I have learned a tremendous amount over the years about people and it turns out that most of the time a difficult client is that way because they are fear driven to begin with. I soon began to realize that the reason I had clients that were nitpicking me all the time was because I was allowing it. I was not asking the right questions to find out why so many things bothered them to begin with and I was not taking control of my barn and leading it with confidence.
Your boarders will come with baggage
Many of your clients are going to come with baggage. Many of them will have boarded at barns where the care was terrible and they had to worry about their horse each and every day. If you have a boarder that is constantly questioning how you feed and what time you fill the water buckets then they probably experienced a place where the buckets were empty much of the time and the feeding schedule was not consistent. If you have a boarder that is always going in the back and grabbing more hay for their horse then there is a very good chance they came from a place that didn't feed enough hay and their horse lost weight. If you have a boarder that is always going through the hay looking for what they call, "The better hay" or even starts to bring their own hay then they have probably experienced a barn that fed lousy hay. If you have a boarder that is always inspecting how you clean stalls or what type of bedding you use then there is a chance they came from a place that didn't clean like they said they would or they used shavings that were extremely dusty. Maybe they even ran out of shavings from time to time. It happens more often than you know. If you are dealing with a boarder that is constantly nit-picking how others do things and they seem to make a bigger issue out of things then they really are, there is a good chance that they came from a barn that had no rules or they were not enforced and the result of that was pure chaos. This can be very hard on a boarder and especially one that is a new horse owner or is insecure in handling and riding their horse. The list can go on and on.
As the barn owner or manager I encourage you to try to find out why your client is doing some of the things they are doing. Any issues that you are experiencing with a boarder needs to be addressed and you might be surprised how open and honest your boarders are when you are willing to talk with them. It is amazing to me how easily some of the issues I had at our barn were resolved because I took the time to talk with my clients.
When you talk with your boarders it will make them feel valuable and show them that you care. There is a very good chance that many of them have boarded at barns where the barn owner or manager would not give them the time of day and would never listen to their concerns. That is how the baggage gets accumulated and carries from one barn to the next. You have the wonderful opportunity to change things for the better and when you can replace the fear that a boarder has with trust then you will have a devoted client for a very long time. But it needs to start with you and you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and start the conversation going. It's not easy but the more you do it the easier it will become as time goes by.
It is true there are going to be some boarders that are never happy and are extremely difficult and some never change. You need to understand that it has nothing to do with you or your stable in these situations. Sometimes people are just plain unhappy and always looking for something better and those type of boarders will hop from barn to barn. You can't change people, they need to want to change themselves.
When you've done all you can do and it's time to say good-bye
There may come a time when you do need to ask a boarder to leave and if you have done all you can and they still are not happy then it is time to say good-bye. The situation may not have a happy ending but if you did everything you could on your part then take the next step and move forward. When you are giving a boarder a thirty-day notice I encourage you to be professional under all circumstances. Even if the relationship between the two of you is strained treat them with respect and don't let emotions get involved. That is something women tend to do and I have made that mistake before and it never turns out good. Wish them the very best and while they are still at your barn treat them good and make sure you give their horse the same great care you always have. Remember it's not personal, it's business.
From difficult to wonderful...it can happen!
I have realized that some of my difficult boarders (when they first came) turned out to be my best boarders. I just needed to find out what exactly was bothering them and give them time to trust me and how I ran my barn. I was very honest about how they made me feel and how we do things at our barn and they needed to really understand that I had the best interest of their horse in mind each and everyday. Once I gained their trust the relationship changed and it changed for the better.
I believe it is vital for a barn owner or manager to learn the skill of communication with their clients because you will need it many times throughout your career with horses and their owners. You might have a difficult client at your barn but before you give them their notice, take a chance and have a heart to heart talk with them. It might be the best thing you ever did and you will learn so much about yourself in the process. You are growing and learning to become the best equine professional you can be. Take the difficult times and turn them into a learning experience that will help you when the next challenging client and situation comes along. This is what will set your barn apart from the others.
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! One of the most important parts of our job will be communications and resolving issues with your clients. How you handle the tough situations that happen in business will determine the success of your barn. My book, "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover," is about the relationship between the barn owner/barn manager and client and how to resolve the issues that will come up when you are running a horse business of any kind. I believe this book is so different because it not only talks about daily barn management and the horses but it talks about how it all affects your clients and what they really think. You won't find a more honest book out there about running a horse business. Remember that what will set your barn and business apart will be you. Get ready to change your barn, business and life for the better!
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business,