I live in Wisconsin and along with my husband David we take care of forty horses on our farm. I love my job but as fall disappears and winter arrives I have to mentally get ready for it and brace myself for the work that I know is ahead. We get such extreme cold temperatures here in Wisconsin and with that comes snow, sleet, ice and negative wind chills at times. I never realized how much more work it was (especially for David) when the temperatures get cold and the snow comes. I also never realized how my boarders would feel about the weather and the decisions I made about the care of the horses during these months. Again I was in for a lot of learning when it comes to horse barn management and my boarders.
I was fast learning that many of my boarders had fears about so much more than the cold and snow. Some were worried about their horse slipping in the snow and getting hurt. They were worried that we would put them out if there was ice. The temperature that I decided was the cut off point of when the horses went out or stayed in did not sit well with some of my clients and soon I was having many discussions and disagreements with a few people about the subject. I never dreamed it would become so difficult and complicated but it did overnight. I am glad those days of stressing about my decisions are behind me.
If you are just starting out in your horse business then I can guarantee that you will go through some of this if you live in an area that has very cold temperatures. I now believe there are a couple of reasons why this happens to new barn owner owners and managers and even seasoned equine professionals with many years experience.
Trust Is Huge
The first one is you need to earn the trust of your clients that you will make decisions that are in the best interest of their horse. Trust is something that takes time to earn and your clients will not give it freely. Many of them have been in very bad boarding situations and have experienced poor care when it comes to their horse and they will not let it happen again. You need to understand this and be ready to accept that you are going to go through a couple of seasons of earning their trust. I went through it and for some it will happen faster and for others it will take longer.
The second issue that will come up is that your boarders will have different opinions of what horses can handle when it comes to cold temperatures and weather. You will have a few boarders that believe their horse should be outside under all conditions and they need to tough it out. They have what I would call, "The wild mustang mentality." They have this view in their mind that if the wild mustangs can be outside under all conditions and survive just fine then so should their horse. What they don't always understand is that most mustangs don't make it into their twenties and only the strongest survive. Many of them die young. They also don't understand that the breeding of a demosticated horse is much different and many of them are not equipped to handle all the conditions that the horses out on the range deal with. A perfect example of this would be a Throughbred. They are thin skinned and never really grow a heavy winter coat. I have a Throughbred and she starts to get cold when the temperatures dip down below fifty and that blankets soon go on. The type of boarder that wants their horse outside all the time in any kind of weather will probably be the one that becomes annoyed when you choose to leave the horses in due to inclement weather. This has happened to me a few times over the years and as the barn owner you need to stand strong in your decision.
When I make a decision to leave the horses in or put them out depending on the weather I now know that I will have some that will not be completely happy with my decision for the day. Over the years I have learned that as a boarding barn and business you can't be back and forth on how you do things. You need to be consistent and stand by your decision even if it is not a popular one.
The Bottom Line
Working in the equine industry is a great way to make a living but you need to be realistic about it. As the barn owner you need to be prepared for all the different people you will have as clients and with that comes diversity in all of it. Don't be discouraged when you are having a disagreement with one of your clients. Be professional and treat them with respect but at the end of the day you need to do what is best for your barn and business. Remember that you are going to be the one that is dealing with the cold and snow and the extremes of winter. You will be the one to decide if the paddocks are safe for the horses to go out in for the day and if a horse gets hurt because of the conditions it will fall back on you. Don't fall into the pressure of what your clients want because that is usually when things go south.
Give It a Couple of Seasons
It will take a couple of seasons of winter to get a complete and realistic view of how winter is going work with the horses in your care and everything else that needs to get done daily at your facility. Get ready because you will change many things during the first couple of years in business and much of it will be about the horses, chores and winter! Your confidence will increase and you will start to make decisions much easier. During this time your boarders will also grow with you and they will start to see the consistency you provide for the horses and that is when trust happens. When you reach that point your job will start to become easier and you will have boarders that are happy with the care you give and they will stay for many seasons. That is a sign of a successful horse business.
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 book, "What it really takes to start and run a horse business" is my families journey of starting our horse boarding business and the mistakes we made during the first couple of years. It includes a business plan, boarding contract and barn rules. I also include my fees for extra services performed. 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 of any kind. this book is so important because you will have clients and with that will come issues to resolve in every part of your horse business. The horses will always be the easiest part. Many horse businesses struggle and the owners often quit and it has nothing to do with the horses. It's about the clients and the struggles that come with the job. This book will change how you look at yourself and how you run your barn. Together these two books will give you a complete look at horse barn management and running a horse business.
I wish you many blessings in your horse business,