Efficiently running a stable is important – if you have just your horse kept at home or keep horses for other people. There are professional places that lack on these tips and things really need to be done. All need to be done and will often overlap. Doing everything but security means some thief is going to have a field day helping themselves to horses, equipment and vehicles! Lacking on feed and facility management means your pest management is going to increase also and the three mean costs are going to increase. These all work together to benefit the stable as a whole – and without one the system can collapse faster than you can imagine, often with fatal and devestating results.
1. Security management – This involves major things and minimal things. If you have security gates on the driveway but 10 people have the code and five of them told five other people guess what – your security is an illusion! There are few people who need to know how to get into your place during private time – any employees, you, emergency personnel. That’s it. Who else needs to be there at any time without you being there? The vet? Who’s going to call the vet if you or an employee isn’t there? Security means not leaving keys in vehicles; it means having a locked area for medications, equipment and securing any farm equipment. You would be surprised how many riding mowers, tractors and other equipment disappear and when it’s being loaded no one thinks to question it! And with the theft rate anymore lock it up! Fuel, fertilizer and herbicides should be locked up securely OUT OF THE BARN. Security is linked to fire too – and in a separate article on here I highlighted ways to increase fire safety. A stable can go up in a very short amount of time and can smolder for hours before flashing into a deadly inferno. It can end years of breeding and kill champions. Motion lights, cameras and other security measures should be implemented. If you don’t have a public stable there’s few times people go into or out of your tack room – a motion tripped camera can take photos any time someone crosses the line. Don’t overlook the daytime thief…if they’ve watched and know you tack up and are gone for an hour working the horse while things are left open you may get a sad surprise when you come back. Have a coded key locked box for keys to vehicles. If need be use one key for all rooms. Consider also security in your pastures – keep gates back away from the road. Security also can mean from within – attempting to keep one person from using excess feed or bedding or other supplies that cost you money. Feeding an extra flake of hay is one thing – taking hay to feed their horse at home is another! Sadly, people DO such things and if you’re not aware of it the costs can quickly mount up to thousands of dollars.
2. Pest Management – There’s no nice way to put it – pests rob you. Rats and mice tear into and destroy feed as well as facilities. Flies and mosquitos make it harder on the horses to relax and can lead to health problems. Raccoons or ‘possums can bring in deadly disease and nest in hay which can render it useful only for compost. There’s a zero tolerance for pests. Deter them, kill them whatever but do not harbor and feed them. They will quickly become an infestation. Seeing four rats by the time you walk from one end of the barn to the other is NOT something that inspires confidence! I’ve seen what could have been a really nice facility – concrete block walls that allowed for ease of disinfecting, steel grates on the front, solid walkways….and literally infested with rats and mice. A half dozen rats seen in one pass as well as the 4-5 mice playing on the sacks of grain that had several chewed open and mice and rats getting up in the bag for a buffet. NOT somewhere I’d want to put a horse in the stall! Find ways to keep the barn free. Keep a couple of spayed barn cats and give them just enough cat food to keep them centered – make them hunt for the rest. A cat so full of cat food they don’t want to hunt simply watches as the mice carry on. Where you have rats and mice in many areas you’ll also eventually have snakes. Black snakes aren’t harmful but many don’t want to see a 6’ snake draped over anything. However, if a rattlesnake or other venomous snake moves in for the mice the results can be deadly for horses and people. Keep grain swept up and don’t store it in bags. Get garbage cans or large steel watering troughs with tops cut for them. Do not rely on freezers – often mentioned as a means of storage. I’ve opened too many and had a mouse dart out of the top! Mice *can* get in them. Use cats, bait, get a terrier for a farm dog – keep mice and rats out! Use fly sprays for facilities, horses, fly bait, fly traps – both in the barn and in paddocks. Keep manure picked up and wet spots removed. Keep manure stored AWAY from the barn.
3. Manure management – Whether you have one horse or many this is going to pile up. Effectively clean your stalls. Remove piles of manure then remove the known “wet spots” – as in scrape up all the wet bedding and throw it out. Slightly discolored can be set aside but *wet* gets removed. Wet leaves an attraction for flies, a source of odor and a source of thrush for your horse. If your horse is out for the day and it’s especially wet leave it uncovered and let it dry. There’s several products available from lime to stall dry products to help with these wet areas. If using lime use it very sparingly! Damp lime with insufficient bedding is caustic and can burn your horse. Use the discolored stuff to put over the wet spot (this will probably be removed tomorrow and stretches your bedding). Turn over and fluff the rest of the stall bedding, picking out any further manure and wet bedding. Once you get used to the horse and the stall this can be done easily and thoroughly in 5-10 minutes including rebedding if needed. Keep the bedding stored and as easy to handle as possible. If you have one horse have a compost bin away from the barn (make an effort – not just a manure pile that draws flies – see pest control.). If it’s a larger facility have a motorized way of hauling manure at least 1/4 mile from the barn. This helps keep flies down, reduces the chances of fire (composting bedding CAN and HAS started barn fires!) and leaves less odor and unsightly mess when you or visitors are at the barn. Turn the pile regularly to help it break down and spread it on the fields or sell it as compost. With 6-8 months composting, being turned, etc weed seeds as well as parasites are killed by the high heat from composting. This makes a safe, viable asset for your fields rather than a mess you don’t know what to do with. With good management of this resource in any barn I’ve worked in and managed there are numerous comments of “it doesn’t smell like a nasty barn” and “the only thing I smell is horses, hay and bedding…where’s the manure?” A well run barn *shouldn’t* smell like manure and ammonia!
4. Feed management – Feed management is obvious in storage. As mentioned in the pest management proper storage of feed means you’re not feeding pests. Hay storage is needed – out of the barn – where hay is accessible to bring in enough for a few days but not enough for a fire hazard. Watch your hay supplies! Watch for leaks in the roof that get hay wet and spoil it; watch for overheating of the hay stack; watch for rodent infestations. Keep hay stored where it’s dry, not dusty and has good air circulation. Invest in good hay and take care of it. If you use large bales outside for mares keep it stored so there is little waste on the bottom of the bale. Keep them stored inside or at least covered. Feed management also includes storage of other supplies – from salt and mineral blocks to supplements. All supplements should be stored and covered at all times. If you have one horse and are often rushed – go to a dollar store and get several of the small containers in the kitchen or office section that snap tightly shut. Put your horse’s daily measure of supplements in each one – mark them Sunday through Saturday. You’ll never have to wonder if you forgot the supplements again. If it’s empty you fed it – if not you didn’t. And the main supply is stored air tight so you’re not losing expensive supplements to spoilage or accidental spills. One spill, even if you pick up “most” of it, can waste a day’s dose – and done enough that adds up. Get a shelf to store supplements on and if there’s multiple horses use duct tape to label each container which horse it’s for. Anything you add to the feed should be kept in a feed room which is not accessible to horses and can be locked – even if it’s a snap to keep an accidental escape out. It’s foolish to risk losing a horse to colic because you’re too cheap for a $2 snap to securely fasten the gate/door shut. And if it’s a client’s horse you’ve opened yourself to a lawsuit.
5. Time management – Over your desk and in the barn have calendars – mark down lessons, vet scheduled visits, farrier appointments, worming dates – everything pertinent to the barn on the desk calendar. If you have to call for feed on the 15th or worm horses on the 10th mark it down. On the calendar in the barn write down medical visits and anything that interrupts the schedule – shows, etc. There’s nothing more wasteful of time, energy, money and resources than scheduling a farrier to visit and having most the horses gone to a show because one person entered horses and someone else scheduled the farrier and neither communicated! It makes the farrier unhappy especially when he has to fuel up the truck for nothing. It’s frustrating when you see horses loading and can’t reach the farrier to stop him. The whole thing can be solved with a dry erase calendar and some pens – under $20. Keep it updated. If someone wants a day off on the 13th write it down – so you don’t have a vet visit and no one to catch/handle horses!
6. Facility management – indoor – This varies from major things to minor things that prevent major things. Have a section on your dry erase board for repairs – if the stall door on stall #5 sticks write it down so it can be fixed. If a stall board is kicked loose fix it. Rinse buckets daily and clean them at least weekly. If there’s automatic waterers take out the bowl, dump the water/hay/grain out, swipe around to remove sediment and rinse on a daily basis. Clean them weekly – same with buckets. Check feeders twice daily and remove any uneaten feed – make a note on the calendar. If Sally’s horse suddenly isn’t cleaning up her feed Sally needs to know and a decision made whether to watch her or call a vet. When you dump that bit of bad feed dump it in the manure cart – not just dumped on the floor for mice/rats/flies to get into or it spoil and REALLY create a sick horse. Drag arenas, fix mats that need it, sweep or rake aisles at least daily and remove the sweepings from the barn to the compost pile. This also includes regular cleaning of the barn bathroom if there is one; the laundry area and other areas often not seen. Keep a running list on the calendar of supplies you’re getting low on – if you have half a tub of hoof dressing left get it on the list to get more BEFORE you run out. If the brushes are getting worn beyond cleaning make a note to get more. Anything you need on the barn shelf keep it stocked and current. Have a place to safely store vet cremes and wound care supplies. Have an emergency first aid kit in the barn for horse and human. Have an area to safely hang brooms, pitchforks and other barn cleaning items and an area to store cleaning supplies that horses and others can’t get to. One place had planned in the grooming area a larger area initially – on one side had a wall sized, shoulder high area with doors on it – in here went ALL those barn supplies – from grooming supplies to barn care items. Out of the way, out of sight but easily accessible if needed. Dont forget maintenance of footing and occasional hosing of the walls, removing cobwebs and such in arenas, roundpens and other covered/indoor areas. Keep track of things like maintenance on fire extinguishers when needed also – assure they are there and charged if you should need them. Have a dry, cemented shop area with basic tools – this is an area that should have a sliding LOCKABLE door.
7. Facility management – outdoor – The amount of things here can be overwhelming. Daily picking of paddocks and fence repairs as needed. Mowing of areas outside the barn, maintenance of driveways, flower beds, mowing of pastures, forage maintenance so you have GOOD pastures not just grassy areas. Regular maintenance of tractors, mowers and vehicles helps prevent breakdowns at the worst time. Keeping gateways from being muddy messes as much as possible – spreading the compost when needed, maintaining outdoor arenas as well as trails and any other areas you ride in. Picking up trash, irrigation of trees if needed, planning long term and making improvements. Keeping supplies stocked including fuel, oil and other things for equipment and regular maintenance of trailers falls into here.
8. Exercise management – Most professionals agree all horses need some turn out time. If you don’t want your horse grazing or in the sun at least have a dry lot you can turn them into for a few hours in the morning or evening, or overnight. Even a 50X100 dry lot with a shelter gives some outdoor time – put boots on if you must but give some “down time” where they can buck and play and roll and be a horse rather than at our whim 24/7. Competitive horses are much happier and healthier with this important factor even if just a few hours a day. In warmer areas put a fly sheet on, fly spray and turn them out in the evening after feeding their grain – give them their hay and let them be out. This gives them time out and reduces your stall cleaning time, bedding use, stall wear and tear etc. Bring them in in the morning, feed them and give them hay inside. This can also be a powerful motivator for those “hard to catch” horses….even the orneries want in when they know in the barn waits breakfast!
9. Training management – Training should be done with a plan – sounds obvious but often isn’t. Training management involves making that plan and working towards it. Manage your time to make the most of it. You might have a half hour between work and the kids ball practice and figure you can squeeze in a session…*don’t*. Here’s why – if the horse starts a problem and you don’t finish it you’ve created a problem. The horse doesn’t care you have to be at the kid’s ball practice – it knows it acted this way and you got off. Guess what’s going to happen the first time you get on – you start the lesson with a problem you didn’t finish. This sets back training because you can’t go forward til you fix the other thing. If you skip the half hour you might miss a half hour but it seems horses sense when you’re pressed for time and THAT’S when they do something. The horse that is always at the gate dropping his head to come in will run screaming like a banshee when I have 5 minutes to get him in and settled to be somewhere else. That’s an inconvenience – but creating a training problem can be more.
10. Resource management – This includes the many other things we see but don’t see until it goes bad. The tires on a 4 wheeler; the hinge on the gate that should have been put on the calendar to fix months ago but now is hanging uselessly broken with five yearlings on the other side wanting out. The leaky tank that needs repaired and the buckets that need replaced. Lead ropes, halters, grooming and cleaning supplies. Have your list, have a clean dry place to store things. From laundry soap for leg wraps to toilet paper for the bathroom to glass cleaner for the windows on the entrance door – know what you have. When you open the last bottle/roll or it’s down to a week’s worth left it goes on the list. Don’t forget things like light bulbs! Planning ahead you can save money…IF you have storage! Find a great deal on laundry soap – get three of them and store two. When you get a great coupon for a supplement you use anyway or fly spray get it – you’ll have it on hand. Keep on hand plenty of wound spray, epsom salts and other things. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Keep an extra belt for mowers, tractors and vehicles on hand – which saves the risk of doing without until the store can get it in because everyone else needed it this week too!
Know what you need and have it on hand. Take care of what you have to keep it useful. Make efficient use of time and money. With your “supplies needed” list you save time and money to run back to town for one item you forgot. With a list for the farrier you can tell him/her how many horses so they know how much time to plan for their schedule. With a list of repairs needed if there’s someone in the family to do it or you hire it done you can have a list of “these 5-10 things need fixed” rather than watching them leave and remembering the door on stall 5 sticks. It doesn’t take large piles of money to have an efficient, clean well run barn. But saving 50 cents or a dollar ten times a day can mean up to $3,000/month! Another way that’s $36,000 per year. If you still think it’s too much to tidy up that feed room, secure the tack room and better manage your barn – I am accepting donations!