Work smarter, not harder, management experts tell us. That's easy for them to say--they've never had a barn full of horses to look after. If you're like most horse owners, you devote every minute you can spare to ensuring your horses' well-being. You don't begrudge them the hours you spend pushing brooms, filling buckets and cleaning stalls. After all, you knew what you were getting into when you became a horse owner.
But could you be doing things more efficiently? Is it possible to provide even better care for your horses while still having time for the rest of your life? In other words, can you work smarter, not harder, around the barn?
Sure you can. There are timesaving techniques and tools out there that can help you complete your barn chores faster without sacrificing safety and cleanliness. We've collected some favorites here and arranged them by work category, focusing on the universal (and traditionally time-eating) chores of stall cleaning, watering and feeding, general maintenance, grooming and tacking. Some of our suggestions require specific equipment, but others call for nothing more than changing a routine or two to better utilize your existing resources.
You could immediately reduce your stall-cleaning time by 100 percent--and improve your horses' health in the process--by turning your herd out 24 hours a day. But since that's not feasible for everyone, here's how to cut the time you spend wielding a pitchfork without compromising the cleanliness your horses require.
Switch to a deep-litter system. If you bed on shavings, this European practice can help you establish a thick, clean bed with minimal daily labor. At each cleaning, remove only the visible piles of manure and wet spots--don't dig down to the floor or turn the bedding over. Toss slightly soiled bedding to the sides of the stall, and put a thin layer of clean bedding in the center. Eventually, "banks" of dry shavings will form around the outside of the stall, and you can use these to refresh the center, eliminating trips to the shavings heap. Properly maintained, a deep-litter bed is dry, has no odor and is very cushioning to the legs. You will have to completely strip the stall once or twice a year, however.
Invest in the right tools for the job. A heavyweight pitchfork and a too-small wheelbarrow make for inefficient stall cleaning. Shop for multi-tined, lightweight forks that will allow clean shavings to fall through, along with oversized wheelbarrows that can reduce the number of trips you must make to the manure pile. Consider a mechanized manure sifter that separate clean shavings from dirty, saving both time and money.
Purchase stall mats or other floor coverings. Floor coverings, such as mats and grids, reduce the amount of labor involved in stall cleaning in two ways: by facilitating drainage and by reducing the amount of bedding needed. Properly installed, graded mats or grids channel urine to a drain or through the floor, eliminating the hours you've been spending each month digging out wet spots. They'll also protect floors, cutting down on (or even eliminating) the heavy work of repairing holes or uneven surfaces each year. Mats have one additional advantage: Since they provide cushioning of their own, they require less bedding on top.
Establish a cleaning system. Clean stalls from front to back, back to front or side to side--it doesn't matter what your pattern is; just stick with one method for more efficiency. Simplify waste removal by placing a tarp outside the stall door and tossing everything into the center. When the tarp is full, pick it up by the corners and place it in the wheelbarrow or carry it to the manure heap.
It goes without saying that your horses must have access to ample, clean water at all times. Still, there are some changes you can make to reduce the amount of time you spend delivering liquid refreshment to your beasts.
Add more water containers. The simplest and cheapest way to cut down on the time you spend watering is to add a second water bucket to each stall, as well as additional troughs in each paddock. Fill all the containers in the morning, and you may be able to skip the afternoon refill if the water is still clean.
Extend pipes to stalls. The next level of watering convenience requires a plumber's help. Run pipes from the main water line along the outside of the stalls in the aisleway, above door-frame height. For quick and easy watering, install an on/off valve at each stall, and run short hoses from the valves to just above each water bucket. This kind of pipe system must be drained in the winter to prevent freezing, but during the summer it can save hours of hose-dragging.