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.