Feeding, watering, cleaning stalls, turning horses out, bringing them back in, grooming, bathing, riding, cleaning tack, tidying up … the list of tasks and chores you can do around the barn is seemingly endless! No wonder we cancel dinner plans with friends or run errands covered in shavings and hay. To help you have a life of your own while still taking good care of your steeds, we’ve compiled tips from horse owners and veterinarians that we hope will help you save time on barn chores ranging from grooming and feeding to farrier visits and trailer trips.
Feeding and Watering
Sorting out various feeds and lugging buckets around are part of any daily horse care routine. These barn chores become particularly time-consuming when you’re caring for more than just one or two horses. Here are some ways to make feeding and watering easier:
- Kristin Janicki, MSc, in Nicholasville, Kentucky, suggests pre-portioning the upcoming week’s grain and supplements into Ziploc bags over the weekend, so you won’t have to spend time measuring when you’re in a rush. “Be sure to check supplement labels before doing this, however, to ensure the manufacturer doesn’t warn against it,” she says, and store everything in spoil-proof containers. You can do the same for hay: “Simply tie portions together with bailing twine, snip the twine when you’re ready to feed, and distribute your hay.”
- TheHorse.com’s web producer, Jennifer Whittle, helps care for her family’s 11 Appaloosas and other Western performance horses in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. She suggests keeping a dry erase board or chalkboard at your barn with up-to-date feeding and/or medical instructions for each horse, as well as emergency numbers, so you can easily call on someone else to feed if you must leave town last-minute.
- Erica Larson, of Lexington, Kentucky, owns two Thoroughbreds, one of which is in his mid-20s. She says preparing beet pulp for his senior diet requires a lot of time, so she goes ahead and adds water to the next feeding’s ration while she’s at the barn. “If you have to soak any components of your horse’s feed (e.g., hay for the horse with respiratory problems, feed pellets for the horse with few teeth), do so ahead of time so you’re not waiting around at breakfast or dinner,” she says. And to be sure you don’t waste all that food after it spends 12 hours soaking, store it in a refrigerator to prevent it from spoiling in warm temperatures.
- Michelle Anderson, who cares for her three horses at her Bend, Oregon, farmette, suggests skipping the beet pulp altogether when your horse needs extra calories, instead opting for hay stretcher pellets (designed to replace the fiber component of the hay/pasture) that don’t require soaking.
- Stick around after your horse’s meal to not only ensure he’s eating normally but also hose out feed tubs when he’s finished. “It might seem like you’re adding a step to your routine, but it will save you from spending excessive amounts of time and elbow grease if you don’t have to scrub them (for what seems like hours) on a less frequent basis,” Larson explains. Spend the time doing other barn chores while your horse eats.
- Do you find filling haynets cumbersome? “Use a trash can to help hold haynets when filling them,” Anderson suggests. “Place the haynet in the can as if it’s a trash bag, and stuff with hay.”
- Install automatic waterers (and tank heaters for winter), says Alayne Blickle, director of Horses for Clean Water and owner of Sweet Pepper Ranch, a guest ranch for travelers and their horses in Nampa, Idaho. “They’re chore-efficient and offer the peace of mind of knowing your horse always has a supply of fresh water available.” If you don’t have the luxury of automatic waterers, Blickle has a trick for staying productive while filling buckets and tanks: Set the timer on your cell phone to find out how long it takes for the tank to fill. Then, next time, clasp or clip the water hose to the edge of your water tank, set an alarm on your phone for the appropriate time, and get another task done while waiting.
- In the winter, Anderson unhooks and drains her hoses after each use so they’re ready for the next time she needs them—no thawing required.
Keeping horse properties tidy can be a real time suck. If you’re in a hurry, these practices can reduce the hassle of barn chores like stall-cleaning and aisle-sweeping:
- Although stall mats can be pricey, they cut down on time spent cleaning stalls, as well as the amount of bedding used, says Blickle.
- When choosing bedding, buy the most absorbent type you can find. “Research shows beddings such as wood pellets, peat moss, or shredded newspaper are far more absorbent and contain less dust, mold, or foreign objects than traditional shavings,” Blickle says. “I’m a big fan of pelleted bedding; it’s quite chore-efficient, and the small particle size means it composts easily. Pelleted bedding is also very low in dust, so horse (and human!) health benefits are high.”
- Alexandra Beckstett, managing editor of The Horse, boards her horse at a fully staffed farm in Cincinnati, Ohio, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t figured out quick ways to keep her area clean. “If you’re bringing your horse in from the pasture, pick his feet out before walking him in the barn. If he’s already inside, pick his feet in the stall. Both these steps save on having to sweep the barn aisle or grooming area,” she says. Another trick for quick aisle-cleaning? A leafblower.
- For stall cleaning, consider buying a manure cart that’s easy to push and dump into the compost or muck pile, and purchase a manure fork that’s easy to grip and not missing tines, says Blickle.
- Keep waste bins near areas where you produce trash, such as the feed room and grooming area, adds Anderson.
- If your horse is boarded and your barn doesn’t supply feed, shavings, or other supplies, coordinate with other boarders to take turns picking those items up at the store, as this can save on time and fuel costs. Stephanie L. Church, The Horse’s editor-in chief, boards at a bring-your-own-grain facility where other boarders feed a variety of brands. Finding a dealer that carried her horse’s feed and was open outside of office hours proved difficult. So she located one convenient to the barn and determined that the barn managers were willing to pick up feed for her. “I add a little to my board check each month for that convenience,” she says.
- “Make sure stalls and feed and tack rooms are well-lit so you can get barn chores done quickly and catch things like moldy hay after dark,” Blickle suggests. If you’re lacking in lighting, wear a headlamp when doing early morning or late evening barn chores. Anderson adds, “It frees up a hand from holding a flashlight and makes things go much more quickly.”
- Whittle uses a pressure washer (a basic water hose will also do the trick if you have good water pressure) to ease removal of mud and dirt from turnout blankets and sheets.
- Clean and store winter blankets during the summer, when you don’t need them and/or have time to spare. “This way you won’t waste time scrambling to get to a laundromat or send your blankets to a cleaning service when temperatures drop,” Larson says.
Grooming, Riding, and Travel
Wait, with all the feeding, watering, and stall-cleaning, we actually have time to groom and exercise our horses, too? We can do not only that but also keep our quick post-work rides from turning into all-night affairs with these tips:
- For cleaner horses and faster grooming, body-clip in the winter and turn out with a fly sheet in the summer, says Beckstett. To further save time on grooming, invest in a vacuum. “Most horses tolerate it surprisingly well, and it keeps saddle pads cleaner, too,” she says, so you don’t have to wash them as often.
- For equine leg protection, consider applying properly fitted boots rather than polo wraps. “They’re faster to put on and off and easy to hose down and clean after use,” says Beckstett.
- Don’t waste time searching for things that commonly go missing or get dirty easily, she adds. Have a spare hoof pick (Where do they vanish to? Church combats their disappearance by hanging one with a loop of twine by her horse’s stall.), saddle pad, bell boot for the one that always goes missing, halter and lead rope, etc. Whittle also keeps extra blanket leg straps on hand for horses that dismantle their clothing.
- You don’t need to give your tack a thorough cleaning every time you ride. “On the busiest of weeks, I just wipe down the bit after I ride and give all my tack a good cleaning on the weekend,” Beckstett admits. Anderson uses leather wipes or a microfiber cloth for quick tack touch-ups between deep cleanings.
- Implement a strategic turnout schedule. Because Beckstett is an evening rider, during warm months her horse stays inside much of the day and gets turned out at night. If the horse is already inside when you arrive at the barn, he’s probably fairly clean, and when you’re done riding you can just hose him off, towel-dry his legs, and turn him out.
- Other horses, such as Church’s gelding, make it a career of staying caked in mud no matter the turnout schedule. During rainy months, she’s found that a thorough grooming the day before a lesson and turnout with a light sheet (when it’s cool enough) the day of cuts back on the elbow grease required during a time-crunched grooming.
- Invest in a good industrial fan (suitable for barn use) to help your horse dry faster after baths. An added bonus? It keeps air circulating and stops mosquitoes and biting flies from landing on the horses.
- Store your horse show or trail riding equipment in something that is easy to move in and out of the trailer and barn. “We use a trunk with wheels, which makes it super easy to load up a lot of different tools and equipment, and it saves us several trips,” says Whittle.
- Anderson recommends creating labels to identify bridle and halter hangers. “That way everything is in its place and easy to find,” she says. And spend the extra money (or find a friend who’s handy with a needle) on monogramming blankets so you can tell which one belongs to whom, particularly if your horses’ blankets match.
- Get in a routine of checking the air pressure in your horse trailer tires, and fill them up as necessary, says Whittle. “It’s much easier to do this ahead of time than when you are running late and need to hit the road!”
Pastures and Turnout
If your horse spends all or most of his day outside, then you likely don’t have to worry about spending time bringing him in and out of the pasture. You do, however, still need to take a few minutes to check on him regularly and keep his fields in good shape. Regardless of your horse’s housing situation, here are some handy pasturing and turnout tips:
- First of all, keep your horses outside as much as possible. Not only is it healthier for them than being stalled, but “fewer stalls to clean means less time spent wielding a pitchfork,” notes Larson.
- For the most efficient turnout, install handy gate latches, such as Kiwi latches, that make opening and closing gates as easy as possible, suggests Blickle. She also recommends adding pass-throughs to fencelines (about 12 inches wide), which allow you to slip in and out of fields to check on horses or complete barn chores without wrestling a gate.
- Though many farms drag their paddocks and pastures regularly, some owners go the wheelbarrow/pitchfork route. Larson suggests cleaning these enclosures at least daily; the more frequent the better. “And once you learn where to look for poop, it’ll go even faster,” she says. “You (and your back!) will also be faced with fewer manure mountains to deconstruct.” Kill two birds with one stone and pick pastures while your horses eat their meals or while those water tanks fill.
- Consider installing flood lighting on paddocks as well as along walkways for efficient feeding, watering, and manure-picking after dark, says Blickle.
Veterinary and Farrier Care
While you can’t control the veterinarian or farrier who’s hours late to your appointment because of emergency calls, there are some ways you can expedite their visits once they arrive:
- Have your horse in the barn and ready to be examined upon your veterinarian or farrier’s arrival. “A professional should not have to wait while you struggle to catch your horse,” says Doug Thal, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, owner of Thal Equine, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “And the professional should not have to catch the horse.” If your horse is particularly dirty or shedding, give him a quick grooming before the appointment so your veterinarian can evaluate him more easily.
- Larson asks her veterinarian and farrier to call or text when they’re on their way, so she can have her horse ready and waiting when they arrive.
- Make sure grooming areas or aisleways are brightly lit from both sides and from above so veterinarians and farriers can perform quality work, says Blickle.
- Teach good ground manners, suggests Beckstett, and don’t feed treats while your horse is being worked on. “A well-mannered horse will make farrier appointments, vet visits, and even tasks like grooming run much faster,” she says.
- Specifically, adds Thal, “Your horse should accept injections and oral examination and medications. It should be good about its feet and legs. Allow trained veterinary staff to handle your horse if the vet feels this is appropriate.”
- Collect and provide your veterinarian with important information about your horse’s condition, such as temperature, pulse, and respiration rate. “This is valuable so that veterinarian can better understand the urgency of your call or know how a horse is doing (e.g., responding to treatment) after the visit,” says Thal.
- Make sure you have ample turnaround or pull-through areas for large vehicles and horse trailers, Blickle says. You don’t want to spend 10 minutes trying to get out of your farm’s driveway when you have a colicking horse or ready-to-foal mare on board.
- If you have regular products you use on your horse (fly spray, thrush or scratches medications, etc.), make sure they are handy in your grooming kit or stored in an easy-to-reach place, not hiding in the back of your tack room somewhere, Beckstett suggests. Also keep all the tools (e.g., brushes, gloves, gauze) you need to apply any of these things right there with them.
- Keep a separate first-aid kit in each barn and horse trailer. This will help you be prepared for emergencies wherever you and your horse are, says Whittle.
- Perhaps most importantly, don’t wait until a small problem becomes a big one, says Thal. Call your veterinarian as soon as anything develops, and use your smartphone camera to send quality photos and/or videos. By the time your veterinarian arrives, he or she might already know what’s afoot.
You, your family, and friends know you’re committed to caring for your horses properly, no matter the time it takes. Sure, nothing really beats barn time for winding down after a long day … but it never hurts to use timesaving tips to buy more time for other horse and life activities. And if you find yourself in a pinch, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Anderson has even taught her husband to hook up the trailer when she’s running late to a riding lesson!
Larson adds, “If you’re in a particular rush on a certain day, see if your barn friends, significant other, children, or even nonhorsey friends and family might be willing to lend a hand. Even people with no horse experience can fill water buckets or sweep barn aisles while you’re bringing horses in or dishing out feed.”
This article originally ran on TheHorse.com.