Tips and Tricks from the Best Hunter Barn Managers in the Business! – Part Two

Our BarnManager team recently caught up with some of the best hunter barn managers in the business to learn their tips and tricks, and now we’re back with more insight from two women working hard in the saddle and behind the scenes to help their hunter operations run smoothly!

Meet This Week’s Managers

 

Karli Postel – Karli Postel rides and assistant trains for Archie Cox at Brookway Stables in California.

 
 

 

Cara Meade – Cara Meade manages for John and Stephanie Ingram, LLC, based out of Tennessee.

 

Q: What is one thing that you or your horses never go to the ring without?

Karli: The grooms never come without a backpack, and in the backpack there are back boots, hoof oil, brushes, hoof pick, and rags; they always have a whip in the backpack. They always have a little bit of boot polish in the backpack. Show Sheen, rubbing alcohol, and fly spray. The backpacks are heavy!

Cara: A towel. There are so many uses for a towel at the ring. Horses always need to be dusted off—legs, belly, sweat marks, green mouth, tack—and your rider’s boots can always have one last wipe-down. It can also be used on the jump or ground as a way to prep a spooky horse.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge of the job?

Karli: Orchestrating timing is probably the hardest, just because of the nature of our industry. Nothing generally runs specific to the laid-out time schedule, so you have to make your schedule but then be flexible within it. You have be able to recognize “Okay well this ring is running a little bit faster, and this ring is running a little bit slower,” so it’s going to work out a little differently than I had accounted for originally. I think if you’re not good at time management and you can’t be flexible within a schedule that you make, you’re going to have a hard time because you might get flustered.

Cara: Communication! Whether it’s with someone who speaks a different language or just simply how someone else translates the task, idea, or information you are trying to explain. Clear and consistent communication between all parties is always a good challenge.

Q: What’s your biggest time-saving trick in the barn?

Karli: Using your resources and using your network. I see it all the time where people are at one ring and they’re like, “Well I need to check on the other ring, so I need to walkover there.” You have the resource of the gate guy. Go and ask him to radio over. He won’t mind as long as you aren’t rude and you wait until he has a convenient moment to do it; you’re saving yourself the trip. When we go to HITS Thermal where there are seven hunter rings, four jumper rings, and the barn is way far away, those 10 minutes that it takes you to walk from one ring to another are valuable. So I say definitely you need to use your resources. Sometimes getting the gate guy’s phone number is helpful. If you’re in the warm-up ring and can’t hear the count, it’s nice to be able to reach out to them personally.

I also like to keep my schedule on my phone so that I always have it on me, and I try to make sure that everyone has a schedule. Archie [Cox], myself, and then our head guy Carlos, just so that all three of us have an idea of what’s happening.

Cara: My time-saving trick is organization. I’m not naturally the most organized person, so the more organized I can be with all of the supplies I use each day, my thoughts, and the order of how tasks get done makes a big difference in how long the days take to get finished.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Karli: It’s so fun when you get to the weekend, and the clients come. You had your whole week and feel like you’ve done all the prep.When they go in and they have success, and they come out and they’re happy, that’s the most rewarding for me. Especially when it’s kid; I love the amateurs, but with the kids it’s really rewarding because you can really see it on their face when they’re so excited about winning. Even if they just went in and had a really good round, when they ride well it’s exciting!

Cara: The most rewarding part is seeing the horses perform well. There is SO much effort and detail that goes into getting each horse prepared exactly right to go to the ring. To see all of that effort pay off for horse and rider is definitely the most rewarding part.

Q: What’s your best grooming tip? And what five things do you use most in the barn?

Cara: My best grooming tip is to be organized as best you can. The more readily you can have all your grooming necessities and tack available the easier it will be to work quickly and efficiently.

I definitely use the dry-erase board; I wouldn’t make it through the day without it. A towel and some Pledge; there is never something that doesn’t need dusting. Scissors or a pocket knife, sunscreen, and tack soap.

BarnManager is designed to be a part of your team, with the compatibility and credentials necessary to improve communication, simplify the management of horses, and get you out of the office, off the phone calls, and into the barn with the horses you care about! Click here to get a free demo and find out more!

501(c)(3) Feature: The Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program

Through our ‘Free for 501(c)3’ program, our team at BarnManager has had the opportunity to learn more about incredible equestrian non-profit organizations from across the country. Each month, we’ll be featuring one such organization here on our blog!

 

 

In 1980, the Fairfax 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program was launched with one borrowed horse and a handful of riders.
 
 
Today, 38 years later, that program has evolved into the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program (NVTRP), with a herd of 15 horses, four full-time and eight part-time staff, and a team of up to 250 weekly volunteers that serve approximately 115 riders each week.

 
With an ever-growing team, the need for organization is paramount—that’s why NVTRP Equine & Facilities Manager Christina Duffy found herself searching online for a horse management tool. In her Googling, she came across BarnManager.
 
 
BarnManager seemed to best fit our program needs and was the most user-friendly option,” explained Duffy. “BarnManager has helped to keep all of our files in one place and helped keep track of any events or illnesses that arise with a specific horse; it is much easier to remember to type something up then write it down! It has also made information about our horses more accessible to instructors and staff.”
 
 
This streamlined organization makes it easier for NVTRP to continue to focus on fulfilling its mission of providing equine-assisted therapeutic services to children and adults with disabilities, youth-at-risk, military service personnel, and their families in an inclusive, community-based setting.
 
 
NVTRP’s number one goal is to use equestrian-based services to provide a range of physical, social, and emotional benefits, and to help riders attain the healthiest, most independent lives possible.
 
 
Today, in order to meet the growing demand for NVTRP’s services, the organization has begun construction and a capital improvement project. Part of the project includes a new, larger, lighted outdoor riding ring, an accessible playground, and improved parking and access. To learn more about NVTRP and to get involved in the capital campaign, visit http://nvtrp.org/capital-campaign.

BarnManager is designed to be a part of your team, with the compatibility and credentials necessary to improve communication, simplify the management of horses, and get you out of the office, off the phone calls, and into the barn with the horses you care about! Click here to get a free demo and find out more!

Liv’s Tip of the Month – Winter Coats

So what triggers your horse’s winter coat to come in? Your horse’s eyes and the summer solstice!
 
 
Every June, the solstice signals the start of summer. The days get progressively shorter. Your horse’s eyes slowly start to notice this…sending signals to his brain to start thinking about winter. Sure, he’s not going to start sprouting a new coat mid-July, but he’s noticing.
 
 
The primary stimulus for a horse’s shedding and coat growing cycle is sunlight! Very little of the temperature and blanketing situations has an influence on the hair growth cycle.
 

 Liv Gude, a former International Dressage Groom for years, founded proequinegrooms.com as a way to unite Grooms in the horse industry. The educational website also serves to entertain and inform horse owners across all disciplines about horse care, grooming, and health. Click here to check it out!

BarnManager is designed to be a part of your team, with the compatibility and credentials necessary to improve communication, simplify the management of horses, and get you out of the office, off the phone calls, and into the barn with the horses you care about! Click here to get a free demo and find out more!

Managing for McLain Ward: An Interview with Erica McKeever

On September 21, spectators and show jumping fans from around the globe watched as McLain Ward and Clinta delivered an incredible jump-off performance to anchor the U.S. team and clinch the USA’s first World Equestrian Games (WEG) team gold medal.

What most spectators did not see however, was Lee McKeever outside of the ring, overseeing every last detail of Clinta’s care or McKeever’s wife, Erica McKeever, coordinating all of the logistics involved with Ward and Clinta’s WEG appearance and managing the 30 additional horses back home at Castle Hill Farm in Brewster, NY.

Behind every great rider is an equally great barn and horse management team, and while they might not be the ones atop the podium, for the last 30 years, Erica and Lee McKeever have been an essential part of that team at Castle Hill.

With more than three decades spent overseeing horses at one of the top show jumping barns in the country, there are few with more ongoing, high-level barn management experience than the McKeevers, so we asked Erica to share more about her own management career!

Q: How did you get started at Castle Hill?

When I came to the U.S., I was working for Tim Grubb in New Jersey, and Brigette that was working for Tim’s barn brought me to Castle Hill during the horse show at Old Salem.

I first met Barney Ward that night. It just seemed like a really fun place. Everyone was hanging out together, and he called everybody his family several times while we were there. I felt like, “Whoa what a really neat place that is to work.”

Then I guess he must have called Brigette shortly after and said that he was looking for someone who could manage the show horses and go on the road with him. She asked me if I thought it was something that I was interested in doing. I said, “Oh I don’t think I could.” I had experience but not being in sole control of the horses. She said, “Well I think you could do it.” I did a trial, and we kind of hit it off right from the go. He was awesome. He taught me so much about horses and horsemanship. It was really special. I figured it out, and I never looked back.

I went on the road with him for a lot of years. McLain and Lee kind of went their way, and we went our way. I pretty much ran the show side of this barn. He had his managers at home, and that’s kind of how it started.

Q: You had your son, Bradlee, in 2002, and your daughter, Baylee, in 2004. How did your role at Castle Hill change after having kids?

I took care of Sapphire when we first got her. I’d just had Bradlee, so I tried to go on the road and still be a mom, and it actually was about virtually impossible. We had a fabulous babysitter who was with us from when Bradlee was six months old, so I tried to still go on the road and keep the same role, but it was really hard. I couldn’t do it.

Then I started to stay at home and run that side of it. Instead of having a bookkeeper or a secretary, I did it myself. I still tried to occasionally go with Sapphire. I still traveled to Florida, and I still tried to do the barn as well because that’s really important to me. That’s what I love to do. Then I had my second child, and it became very difficult to do it all. So, I stayed home, and I run things at home. It’s great because now there are so many horse shows, you constantly have horses getting ready for the next event, which makes it really exciting at home too.

Q: What’s a typical day like at home now?

I like to be home until my kids leave for school on the bus, and then I go to the barn. I usually do a couple of hours in the office. We do a plan for the day of what horses are going to be doing–who’s riding which horse, who needs clipping, who needs the vet. We plan all that early in the morning.

The key to this is to surround yourself with great people, and then it’s easy. If you have good people in the barn that you trust and are good at what they do, it makes our jobs really easy too. You have to find good people that really want to do this and love the animals.

Q: What do you think it takes to be a good barn manager?

I think you have to be responsible. You can’t leave it for someone else to do. You have to do it. I think managing is the perfect word – you have to pretty much manage everything from the help to the horses to the farrier. It’s a huge role, and it’s a huge responsibility. I love it because I like to be in control a little bit.

Organization is important. We have a plan in place because McLain’s a huge planner. The horses are planned where they’re going now through week 12 of Florida.

Again, I think the most important thing is that you have good people around you that care as much as we do, and they do this not for a job but because it’s what they love. We try to encourage the people to be a huge part of each and every horse. They all ride; they all take care of them. When McLain wins, we all win. Everybody contributes to that.

Q: What are the challenges of the job?

It can be a little stressful; sometimes it’s a little overwhelming because there’s always something going on,

Now my daughter shows. She does the ponies. That’s become stressful in itself! I feel like I’m managing a whole other operation; I don’t know what’s going to happen when she’s doing the equitation! I just spent some time at the [ASPCA Maclay] Regionals last week, and that looks more stressful than ever. We just did the world championships, and that didn’t seem as stressful as some of those kids!

Q: What’s your favorite thing about working for Castle Hill?

The family aspect. To be appreciated by McLain as much as he does. It’s so special the way he involves our children in the whole thing – his father was the same. It was always about family. McLain’s really, really kept up with that. I would think he would make his dad very proud with how he is. I think giving the appreciation to the people around him, that’s huge for everybody. Not just for me, but for my husband, and Virginie [Casterman] who took care of Clinta at WEG. That’s so important to be appreciated.

BarnManager is designed to be a part of your team, with the compatibility and credentials necessary to improve communication, simplify the management of horses, and get you out of the office, off the phone calls, and into the barn with the horses you care about! Click here to get a free demo and find out more!

Tips and Tricks from the Best Hunter Barn Managers in the Business! – Part One

The Capital Challenge Horse Show attracts the best hunter horses and riders in the country – and in turn, the best hunter barn managers! While at the show, we caught up with several of them to learn their tips and tricks and the challenges and rewards of their jobs. Now, we’re sharing their feedback in a two-part series of blog posts!

Meet This Week’s Managers

 

Kassie Gustafson – Kassie Gustafson manages for Hunt Tosh Inc., based out of Alpharetta, GA.

 
 

 

Molly Sewell Schott – Molly Sewell Schott is a rider and assistant trainer at Over the Hill Farm in Sanford, FL, where she has worked with Bill Schaub for the last 17 years.

 

 

Kate Wood – Kate Wood has managed for Liza Boyd at Finally Farm in Camden, SC, for almost two years.

 

Q: What’s the biggest challenge of the job?

Kassie: At a show, I’d say just communicating. Making sure that all of the pieces are working together – whether you’re getting horses to the ring or you’re in a situation where you have a lot of clients. It really just depends on that – getting your whole team to work together. If you’re at home, not at a horse show situation, I would actually say pretty much the same thing: just making sure that everyone is communicating. There are a lot of moving pieces that make a barn run efficiently. Being able to manage all of that is probably the trickiest part.

Molly: For me, I think my challenge is juggling multiple roles. I ride and also manage the grooms and the horses. That’s the hardest thing. I’d also say, making sure that communication is good between all of us.

Kate: Keeping all of the pieces moving; making sure that if there are lessons for the day that need to get done, that they’re getting lined up in between showing – just trying to make sure that the day runs as efficiently as possible. It’s really hard to do, because you’ve got horses showing in the ring, and you’re trying to get other lessons put together. The time management is really the big thing.

Q: What’s your biggest time-saving trick in the barn?

Kassie: I’m a huge multi-tasker. At the end of the day when you have a tack hook full of bridles, tack cleaning takes up a lot of time. So, any little stuff you can do throughout the day – like tack cleaning, those little types of things – they really help.

If people ask me, “What can I do to help you?” I hand them a pile of polo wraps to roll. Hunt’s daughter, [Maddie Tosh] is great. She always helps us in the barn. I call her my little secretary because she is just fabulous. You don’t realize how much it helps you when someone can do those kinds of little things for you. It allows you to have that time to do something else that you need to. Keeping up with the little things like cleaning tack and rolling polos throughout the day makes a difference.

Molly: I like to make sure that everything is organized when I close up shop every day. It saves time in the morning. I would rather stay at the barn later and then have everything smooth and efficient in the mornings, as far as tack being perfectly organized and that sort of stuff.
I like everything to be done the night before because you have very limited hours in the morning. When I get to the barn, I want to be able to pull every piece of tack out of the trunk and have it exactly where it needs to be before everyone starts riding. I even pack the trunk at night based on what we’re doing first, so I’ll put the schooling bridles on the top so that we can just get them out and get the horses out the door and to the ring. That’s probably my biggest time-saving thing as far as being organized.

Kate: Just really overcommunicating – even if you repeat yourself five times. Making sure that everyone knows the game plan; writing everything down. Liza and I don’t leave the barn before we go over the board together and make sure that Jack [Towell] is clued in on what the morning is bringing. We just like to have a good game plan before we leave that day.

Q: What item or items do you use most in the barn?

Kassie: Anything I post for them I always hashtag #ShapleysSavesLives because it does. We’re a huge fan of Shapley’s products. Whether it’s the High Gloss, the Spray Paint, whatever – we’re huge fans. We use a lot of MagnaPaste for hoof packing.

Molly: Venice turpentine – at least that’s what I’m always buying! It’s for their feet; we’re always making sure their feet are comfortable because that’s the most important part. If you don’t have any feet, you don’t have any horse.

Kate: We love our Seashore Acres products. We use a ton of that stuff for scratches and for fly spray. I also have to say our rubber jump poles. They’re safer than regular jump poles; if you want your horse to land a little further out off a jump, you can place them on the ground. If they land on those, it’s a lot safer than if they were to land on a wooden pole. And again, our radios. Our radios are very important to us.

Q: What is one thing that you or your horses never go to the ring without?

Kassie: I never go anywhere without my backpack. I always say that it’s full of my magic tricks. I always have a hoof pick and a tail brush. We take all of our horses up with a chain lead shank. It makes it easier to hold them while they’re getting ready. I’m a really big fan of the baby oil that’s a gel; it’s super easy to carry in a backpack. You don’t have to worry about it spilling or anything like that. Baby powder of course, hoof oil, all the basic stuff. I have a kit of makeup that I take with me, in case we need it for any touch-ups. You never know what’s going to happen!

Molly: Our horses and ponies are very spoiled; they definitely never go to the ring without peppermints! Then our grooms all have their essentials like hoof picks, fly spray, and towels in the backpack that goes to the ring with each horse.

Kate: My radio. That’s how we survive. And normally my hat and my boots just in case!

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Kassie: Any time that a horse goes well – especially if it’s one that I had to get ready in the morning. With Hunt’s farm, I love seeing Maddy do well because they’re such a close family, and they’re all so dedicated. They put so much into it. The whole family gives 150 percent every single day. That’s wonderful to be a part of.

Molly: I think the most rewarding part of my job is of course going in and showing – that’s my favorite thing and my passion. But it’s also so rewarding when the ponies and horses go to the ring and they’re prepared beautifully – when they’re perfectly tuned and schooled and yet they’re also gorgeous to look at. It’s very satisfying to see them all braided up; they go to the ring and do their job and then they’re champion our reserve.

Kate: I really love when the horses go in and do their job and everyone is happy. I like it when the horses are happy most of all. That’s the most fun for me, preparing the horses and then watching them go in the ring.

Q: What’s your best grooming tip?

Kassie: Fly spray. I use the wipe and spray. It is phenomenal. If you put it on their hooves instead of hoof oil, the footing doesn’t stick to it. I’m a huge fan of that. You can fix anything with some fly spray – brush it into their coat, wipe off the dust – fly spray is my go-to trick for sure!

Molly: I would say our biggest, best grooming tip would be for the wintertime when we do body clipping. We always clip our horses if they start getting the slightest bit of hair on them because we find that if you clip them when their hair is shorter, they keep their color longer. If you let the hair grow out long, they lose all their color.

Kate: I think just being aware of the details, not just with the horse being turned out well, but making sure that they don’t have fungus; making sure that their coats look good, they don’t have hives or bumps. It pays off to just pay close attention and know your horses.

BarnManager is designed to be a part of your team, with the compatibility and credentials necessary to improve communication, simplify the management of horses, and get you out of the office, off the phone calls, and into the barn with the horses you care about! Click here to get a free demo and find out more!

horse selfie

Revisiting: Alaska: A story of me…because of him

Originally posted by Nicole this time four years ago, this is the story of her childhood horse, Alaska, and the amazing journey they shared. This week, we decided to look back on the story of how Alaska inspired Nicole’s interest in management and horse care as well as how he ensured she would be around to create BarnManager.

 

Before moving into the Washington International Horse Show for the week, I made a quick trip down to Gordonsville, Virginia to visit the beautiful rehab facility and farm that is Oak Hill Farm. Oak Hill is owned and operated by Dr. Timothy Ober DVM (USEF Show Jumping team vet), and his amazing team. But most importantly, Oak Hill is the home to my horse Alaska for his retirement years. Alaska turned 20 this summer, and my visit featured much celebration and reflection on our time together.

 

horse in a field

 

Anyone who loves an animal understands that there is a unique bond between human and animal. There is a silent language, often accompanied by looks of understanding, unsolicited displays of affection, and a certain loyalty that two humans are not capable of recreating between one another. Whether it is a dog who never leaves your side when you are homesick or a horse that makes you question whether you are the one in charge, they make us feel whole.

 

 

The joy that I felt in seeing how happy my horse is living out his retirement surrounded by breathtaking scenery, caring people and an abundance of everything that a horse could ever dream of was all-encompassing. I walked around the farm smiling from ear to ear, inhaling slowly and allowing the fresh country air to sweep me into a state of bliss.

 

On a quiet Sunday morning, I sat in the grass in the middle of his beautiful green paddock. I watched him move slowly and pleasantly around the field following the best grass. Every few minutes, he came over to where I sat and checked in, patted me down in search of treats, looked at me with is big warm eyes and went back to munching. I think that anyone who passed by probably thought that I was crazy, but I never feel more at home than I do when I am near him.

 

horse in field with person

 

Alaska came into my life by accident. He came to me as a circumstance of coincidence and luck, and I never could have predicted just what luck he was bringing along with him. He was a kind and generous teacher. One that never held a mistake against me for even a nanosecond and who rewarded me generously for my growth and development. As a rider and horseperson, I was better for having him in my life.

 

He spurred my interest in horse care and management. Growing up a barn rat, I spent as much time with the horses and in the barn as I could. But with Alaska, my time in the barn became more focused. I wanted to learn to care for him in the best ways. I stalked vets, farriers, chiropractors and more, listening, trying to see what they were seeing. and feel what they felt. I became more in tune with the subtleties of communication between animal and human.

 

horse going over a jump

 

And in the meantime, Alaska did his thing. He taught, he was patient, and he brought happiness and purpose to my life. And so, it was only appropriate that he played a leading role in shining a light on what was to become the most trying time in my young life.

 

At 17 years old, thinking that I had life nearly figured out, my world came crashing down. Alaska was so gentle and kind that to fall off of him was an embarrassment in itself. At the time, I had never had the pleasure of falling from the 18.2 hand equine’s back. So when I lost my balance and struggled to come off as gently as possible, I found myself in a special kind of pain. Along with a bruised ego, I had fractured a couple of ribs. Broken ribs required an x-ray.

 

person kissing a horse on the nose

 

From Alaska’s back, I quickly moved found myself subjected to x-rays and CAT Scans and blood work and PET Scans. A tumor had been growing inside my chest. Did he know? My parents were convinced that his wisdom extended into the supernatural. To them, he saved my life. All that I know is that it happened. I fell off of him for the first time during our partnership, and I fell in such a way that a chest x-ray was required, and a chest x-ray got the ball rolling that led to a diagnosis of Stage 3 Lymphoma.

 

I don’t know if he was an agent of fate. I don’t know if he was brought to my life for this reason. But as I sat on the grassy hill, watching him make his way slowly across the field in my direction, I didn’t care. I am not here without him; I am not me without him.

 

Cancer is terrifying. Everything in your life turns backward, upside down and inside out. We all go through challenges in life, and we all handle these challenges to the best of our ability. But Alaska made it easy. He remained a constant source of light, love, and happiness. While some people looked at me with sadness or fear and struggled to find things to say that did not need to be said, Alaska looked at me the same. If possible, he was maybe kinder and gentler than ever. He sustained me. He rescued me from dark places, he gave me consistency, hope, and peace.

 

As I sit here today, 8 years of remission under my belt, I am so grateful to see him living the life that he deserves. We celebrated his 20th birthday with a birthday bag filled with 20 lbs of carrots. I think he is in the prime of his life. He spends his days surrounded by beauty, perhaps the same beauty that he brought to my life.

 

horse wearing a birthday hat

 

The beauty of waking up each day and looking forward to what life has in store for you. The beauty of appreciating each day for what it brings and not wanting for more. The beauty of knowing that no matter where you go or how you get there, you are lucky enough to be here in the first place. And the beauty in knowing that we found each other, and the rest just is.

 

horse selfie

“We found each other, and the rest just is.”

 

The Secret Sauce Behind BarnManager’s Product Design – A Fresh Tilled Soil Case Study on BarnManager and the Product Design Process

One of the things that makes BarnManager unique is our approach to product design and development. We are led by our users, not our assumptions. The following post is a deeper look at the way we worked with the User Experience experts at Fresh Tilled Soil to gain new perspective and build a better BarnManager. I hope that you like this behind the scenes look at our process. If you would like to provide feedback or be interviewed for current or future feature development, feel free to send me an e-mail at nicole@barnmanager.com. This post was originally published on Medium – Enjoy!
 

Lovelight Farm


 

The BarnManager Story

Managing a horse barn is a labor of love with many moving parts. It requires an endless paper trail of health records for the horses under your care, white boards to communicate with barn staff, and calendars to keep track of appointments, training, and competitions. The majority of people involved in horse management are not happy with the traditional methods of keeping it all organized and need a new solution.

Examples of white boards and clip boards

Most barns manage their horses’ schedules and information with a combination of whiteboards and notebooks

BarnManager is an application that was created by barn managers for barn managers to improve communication, sharing, and scheduling across the myriad of roles involved in the care of horses including horse owners, grooms, barn managers, trainers, riders, and veterinarians. It’s a tool that supports traditional horsemanship and enables users to spend more time doing what they love — working with horses.

Building a Better BarnManager

With a growing customer base, BarnManager was ready to invest in making improvements to the initial version of their application. Owner and president Nicole Lakin engaged Fresh Tilled Soil in a project to:

  • Improve the overall product UI/UX,
  • Increase user adoption, satisfaction, and “stickiness”,
  • Optimize for mobile access, and
  • Re-engineer and improve the application’s code base

 

User Research — Getting To Know Your Customer’s Customers

For UX practitioners the real work hardly ever happens in the office. You need to interact directly with your client and your client’s customers in the environments where those people interact with the tools and products being designed for them. You have to see how they work and what they are doing every single day. You can’t make judgements from a desk or from behind a screen. This is particularly important when technology is not the center of your customers’ world — which is certainly the case in a horse barn.

Barn staff explains whiteboard

A member of the barn staff explains how they manage their horses’ schedules to our team

As luck would have it, our team was able to attend a horse competition just days before our project was scheduled to kick off. Many of BarnManager’s customers and users were in attendance, so it was the perfect opportunity to get to know them in their environment. Over the course of our interviews with barn managers, trainers, owners, riders, and veterinarians, we were able to identify a number of critical pain points:

  • Keeping medical records in one place. Often, a horse’s medical history isn’t kept on-hand or in an organized fashion, which presents a challenge for veterinarians who may be seeing a horse for the first time. And it’s not just about access but also appropriate access. Not everyone can or should be able to see a horse’s complete medical history.
  • Lack of communication. Keeping track of all information about a horse is very hard to do, and most barns have a variety of places where this information is kept. Everyone involved in keeping a horse healthy and competition-ready needs to be aware of and up-to-date on what has happened and when. Has the horse been fed today? Have they been exercised? How did they respond? And more. Most of this is accomplished today via handwritten notes and on whiteboards posted throughout the barn — very inefficient, not portable, and impossible to share.
  • It’s all about the schedule. A horse’s calendar and schedule is ALWAYS changing. As are those of the barn staff, veterinarians, and others. Barn managers need a centralized view to keep track of everything and avoid missing key dates.
  • Mobile is a must. Most of BarnManager’s users are very mobile. They spend more time in the barn, in the stables, and in the fields with the horses than they do in front of a screen.

Our site visits were so engaging that we even put together a little video about our visit to Lovelight Farm.

 

Visiting with EquiFit Founder and President Alexandra Cherubini at Lovelight Farm in Marshfield, MA

 

Mapping The User Experience

Experience mapping is one of the most effective ways to highlight user insights and improvement opportunities within any type of project. They are a crucial part of the strategy and design process and a foolproof way to illustrate all the different touch points that a user interacts with in any given experience. We worked with BarnManger to create a detailed User Experience Map for their users.

User Experience Map for BarnManger

 

Building a Product Roadmap

BarnManager had a lot of great ideas for improvements to the application, and many more surfaced in our user interviews. But those ideas needed a process and ultimately an artifact to help them focus on the big picture and establish a path to fulfill their product vision. With user research and experience maps clearly defined, we were ready to take the team through a roadmapping process to help them focus, align, prioritize, and ultimately paint a picture of a brighter future for their customers.

BarnManager product roadmap

 

Wireframes and Prototyping

Getting your design right early pays off: what costs $1 to fix in the requirements stage costs $3–6 to fix in design, $10 to fix in coding, and $40+ to fix after release*. Rapid prototyping helps you answer important questions quickly and inexpensively. Fresh Tilled Soil developed mobile and web-based clickable prototypes for further user testing and concept validation. These prototypes allowed us to present a simple and focused feature set meant to address users’ pain points and the workflows identified in our interviews and observations.

Web app prototype and testing using InVision

 

Mobile app prototype and testing

 

Mobile design

BarnManager’s initial product release didn’t include a dedicated mobile experience, yet their users spend most of their time away from a desk and screen. So designing a beautiful mobile experience was high on the list of goals for the project.

Mobile app screens for White Board and Activity Timeline

 

Mobile app screens for Calendar, Conversations, and Horses

 

Web Application Design

We also delivered a fresh new design and user flow for the web application version of the product which included improvements to the application’s code base.

Website Design

Once the main project wrapped up, the BarnManager team realized the company’s website needed a refresh as well in order to better match the new experience and interface that was to come for the core product. We worked with Nicole to come up with a design that could be implemented within a very reasonable amount of time and budget. Everyone wanted to keep the focus on the product work and not spend too many resources on the website. So here’s what we came up with.

New BarnManager website design

 

The Client Experience

 

“Working with the team at Fresh Tilled Soil enabled us to bring fresh eyes to the challenges of barn management. The team really embraced getting to know the people that we were trying to serve and the challenges that they face on a daily basis and helped us to reframe them by bringing in new perspectives, backgrounds, and approaches. Working through their discovery and design processes helped us to achieve new levels of insight into what our customers were telling us. And what we have learned has been invaluable.

Every time we do a demo with a potential new user and they tell us that BarnManager is far more user-friendly and clearly beneficial than the other software that they have looked at, we know that this is the result of the work that we did with Fresh Tilled Soil.” — Nicole Lakin, Founder/CEO BarnManager

*Graham, R.J., & Englund, R.L. (2004). Creating an Environment for Successful Projects, Second Edition. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

BarnManager is designed to be a part of your team, with the compatibility and credentials necessary to improve communication, simplify the management of horses, and get you out of the office, off the phone calls, and into the barn with the horses you care about! Click here to get a free demo and find out more!

A Quick Conversation: Laura Graves

Each month, the BarnManager team is sitting down with accomplished riders from across equestrian disciplines to learn more about how they got their start, their typical days, their biggest advice, and more! We’re asking the same five questions and sharing their answers with you!

Dressage rider Laura Graves is fresh off an incredible individual silver medal win at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Tryon (which she adds to her 2016 Rio Olympic team bronze medal), and we had the privilege of catching up with her before WEG at the BarnManager-sponsored “Dressage for Jumping” clinic! (Read more about that here.) She took the time to talk to us about everything from her 4-H beginnings to the hardest part of making your career out of riding.

Graves and Verdades

Q: What was the first horse or pony that got you started?
There were actually two of them. My parents ended up trading our old, used washer and dryer for these two ponies. One of them was jet black, really handsome, and some sort of cob mix. His name was Rafter. Then we had a little Appaloosa whose name was Spanky.

It started out with just those two, but then you know, you have a barn, and you have property – I don’t think my dad really understood that then my mom would just start collecting horses! Anything free or if it didn’t have a home or if it had some sort of tough situation needing rehabbing – there were a lot of horses that had mental issues. They were either really nervous or they wouldn’t get on trailers or for some reason or another people didn’t want them. So, we ended up with all of these free horses.

I have two sisters, and we were all members of our local 4-H club and my mom ended up being one of the leaders. I just wanted to be a part of the presenting of the horses. I didn’t even want to ride. I just liked to groom them and present them. They judge you on how clean your tack is and your own turnout. Then it wasn’t until years and years later that I decided that I really wanted to ride.

The other 4-H leader would give me some lessons. It didn’t really turn into dressage until that 4-H leader said, “You know, if she really wants to ride, she needs to get some real lessons,” and sent us on to a woman who also taught lower level eventing but focused mostly on dressage.

Q: You’ve had a lot of incredible success, but what’s your favorite riding moment or memory?
I have probably two stand-out moments. One was the [FEI World Cup Dressage Final] in Omaha. We had tweaked my final centerline for my freestyle a little bit. I remember the crowd cheering so loud that I couldn’t even hear when my music was supposed to stop. That was pretty amazing.

But probably the biggest stand-out moment for me was in Rio. I had just finished my Grand Prix Special, and we were discussing how not many people came to watch the dressage. With jumping at the end you know how many rails you had down; you know how fast you went. You can look up at the clock. But in dressage, you don’t know for a minute. You kind of count on, “Well that felt pretty good,” and then if the crowd is loud, you go, “Okay, that must have been really good.”

In Rio, I was thinking, “We just delivered the ride of our lives!” and it was like crickets. I heard maybe four people clapping. I was so confused. But I said, “Good boy. I think you were pretty good.’”And then when we turned around to leave the stadium, my three teammates came rushing down because they could see the score, and they knew that we had just won the bronze medal! That moment was amazing.

Q: What’s your number one goal right now?
The World Equestrian Games.

Graves and her WEG mount, Verdades

Q: On a typical day at home, what’s your schedule?
I’m not a morning person. If I don’t have any wrenches thrown in, which is unusual, I get up around 7 a.m. I try to get the dogs out of bed – that’s usually the hardest part of my morning. They like to sleep in also.

I’m always at the barn and on a horse by 8 a.m. Then I schedule my day so that the girls and I are getting barn chores done and horses turned out, and we just go through the riding schedule. Maybe I ride five or six in the morning, and then after lunch, it’s just teaching. I have three clients that have horses in the barn or trailer in. Then the horses are all done by 4 p.m. The barn is totally closed up, tucked in, lights off by 5 p.m.

I just think the quiet time is so important for them. And if I can keep the part of their day where they’re being bothered shorter, I think all together they’re much happier. It’s something that I’m pretty strict about.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give to young, up-and-coming riders?
We fall in love with this sport for the horses, but when you decide to turn it into a serious career, you have to be really prepared to fail. I say nobody else cares that you take down a rail. Nobody else cares that you missed a flying change. And that sounds a little bit mean, but it really can be very isolating.

Even the people around you, your parents or your spouse, they’ll say, “Oh I’m so sorry that you missed the flying change.” But nobody gets it the way that you do, and you have to be prepared to deal with that totally by yourself. I think that’s the hardest part of what we do.

BarnManager is designed to be a part of your team, with the compatibility and credentials necessary to improve communication, simplify the management of horses, and get you out of the office, off the phone calls, and into the barn with the horses you care about! Click here to get a free demo and find out more!

501(c)(3) Feature: The Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind

Through our ‘Free for 501(c)3’ program, our team at BarnManager has had the opportunity to learn more about incredible equestrian non-profit organizations from across the country. Each month, we’ll be featuring one such organization here on our blog!

In the mid-1980s, one Alabama girl, Marianna Greene Henry, begged her parents to start a therapeutic riding program on their farm near the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) in Talladega, AL.

Henry had been volunteering with a therapeutic riding program in Birmingham, AL, and she was amazed at the positive impact that the horses had on the children with disabilities. Knowing that just down the road from her family’s farm, the AIDB was helping so many similar children, Henry thought it would be the perfect fit and could make an incredible difference for those children. 

Sadly, in 1989, Henry was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – a heart disease that only a heart transplant could cure – and she died that March as surgeons tried to implant an artificial heart and before her therapeutic riding program dream could come to fruition.

Soon after their daughter’s death, Pat and Marilyn Greene founded the Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrians program (MGH) as part of The Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in memory of their daughter.

“We just looked at each other,” recalls Marilyn Greene, “and said, ‘She really wanted this.’”

The Greenes started modestly with a few horses and a ring in their side yard. However, within months the program had blossomed into something greater than they ever imagined.

Today, the program at their farm is housed inside a 39,000-square foot arena and serves 350 to 400 children per year, making it the largest program in the country serving deaf, blind, and multi-disabled riders.

MGH’s mission is to maximize the potential and well-being for the students by providing equine-facilitated activities in the areas of therapy, sport, and recreation to enhance physical and mental skills, aid in mobilization, and promote socialization and communication. To fulfill that mission, MGH offers therapeutic riding, hippotherapy (physical, occupational, or speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement), equine-facilitated mental health, equine-facilitated psychotherapy, equine-facilitated learning, and a work experience program.

In the last fiscal year alone, MGH provided more than 3,000 rides to students at AIDB.

With so many rides and generally around a dozen horses in the barn, MGH now utilizes BarnManager to stay organized.

“It’s an awesome program,” said MGH barn manager, Callie Smelley. “It makes filing paperwork quick and easy. It allows you to have all your information in one place, and it’s easily accessible by all MGH employees. Personal profiles for each horse allow you to pinpoint what each horse requires, and we can also share with veterinarians and farriers to keep up with equine maintenance.”

Keeping the horses well cared-for allows for the magic that exists between a horse and rider with sensory or physical disabilities that transcends all language and physical barriers – something that is so evident at MGH.

Presently, Marianna Greene’s younger brother, Tim Greene, serves as the program administrator and Pat Greene sits as the president of the MGH Foundation. Marilyn and Pat Greene continue to volunteer at MGH every Tuesday, where they’ve seen first-hand the miraculous transformation of many of the students and the joy and self-esteem that the riders gain.

“It wasn’t until I started working with these children that I saw what Marianna saw,” said Marilyn Greene. “It saved our lives.”

Click here to learn more about MGH and to find out how you can help make a difference!

To signup for a Free Trial of BarnManager click here, and to learn more about out Free for 501(c)(3) program click here!