Owning and caring for a horse is one of the most rewarding things anyone can ever do. These majestic animals never really feel like pets; they are more like companions. You care for them, ride them and develop a unique relationship that is unlike any other between a human and a beast. It’s one of mutual trust and acceptance, and you work together every time you go out for a ride.
While the upsides to horse ownership are countless, it is nevertheless a very expensive hobby. It’s expensive regarding financial costs, which can go through the roof with the smallest bout of ill-health. But it also costs in terms of time. If you dreamed of owning a horse as a child, you probably didn’t factor in the time demands of mucking out, grooming and turning out. Horses are not a good hobby if you’re time poor.
There are ways and means of making your care of a horse more efficient. Not only will this keep your yard running smoothly, but it also gives you an opportunity to spend your time doing the things you enjoy. It takes a little organisation and a few purchases to begin with, but when that’s done, everything should run a little better.
- Organize – and be ruthless.
A good rule of keeping a stable is to allow nothing but feed bins to sit on the floor. If you have a habit of dumping boots, crops and everything else wherever they fall, then it’s time to change that. Otherwise, you find yourself searching for the thing you need through a pile you don’t.
Buy some small hooks and labels, and assign as much as you can a place. The side of a stable door is fine for it, or clear extra space in a tack room. If the hooks don’t work, pegboard can be just as effective. Include spaces for all of the following, and anything else that comes to mind:
- Crops, lunge reins and anything else you don’t use every time you ride.
- Your hat, gloves and – if you use them – spurs.
- Head collar and any lead ropes.
- Hoof pick, if you don’t have a specific grooming box
- Hay nets
- When everything is hung up and has a place, it’s a lot easier to keep track of things.
Next step is feed. Again, the same system: specific places for everything, and it’s all labelled as well. Force yourself into the habit of keeping it tidy every time you use the area. If you use supplements, keep them on a particular shelf.
When everything is in place, compile a spreadsheet showing where everything goes. Once a week, go around the whole yard and move anything that has escaped its designated home, back to where it should be.
- Talking of scheduling…
While you’re planning your once-a-week tidy up, combine it with a tack cleaning session. We’re all guilty of letting tack go for months between polishing sessions, but if you do it every week, it will take half the time. Combine it with talking to friends on the phone if you’re prone to boredom. Instead of it taking hours once every three months, it will take 15 minutes every week. Add it up, and it’s a huge time saving.
- Buy in bulk.
Buying feed, supplements, hay and anything else you use for stabling all takes time. If you only buy what you need when you need it, you’re going to spend a lot of time doing so.
If you switch to purchasing in bulk, then you will already have a steady supply of the required items on hand. You’ll also find that if you buy in bulk, you might be entitled to a discount. To maximise the savings, talk to other horse owners and see if they want to split the upfront cost. You can also consider forming a co-op group, where others with more space could store items in exchange for paying a little less.
You are going to need space to store anything you purchase in bulk, which can be difficult, especially if you stable at home. There are moisture-secure lock up boxes you can buy for hay and straw, which will keep them fresh all through the winter months.
- Try and cross everything off at once.
Set one day aside per quarter to take care of the occasional things that need to be done. Rather than dotting it all around the calendar when you remember, having one set time and date means that you free up space the rest of the time. This is when you can schedule vet visits or the farrier, and get it all out of the way in one day.
Be warned: some of this will depend on your horse’s temperament. If they tend to need time to recover between strangers prodding and poking at them, then don’t try and force it all on the same day. Schedule it in with suitable gaps, and try to couple it on days with other tasks such as tack-cleaning.
- Talk to other people about sharing the burden.
If you have other owners nearby, then raise the subject of a system of helping one another. It’s a good alternative to full livery which, while useful, is often ruinously expensive. You can do regular trades with your neighbours; they will muck out for a month, you will turn the horses out. This does mean you double your workload, but it’s the same workload rather than several different tasks. You may find it easier than jumping from task to task, and it will save you time too. You can also find out great info from AllVetSupply.com/horses1.html as well as joining online forums to connect with people in your area.
- Consider switching to an outdoor life.
There are many arguments on whether a stable life or an outdoor life is better for horses. There is no valid evidence beyond experience to argue either way. Therefore if you want to do away with several stable tasks, consider keeping your horse out – with suitable blankets – year round.