hiring barn staff (part 1)

If you are looking to hire someone to help you at the barn, here are some things I’ve discovered over the years that is helpful to know when it comes to age groups of your workers:

1.) Anyone 15 years and younger you will be micro-managing their every move. If you want to be a mentor and teacher to young kids who want to learn about horses, that’s great! Just be aware that you will work harder in keeping them on track and then re-doing the job they just did, then the kids getting chores done.

To make this work you must realize from the beginning that little work will be done. Also, all work will need to be heavily supervised. Chores need to be extremely simplified.

If you want to teach children about horses, this is an ideal situation; if you are overburdened and need a helper at your barn/farm, this is not the right choice.

2.) Ages 16-18: depending on their maturity, work ethic and if they have worked for pay for anyone else this possibly could work out. However, most likely you will still be following them about, telling them again and again how to do the simplest of jobs. While they are not as bad as the younger set, at this age they think they know what they are doing, which could be good or exceedingly bad.

Still keep the work simple and make sure they know exactly what to do (i.e. “clean tack room” – not good; “sweep tack room, dust shelves, wipe off all bits” is better). Spend a few weeks doublechecking all work and making a lot of corrections – train them right!

Make a chore list and post it in a predominant spot. Make sure they know what to do if they run out of things to do! I find this age the worst about interrupting me constantly with “what do I do next?” when the first chore was done half-assed to begin with. Training them right by mentoring, and then having clearly defined duties that are achievable at their level of competency is the key to making this work.

3.) Working students under the age of 18: keep the chores extremely simple – such as watering, cleaning stalls, feeding hay (but not grain), unloading feed and hay, brushing horses, sweeping, etc… Much of what I stated above would work for this same group.

I’d also suggest, spending a month intensely training the person. By this I mean, following behind them and doublechecking all work. It took me two months to get a college girl properly trained on how to do stalls. As soon as I *thought* I had her trained, I would do a spot check and realize she had grown sloppy again in her haste just to get it done. Always doublecheck and spotcheck work; never take it for granted that this group does not need supervision to some degree.

My experience with anyone under the age of 18 is they are sloppy and not detailed oriented. They will feed the wrong feed and then deny it or shrug it off as unimportant. As their boss, it is your job to keep them on their toes and make sure they know you want it done a certain way. All it takes is some kid feeding a horse the wrong feed, resulting in a colic, and a very angry boarder to realize that you goofed by trusting this person.

With anyone exchanging work for riding/lessons, you need to have a sign in sheet for when they are working. Of all the situations I’ve done as a working student this has never happened! But when I took on a working student, I had one and it limited the confusion immensely.

Working students always think they have done more work (omg! so hard to be on my feet, pushing wheelbarrows!) then they really have. They also start to show up late, skip days, leave early, constantly talk on their cell phone, bring visitors to the barn during their work hours etc… and without a timesheet you will be constantly explaining to them why they are not getting a lesson for the little work they did.

The converse is also true. I worked my butt off for a trainer while I was attending college. I worked far more hours then I ever got compensated for and it led to a certain amount of resentment on my part.

4.) Adult working students. If you can find them these are the best to have. The biggest problem with this student, is that the barn manager/horse trainer, just doesn’t compliment them enough! The person grows disgruntled and resentful because they are being ignored in favor of younger or paying students. Usually this results in a lot of hurt feelings that could have been avoided if the barn manager had spent some extra time in truly managing their employee.

Often it is the adult working student who keeps a large lesson barn running smoothly — they are the ones who help students tack up when the instructor is arranging the course in the arena, they help the too short rider get their horse bridled, scoop up the poop left in the aisle because a paying student was too lazy to clean up, and walk the overly worked lesson horse until they cool down.

With the college aged, or adult helper, it’s important to let them know they are valued. Even if you don’t have time through the day to compliment them or give them a few moments of special, one-on-one talk time, make sure you do allow it some time through the week. The reality is that these workers are only doing this type of work so they can have a special connection to the barn itself – not only the horses, but the person in charge.

If you can, take them to lunch and let them have a chance to pick your brain (after all they are working for you so they can increase their knowledge). It also gives you time to have your ear to the ground on the barn gossip, as the working student will know what is going on behind the scenes with boarders and lesson students.

5.) Illegal Immigrant help. In my experience, they are the hardest workers. They don’t pester you to death about every little thing and they are not afraid of hard work. However, most often an apartment or mobile home is required as part of the compensation.

Two big issues though: 1.) tougher laws are going to make you very vulnerable to fines and breaking the law (all it takes is one vengeful boarder/student calling immigration and you are screwed); and 2.) do you speak Spanish?

However, despite these drawbacks, large lesson and training barns continue to employee illegal immigrants. After watching how much they get done, I can fully understand why they take the risk. An illegal will get more done in one hour then a middle-class, American college girl can get done in one day.

6.) The Adult paid worker. You would think this would be the best situation… yet, I have run into some huge problems with trying to find decent help (which will be further explored in the next few blogs), so here I’ll give you some thoughts to chew over….

* this is unskilled labor and with it you will get people who aren’t suited intellectually for much else. This means rather slow thinkers, or it could mean those who are transient due to drugs, alcohol, dsyfunctional lifestyles… I’ve found this group to be the most unreliable in terms of showing up on time or even showing up!

* Because this position does not pay a living wage (unless you have a huge barn or farm), and adults have adult obligations (car and house payment, children, food, clothes etc…), it’s not uncommon to lose your helper to another full-time paying job.

* Sometimes I find adults less open to being told what to do. They may think age and experience gives them the right to handle your horses in the manner they see fit… not the way you want them to do so. Look for someone with experience but who is still open to learning.

Over the next blog or two, I’ll give you some further thoughts on how to employee a helper, whether for just a few hours a week or for a regular part or full-time schedule.

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2 Responses to hiring barn staff (part 1)

  1. Pingback: Balancing the Sweet Spot: labor « Horse Ideology

  2. Pingback: Balancing the Sweet Spot: labor | horseideology

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