Horse care questions

Hi all! I’m trying to gather information about how other large barns do feeding and work schedules. We are trying to find the most efficient way to space out feedings, while not over working staff. How often do you do grain feedings? How often do you hay? How early/late are your staff at the barn? How many staff for how many horses? Any information would be greatly helpful as we reevaluate our program of 50+ horses! Thanks!

My barn has 20+/- horses, but here’s the rough routine:

We have two stall cleaners who only work mornings and arrive around 6 am. They hay/grain the horses that are in and clean night turn-out stalls while those horses eat. Night turn-out horses come in, others go out, and those stalls get cleaned.

Then, basically, everything is set up for the day until mid-day, when our barn manager and another staff member are there to make lunch for those who get it, and everyone gets hay again, including horses in stone dust turnouts. We have automatic waterers, which helps eliminate a lot of work, but water in the paddocks gets checked/refilled as part of mid-day chores as needed, along with cleaning up grooming stalls, paddock maintenance, and so on. The staff works 9:30-5:30 pm with one day off per week.

Horses are brought in, everyone is fed dinner grain around 4 pm, and then night turnout horses go out around 5 pm. Staff makes breakfast grain at this time, the aisle gets blown/watered, and things are largely organized and set up for the following day. Personally, I’d prefer dinner to be fed a little later, but it’s not a huge deal.

Trainer lives on-site and does night check (hay for everyone, some grain for a couple) around 8-9 pm and then everyone is truly “put to bed” for the night.


Grain twice a day 7am and 5pm. Spaced out so horses can be ridden between 8am and 4pm.
Hay is fed at those times too (a mix of orchard grass and alfalfa) fed in large enough feeders that they are “cleaning up” as the next feeding is about to happen.
If I didn’t have the feeders or I had an air fern I would be doing hay at 7am, 12pm, 5pm and 10pm. This saves us from multiple feedings and extra work.

We have 7 horses in the barn and 30 in the pastures but have had as many as 17 in the stalls.
I currently have 4 part timers that split morning and evening feedings and stall cleaning. But I’ve also had one full timer 6 days a week that cared for 17 stalled horses plus 35-40 in the pastures.

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My barn has 35-ish horses and does it this way. One staff member arrives around 7 and feeds breakfast to the inside horses, then begins to bring outside horses in. The next staff member arrives around 8 and they finish turn in and turn out. Then, water and hay. Stalls are a different set of staff around 10-11, done by 1. At that time, feed buckets are made up for the evening and the next morning. Hay is replenished after stalls. This is a busy lesson barn and the afternoon lessons begin at 3:45, so supper is fed at 2-2:30 and weather permitting any horse who is ready goes to turnout. One staff member leaves after supper, the other around 4. After that, lesson students are responsible to turn the horse out if they are on night shift, and one of the instructors finishes hay and water, as well as a third meal for the hard keepers, before leaving. In summer our older juniors are usually happy to make some extra money doing the night turnout, hay, and water.

I used to work at this barn and there are a couple of things the current management have done that have made this routine more efficient. The most common grains are measured into a large bucket which is put on a large cart and wheeled to the stalls, so that the 20 horses who eat the same grain don’t have to have individual dishes made up and carried. Horses on a different ration get their own feed buckets, one for breakfast and one for supper. Both meals are made up at the same time and either set on the cart for the afternoon or locked in a grain bin for the morning. So someone only has to set grain once a day. We also used to have some horses living out who now live in stalls part time (and like it, so the work benefits are a side bonus.) This has made stalls a little harder but morning feed a little easier as they all had to be caught, brought to a manger, and fed- which took someone walking around all that time. We also dump buckets at night if the stall will be empty, so that in the morning it’s just a tour with the hose. All of this means that outside of stalls, the feeding, watering, turn out, and turn in can all be accomplished by one person if need be, and that person still sits down for lunch for an hour every day. Didn’t happen when I worked there!


Where I board and work, 23 horses are inside, and 4 live outside. There are two staff every day and after hay and hay cubes are fed, one person grains inside while the other grains the outside guys. Horses are dressed and turned out, and stalls are mucked. In the winter they get hay outside first thing, but in late summer/fall, they get hay at 11. PM grain is made after lunch. Horses come in at 2, hay is waiting for them in the stalls, and grain is fed at 2:35. While one staff member makes up breakfast grain, the other sets out hay for night check, and then tops up waters. Staff is finished at 3:30. The manager lives on sight and does night check at 8.

After riding my horse, I do a walk around and check waters before leaving, usually around 6.

Lots of variable factors based on your horses work schedules, staff you have, facility, etc, etc. but here are some of my experiences in various barns.

Uh…TLDR (Definitely the TL part… as is my barn career :sweat_smile:): You can’t likely change your barn set-up, but what you can change is:

  1. Tools. Get the best wheelbarrows (esp if the manure pile is far). Use a feed cart. Let them use a blower if it works in your barn, etc, etc.
  2. Staffing/scheduling. If you know/think you regularly want things done after a typical 3-4 pm finish, definitely arrange a split shift for it to avoid resentment from the people who have been there since 7 or 8. Consider a designated mucker (or two, or …) if your expecting a lot of other tasks from your “horse handling” staff.
  3. Assign tasks. Further to the above, there are a lot of straightforward things anyone can do with equal speed, and some things (like setting feed) that are much more efficient if the same person just does it all the time.
  4. Manage hay. Wasting is not only expensive on the hay bill, but it wastes shavings and mucking time as well. Figure out the schedule that minimizes this (without deprivation!). The right hay net system can help (the wrong one can make you pull your hair out).

TB training/layup barn, winter busy season 20+ stalls:
Staff #1 arrives at 7:30 to grain, puts any needed hay out in paddocks. Barn is cold and they wear trashy blankets anyway (can’t be trusted with nice things yet, lol) so minimal dressing required to go outside. Staff #2 comes at 8 and turnout starts (mostly pairs in paddocks, but led out individually as mostly young and sometimes fresh.)

Do the stalls, hay, and water. Hay needs to be dropped from the loft daily and goes into hay nets on the wall. (These but we replaced most with stronger actual nets). They can be a little work to get stuffed real full, but it’s so worth it… less hay feeds/day and easier mucking when the hay isn’t mixed in shavings. Water is buckets and hose, and is a huge time suck.

Horses come in at noon, and one staff member goes home (or sometimes 1 pm if we were finishing things up or had some extra “two man jobs”). Second staff stays to do odd jobs and/or help with horses as they train (grooming, reblanketing etc). In less busy times of year no one stays, just come back to feed.

Feed is usually around 4 pm and consists of: feeding grain, setting breakfast, topping up hay nets and water buckets. Not all horses need hay, and we fill five gallon pails of water in the aisle to avoid having to unravel the whole hose. It takes 45 minutes to an hour.

Night check at 8 or 9 is then literally a check… make sure everyone is alive and feed them carrots. At that point having to top up hay and water should be an odd occurrence, not a regular task. NC is done by the owner who lives down the road, or the one boarder, not by regular staff.

Likes/efficiency thumbs ups: Hay nets! Obviously more work than throwing it on the floor, but the hay hoops are way easier than the traditional rope hay nets, and topping it up (if you even need to, they hold a lot) is simple. Aisle (brick) is done with a blower. Feed buckets are on a cart.

Jumper barn. 20+ stall main barn, retirees and youngsters outside. Full service but within working hours (ie. Mostly pro ridden, not many evening riding clients). Two maintenance guys. They took care of all maintenance (duh) & landscaping, ring work, but also feeding outdoor horses and mucking the barn. Grooms (x3 or 4 ideally) were responsible for feeding, turn outs, horses on Equiciser, tacking, grooming, laundry, and general cleaning (and maybe mucking a bit if we were waiting on riders in the am). If not showing, grain was at 7 am and 4ish. Hay at 7 am, noon, 3 pm, and 8ish pm. Was often busy but we could usually get done by feed time or shortly after if not showing. Staff lived on site which is nice.

Likes: The guys doing stalls :wink: But in all seriousness, it’s not that stalls were hard, it just made fitting everything else in easier. Especially since we shipped in to most shows, it was nice to be able to load up a bunch of horses early in the morning and not worry about mucking them before we left or after we got back. Also you could leave one groom home with a bunch of horse to TO/walker/ride and it was doable without the stalls. Also, being a nice, functional facility with everything being relatively “compact” and well laid out.

Jumper barn, client oriented. 25ish stalls, 5-6 grooms. Feed schedule same as above barn, with bonus of a feed cart. Everyone mucks together, straight into a spreader… blessing and curse. Obviously it’s way less trips to the manure pile, but only some people were good at backing it up, it could block horses you need in, etc. I think it would be way better in a place where all the horses were out at once and you could drive a loop! Should mention we had a “sweeper” here for the huge rubber paved aisle… it was like a lawn mower that vacuumed. Pretty awesome when I could start it. :smile: If there were lessons after feed, one or two people stayed to provide full service, basically rotating who drew that short straw. It sucked, and if you wanted to do that fairly, I would say that person should be designated for that day and start at 10 or noon or something. Night check we took turns coming back to do, but were at least paid extra for.

Likes: In retrospect, not tons. There were some great things in the facility lay-out and awesome storage. But we were reasonably well staffed and still hustled a lot. On the bright side, when we weren’t showing, there was more opportunity for days off thanks to more staff to cover.

H/J barn. Medium service… as in pro needs tacking/grooming, but most clients don’t for rides. Some bathing, brushing, handwalking, wrapping, etc done as needed. 4 people for 25+ stalls. One person comes at 7 am for meds/grain. Others arrive at 7:30 to start dressing/TO (only about half barn at a time). Hay is then fed (mostly on floor, a few rope hay nets get filled/topped as we go), someone carts in bagged shavings from shed, then everyone works on stalls. People get pulled away from mucking as needed for other tasks. No set time for mucking to “must” be finished, normally it’s done 10-11 if full staffed. Work on turnout switches, laundry, stocking hay, etc. Grain is reset for both night at the next morning. Hay again at 12 and 2:30 -2:45. Afternoon pick and sweep, grain at 3. Finish up any lingering bits and head out when done (technically “on” until 4, but can leave after 3 if all is done.)

Likes: The double grain set. Since it’s lots of horses and individualised feed it takes a bit… better to do it during the day than when everyone wants to leave. Also the buffer hour between 3 and 4… way more likely to actually do the “leftover” tasks and keep up on things if it doesn’t feel like you’re staying overtime for it.

Smaller jumper barn: Like 10-12 horses on kind of a weird full-service co-op… probably not super applicable to your large barn but I’ll mention a couple likes. Water had a tap at each stall… not as fast as the auto waters the bigger barns had, but certainly easier than hoses. Also, we gathered a bunch of slow feed nets (mostly easy fill like Nibble Nets, and a few rope ones) to where we had 2 per horse that needed them. Feed lunch and dinner hay on the ground as typical. But then we’d hang one pre-filled net for night check, knowing it would last them longer. And then we’d leave the other pre-filled one outside their door, and whoever fed breakfast could quickly pull down the empty one and snap up the full. I found this made mucking way easier, because they hadn’t dragged a brand new flake of hay through their dirty bed. Again, I don’t expect you to have/fill 100+ haynets daily, but it’s something to consider for hay-wasters, horses on stall rest, etc.

Wow…I’ve done way too many years of feeding and shovelling…

50+ is a whole different ball game than anything under 30. And any barn really depends on the turnout situation, layout, etc. Here’s some options to think about (sorry it’s long):

  • separate staff for grooming (if you offer it or need them for beginner lesson help/trainer rides), feeding, and stalls. Determine if property maintenance like dragging rings and fields and fixing fences should be part of anyone’s job or if you need a separate “maintenance” person too. Remember to have enough staff to rotate for days off and cover callouts/holidays. Better to have an “extra” person than be so short that a sick staff member causes a crisis.
    Stall cleaners did stalls and swept up, scrubbed buckets and did water. Feeders did grain and hay and turnout, handled grooming duties/wrapping/misc

  • have just a couple people who regularly set feed. Obviously have an updated chart that’s easy for a competent person to read but setting feed goes 100x faster if you do it every day. Insist on smartpaks or baggies for supplements, don’t make staff scoop them. Liquids and meds are different, but meds should only be handled by the few who set feed to ensure accurate dosing.

  • get good equipment. A barn that big needs things to work, the first time. Have extras. Have a separate show setup so you aren’t pulling buckets or taking carts/pitchforks from the barn. Run auto waterers or spigots to each stall if possible, auto fillers in pastures too (the biggest time suck besides stalls is WATER). You’ll save in labor what you spend in setup.

  • figure out how to make hay last longer. We did full bale nets, they lasted about two days. For the air ferns, we did double slow feed nets and filled them twice a day. Came out to throwing hay way less than when we did 3-4 hay meals daily, stalls are cleaner, less waste, horses are happier munching 24/7.

  • a white board on each stall for blanketing instructions. Much easier to dress horses if you aren’t racking your brain as to which is the heavy and which is the medium. Up to you if you allow owners to write the chart or if you have the barn manager do it, but horses are individuals so we often put a sheet on one and a heavy on his neighbor the same day. Bell boot needs go here too.

I have many more but mostly, talk to your staff. Find out what’s working, what isn’t. Get a breakdown of what jobs take how much time, look at what isn’t getting done. Don’t be afraid to try things for a couple weeks or so and reevaluate