Space-Savers for Barn Storage

There never seems to be enough space. By the time you’ve got everything labeled and put away, there’s another crop of junk that needs a home. So how do you make room for barn storage?

This might seem to apply only to small barns, but in reality, the collection of stuff that accumulates over the years is directly proportional to the size of the barn. Small barn, small accumulation; big barn, big accumulation.

Designate Areas

Just like in a home or office, designated areas make barn storage much easier. A tack room, a feed room, a barn office, a tool shed, a hay barn—you get the idea. This way, you can store things in relation to the area in which you use them most.

For example, it makes no sense to store equine supplements in the tack room. They should go in the feed room, where they can be mixed with grain or administered in a clump of sweet feed.

You will always have items that don’t seem to have a home, but that’s okay. As long as the majority of your barn supplies are stored in the appropriate designated area, your efficiency will improve dramatically.

Use the Vertical

Barns have walls the same as homes and other buildings. If you put that wall space to good use, you’ll maximize your barn storage capacity.

Floor-to-ceiling shelves, for example, are excellent tools for storing grooming supplies, tools, veterinary implements, spare bits, and a host of other things. Put the items you use least often at the top, and the things you use every day at the bottom.

And go custom wherever possible. Built-in shelves and cabinets are much safer for barn storage because they are unlikely to fall on someone (or an animal).

Label EVERYTHING

Label items themselves as well as the drawers, shelves, cabinets, and racks in which they are stored. This way you won’t have to search for items for hours while other duties await, and you won’t forget which medicines are in which bottles, and so on.

Invest in a label maker. This will speed up the process and ensure neatness for all your barn storage. If necessary, you can laminate labels or put them in plastic sleeves so they don’t fade quite as quickly in the barn atmosphere.

Consider Unused Space

If your barn is equipped with a wide aisle way, boxes in front of stalls can provide significant untapped barn storage space. The doors to tack rooms and feed rooms can provide space for hanging tools (brooms, pitchforks, etc.), and stall doors are great for hanging halters, lead ropes, blankets and sheets.

Don’t just lean a broom up against a wall; instead, hang a hook or rack so you can keep it out of the way. When items are stored on racks, hooks, shelves and other barn storage devices, your barn won’t look cluttered and you’ll be able to move around much easier.

Make an Investment

Barn storage is one of the most profitable investments you can make because it drastically increases efficiency and productivity. Got some money lying around? Consider putting in custom tack lockers or feed bins. Build/buy new shelves or build a shed for farm equipment and tools.

The great thing about barn storage is that it’s a one-time investment. By the time it wears out, you’ll have saved sufficient money to re-do it for another dozen or so years.

Safety Tips for Horse Trainers

From breaking colts to bringing performance horses to the next level of competition, there are myriad ways for horse trainers to get hurt. And since the horse business is your source of income—which likely comes without workers’ comp—it is in your best interests to avoid getting hurt.

Many horse trainers eschew safety tips because, since they are “professionals,” they “know what they are doing.” This might very well be the case, but when you let your guard down and stop respecting the horse’s power and size—that’s when accidents happen.

Never Work Alone

When treated quickly, most horse training accidents can be rectified with no lasting damage to the professional. However, when you lie in the dirt for hours waiting for someone to find you, your injuries can become progressively worse.

The only way to avoid this tragic scenario is to avoid working alone. Make sure someone is within shouting distance every time you work with your horse; he or she doesn’t need to be actively participating in your training session.

Check Equipment Daily

Horse training equipment takes quite a beating because it is used so frequently. This means that it can break, tear, crack or otherwise degrade faster than equipment you use for showing or riding your own horse.

Make a point to check over your equipment on a daily basis. Clean it if that makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something; like grooming a horse, cleaning tack lets you check for damage and other problems that could compromise your safety.

Take Your Time

It really is better for the horse to take your horse training program off a schedule and work according to your instincts. Just make sure you explain this to your client; you will provide an estimated time table, but you respect the fact that each horse learns at his or her own pace.

If you don’t think a horse is ready to move from 3’6” jumps to 3’9” jumps, you’re probably right. Stay at the lower height until the horse is sufficiently confident and sure-footed to move up a notch.

Know the Horse

Information you collect from your clients before you take on a horse for training can not only be illuminating—it can save your life. Take me, for instance. I broke my leg in three places when I was seventeen years old because I took my friend’s horse out into the field without asking her how he would behave. Turns out, he was prone to bucking spasmodically when taken alone into the field, and I suffered for failing to collect information.

Ask your clients about quirks, fears, habits and other details that will help you provide the best horse training services possible—in a safe environment. Tell your clients that you need to know if the horse possesses any characteristics that might put you in danger.

Know Yourself

If you have never jumped a four-foot fence, the time to try it is not when you’re conducting a horse training session. If you’ve never worked with babies before, the time to start is not with a horse training business.

You must know yourself and your limits if you want to be a safe and effective horse trainer. Period. This might mean losing opportunities, but that’s far better than losing your life.

Questions to Ask Your Students

A reader named Lisa left a particularly insightful comment on my article about dealing with hyperactive students. She said, in part:

Now I am straightforward about asking parents and students about any medications or learning disabilities. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions – we instructors are teachers and we need to know these things to give the student the best of our own abilities!

And she is absolutely right. The more you know about your students, the more effective you will be as a riding instructor.

It might not be a bad idea to come up with a questionnaire that you give each of your students prior to starting riding lessons. They can fill it out at their leisure and you’ll have all the tools you need. Yes, these questions might seem personal, but failing to ask can get your students hurt.

Sample Questions for Riding Lesson students

Are you taking any medications? If yes, please explain.
Have you been diagnosed with any conditions, disorders or disabilities that might impair your ability to ride, and work with, horses?

Do you have a learning disability? Please explain.
Have you ever had a negative experience with a horse? Please explain, and indicate any fears you might have about equestrian activities.

Do you have any balance or coordination issues that might affect your ability to ride?
Have you been diagnosed with a developmental disorder (e.g., ADD, ADHD)? Please explain.

These are just a few questions you might ask your students before they start riding lessons. If the student (or his or her parents) give affirmative answers to any of them, discuss those answers before putting the student on the horse.

Find out what you can expect, whether there are any triggers to a disease or condition (e.g., allergies, frustration, heat), and what you can do to make the learning process easier and more enjoyable.

Your students will appreciate your attention to detail and the depth to which you care about them.

Keeping Kids Safe at the Barn

We’ve been talking this week about getting to know your riding lesson students, but you also need to know as much as you can about your adult employees and clients. Keeping kids safe at the barn means putting them in a secure, threat-free environment.

I don’t know if it’s going too far to ask to ask horse business owners to run background checks on their clients, but you should definitely be running them on employees. If your new horse trainer has been convicted of assault in six states, he shouldn’t be working at your farm. Period.

We live in a scary world, you guys, and I encourage you to remember that the horse business isn’t run in a bubble. We like to think of the barn as a security blanket, a safe place where people are nice to one another and horses are the top priority, but this isn’t always the case.

Bad people can own, train, and compete horses, just like they can teach high school Algebra and work at the local pharmacy.

More important than running background checks, however, is getting to know the people you see every day. Keep your finger on the pulse of your horse business, listening to what your clients talk about and responding to any potential threats.

Your clients and/or employees will tell you if they see or hear about someone acting inappropriately. It’s what you do with that information that counts.

I’m not inviting you to start a witch hunt, nor am I suggesting that the horse business is a magnet for criminals and psychopaths. What I’m telling you is that you can’t be too careful, especially if you’ve got kids at your barn.

There are several things you can do to keep kids (and adults) safe:

Run background checks on all employees;
Check references for employees and clients;
Communicate with the people at your horse business on a regular basis;
Make sure kids are supervised at all times;
Create a zero-tolerance policy for violence against animals and humans; and
Watch how people at your barn interact.

The worst thing you can do is stop paying attention. Stay vigilant, and keep the safety of kids in your top priorities.

How to Structure a Horse Business Payment Policy

Horse business owners are as entitled to payment as any other entrepreneur. If your clients don’t pay on time—or at all—you cannot continue to offer your services. Everybody loses.

But don’t make the mistake of assuming that your clients think about payment from your point of view. They’re thinking about their own income and expenses, and they view your invoice in terms of how it affects them.

We’re all egocentric to a point. Your job as a horse business owner is to structure a payment policy that will encourage customers to hand over the dough.

Spread the Word

A horse business payment policy only works if your clients know about it. You can charge late fees up the wazoo, but if your clients don’t realize a late fee exists, good luck collecting it.

Your payment policy must be put in writing and distributed to all clients. I recommend printing up a copy for each new customer, then asking that they sign a second copy for your records. This way, they can’t say later they didn’t know about your policies.

Make It Clear

Tell your clients exactly how your horse business payment policy works, step by step. Pretend you’re explaining the terms to a four-year-old—be specific, clear and simple.

For example, a riding instructor’s payment policy might look like this:

Payment for riding lessons must be made one month in advance.
Payment must be rendered by the first of every month.
Late payments incur an automatic $10 fee, plus $2 every day until paid.
Students may not ride in a given month until payment is rendered.
Students lose their slots after 15 days of non-payment.
It’s clear, simple and effective. Students know that if they don’t pay by the first for the entire month in advance, they will have to pay $10 plus $2 for every day the check is late. If they haven’t paid by the 15th of the month, their lesson will be given to someone else.

Apply it Across the Board

Don’t let your horse business payment policy slide for anyone, regardless of the circumstances. I see it all the time: a horse business owner becomes friends with his clients, and therefore doesn’t say anything when the check is “lost in the mail.” This might seem like a charitable and friendly response, but it’s suicide for your business.

Because when you let one person slide, you’ve got to let everyone else slide, too.

There might be occasions where a client experiences a legitimate financial hardship. In that case, you’ll want to review the situation in detail and make an appropriate, business-conscious decision. However, if you’re willing to give clients a break when they get laid off or suffer an emergency, you need to have a clear plan for dealing with those situations.

For instance, you might put a line in your payment policy that looks like this:

“If you are unable to pay your invoice for any reason, due to legitimate financial hardship, you must discuss it with us prior to the date on which the invoice is due.”

You might also add that you reserve the right to enforce your payment policy regardless, and that a signed agreement will be necessary for alternate payment arrangements.

Think like a business owner, not like a friend or fellow horseman. Otherwise, your payment policy won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.

Hiring Horse Business Employees Part One—The Advertisement

When trying to attract horse business employees, a strategically-placed advertisement is the best tool in your arsenal. It gives you the freedom to give whatever details you deem appropriate, and if placed properly it exposes your open position to a wide variety of potential employees.

Before placing a horse business employee advertisement, however, think through what exactly you want to communicate with your ad. Although you cannot control who responds, your wording might immediately turn away people who are not fit for the position.

Consider including the following points in your advertisements.

Contact Information

This is the most important thing to include in an advertisement for horse business employees. Without it, applicants have no way to get in touch with you—and you’d be surprised how often it is forgotten.

The type of contact information is also important. If you only want applicants to respond by e-mail, for example, don’t even bother including your phone number. This will cut down on unwanted calls and streamline the application process.

Job Title & Description

Think carefully before you decide on the job title and description. The job title is the first thing potential horse business employees will look for, and incorrectly-worded, it will turn away good candidates while attracting unsuitable applicants.

In terms of job title, be as honest and broad as possible. Job titles like “Riding Instructor” and “Horse Trainer” are typically self-explanatory, but “Stable Manager” can mean different things to different applicants. You should use the job description to add precision to your horse business employee advertisement.

A job description is typically a list of duties for which the chosen candidate will be responsible. Try to include as many as possible using specific, focused language. For example, if you are posting an advertisement for a riding instructor, you might say:

Riding Instructor Needed. Teach beginner and intermediate riding lessons in English and Western disciplines to students between 7 and 18 years of age; prepare school horses for each lesson; collect payments from students/parents; keep tack room clean and organized; host riding clinics, horse shows, and other events; recruit new students through incentive programs.

You will see here that, in the first sentence or bullet point, I am very clear about the type of riding instructor I am seeking (familiar with English and Western disciplines) and the types of students the successful applicant will work with (beginner to intermediate; specific age range). The implied reasoning here is that teachers who are only interested in teaching advanced classes need not apply.

Job Requirements

What skills, training and experience do you want in a horse business employee? Which items are required, and which are simply desired?

Include things like education, certification, years of experience in this specific field, competitive experience if any, and equine/horsemanship background. You should also include job requirements related to the applicant’s age and personality. For example, you might say in an ad for a horse trainer that you are looking for a professional over 25 years of age with a patient, flexible work ethic.

Compensation

You do not have to say in an advertisement for horse business employees how much the candidate will earn if hired. However, it can be a strong draw in a competitive market, and it can set the tone for the type of job. Higher pay usually means higher expectations and requirements.

Some horse business owners just say that “competitive pay” is offered, while others might include no salary details but say that benefits are included. If you plan to offer health insurance, for example, this is a strong attraction that should be included in your ad, as it is not typical in this industry.

Other Details

Every horse business employee advertisement is unique, and should be tailored to your specific facility or horse business. Other things you might want to include are:

Business atmosphere (e.g., relaxed, family-oriented, etc.)
Uniform or dress requirements
Hours
Safety risks/requirements
Willingness to work with international applicants
Boarding, if offered
Employment status (e.g., independent contractor, full-time employee, part-time employee)
Travel required (e.g., to horse shows)

Posting a Horse Business Employee Advertisement

The Internet is the first place to look when posting a job advertisement. Web sites like Equimax are my first choice because they are quality-controlled and focused on the horse business specifically. You can also post in the classifieds section of breed and organization web sites.

Don’t neglect your town for horse business employee advertisements, either. Tack shops, feed stores and even the bulletin board at your farm is a great place to post a flyer.

Farm Freebies: Staff Satisfaction Survey form

Do you know how your staff really feels about you and your management skills? In the horse business, staff satisfaction should rank right up there with equine care and customer service.

A happy staff takes care of clients’ needs. A happy staff goes above and beyond the call of duty to add those perfect touches to a project. A happy staff ensures efficiency and productivity.

This week’s farm freebie: Staff Satisfaction Survey template

If your employees resent you or if they feel they are not well cared for, your horse business will eventually care. Equestrian professionals who focus only on the needs of the customer will run their businesses into the ground. Mark my words.

Whether you have a staff of 2 or 2,000, taking regular staff satisfaction surveys will help you keep the pulse on your employees’ mindsets, and will allow you to make necessary changes in a timely manner. What your head riding instructor won’t say to your face might find its way into this anonymous survey where you can address it.

Farm Freebies: Horse Boarding Equine Evaluation Template

Most horse boarding business owners check out their human clients before allowing them to move in. But what about your equine customers?

Horses can cause as much damage to an equine facility as their owners—if not more. Protect your horse business by evaluating all potential boarders before you offer up a stall.

Today’s Farm Freebie: Horse Boarding Equine Evaluation template.

This simple document should be filled out when a potential customer gets serious about boarding at your facility. It includes much of the information you need to know to determine if that horse will be a good fit for your stable.

You can have your potential customers fill it out themselves, or you can conduct a Q&A session while you fill it out. Whatever the case, make sure the potential client knows you need truthful answers.

The template collects basic information, such as age, gender, colors and markings. Then there is a list of criteria on which the client should rate his horse between 0 and 10, with 0 being no problem at all, and 10 being a serious problem. This section includes such behaviors as kicking, biting, cribbing and dietary issues.

Farm Freebies: Gift Certificate

Yesterday we talked about incentives in the horse business, but today I want to take it a step further. You can generate interest in your horse business services without actually offering anything for free.

Or you can combine this tactic with a freebie. Your choice.

Today’s Farm Freebie: Gift Certificates

Gift certificates are used the world over in every industry. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is to generate business from customers who might never otherwise have become customers. For example, a potential student who didn’t realize he might enjoy riding lessons until his friend gave him a gift certificate for his birthday.

See how that works?

The person buying the gift certificate gets an easy, no-hassle present, and the recipient gets whatever service(s) you provide.

The only difference is how gift certificates are rendered. When you purchase a gift card from Wal-Mart, for example, you hande the teller $100, and she gives you a gift card worth $100 for the recipient. In the horse business, your customer gives you $100, and you hand her a gift certificate worth three riding lessons, or whatever.

Same concept, different medium.

And so, I’ve prepared for you some gift certificate templates that you can use for free in your horse business. You can customize them with your logo or barn name, then just print them up and fill them out.

Dealing with Aggressive Horsemen in the Horse Business

You have the right to decide what activities go on at your barn. If a client or employee makes you uncomfortable with his treatment of people or horses, you can ask him to leave. It’s that simple.

Aggressive horsemen are not unique, and you are bound to get one at your barn sooner or later. Maybe he uses those wicked-looking spurs that could puncture the hide of a rhinoceros, or perhaps he feels that kicking his horse is appropriate punishment for stepping out of line. Whatever the case, we all draw the line at “too aggressive” differently, and it’s up to you to decide what flies.

But before you kick an aggressive horseman out of your barn:

Watch Your Words: You might think an aggressive horseman is abusive, but try not to sling that word around. You might want to substitute “inappropriate” for “abusive” to keep the situation from escalating.

Make the Horse the Priority: If an aggressive horseman has put a horse in jeopardy, attend to the animal first. The horse is the most important thing.

Police Are Your Friends: Call the police if an aggressive horseman has made threats toward you, other people, or any animals on your farm. It will keep you out of both trouble and danger.

Terminate the Business Relationship: The best thing you can do with an aggressive horseman is to terminate your business relationship. Tell him that he is no longer welcome on your property, and you’ll have solved the problem. If necessary, report his behavior to the appropriate authorities.