damp bedding before it is tracked around and mixed into the clean bedding, and you’ll spend less time grooming if you get rid of the mess before the horses lie in it.
You didn’t choose a career with horses because you love 12-hour days filled with mindless chores. Smart pros find ways to make the most of every move. Do the same to save time—and, more important, your sanity.
Small changes in your grooming and barn routines can net big savings in time.
• Keep a container of baby wipes with your grooming tools. The premoistened wipes are great for cleaning dust and grime on sensitive faces, and even touchy horses don’t seem to mind them.
• “We keep a mixture of Quick Silver shampoo and alcohol (one part shampoo to eight parts alcohol) in a spray bottle for quick manure-stain cleanups on gray horses and white markings,” says Sandi Teachman Carlton. Stains come up fast with a spray and a rub, so fewer baths are needed; the alcohol dries quickly, so it's great for wintertime.
• Burrs tangled in manes and tails? Just give them a good squirt of coat polish or baby oil, and they’ll slide right out.
• Use the barn washing machine to the max. Don’t stop with saddle pads, towels, and wraps—toss in synthetic splint boots, bell boots, brushes, and curries. Let them slosh around with detergent in the machine—they’ll be done in a flash and come out cleaner than they would if you did them by hand.
• Use big 36-inch-wide floor brooms to sweep the aisle, instead of the standard 24-inch brooms. “Blowers are even faster but kick up too much dust, in my opinion,” says Carlton.
• Clean stalls when the horses are out—you’ll be done much faster. Bonus: The more time the horses spend outside, the less poop you need to scoop.