One of the biggest surprises I had after we opened our barn was how destructive horses truly are. Now you would think that it wouldn't be a surprise at all since I had owned horses much of my life and even worked at a couple of barns but it was and the reason is simple. As an employee of a horse business I never really noticed all the things the horses at the barn were breaking on a daily basis because after all I didn't need to fix them. It was always taken care of by the barn owner or someone he had hired to fix everything. it was basically out of sight out of mind if you know what I mean. The responsibility never was handed to me to deal with.
The same would be true for me when I boarded my horses. I have boarded at quite a few places and I never once noticed how much the horses destroyed things at the boarding barns. All I focused on was my horse and the few things my horse broke were small compared to what I see now at my farm. I was lucky to have a horse that didn't do much damage back then but now I realize that there are many horses that will put your barn and how it is built to the test!
Who pays when something gets broken?
I am going to tell you right now that if you are running a boarding business than you need to have it in your boarding contract that your clients are responsible for paying the fees including labor if their horse breaks something. It is no different than a person renting an apartment. Once you open your business you are going to find yourself fixing many things from broken boards in the stalls to broken fences. You will have horses that will chew on everything to the point that it will not be usable anymore. You will have broken corner feeders, water tanks and even a stall door or two that need repairs due to horses kicking. Horses will get themselves into anything they can and it will cost you financially.
There are going to be times when you don't know exactly which horse broke something and those are the times when you will have to eat the cost to fix what is broken. For the rest of the times that you do know, I believe it is the boarders responsibility to pay for the damage done.
It is never easy to talk with a boarder and tell them that their horse has broken a corner feeder or something else and they are responsible for replacing it but it is business. You can't be replacing everything for free or you will lose a lot of money (especially if you add it up over the lifespan of your business) and most business owners don't have the extra money just to give away. You need make sure the owner of the horse knows that it is not personal at all against the horse or them but it is simply part of how you run your business.
I encourage you to have this part of barn management written into your boarding contract and make sure it is very clear. I also encourage you to have your lawyer read it over so that you have it written correctly for your state. When a new client comes to your barn to board and they are reading the boarding contract make sure they understand this part of it so there are no surprises when their horse kicks a huge hole in the water tank and now you have to buy a new one. I am going to be totally honest and tell you that replacing a five dollar salt block holder is no big deal but replacing a ninety dollar water tank is going to hurt big time and it will add much stress to your job especially if you are tight on money and now you need to buy another water tank immediately. This is when barn management becomes very real.
Be professional and sensitive
I truly believe most of your boarders will be very understanding if their horse breaks something and they need to pay for it. I am sure they will not be happy about it but that is only because it is costing them more. I have had to talk with more than my share of clients over the years that have had to pay me for damages done by their horse and they have all been very good about it. Most of the time they feel terrible to begin with. The best thing you can do as the barn owner is to remember that how you talk with your client about sensitive issues like this will make a huge difference on how they respond. They are already going to feel terrible enough and some of them will even worry that you don't like their horse because of this. Be professional. sensitive and always nice and you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.
If you would like to know more about handling this kind of issue and how it affects your job as the barn owner or manager, please check out my newest book, "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover." It is about real barn management and you will not find a more honest book that deals with the tough issues of this business.
I wish you many blessings in your horse business,