I have made up a list of reasons why I feel you should always have a boarding contract in place whether it is for one horse or forty. I hope it will open your eyes to things that maybe you haven't thought of before.
A boarding contract is to protect all involved. It is not just for the barn owner but also for the client. When it comes to horses anything can happen in a moments notice and when that horse gets hurt it doesn't matter who it is, they will want answers. I have seen people completely change because their horse got hurt and in some cases the friendship between the owner of the stable and the friend/client never recover their friendship. It is sad but it happens. The truth is when tragedy happens, the person who owns the injured horse will want answers and they are in many cases going to want to put the blame on something whether it be another horse or the stable. I can't stress enough that you need to be protected.
You can design your boarding contract any way you want and put anything in it that would pertain to your business. Make sure it is detailed in all areas because when you are working with horses you are leaving yourself open for the unknown. Horses can't talk but their owners will want answers.
When the monthly board fee is late or is not paid at all.
It is probably safe to assume that this has happened to most barn owners who have boarded for any length of time. It has happened to me and I was always glad I had a contract in place. Whether the issues are that you are not getting paid or your client is always late with the board, having a contract in place gives you more peace of mind and does protect you if you need to file in court. This part of your contract is one of the most important parts and you don't want any mistakes in how it is written. I strongly encourage you to have a attorney look it over to make sure it is written properly and you are completely covered. You need to have a boarding contract that is written correctly for the state you do business in. This area is a huge problem for many barn owners and you don't want to have any mistakes or loop holes when it comes to your contract.
When you need to ask a boarder to move their horse from your barn.
This is one of those areas that I hope you never have to deal with but it happens more than you know. I had this situation happen to me many years ago when a family bought a horse and they were brand new horse owners. The horse they purchased turned out to be extremely dangerous and after three days I told them that the horse would need to go. They agreed and took the horse back (only after it tried to seriously hurt the daughter) and they bought a much sweeter horse. These former clients agreed with me about this horse but it could have easily gone the other way. You might end up with a client that refuses to get rid of the horse and you want to make sure under this situation that you have the right to ask them to leave immediately if the horse is dangerous. This is something that should always be in your contract. Sometimes your new clients will not even know what kind of horse they have until it steps off the trailer.
When something gets broken.
When you have horses things will get broken often! It is as simple as that. I truly believe it is the boarder's responsibility to pay for damages done by their horse but you might run across a time when a boarder will argue with you about it. I have heard stories where a boarder didn't want to pay because they truly believed their horse didn't cause the damage even though there were witnesses. That is when a boarding contract is good to have.
When a horse dies at your stable.
If you are in the business long enough sooner or later you will have to deal with the death of a horse. It is one of the hardest parts of the job but when a horse is found dead you will be the one to contact the owner and they are going to want answers. Make sure you have a section in your contract that is for "Risk of Loss and Standard Care." You really want to protect yourself. You never know how a person is going to react if they find out their horse has died unexpectedly. This part is very important and you want to talk to a knowledgeable insurance agent that understands equine insurance to make sure you are covered.
Emergency care when the owner is gone.
You don't know how many times the owner of a horse has gone on vacation and I have had to call the veterinarian because their horse has gotten hurt. I have had a horse colic when the owner is on vacation and a decision needed to be made for the care of the horse. It is crucial that you have a section in your contract that covers you if you need to make a decision about the care of a horse if they get sick or seriously hurt. Talk with the owners and make sure you have in writing what they will allow and not allow if they go on vacation and cannot be reached. It happens and you want to be prepared and protected.
What about when the owner refuses to call the vet and the injury is serious?
This is something that I never expected to deal with but I learned that not everyone is willing to call a vet when needed. Usually the issue is they don't want to pay the money for the vet call. You might find yourself in a situation with a very sick or injured horse and you will need to be very assertive in making them call for a veterinarian to come out. Make sure you have this in your contract and make sure it is written precisely for the state you live in. Each state will vary a bit on this.
Taking care of feet, vaccinations and worming.
You are going to have many different clients and they will all have different views on when to have feet trimmed. I have had to call an owner or two over the years because the feet were getting to the point where the horse was tripping badly or so split that I became concerned it was going to cause more issues. You are going to have different views on vaccinations and as the barn owner you need to decide how you want to do vaccinations at your barn. Be upfront with your new clients so they understand and make sure it is in your contract. You might run across someone that doesn't believe in vaccinations after they have moved to your barn and then you will need to deal with that and having it in your contract protects you.
When a boarder doesn't follow the rules.
It happens. Hopefully not to the point where you need to ask someone to leave but if you come across a client that refuses to follow the rules and it is causing stress in your barn, then you have the right to ask them to leave. Just make sure this is part of your contract.
The list can go on and on and you can design your contract however you want. You can add in so much more depending of what type of barn you have and the events and disciplines that are at your barn. I can't stress enough how important a well written boarding contract is in protecting you and your property. There have been a couple of times over the years that a situation has happened and the thought crossed my mind that the client might try to sue me. Even though it never happened I was so glad that I had a contract in place. It was piece of mind.
Unfortunately we live in a world where people sue for everything and as business owners we need to protect ourselves. I hope you never run into a situation where you have an angry boarder that is threatening to sue but if you do, you will rest easier knowing you have a contract in place.
I am just scratching the surface of what a well drawn up boarding contract should look like but I wanted to give you a starting point. Remember that all it takes is one serious accident with a horse or rider for you to lose everything that you have worked so hard to build.
One more important thought about buying contracts online.
If you purchase a boarding contract off the internet make sure you have an attorney completely look it over. I purchased my first boarding contract online and after my attorney looked it over he found many mistakes in the wording. Buying a contract online is a good place to start if you are not sure what to put in your contract as long as you have a good attorney look it over. It may cost you a little more in the beginning but it is far better than dealing with a law suit or much worse losing everything.
Today I encourage you to make sure you have a well written boarding contract. Once you have that in place you can do what you really love to do which of course is hanging out with the horses at your barn!
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! If you are just starting out in your planning stages of your horse business or need some help now that you are in it, I would like to encourage you to check out my two books. My first one, "What it really takes to start and run a horse business" is my families journey of starting our horse boarding business and about learning from our mistakes especially during the first couple of years. My second 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. This book discusses all the problems that come up in a boarding environment. You won't find more honest books out there about running a horse business.
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business,