The one thing I have noticed through visiting other barns and stables and talking with the owners is that each person definitely has their owner idea of what is important to them. For some people the riding arenas and amenities will be the focus point while for someone else it will be entertaining or comfort for the clients. Many times the things that get left behind in the designing process are what will make your job easier on a daily basis. They will be the most important part of the business besides safety for the horses.
What usually happens a year or two down the road is that you want to change how you do chores to make your job easier and more time efficient. But at that point you might be over extended at the bank or can't borrow anymore because you won't be able to afford the higher monthly payment. The money you borrowed for other extras that you had to have for your barn could have and should have been used for more practical parts of your business especially when the business is young, fragile and the revenue coming in is not steady. Trying to make the changes later on can be much more difficult if the money is not there. I have learned this hard lesson through personal experience.
This part of barn management is so important because most new businesses will struggle during the first five years to stay open and that is the time when you need to be the most money smart. You are going to have many extra expenses during the early years and having a lot of fancy extras in your barn won't help pay the bills or make the job easier.
Today I wanted to write about the five things that I feel are so important in the early stages of your horse business. If you are in the designing stages of your barn these things will be a huge part of your business.
1. Feeding hay, grain and supplements
If you live in the Midwest like I do than you have experienced the change of weather and extremely cold winters. It pretty much will ware you out if you are in it daily. When designing your barn I would strongly recommend to have your hay and grain stored in your barn. We have our hay and grain stored in an attached building that is part of our barn but still separate from the horses. We don't have to go outside at all to get the hay or grain and when the weather is bad it makes the job so much easier. You may not think this is a big deal at first but after you go through a couple of years of doing chores you will get tired real fast of going out into the snow or rain to get hay or grain. There is nothing worse than pushing a cart through the snow loaded with your grain and supplements back to the barn.
Working at a barn or stable always takes longer in the winter when the weather is extremely cold and if you have employees than you are going to be spending even more money now because it takes longer to get hay and grain and feed the horses. The simple truth is time is money and one of the biggest areas where people lose money is through poorly designed feeding storage for the horses. What could have taken thirty minutes to do now takes an hour and it adds up very quickly over a month. If you are paying out a lot of money to employees than I would take a good look at how your feeding program is handled and if it is time efficient.
2. Shavings storage
This is another area that is often forgot about when designing a barn. Many places will keep all the shavings in a completely separate building but that means it will take longer to bring the shavings to the horse stalls and if the weather is bad it will make your job much harder. Even an extremely windy day will be a pain if you are using bulk shavings and the wind is blowing them all over the place as you push the wheelbarrow back to the barn with a full load. Trying to push the wheelbarrow through the snow or rain is simply the pits!
I encourage you to think about shavings and where you are going to store them. Again the most efficient way to make your chores easier and time efficient is to keep them in the same building as where the stalls are. We keep our shavings back where are hay and grain is and it is completely enclosed so we never have to go outside into the bad weather to get a load. It makes the job much easier and we save money on labor.
3. Tack room size for the amount of clients
When designing your tack room for your barn make this an important part of your design. I believe many tack rooms are too small for the number of horses that are housed in a barn. They end up becoming too crowed and with that comes added stress that will always fall back on the barn owner or manager. I encourage you to make your tack rooms a little bigger and give each boarded horse an equal amount of space. If you design a little more room to begin with you will have fewer issues down the road. If a tack room becomes to overly crowed than pretty soon people start putting stuff everywhere and it will cause problems between clients. Again this will always fall back on the barn owner and make your job that much more stressful.
4. Blanket bars and drying racks are a must
You are most likely going to have many boarders with blankets. Lots of blankets! After they have been worn outside in the dirt and mud they are going to smell and be dirty. If you want your tack rooms to stay clean than create an area to hang dirty and worn blankets so your boarders don't put them in the tack room. You may not think this is important but let me tell you it is. If you have people putting wet and filthy blankets in your clean tack room (because there is not place to hang them) it will start to stink and it will become extremely dirty fast. Then you will be the one cleaning it and I can promise you that it will start to bother especially when your barn is brand new. If you design an area to hang blankets you will never regret it. Our barn is ten years old and we have never allowed blankets in the tack rooms and the tack rooms stay unbelievably clean. It is so worth it to create a space for blankets.
5. Grooming stalls
If I could change one thing about my barn it would be to add more grooming stalls. When we built our barn we only put in one grooming stall. Because I didn't think about this area more most of the horses are cross-tied in the aisle way which is fine if I am not working but it makes my job more difficult during chore time. It also can be challenging to bring horses in from outside when the farrier or veterinarian is working on a horse and you now have to walk by them. Basically any kind of chores become more difficult when horses are cross-tied in the aisle way. I would strongly recommend two or three grooming stalls. You will be amazed how much easier your job becomes when you don't need to work around tied horses.
All of these things that I have talked about will definitely make your life easier. You are running a business and besides the amount of time you are going to be spending in the barn working, you are going to be spending a lot of extra money on things that you didn't think about during those first couple of years. There is a good chance money will be extremely tight during those early years as it is for most new businesses. Be smart and cut out some of the fancy extras for now and make your barn more efficient for the basic necessities of doing barn chores from feeding to cleaning stalls. You can always add the fancy extras down the road as your business grows and your barn brings in a steady income. Just remember it is hard to have any extra income if your spending it all on employees and the job takes them much longer than it ever should because of the way you have it all set up.
Sometimes it helps to have a second set of eyes looking at your building plans before you build and talk over all the scenarios that could and most likely will happen when your barn is up and running. If you are already open for business and find yourself in the barn much longer then you need to be or paying out too much for employees, I encourage you also have someone look at our barn and business from the outside. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh pair of eyes to see things a little bit differently and make your job much easier for the long haul.
I wish you the very best in your horse business and I would love to be part of your journey!