“Just 15 more minutes and I’ll be back to the house,” you text your spouse, smartphone in one hand as you top off your horse’s buckets with the other. But in the alternate space-time continuum that is the barn, “15 minutes” turns into 50 (Oh, hey, why don’t I wrap his legs while I’m at it?), and soon you’re pushing the speed limit to minimize your tardiness.
We’ve all canceled dinner plans with friends, missed spending time with family, or run errands covered in shavings and hay, thanks to barn chores, vet visits, and evening rides gone long.
If you’re reading this article, horses play a big part in your life. You might even say horses are your life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a life of your own while still taking good care of your steeds. We’ve compiled some tips from horse owners and veterinarians that we hope will help you save time on everything 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 chores become particularly time-consuming when you’re caring for more than just a few horses. Here are some ways to make feeding and watering easier:
Kristin Janicki, PhD, technical marketing and nutritional services coordinator for Buckeye Nutrition, in Nicholasville, Kentucky, suggests a weekend pre-portioning of the upcoming week’s grain and supplements into Ziploc bags, 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, news editor for The Horse, boards her senior gelding, Dorado, but enjoys managing all aspects of his care. She says preparing his beet pulp 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, digital managing editor of TheHorse.com, 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 chores while your horse eats.
Do you find haynet-filling 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, author of the Smart Horse Keeping blog on TheHorse.com, 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.
For more time saving horse care tips, please visit TheHorse.com.