How do you take care of your horse when you don’t have much time

How do you take care of your horse when you don’t have much time

A few days ago, an acquaintance was complaining about not having enough time to spend with her horses.

She said she would love to be able to keep them at home, but couldn’t figure out how she would find the time to take care of them.

She explained how she works in the city, and what with an hour of daily commuting and social obligations on the weekend, she feels the horses will suffer.

When I told her that my husband and I were away from the farm (between commuting and work) for at least ten hours a day, and it seemed my horses weren’t experiencing anything because of it, she asked me how to do it.

How to take care of our horses without spending a lot of time:

Now, keep in mind two things –

  1. We only have three horses.
  2. From the beginning, we set up our farm to be as efficient and time efficient as possible.

I’ve spent three decades or so working in horse barns in one form or another. I always prided myself on being able to keep the barn so clean and running like clockwork.

I’m hypersensitive, hardworking, and all those other “outrageous” words that basically mean I’m a bit conservative when it comes to raising horses.

But that’s the thing. When you bring your horses home, and you’re not independently wealthy (read: you have to go to work every day to be able to afford said horses), there are a few things you have to get over.

Like, the idea of ​​completely clearing and drying the barn before you start the rest of your day (unless, of course, you want to get up really early , or you don’t have to go to work before noon, or it’s Saturday).

You have to let go of that picture in your head of what a perfectly run barn looks like. When you don’t have all the time in the world (or even more than a few hours in a day) to care for horses, you must prioritize, and where best to spend your time.

You have to look at the whole board. Determine what is “necessary” versus what is “need,” and what is best for your horse versus what is best for you. You also need to take a long and hard look at why you want to bring your horse home in the first place.

If it is so that you can ride and train under primitive conditions and have your horse live in a professionally managed stable, then perhaps you should consider taking it home (or planning to marry the wealthy).

But if it’s because you don’t want to wake up. more. day. Without being able to pull your buckets out and into the barn in your pajamas to kiss your horse good morning, you’re ready to start making some decisions that will allow you to have your dream (and if that means not getting the stalls weeded out until after work) – You really have to be okay with that.)

Tick ​​all boxes:

When we started planning our barn and pasture establishment, we did some serious thinking. We figured out what our lives would really look like, and how we can make sure that our horses will be safe and comfortable for the ten or more hours a day that they will take care of themselves.

We had a checklist in mind for everything we felt our horses needed to be healthy and happy, so we started there:

  1. food
  2. water
  3. Shelter
  4. room to move
  5. companionship

Then we broke it down into those components to come up with a comprehensive view of what our farm should be like.


Before I was Connemara’s pony, Stella (and her poor, ulcer-prone little belly) came into my life a few years ago, I didn’t quite realize how important it was for horses to have the option to “graze” (whether on actual grass, or free hay) at all times.

In order to meet this need, we knew we had to find a way to allow them access to all-day grazing.

This eventually led to the construction of a pair of very safe and very durable hay feeders that can accommodate either round or square bales, and a lot of research into efficient pasture recycling.


This person does not need to think. The biggest problem was in the winter, of course. We live in Canada, so buckets of solid frozen water from December to April are a reality for us.

So we invested in heated buckets, and some high-quality, durable extension cords to ensure the horses had access to the water no matter what the temperature was outside.


The first thing I did when we bought our farm was get rid of all those years of barn plans that I had made. They all pictured your “typical” barn with the stalls opening onto the central driveway path inside the barn.

If we’re going to be away for an hour for ten hours a day, I need the horses to be able to let themselves in and out based on the weather and their choice.

We settled on a small, stable layout of a shed row, with booth doors (which will remain open) leading directly into the paddock. This way the horses will not be caught in cold rain or hot sun.

room to move

For me, the space to move at will is one of the most important things I can give my horses. Our mare, Sunny, who was 24 and had arthritis, really benefited from being able to come and go as she wanted.

But besides that, being around all day is something deeply ingrained in equine instinct and for me, it wouldn’t make sense to take this ability off my horses if I didn’t have to.

We set out to build a “field of sacrifice” (for example, we sacrificed grass in a small area to turn it into a mud-free space), accessible from the stalls. This is where the horses spend their winters (in addition to the usually muddy shoulder seasons of early spring and late fall).

It measures about sixty by one hundred and twenty feet, and slopes gently away from the barn. Thanks to a lot of hard work (and tons of gravel in different sizes and shapes), the space is now mud-free all year round.

We then divided the remaining two acres of grassy field into six small grass pastures so we could use rotational grazing, allowing the horses to feed on fine grass from late spring to early fall.

Thanks to the clever placement of the gates and the main driveway, the sacrifice field can be accessed from any of the grass pastures, meaning that horses can access their stalls for shelter and water at all times.

It’s been a lot of work, but on the plus side we don’t have to feed hay from mid-May through mid-October.


Horses are herd animals and I don’t think they were supposed to survive without the company of other horses (or at least other animals).

We were fortunate to have two horses at the time we took them home, and were able to add a third later. If I only had one horse I would ride on the border, or borrow a companion horse from a friend.

Our daily schedule:

It took us a while to figure out the optimal daily schedule. It was a big adjustment when we first brought the horses home. I hadn’t had horses in my backyard since before college, and my husband was pretty much a novice to horses.

We set out to determine what worked and what didn’t through a long series of trial and error.

Once we started swinging things around, we came up with a working six-part agenda for yard work.

It’s so much easier to have a checklist to do in your head, especially on those nights after work in the winter when it’s ten below and it’s been dark long before you get home:

  • wheat
  • carpets
  • there
  • water
  • kiosks
  • pasture

This particular arrangement of things works well in our situation, and we tend not to deviate from it, except of course that summer is easier and quicker than winter thanks to the fact that we don’t have to mess with carpet or hay.

Also, in the summer, the horses all tend to do their business in the fields, and while we pick up dung from the fields every day , it’s still easier than clearing the stalls.

This is my schedule for a typical winter day, considering that almost all of my supplies are kept in the basement of our house in the winter to keep things from freezing; Also, we take the water from the house so that it comes from the basement as well – we fill the big water containers the night before and have it ready for the next day.

So before I head to the barn, I mix up the cereal, put the water containers, cereal, and rugs (if you’ve changed them) into the cart and drag it into the barn.

Morning stables (5:15 to 6:00 a.m.)

  1. Grain feed (we trained the horses to go to their stalls and calmly wait for the grain to come); Once everyone has their cereal, shut the doors for Stella so she doesn’t come in and chase Sunny or Keogh away from her breakfasts.
  2. Changing the rugs – I do this right after the cereal so I can get it done while Sunny and Keogh are still in their booths. Otherwise I find myself chasing them around the ring at a dark 0-30 to do that, which is not fun.
  3. Put on the hay – Our three horses go through about two and a half bales of hay per day. Most are split between the hay feeders outside, and then I put 2 to 3 chips (depending on the weather) in each stall. I don’t like that they have to choose between shelter and food, and the worse it gets, the more hay you leave inside.
  4. Fill up the water from the containers you took out of the house.
  5. Arrange the booths . I don’t go out in the morning – there’s no time to do a decent job, and I don’t like to empty the wheelbarrow in the dark because I’m always bothered by some backfield wildlife like deer, raccoons and even the occasional porcupine. Believe me, it is better not to go there before sunrise. But I also don’t like coming home to piles of excrement that have been squashed into the rest of the bed by the horses lying on them during their afternoon naps. So instead, I pull the bedding away from a corner and throw all the obvious compost in there. I’m not going digging, nor moving a pee spot at this point. It is enough just to prevent them from tracking the manure through the booth and lying on it.
  6. Quickly adjust the helical bags . Again, I don’t even get off the wheelbarrow. I put all the hay falling from the hay feeders back in, and if there are any compost piles near the feeders, I take them out of the way so the horses don’t stand in them while they are eating the hay. During the day.

I allow myself forty-five minutes for the morning stables. I’d probably get it done in a little less time, but I do include time for petting, worrying, and listening to the horses eating the hay, and it all works out really well.

Evening stables (5:30 to 7:00 pm)

My husband and I are carpools to work most days. He picks me up around four, which puts us home around five. By the time we get dressed in the barn and feed the cats, we usually head to the barn around 5:30.

We follow essentially the same routine as in the morning (grain, carpet, hay, water, stalls, pasture), with the addition of shoveling the entire stalls, meticulously selecting pastures.

I am very fortunate that Hubby loves to help out in the evening. With the two of us, we could get everything done in about an hour (again, considering time to beat the horses).

If I do the evening chores myself I count on an hour and a half, sometimes a little more if the horses spend a lot of time in their stalls during the day due to bad weather or otherwise.

So three hours a day or less takes care of all the basic needs of our horses. Looking back on when I would have been riding them in other sheds, I could easily have spent much more time than that each day getting to the shed to visit them.

We only had Sunny and Stella at the time, but they were boarded in different sheds that were about an hour apart (each about an hour away from my house).

Finding time for the little things (like the ride):

Fortunately, the months that take the most work just to get the day-to-day chores done are the same months that, in Canada at least, aren’t suitable for riding, unless you have an indoor circuit (which I don’t.).

Once the time changes, I always look forward to doing morning and evening chores in the dark. The ride, except for the occasional lovely weekend, isn’t just in the stars for me from November to April.

While the grind from Monday to Friday never changes, weekends open up a whole new world in the winter months. I actually see my horses in broad daylight, and that’s when I find time for a lot of those “little things” that aren’t usually done during the week.

Everyone gets well cared for, buckets get well cleaned, and if the weather is cooperative we sometimes get lucky and do some ground work in the field or a hand walk around outside the fields.

This is not really a problem for me. Throughout my youth, my horses have always enjoyed the winter. I actually think it’s really good for them. Also, I’m weak about the cold, so spending some extra time indoors in front of a nice fire with a good book is never a bad thing.

Coincidentally, by the time I’m ready to put my feet back in the stirrup, the time changes, the days start to stretch, and the base starts to get loose.

Life gets a little less difficult in the barn yard in those months – the horses spend more time outside, we’re starting to introduce them to the grass, and since it’s getting warmer, well, things seem easier .

In summer, due to those annoying little things like heat or insects, in our area it is better to ride either before breakfast or after dinner. So finishing the barn work around six or seven, then hopping on for a ride, is a perfectly acceptable way to spend the evening.

Why this system works for us:

The biggest problem for me has always been that horses need to be able to be pretty self-sufficient for a good part of the day. I can’t run home on my lunch break and put her in in case she gets out quickly.

Some days my husband or wife is tied up at work, and I don’t want to have horses waiting (or worse, running) at the gate, frantically for us to get home because they’re hungry.

When they have hay in front of them around the clock and twenty-seven, they don’t really think about grain time until they see us showing up with something in a bucket.

On the weekends, we can get up in the morning, do chores, then take off to the beach until suppertime and the horses don’t miss us (not that we do that much, but, you know, we can ).

Thanks to a lot of planning, trial and error, and sheer worrying about things like rink turn, good rink feet, good hay and safe fencing, our horses are as happy as oysters from morning till night whether we’re here or not (and so we are, because we don’t have to worry about them) .

I hope this helps you a little bit in planning, and in deciding if having your horse in the house can really be good for you. I’ll tell you what – yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, you have to do your homework and do things that way , so that you can be sure that your horses live at their best and happiest.

But when do you get out to the barn in your PJ to kiss a horse on the nose just because you could? That make it all valuable.


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