WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #97
ORGANIZE YOUR BARN
(Yes You Can!)
A professional organizer's nine key clutter-busters will help you
whip your horsehold into shape.
BY GAVIN EHRINGER
"A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND EVERYTHING in its place." If you're
like most horse owners, this does not describe your barn. Fact
is, barns and clutter just seem to go together, and most of us
struggle with disorder in at least some areas of our equine
Given these facts, wouldn't it be great to have a personal,
professional organizer help you get your horse stuff and the time
you spend with it-better organized?
Of course it would. Kathi Burns, a professional organizer with a
horse background, is just the person for the job. We asked her to
come up with strategies for dealing with barn clutter and getting
all our horse stuff in shape.
"Getting in shape" is an apt analogy, too, because Burns says
organization isn't a one-time event. Just as you can't expect to
go to the gym once and get fit, you can't simply organize your
horse spaces and expect them to stay that way.
"Organizing requires maintenance," she stresses, "but the best
organizational system requires the least amount of time to
maintain. So the more intelligently put together you are in the
first place, the less time it takes to keep returning to the
While there are no cookie-cutter templates for horse-oriented
organizing, here Burns shares general principles that will apply
to most horse owners' physical domains: barns, storage sheds,
tack rooms, trailers, and so on.
Let's run through her clutter-busting tips one by one.
CREATE `ACTIVITY ZONES'
Typical barn activities include feeding, stall and alleyway
cleaning, grooming and saddling, training, repair work, and
Burns recommends organizing each activity into a zone in which
all the necessary tools, supplies, and accessories reside. For
instance, the feed zone might include feed-storage bags or bins,
supplements, measurers, a feed cart, hay-bale wire cutters, a hay
rake, and other related items.
Likewise, the grooming zone would include brushes, combs,
shampoos, mane bands and tail socks, leg wraps, a hoof pick,
cleaning rags, and anything else typically used in your
Your objectives, then, are to assess your tasks, determine the
space necessary or available for each, and group the appropriate
items into their relevant activity zones.
Note that you don't need separate rooms for each zone; the
principle works for areas as small as tack closets or even
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
"The most important organizing principle is: Everything must have
a home," says Burns. So, once you've created zones, the next step
is to determine where everything within each zone belongs. That
means giving each item a permanent home.
Here's where handy organizing tools-such as wall hangers,
shelves, cabinets, saddle racks, and so on-can be a big help.
Burns notes that individual style helps determine the best way to
organize; some people, she says, need to see everything. If this
describes you, you'll benefit from open storage areas, such as
On the other hand, if you feel better keeping things enclosed and
away from dirt and dust, consider using cabinets with doors or
tool cases with drawers. (Note: Locking cabinets might be a
necessity if you share space with other boarders or need to keep
things out of the reach of children. Use your own habits and
experience to guide you.)
ONE ZONE AT A TIME
Don't overdo it. If you try to organize your entire barn in one
day, you're likely to get discouraged. A rule of thumb in the
world of organizing is that it takes one full day to organize one
household room. So, for the average horse owner with a multistall
barn, allocate a half to a full day for each activity zone.
For encouragement and a sense of rapid accomplishment, start with
the smallest zone first, advancing toward the biggest, most
If you feel your enthusiasm flagging, make a schedule for
organizing. Start with the feed zone, perhaps, on Saturday,
followed by the trailer/travel zone on Sunday. Do the tool zone
the following Sunday, and save the tack room for last.
Basically, break up the project into manageable work sessions so
that your enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment remain high.
GET FAMILY INVOLVED (SELECTIVELY!)
If you share your barn space with a riding spouse or other
partner, you definitely want his or her input. Same with kids and
teens who ride. Youngsters, Burns notes, often fail to put things
away. By participating in the organizing, however, they feel
invested in the process and are more likely to maintain the order
they helped establish.
"With tools and such, you can even have your kids draw around the
properly stored item with a permanent marker, so that it's
obvious where it belongs," she suggests. "Children of all ages
love this activity, and it makes clear where stuff belongs so
there are never excuses."
Making labels is another way to involve kids and make use of
If, however, your children's or significant other's main work
consists of, say, helping clean the barn, limit their input to
organizing the clean-and-tidy zone. Everyone has idiosyncrasies
when it comes to organizing, and while you want the system to
make obvious sense to everyone, it's most important that it fit
the person who is the most involved in that particular activity
Regardless of how much participation you get from family, it's
worthwhile to take them on a tour of your completed work so they
understand where things go and the logic behind the
organizational scheme. Get buy-in and support any way you can!
One of the problems of not having an organizational system is
that you often wind up with redundant stuff. If you
can't find your dandy brush, for example, you go out and buy
another one. Soon, notes Burns wryly, you have five dandy
brushes-and still can't find one to use.
As you determine logical, permanent homes for things, take the
opportunity to purge duplicates. Donate redundant items to your
local riding club, box them for a yard sale, or send them to the
local dump if they're shoddy or beyond practical use.
Another possibility, at least for some items, is to find
alternate locations for them at your place; for example, you
might designate an extra set of grooming tools to reside only in
the horse trailer. This way, you keep to the principle of
everything residing in a particular activity zone and never
leaving its home to wander-and perhaps get lost.
Some people fight the tendency to throw anything
awayever-thinking they'll need it someday. The problem with this
is that you end up with huge piles of unused items and can't ever
find what you truly need in all the clutter-the reverse of your
goal! So fight the pack-rat impulse and be realistic about the
things you really use.
BE A LISTER
Lists are fabulous for keeping both time and space organized. If
you travel to shows, clinics, or trail rides, having a list of
the items you'll need will save you time, effort, and anxiety.
You can also use lists to identify which items reside in which
Keep a notepad handy, too, for making shopping lists to remind
you to restock such things as feed, supplements, fly spray,
leather cleaner, and dewormer as supplies get low.
Trailers often become repositories for stuff. You load up for a
show or trail ride, then fail to put things away after an
exhausting day of activity and travel.
Burns recommends creating a travel zone in your trailer, where
you permanently keep items you frequently travel with. That way,
you aren't always removing stuff from other zones in order to get
on the road. And remember the golden rule: Everything in the
trailer must have an exact placement or home. In other words,
apply the zone-organization concept to the tack room of your
If you can't do this (say, you share a trailer with a stablemate
or use it for other purposes), consider using storage bins that
can be moved easily from trailer to barn. As with your barn
itself, have the bins relate to your work requirements:
one for grooming, one for riding clothes, one for tack, one for
tools, and so on.
MAKE IT ALL A HABIT
Burns advises clients that staying organized, ultimately, must
become second nature. It can take a month or two to acquire a new
habit, so until it's in place, just force yourself to maintain
the organization you've achieved.
In time, it will get easier. Remember, once you have a working
organizational scheme that matches your organizational style, the
work required to maintain it will be much, much easier.
HIRE A PRO
Reality check. If, despite your best intentions, a month's gone
by and your spaces are still a shambles, or if the mere idea of
organizing gives you a headache and prevents you from taking
action, consider hiring a pro to assist you.
Burns is a member of the National Association of Professional
Organizers. This group maintains a directory of organizers by ZIP
code and also lists sub-specialties, such as accounting or
business/tax records. Most members have completed basic
coursework and seminars conducted by NAPO; others, like Kathi
Burns, have gone through an even more rigorous NAPO Professional
Organizer board certification program.
For more information: napo.net; 856-380-6828.
For information on some great space-saving and organizing
products, visit HorseandRider.com this month.
HORSE AND RIDER - November 2010
To be continued from time to time