Helping you be successful in your barn and business!
I received an email the other day that left me shaken most of the day. A woman had contacted me for advice on a situation she was in with a boarder that refused to leave her property and move her horse! If this sounds absolutely crazy to you then get ready because it happens a little more often then you would ever expect. I know this because I have experienced a unique situation along these lines as well and it can be extremely stressful.
I have always considered myself an easy going person, that was until we started our horse boarding business! Now if I have your attention then you have probably said the same thing to yourself a time or two. Running a boarding barn for years now has changed me in many ways but with each passing year I believe it has changed me for the best even if a few previous clients would disagree.
This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart because I had no clue in the beginning how not having boundaries in my business could actually hurt my business. I now realize that many people that open a horse boarding facility or any kind of equine business have not learned the importance of boundaries. It took me years to really figure it out and I am still learning at times. It is definitely a journey we take as we grow as business owners.
When we first opened Vinland Stables years ago I was so excited about every part of it. I instantly loved taking care of all the horses but I also enjoyed getting to know all my new boarders. We have a multi-discipline barn and with that came many different breeds and my boarders were every age from young kids to retired people. Things seemed great at first.
Burnout in the horse boarding business is very real and unfortunately there is a very large number of equine professionals that feel it. During this last year I have talked with many people from all over the country and many of them are exhausted, frustrated and in many cases just don't care anymore. They are experiencing burnout and it is starting to affect their horse business and they don't see a light at the end of the tunnel anymore. It's a terrible feeling and it will cripple your horse business if you let it.
I was on Facebook this morning as I am often in the early morning, and I read a post where someone was asking questions about how to start a boarding business. As I scrolled the remarks I noticed that many people were bashing boarders in general and telling this person not to do it. There were remarks about bad boarders and drama. There were statements about not getting paid and not being appreciated. There were many posts about all the special requests and the high turnover that is part of the business. As I read all the remarks I was both disappointed and even a little annoyed that boarders in general were getting a bad rap. I am sure this post today is sure to ruffle some feathers but I wanted to address some things about the world of boarding horses and our responsibility as barn owners and managers.
A couple of days ago I was leading horses outside for the day when a mare spooked and knocked me down into the mud! I couldn't move fast enough in the mud to get out of her way. Not the best way to start out the morning to say the least. It was the first day we had the horses outside in over a week due to the bad weather and extremely muddy conditions and we were waiting for warmer weather to dry out the paddocks. Boarding horses here in the Midwest seems to come with its own unique challenges for each season and springtime can be a tough one. Needless to say, when we finally did decide it was fine to put them out they were a little excited and that is an understatement.
If you are running a boarding stable in an area that gets muddy during the springtime then you will encounter many challenges besides the mud. Not only will you be dealing with squirrelly horses while they are in their stalls for extended periods of time but you will undoubtedly have some clients that will become frustrated during this time. It can be a very difficult time for everyone. If you have mud and horses then I am sure you have experienced what I am going to talk about. If you are just at the beginning stages of your horse business then this is a part of barn management that will most likely catch you of guard and you will learn a lot about yourself during this time. When we first opened our boarding barn years ago, I was not prepared for this part of barn management and how complicated it can become.
If you are going to board horses for a living then I can promise you that giving a boarder a thirty-day notice will be one of the most difficult parts of your job. I had a huge awakening when we opened our barn many years ago. I found out very quickly that there was a wrong way to give a thirty-day notice. I now have had to experience this part of barn management a few times over the years and giving a thirty-day notice is still extremely difficult but I have learned how to do it in a much more professional manner.
Boarding horses is challenging because you are going to be dealing with so many people and they will all have different personalities and beliefs when it comes to their horses. The reasons that a barn owner needs to give a thirty day notice will most likely never be the same from one client to the next. Early on in our business (before I ever experienced this part of the job) I thought that the only reason I would ever need to give a boarder a thirty-day notice was because they a client was not paying their board. I was in for a huge lesson about running a barn and people. It turns out that I would be giving a thirty-day notice a few times in my career and they have all been for many different reasons and the least of them are money issues.
Your tack room will be one of the most important areas in your barn. How you set it up will either make your job easier or much more difficult. I never dreamed that I would have drama in my tack rooms but I have had problems a few times over the years and finally this last spring we made some changes. Who would have thought there we be so much to think about when designing your tack room. Remember that every thing that happens at your barn will come back to you as the barn owner and the tack room is no exception.
Many of the issues a barn owner or manager has with their boarders come from the history a client will have from other boarding barns. Each barn does things differently and it takes a new boarder time to adjust and during that time it will equally be some adjustment for the barn owner or manager. This is a huge part of barn management that gets overlooked but it is truly important to a well-run barn and making your job easier as the barn owner or manager.
I believe that if you take it slow and not assume that your new client knows how your barn operates the misunderstanding and stress will be greatly reduced. If you think about it for a minute everything from the way you feed your hay to the way you clean your stalls will most likely be different then the previous place for most boarders that come to your barn. For some boarders these differences will be easy and not a big deal but for others the differences will be huge. Horses need time to adjust to a new surrounding and so do your boarders.
If you have been around horses for a while there is a good chance you have seen some very heartbreaking situations where a horse was either being extremely mistreated or even worse abused. If this ever happens at your barn I am sure you will never forget it. It is something that every barn owner and manager will probably have to deal with sometime in their career and it will be one of the most difficult things you experience as an equine professional. Remember, doing the right thing is never easy under these circumstances but you will never regret it. As the barn owner your world will change completely when you have a client that crosses the line. How you handle the situation will let others know what you will not tolerate at your barn.