When Courtney Carson first took on the position as the head groom for Payne Equestrian in Aiken, S.C., she admits she struggled with learning how to delegate. Running a busy, growing operation for professional riders is not an undertaking for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of organization to keep things running smoothly. But this can’t all fall on one person – to ensure business runs as usual no matter what, each team member needs to pitch in.
“Lists,” Courtney says immediately when asked what her No. 1 secret is to maintaining productivity. Managing a team of working students while also traveling frequently with Doug and Jessica Payne requires a lot of organization.
“It’s all about lists and being able to prioritize,” Courtney explains. “Things such as horses that need to be ridden, figuring out the order, and scheduling their clean-up mane pulls and clipping before shows. We also have a general list of day-to-day things that can be done so that no one is standing around clueless.”
The saying “if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean” is in full adherence on Courtney’s ship – but all she asks is that everyone tries hard. “As long as your feet are moving in a logical direction, things are going to get done.”
Courtney, 27, keeps a binder updated for anyone who comes in to help – which details every chore from what tack each horse to wears to their feeding schedule. “It helps me not feel like I’m constantly talking at a new person, or being condescending,” she said. “Plus, it gives them a sense of responsibility as well – the information is all there for them to take.”
But it can still be difficult, the act of delegating. “I’ve been told I go Mach 10, particularly when I’m caffeinated, and not everyone goes at that speed,” Courtney admits. “So I’ve had to learn to loosen my expectations – but also not to just automatically pick up slack because I work faster.”
When running a busy barn, with multiple horses needing to be prepared for their daily rides at any given time, Courtney says it’s imperative to think ahead. If the day is looking busy – maybe the farrier is stopping by, or there are extra lessons on the books – think of ways to work ahead.
If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.
Maybe the next four horses to be ridden can be groomed and boots put on ahead of time so that all that’s needed is tack. Are there multiple disciplines at the barn? Alternate, dressage and jumping for example, so that you’re never standing around waiting for tack to come back for the next horse.
But even while working ahead, Courtney warns, be sure to clean up as you go. “The minute I’m done with something for the day, I clean it and it goes back to the tack room. Otherwise, that’s something else that is in my face at the end of the day. Nothing is worse than 15 bridles that need to be cleaned when you still have stalls and turnout to do at 3 p.m.”
It’s not all about work, work, work all the time, though. As with any team management environment, morale is an important metric to monitor.
“We’re goofy, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Courtney says of her Payne Equestrian family. “We’ll have a live stream going in the barn, or we’ll have headphones in while we work. My one rule is if you have headphones, you have to keep one ear open – for safety reasons, and to know when I’m yelling at you,” she laughs.
The proof that the system works is right there – in the two years Courtney has worked for the Paynes, she’s seen a low rate of turnover of working students and other staff. “There are no secrets in our group, and that makes it more of a level playing field,” she explains. “You don’t get the sense that it’s a hierarchy in our group, and I think everyone genuinely cares and wants to be here. That’s half of the success, right there.”