Helping you be successful in your barn and business!
This is the time of year when horse show season gets into full swing and with that comes an even busier barn. This is one of areas of horse barn management that is overlooked often. If you don't set up guidelines for the people who board and show at your barn you could be in for a lot of confusion and extra work. People who show horses will have special requests right before a horse show and you will find yourself wondering who is coming and going if you don't have things organized. We have forty horses at our farm so things can get crazy pretty quickly. I have learned from trial and error to set up guidelines and good communication so there are no mistakes made for the people and horses that are leaving for a show. Here is a list of things to think about for your barn during show season.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from other barn owners is that they have boarders that don't clean up after themselves. There is always manure left in the arena and aisle way and sweeping up dirt and horse hair is only done by a few. They find themselves picking up tack that was left all over the place and it starts to become a very sore issue for many barn owners.
Today's post is not about bashing boarders and how they leave the barn. Today's post is about very real barn management and how to communicate with your boarders and correct a problem in a direct and positive way. I truly believe every issue you have at your barn can be easily corrected but it needs to start with the barn owner. It may take a bit of work to change habits that are already established but it can be done and the results will change your barn in so many positive ways.
Spring time has just sprung and for people here in the Midwest it is a welcome sight from the frigid temperatures of winter. I am no different. Just doing the chores in the morning seems so much easier without putting on all the layers of clothes and coming back in the house hours later with frozen fingers. Along with the springtime comes a new kind of challenge when it comes to your barn and taking care of the horses. One of the first signs of spring is the shedding of horse hair. The second sign of spring is the mud and we have lots of it at our farm. The third sign that spring is here is the pulling of blankets and all of a sudden we have dirty blankets everywhere.
Getting a real grip on how you want to handle these issues and your boarders will take some time and even going through a couple of seasons will be part of it. For many this is the most difficult time of year when running a horse business.
I have learned through experience that if you are not extremely clear about how you do things at your barn regarding the care of the horses, it can cause you a lot of stress and frustration in the future. Potential new boarders that come for a tour will listen to how I do things at our barn but once they are boarding here, many of them expected things to be different in one area or another. It has led to frustration at times for both the new boarder and myself.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the last ten years of boarding horses is how important it is to be very clear on what you offer at your barn. You can't assume your potential new clients will already know or have a clear understanding of how you do things. There have been many times that I have given a tour and the person signed on to bring their horse to my barn and it seemed easy enough. In most cases the new boarder is so excited to move their horse that they might not be fully listening to all you are telling them.
One of the biggest issues many new business owners face is the transition from casual boarder to running a professional boarding facility. Anyone can build a barn and start and LLC but to own it mentally and become that equine professional can take time. In fact it can take years to fully grasp and have the mindset of a business owner and all that it entails. I can say this because I have lived it and I am one that took a few years to really embrace my new position and the good and bad that came with it.
Let me start off today's post by telling you that I am not a trainer. For a very short time when I was a teenager I wanted to be a horse trainer, after all, don't most young girls dream of training horses and making a living at it. Trainers are an amazing group of people and if they are good at what they do then they will be one of the most valuable people you have at your barn.
When we first opened our boarding business we didn't have an established trainer at our barn. I wanted a barn that allowed the boarders to choose their own trainer. I thought this would be a positive thing for our barn because many of the boarding facilities in the area do not allow you to bring in your own trainer-usually because the barn owner is a trainer himself. I completely understand the reason for this if you are the barn owner/trainer combined. It is a smart business choice. For David and I it would only benefit us to have trainers here helping our boarders.
Starting any kind of business can be overwhelming especially if you are starting it from absolutely nothing but a dream. In many ways it is easier to buy an established business because it is already set up and the previous owners can walk you through how they run it and then you can change the things you want from there. Most horse boarding businesses are not set up already unless it a on a larger scale. That doesn't help the person that bought a farm and now wants to build a barn and start boarding.
There are so many questions that come into the equation if you are starting out with empty farmland like we did. How big should you build and how many horses should you board are the two biggest questions. Then comes the questions like, can we fill our stalls and outdoor board and what should we charge? Will I need to work a second job and can I afford to hire help on the farm? How many horses will be in each herd and will we separate the mares from the geldings? The list will seem endless at first and even if you have all the paperwork in order and your barn rules and boarding contracts are done, there is still so much that you need to look at to have a smooth start to your business. These questions are very important whether you are only going to board five horses or forty horses. I want to stress the point that size doesn't matter and you will have the same issues with a small farm as a large farm. The issues might be much smaller but they can be bad enough to make you wonder why you started boarding horses to begin with.
When I started thinking about having my own horse boarding business I already had a lot of experience boarding my own horses at other barns. I now look at those experiences both good and bad as the foundation for how I wanted to run my own barn.
My first experience boarding my horse was when I was ten years old. I was brand new to owning a horse and my father had zero horse experience also. We found a small place to board a few miles from where I lived and it was easy to ride my bike after school each day to see my new horse. One Saturday about a month after we moved our horse there, my father drove me out to stable and as soon as we drove in we knew something was wrong. There were people standing by the gate and as we got out of the car we realized it was bad. The stable owners had left the place and taken everyone's tack and a few horses were gone also. I was a lucky one, my horse was still there but sadly that was not the case for many other people. My horse was moved that day to a new place and new experiences.
I was on the phone with a wonderful woman the other night talking about our barns and the changes that have taken place in our businesses over the years. The next day I started thinking about our conversation and I started to remember all the growing pains my business had the first couple of years after we opened. We had a lot!
What I also realized was the transition from hobby farm to professional boarding facility was hard on everyone especially the boarders who were at my farm before we built our new barn. I am no different than most people that get into the boarding business and want to make a living at it. Most of us start out with a couple of friends who keep their horses at our homes and one day we wake up and start talking about,"What if we build and make this our career." If you talk to a hundred different people in the boarding business you will find out that the majority have the same story. It's the perfect dream to think about.
Consistency is a word you might not hear as often as we used to. In fact to many people it might sound downright old fashioned. I believe consistency has a lot to do with the success of a any equine business. In fact I will be bold enough to say that a consistent barn or any other equine business will soon end up with clients waiting to come.
We live in a time when many people get bored very easily and like change. It is our human nature to seek the greener grass that might offer more. We get distracted very easily and fine something that looks brand new and inviting and will change what we are doing to be part of it. What we forget is that even though we as humans might like change (which is fine) our horses don't. They want to feel safe, have enough food, water and shelter from the elements. If they are given these things consistently they will not search for something new on the horizon unless of course you have a stallion!