An efficient and safe working draft horse farm starts with fundamental activities and universal symbols. Universal symbols provide efficiency in a variety of ways, the most important being that the sight of them immediately conveys information that everyone understands. In an ideal world, universal symbols are uniform from farm to farm. The key is educating working farms to know and establish universal symbols is helpful to their daily operations.

Three of the more common universal symbols are: halters left on the crossties, flakes of hay inside the doorway of a stall and a marking system that tells barn staff where to stage hay and water or grain buckets.

  • Halters left on the crossties are a sign that someone is out working or schooling a horse. Ideally managers, owners and others intricately associated with the farm will be able to tell exactly which horse is being worked by the color and size of the halter. If your farm has a number of horses the same age with halters of the same color, name tags or some other identification can be helpful.
  • Flakes of hay just inside the doorway indicate the stall is clean, freshly bedded, has a clean filled water bucket and is ready for horses. Those handling the horses double checks to ensure that the stall, water and hay provided are clean and fresh. Ensure that a core behavior of your staff is that fresh hay is never put in a stall unless the stall is cleaned and ready for a horse.
  • A marking system for staging hay in the aisle along with grain and water buckets can be exceptionally useful in many barns. If you have an aisle that is wide enough and sliding doors on your stalls this is an ideal system. All it takes a couple pieces of sidewalk chalk. Open the sliding doors to ensure hay will not be marked for staging in the area they need to open fully. Place a bale of hay where you could stack a few. Mark from the floor up to the height you want the bales stacked and draw two arrows facing into each other. Between the arrows draw an “H” or the word “hay”. For areas where you’d like staff to stage feed tubs or water buckets, use a circle with the letters “G-W” for grain and/or water.

One of the best safety features of any farm is knowing where every horse and horseman is at any given point throughout the day. Halters of working horses left on the crossties help to ensure this. These skills, along with water buckets, grain tubs and hay staged in its proper place adds to the efficiency of a working farm. Taking a little time to instill universal symbols as part of your farms routine will ensure your days run a little safer and smoother.

Cover Photo by PaulMaguire/