Blog By Nikki Alvin-Smith
The year 2020 has changed employment from on site to remote for many horse owners. It is likely that employers will continue to take advantage of the increased productivity and lower direct costs to run a business location that off-site employment offers well after the Covid-19 pandemic is past.
While it is a blessing to lose a commute, the onerous business of managing house, horses and a busy work schedule can be a challenge for even the most talented multitasker.
It was more than 22 years ago that I stepped out of the confines of the corporate office employed at an international freight forwarding company, to work remotely. The high-pressure workplace was instantly replaced with the need for a different sort of self-discipline with a host of family-driven needs that encompassed 3 children including twins, 6 horses and a farm to manage. I won’t say it was easy and being on call at home all day long can be difficult, but overall as I look back, I can say I wouldn’t change it.
Here are some tips on how to best allocate your time to ensure a stress-free (well… most of the time!), sane and productive work-at-home lifestyle based on my experience.
Divide Up Your Day
Time management is a key component for keeping tasks on track and routines are your friend. First thing in the morning, before the children are up and about, is a super time to hit the barn and take care of morning chores.
Not only does the morning air refresh the spirit, anyone with horses in the backyard will love greeting their equines first thing. It’s smart to check on horses after the darkness of night to make sure all is well and alleviate worries over their wellbeing. It is also a peaceful time of day and exercise first thing in the morning is the best way to manage weight issues and rev up those helpful endorphins that brighten the mood.
Once the barn is mucked out, horses hayed and grained, turned out, re-blanketed or otherwise sorted out, head back to the house to wake up the kids and set their day in motion. Pack lunch the night before to save time, get the kids and perhaps a spouse or partner to help make breakfast and don’t forget to eat something yourself. See the other members of the household off to their day so you have the morning clear for your workday to begin.
Don’t skip the shower. You never know when a Zoom or MS Teams appointment will come up, and being clean and refreshed, and changed out of your PJ’s, will keep you feeling professional and ready to attack the tasks of the day. It is said that how you dress affects how confident you feel and how you handle yourself, so regardless of who is looking, take the time to take care of yourself.
It is always tempting to work through the day and finish off early. For myself it was not an option as I spend much time talking to folks in different time zones, both here and abroad. But a stress-busting break at lunchtime and a small meal is a good idea. I found taking a walk over to the barn, throwing hay at the horses and sneaking a quick hug with them was a great lunch break. If the weather allowed, it was the perfect time to soak in few rays of sun and enjoy watching the horses out at pasture over the fence rail.
Stay on a schedule as much as possible, as the discipline makes it easier to organize work appointments and stay focused. The afternoon work session over, you can be ready for the kids to come home from school to feed and water them, sort out the homework and perhaps sneak a riding session in before evening barn chores.
If your kids are home during the day due to Covid-19 or because of their young age, try to incorporate them into the same routine as you undertake. Bring them outside to the barn at lunchtime for a break from virtual learning and teach them something useful at the barn. For young children, the fresh air and activity will help them sleep when naptime rolls around in the afternoon when you are working. For children past the tiny toddler stage, an outdoor playset is also a brilliant way to engage their creative minds, burn some energy and build fitness and good health.
If the design of the horse barn allows free movement of horses with in/out access it can play a key part in the ease of equine care for the horse owner and also keeps horses happy and healthy as they enjoy the freedom to choose their environment and to move their joints.
Center aisle barns with Dutch doors in each stall that open to the outside with paddock space for horses to be fed outside are the perfect solution for the busy horse owner whose work schedule varies. For savings on hay costs try an equine hay feeder and to minimize grooming times, mud fever and scratches it is prudent to install a hard surface for high traffic use immediately outside the stables in mini-paddocks.
While it is considered good management to keep horses on a set feed schedule, missing a mealtime by an hour here or there won’t be as upsetting for the horse that is not confined to a small stall.
Zoom Through the Barn Chores
It is lovely to linger in the barn during barn chores and spend time with your horses. But there are times when you need to safely zoom through barn chores quickly. Barn design can also help here.
A center stall barn with feeding hatches in the front stall walls - or sliding doors - for hay and grain can not only make feed time fast, it is also the safest way for younger helpers to help complete the task as they don’t have to open the door or enter a horse’s stall.
If you have Dutch doors to the outside of the stall, mucking out can be accomplished more quickly if the horses are outside of the structure while stall-cleaning takes place rather than attempting to work around the horse inside. It is also a safer way to work.
Close the Dutch doors and shut the horses on the exterior of the building, whether temporarily or for the day/evening depending on summer/winter weather and complete the mucking out task quickly.
The addition of automatic waterers within the stalls can also save much labor and time when it comes to horse care. Obviously, water troughs in paddock areas or a standing watering pole is essential if horses don’t have access to the stalls 24/7.
The addition of an overhang to a horse barn is one of the most inexpensive methods to add valuable shelter space to a building. This space can provide refuge from inclement weather in winter and provide valuable shade during hot sunny weather. When you choose to shut the horses out of the barn for part of the day, it can save bedding costs as well as time required for mucking out.
Another easy-care option for horses at home is the humble run-in shed and lots of turnout. Even though my performance horses work at an advanced level, they spend 90% of their time outside with a run-in shed option for shelter that they can choose to use as they please.
During my career I have kept horses both as ‘hot house’ flowers with minimal solitary turnout during the day due to concerns they might injure their expensive selves, as well as in established herds with maximum turnout options. Whatever the horse’s age, from foals to finished horses at advanced levels, I am certain that the latter method of horse keeping produced sounder horses both physically and mentally that stayed performing well into their late teens and even early 20’s.
The use of an equine hay feeder in the field is once again not just a money saver on the hay budget but also a time and labor saver. Hay can be put out protected from the rain in a hay feeder less frequently as it can be placed for outside access in larger quantities. The slow feeding practice the equine hay feeder design provides is healthier for horses too. Don’t forget to remove the horses’ halters during turnout to ensure they do not become hung up on the feeder. Don’t forget that regardless of the amount of turnout given your horses, pasture management will be an important part of your horse care program.
The Importance of ‘Me’ Time
If you are busy managing multiple tasks, caring for family, house, and horses either alone or with a partner, and working full-time, do remember to take time each and everyday for yourself.
Make certain to take that ‘me’ time away from home base. For myself it came in the form of driving 2 hours each way to work with an Olympic dressage trainer once a week. I enjoyed the time alone during the drive and spending some quality time riding and improving my skill set with exercise involved. We all need to do things strictly for ourselves to maintain balance in our lives.
Take Home Message
Speaking from experience I can expound on the benefits of working from home and managing both family and job from one location. Our kids delighted in hopping off the school bus to a tea of fresh bread that popped out of the bread machine that I’d set up during my lunch break, the dogs for company all day long, the extra riding and time spent schooling our horses instead of sitting in traffic, and above all the quality time around the table catching up on the kids’ day.
When we built our barns (yes, more than one over time!) and paddocks, we would site the later ones within view of the house so a gaze up from the computer screen was rewarded with a glance at the horses. What could be a better and more relaxing view?
Incorporating horses into your home life and even adding other useful critters such as chickens and homesteading such as vegetable growing (that the children can help with), to your lifestyle can add great enjoyment and value to family life and it is possible to do it all successfully.
Being home for more than the holidays can truly be a blessing!