Chronicles of a Stable Owner are real-life stories about caring for horses and their people
Written by Dr. Gwen Donohoe, Owner/Manager at Sagehill Stables
Do you have a love-hate relationship with going on vacation? Then you must be responsible for animals and/or own a business!
For most people, vacations are one of those things that you try to do to relax and get away from your job and normal routines. However, if you are responsible for animals and a business, the preparation to go, the worrying during your vacation and the fixing of things when you return can be so stressful you are often left wondering if it was all worth it?!
I try hard to make sure I get away from the barn a few times a year. During COVID this was even more challenging than usual, but we still made it happen (we just didn't go as far!). I like going on vacation because of the perspective it always brings. Seeing how others live, how other businesses run, meeting new people and getting out of your routine. I always get something out of the vacation that I wouldn't get from staying put. And those experiences can be very valuable to your animals and business when you return. If you can get some rest and relaxation in there too, then it is a very worthwhile vacation!
What could be the stress before you leave, people might be wondering? For those responsible for animals and businesses ti's ensuring that all the jobs you normally do are either covered by others or get done in advance. Keep in mind that most business owners do all the hard and not straight forward jobs, while the employees get the easy to manage jobs. This may mean extra feeding, ensuring any and all supplies and tools that might be needed are ready and easy to find, hiring extra help, ensuring back-up help for emergencies is on speed dial, plus doing all your normal tasks and organizing the vacation itself! what happens if you get extreme weather while you are gone? What if a water line breaks? What if a horse gets sick? What's the back-up plan and how easy is it for others to implement?
Most of the things you need to prep to leave are good practices to do anyway. Things get organized, cleaned, emergency action plans get updated, and contact lists get updated. It's a good excuse to double check that you have back-up plans in place and reason for staff to learn new skills! These are important aspects of a good business. When something does inevitably go wrong when you are away, it's a good learning experience for all involved. Staff realize the stress of responsibility and how challenging it can be getting your own responsibilities done plus dealing with emergencies. You realize something that should have been checked or prepped differently, or a back-up plan that failed or didn't even exist. You have to make mistakes to learn from them!
The stress while you are on vacation is the constant wondering and worrying. It can be hard to "let go" while you are gone. Not being stressed while actually on vacation takes practice. I personally find it less stressful to be in contact with the business daily, to ensure that I still get informed and can help trouble shoot through issues. It can make coming home less stressful. Every person will be different in this regard I suspect, and I do think there are healthy ways to vacation both by staying in contact and not staying in contact with your animals or business. Each person's personality and circumstances will dictate which way works better for you.
I'm still working on how to do vacation better. I grew up with the responsibility and stress surrounding vacation, so it is normal for me and I've had much practice at it but there is always room for improvement. For example, I have a bad habit of taking work with me on vacation. I think I will have extra time if I'm sitting around doing nothing! I never do, and I always regret taking my laptop or not spending a couple extra hours befoe I leave doing something or delegating something... But I just can't seem to leave home without it! I can remember my parents always having a hard time with vacations too, leaving the cattle pretty much unsupervised. But always still making it work. There are lots of vacations I wish I had done differently, taken more time for. Did I really need to get back to the farm so soon? Sometimes there is even vacation guilt. Is it OK for me to be on vacation while others are not?
The stress when you get back from vacation is dealing with the things people didn't want to tell you while you were gone and the things that went wrong! There is always something... So and so complained about this, this horse did this, this fence is broken, and so on...
If you didn't grow up with the responsibility of animals and business in your life style, learning to go on vacation is probably something that you will need to practice at just like I did, and it will get better with time. It will never be 100% stress free however I still highly recommend it!