Horse Barn Management and Housekeeping

A wll-planned barn with corrals, paddock, pasture, and storage areas.
A wll-planned barn with corrals, paddock, pasture, and storage areas.

Good barn management and good housekeeping go hand in hand

The adage, "Work smarter, not harder" certainly applies to barn management and housekeeping. Efficiency and use of time-saving techniques and tools will give you more time to spend doing the things that make owning a horse a pleasure and not just a major chore.

Barn management and housekeeping break down into four categories including the following:

  1. Meeting Your Horse's Basic Needs
  2. Time Management
  3. Record Keeping
  4. Performing the Duties Related to Barn Care and Good Housekeeping

These four categories are inter-related and non-exclusive since meeting the basic needs of your horse involves elements of each of the other three categories, and together, they create a win-win situation for a healthy barn.

Time management

Organizing your time

Organizing your time

Efficient management requires both record keeping and scheduling.

With the multiple tasks that need to be accomplished on a daily basis by a responsible horse owner, effective time management will allow you to get everything done that needs to be done and also have the time to truly enjoy your horse.

Essentially, time management involves coming up with a schedule that fits your lifestyle, allows you to perform tasks quickly and efficiently, and gives you a sense of being in control of the situation.

By establishing a schedule of feeding, watering, grooming, exercising, stall and barn cleaning, maintenance, and record keeping, you will benefit in many ways. Your schedule will need to be somewhat flexible to accommodate your horse's needs, your own personal schedule, the changing seasons of the year, and any emergencies that arise.

After a few days, weeks, or months working with your horse, you should have a very good idea of how much time you need to spend on each task and will develop greater efficiency in getting things done.

Record keeping

In spite of the best intentions, very few of us are able to remember everything involved in taking care of our horses on a daily basis. Having a system of record keeping that allows you to make quick notations and keep adequate records of all pertinent information related to the health, care, and keeping of your horse will enable you to stay on top of things, whether it's remembering the timing of deworming treatments or when your horse had its last tetanus booster.

If you are adept with a computer, you may purchase software that will be helpful in scheduling and maintaining a log of what's happening on a daily basis. For some people, notations on a calendar or daily planner works well; for others keeping a linear record in a notebook or keeping records in a three ring binder is sufficient.

A box with index cards and dividers for different categories can be very useable, and, of course, photos of your horse, whether for the sheer beauty of the animal or to show an injury or a case of skin rash can become part of your record-keeping system.

Whatever method you choose, you should make sure to include the following items along with any others that are important in your particular case:

  • Contact information for veterinarians, equine hospitals, farriers, trainers or anyone else involved with your horse
  • Appointments with your veterinarian
  • Baseline vital signs
  • Vaccinations
  • Parasite Control
  • Dental Examinations
  • Farrier work
  • Medical incidents
  • Blood work
  • Medications
  • Diagnostic images provided by your veterinarian
  • Joint injections
  • Breeding records
  • Competition and training events
  • Feeding schedules, daily rations and supplements
  • Behavioral episodes such as sudden bouts of head tossing, etc.
  • Pedigree information if available
  • Hay and feed deliveries

In addition you should keep a record profile of each horse including purchase information and insurance policy numbers, training information, and performance records, costs involved with each horse, and any other records or schedules related to managing your horse and barn.

Meeting your horse's basic needs

Streamlining a system to meet your horse's basic needs will save you time, money and effort.

  • Feeding: Horses would prefer to be eating all the time since grazing in a pasture is the natural feeding pattern. To make feeding more efficient, streamline delivery by using a wheeled cart with several compartments containing supplements, feeds, and hay that can be rolled up to the stall or out to the feeding station to dole out rations.
    Horses waiting to be fed

    Horses waiting to be fed

    Horses become anxious waiting for feed. Predictable feed times help horses cope with stress. Better yet, feed your horse free choice.

    Make up several horse meals at a time and place in canvas bags that can be hung outside the stall. When mealtime arrives, simply dump the contents of the bag into the feed bucket. PVC pipe (six inches in diameter) can be installed so that grain can be poured down the pipe and directly into the feed bucket. Programmable automatic feeders that automatically feed horses several times a day can be purchased for ease in feeding horses on a timely schedule without having to be physically present for each feeding.
  • Keep a bale-opening tool handy and make gravity work for you by stacking hay bales in such a way that they can readily be dropped into place and opened for ease in separating flakes with minimal time and effort.
  • Watering: Make sure you have adequate containers in each stall or area where your horses spend time. Extend pipes to stalls and develop a system or short hoses with valves or install automatic waterers for use by each horse. Automatic waterers with safety features to prevent shock, insulation to guard against freezing and gauges to measure a horse's water intake will insure that your horse has access to water at all times and will save you valuable time.
  • Grooming: If your horse is located a distance from the tack room, keep your grooming utensils in a bucket or on a wheeled cart to save time and effort. Consider using a vacuum for grooming instead of brushing. Once your horse gets used to the sound and sensation of the vacuum brush, not only will grooming be accomplished quickly, but your horse will also be cleaner.
  • Horse daily once-over with grooming

    Horse daily once-over with grooming

    Organized grooming implements help make this routine activity enjoyable for both horse and groomer.

    Special vacuums made with horses in mind are available. Use both hands when grooming your horse, you will cover more territory in half the time. When picking your horse's hooves, teach your horse to lift both feet from the same side. This is standard procedure at race tracks and works well with most horses once they get used to it.

  • Exercising: Depending on your horse's age, exercise tolerance, and competitive level, work out an exercise schedule that will keep your horse's mind and body in good working order, then commit yourself to making sure it happens on a daily basis or as often as possible. Horse's need a minimum or 30 minutes of exercise a day to release pent-up energy and keep their physical condition in good shape. Although riding is considered the most effective exercise, exercising your horse on a rope or lunging it occasionally will vary the routine and help keep those limbs and body working properly.

Performing duties related to barn care and good housekeeping

  • Stall Cleaning: If you can turn your horse out for longer periods of time, do so.  Not only will it improve the horse's health, but it will also decrease stall-cleaning time and effort. Invest in the right tools such as a multi-tined light-weight pitchfork and an over-sized wheelbarrow to reduce the number of trips you make to the manure pile.
    Stall cleaning implements

    Stall cleaning implements

    Keeping ahead of the piles of manure is the major chore for most horse barn owners. Turning out horses reduces this task and improves horse mental health.

    If you bed on shavings, use a deep-litter system then remove only the visible piles of manure and wet spots to maintain a thick, clean bed with minimal daily effort. Invest in floor coverings such as mats and grids to facilitate draining and reduce the amount of bedding needed. Mats and grids can channel urine to a drain or through the floor as well as providing cushioning so less bedding is required.

    Clean stalls systematically from front to back or side to side and simplify waste removal by placing a piece of tarp outside the stall door and tossing waste matter into the center. When the tarp is full, gather up the corners and toss it into the wheelbarrow.

  • Barn Cleaning: Banish the broom and invest in a good indoor/outdoor vacuum and a leaf blower. Use the vacuum on floors, walls, over-head bins, etc. to get rid of cobwebs, dust, dirt and small pieces of debris. Use the leaf blower to clean walk-ways, gutters, and passageways.
  • Barn Maintenance: Inspect your barn on a regular basis for any signs of deterioration and to see if repairs need to be made.  Keeping the physical plant of your barn in tip-top condition will help insure your horse's safety and well-being. Pay close attention to the roof, windows, doors, electrical and plumbing systems, stalls, wash rack and other areas where you work and play with your horse. Prompt repairs to troublesome spots not only keep your barn looking good, but also help prevent the need for major expenditures when the need for repairs becomes extensive.
  • Maintaining Tack: Invest in synthetic tack for everyday use. it is usually as comfortable for your horse, and the maintenance takes far less time than leather care. Most man-made tack can be hosed clean and dries quickly in the open air. Be a good housekeeper in your tack room, by consistently replacing worn items and repairing any tack or equipment promptly.
  • Maximizing Storage Space: For maximum storage space in the tack room and other areas of the barn, use prefab shelving, wire racks and plenty of hooks to keep items clearly visible and handy at all times. Make it a practice to hang a halter and lead shank on each stall door, so they are handy when needed without having to walk to the tack room.
  • Install Easy-care Fencing: Fencing protects both your horse and your property. Invest in high quality fencing that will last a life-time. Wood fences may look nice, but they take time to maintain and periodic painting to keep them looking good. Synthetic fences may cost more in the beginning, but they wear well and need fewer repairs when installed correctly making them less costly in the long run.
  • Invest in an appropriately sized tractor for your horse operation. Using a tractor will speed up most jobs from disposing of soiled bedding after mucking out the stalls, to cutting grass and brush in the pasture, and hauling hay.

Consider this

By paying attention to details involved in effective barn management and housekeeping, you will minimize risks and maintain a healthy environment for your horse, as well as save time and add to your own productivity and enjoyment.

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.