I had a very interesting conversation with a businessman the other day. He owns several rental houses. I asked him if he has tenant problems. He said that this is now rare for him. He has found a way of telling how a prospective renter would be likely to treat his properties. I asked him if it was by checking references. He replied that he does call references, but mostly he relies on checking out their car. I asked him what he meant. Is it the year of the vehicle, or its outside appearance? The answer might surprise you. When he has made an appointment to show a house, he always arrives early. He walks to the applicant’s car to greet them as they drive up and makes a point of taking a quick look inside the vehicle. He has learned through many experiences that if the inside is a total mess (old candy wrappers, older soda cans, and assorted junk around everyone’s feet) that this is pretty much the way his house will be treated.
As an equine vet I am in hundreds of barns every year. Most are a pleasure to walk in. A few others are always a mess. I’m thinking of a client who has since moved out of state. This was an extreme situation, but the barn was exactly like I am about to describe. The floor always looked like the inside of one of those messy cars. Mixed in among the old hay on the floor would be empty paste wormers, a cardboard box or two, and even empty feed bags that had never been thrown away. If I picked up a horse’s foot, there would always be a 5 minute hunt for them to locate a hoof pick. Rakes, shovels, and brooms were left wherever they were last used. Seeing this mess on every visit bothered both my tech and me. The only way we were finally able to work effectively was by us first sweeping a 12 by 12 foot area near the door. We would then ask to have all the horses that needed attention brought to our little oasis of sanity. I explained to the owner that I have a hard time working in clutter. She never really got the message.
I like to write about things that affect a horse’s health. Is there any reason to think that an unkempt barn might influence that? I think so.
If you have ever spent any time on a sailboat or sailing ship, you know that one of the rules is, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” All lines are neatly coiled and that piece of gear goes on that hook right over there, and no where else. It isn’t neatness for the sake of it. Things are put away because lives depend on it. On a dark windy night with the rain coming sideways all hands must be able to locate what is needed and to not trip over what isn’t. A barn isn’t a boat, but there are so many tools and so much tack that goes with barns and horses that if things aren’t ship shape, it starts to look like a twister just set down.
Most horse owners truly love their animals. To quote one owner, “my horses are more than a hobby, they are my life.” If that is true, then why wouldn’t we want to keep them in as safe an environment as possible? Barns with hay not swept up and years of cobwebs hanging from every rafter are more than a mess, they are a fire hazard. It seems to me if your surroundings are always messy, it is a reflection of your thinking. If you think your thinking might be cluttered, one avenue of correction is to straighten out the messes around you. Don’t you feel better mentally when you have just done a cleaning and everything is where it should be? If nothing else, squared away barns are time savers. Rakes, pitchforks, and shovels hung in the same place after every use never have to be hunted for. I have found that when my desk gets too deep in papers I have to take the time to straighten it or I can’t be productive. Are the horses happier in clean barns? Probably not, but I have noticed in most cases where the barn is a mess the horses don’t get groomed very often. It all seems to go together.
–David A. Jefferson, DVM