Sunday, December 13, 2009

Finding Stability: Practicing Good Barn Management

Here is a subject that causes much discomfiture for many horse owners, both those who board their horses out and folks lucky enough to keep their horses at home. If you have horses, they are going to be stabled somewhere. Therefore, it's in your best interest to have a complete understanding of what it takes to care for them correctly.

Lets say you are fortunate and don't have to go any further than out your front door to visit with your favorite equine. There are just a few basic "must's" here ~ water, feed, shelter and exercise.

Water is a given and making sure it is plentiful and available in a clean receptacle is of utmost importance. My water barrels and waterers are cleaned twice per week, rain or shine. In the Wintertime, ensuring pipes are not frozen and that you remove any ice formed on top of the water container is mandatory, too.

Having a feeding program to optimize your horse's well being is also paramount. The right balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates for your horse will largely depend on his job, remember to balance your forage and your grains. I recommend talking to your vet to find out what he or she suggests.

One of the most expensive parts of providing for your horse is the shelter aspect, which can be as simple as a roof to block the sun and rain in any type of paddock or pasture, or as complex as a barn with box stalls. Keep in mind that in addition to the structure itself is making sure where your horse lives is clean!

Last will be plenty of exercise in the form of being ridden, another form of what we call "forced exercise" (meaning longed, free longed, worked in longlines, even walked, either by hand or on a mechanical hotwalker) or just turned out in an arena, a large paddock or a pasture.

Now here's the nitty gritty: My list of what it takes to be a good facility owner and barn manager. Sometimes, they are one and the same. Frequently, however, they are not. Here we go...

Knowledge. Nothing is a substitute for knowing about horses, having a basic understanding of equine health and nutrition, understanding horse behavior and having a tangible grasp of basic first aid. If you know little to nothing about horses (or worse, pretend that you do, thus making yourself look like a fool to any potential boarder), you have NO business in charge of any facility where people pay to keep their horses. I have encountered this on a number of occasions before, and it's not pretty.

People skills. There is a great deal to be said for being able to communicate intelligently and rationally with your customers. It never ceases to amaze me when I encounter folks in a position of authority, especially one where they must interact with the public on a daily basis, who utterly lack the ability to be diplomatic and look for the most constructive means of dealing with a complaint or other issue. Please do not put your mentally ill friend or your relative who's a convicted child molester in charge of your business! Such a thing ranks right up there with barn owners I have come across who lack any substantial knowledge of equids and who insist that there's nothing wrong with feeding moldy hay to the old broodmares just because they are too cheap to toss it into the trash bin. Ugh!

Professionalism. Always, always be courteous and professional when dealing with your customers (and potential customers). Anything less is entirely unacceptable and any savvy horse owner is going to shy away from dealing with you no matter how 'convenient' your facility may be. Under this heading would fall dealings with those who provide a professional service to your clientele, too, such as trainers, farriers and veterinarians.

Always provide the highest quality feed or bedding available, always make sure the stalls and paddocks are cleaned at least once per day (here it is twice daily), counsel your staff in how to deal with the public, DON'T hire your children or the neighbor kids to work for you and stay away from relaxing the rules for anyone, not even "just this one time...".

There you have it, straight from the (ahem) horse's mouth.


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