Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Barn Chores: Not for Sissies

Campers with strong backs
A thousand pound horse eats and drinks a lot, and generates a lot of, um, waste. A stable full of 1000 pound horses generates a daily need for barn staff.

You might think barn chores are the ultimate in unskilled labor. A strong back for shoveling manure is the only qualification needed for the job, right?

Wrong. If you want the humans and horses to be safe, if you want the horses to stay healthy, if you want to avoid chaos and waste in your barn, you need barn staff who know what they’re doing.

A true Pony Farm camper SMILES
while dumping manure!
Jordan Reynolds handles the chores during the week. Jordan can sweep out a row of stalls in the time it takes me to pick out two of Roxy’s feet. She is also kind and helpful to the Pony Farm campers who do barn chores as part of their camp experience.

The Weight of Water

To be sure, the job does require considerable strength. Everything in a barn is heavy:
  • A typical water bucket holds 5 gallons. That's 41.5 pounds of water per bucket.
  • Hay bales weigh about 40 pounds each.
  • A wheelbarrow full of manure might as well be concrete.
  • Stall doors are very heavy, particularly when you are opening or closing them with one hand while the other holds an excited horse.

Air Traffic Control of Flying Hooves

This is Dawn. She
always smiles like that.
I've helped out with barn chores a few times on weekends, when Dawn Mills is in charge. From what I've seen, turnout is the barn chore that requires heavy-duty smarts, common sense, and even bravery.

Food and time outside their stalls are very important to the horses (Roxy!), and they can be nervy when coming in or out. A horse may try to shove past as you open a stall door or paddock fence. You could get stepped on or jammed against a wall if you’re not prepared for it.

The bolder horses turned out in the OC like to come flying in together at a gallop. Dawn’s advice for getting them to slow down and behave: “Wave your arms and try to look big.” I’m not sure I could pull that off, but the horses don’t mess with Dawn.

Some horses have strong opinions about other horses and it’s best that they don’t encounter each other in transit. The extra horses that arrive for summer camp can be quite jumpy at first.

I see Dawn handle all of this like an air-traffic controller at LaGuardia. She knows the stall and paddock of every horse and who their turnout partners are. She knows the safe, efficient sequence to bring horses in and out. She knows who shouldn’t eat grass along the way, who needs a fly mask, and who won’t put up with fly spray.

(Dawn also knows who’s naughty and nice. She lets me have the nice horses when I help with turnout.)

Love Optional but Highly Desirable

So far we have these required job skills: physical strength, kindness, critical thinking, a knowledge of horse behavior, sound judgment, steady nerves, and the ability to make yourself look big. Jordan and Dawn know the horses as well as anyone on the farm, and they love them, too. I don’t know if love is necessary for the job, but I know it makes life better for the horses.

See you around the farm.

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm


  1. Don't forget occasionally saving people from the sheep! Haha :) I miss all you guys

  2. Oh good heavens, Brooke -- yes! How could I forget?! Not to mention keeping Kiwi out of the grain room...

  3. If people want to have a stable, they should hire some barn staff for the maintenance of the stable. Barn staff really helps a lot to maintain the stable in a perfect manner.
    horse stable doors