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.
What your boarders will watch for
Your boarders especially during the first few weeks or months will watch how you handle their horse and other peoples horses. They will want to see if you lose your temper easy or be understanding about the horse that has special issues or needs. They will take note of how much hay you put in the stall or how much you feed outside. They will watch to see if you are consistent in feeding times and if grain and supplements are being fed like you said they would be. They will notice each time they come out if their horse has water in his bucket and if the water is clean. They will watch how you deal with herd management and where you place their horse. They will watch to see how you deal with horses that don't get along and if you are open to making changes in certain situations. They will watch how you make decisions depending on the weather and their horse. They will watch for a long time to see if you do the things you say you are going to do. Are the arenas dragged? Are the stalls cleaned daily? Is the hay a good quality? Do you fix things when they become broken? The list can go on and on and there are times that you will feel like you are under a microscope.
I am going to tell you right now that most boarders are not trying to be difficult. Most of the issues that come up are fear related because they have had bad boarding experiences and now they don't trust anyone with the care of their horse. It is so common in the boarding industry and it is up to you as the barn owner or manager to gain their trust and show them the right way of doing things with the care of the horse put first in all situations.
Don't take offense but be willing to explain how you do things
I think one of the reasons the barn owner/client relationship falls apart quickly from the start is because the barn owner doesn't know how to read the signs of fear. There is one common element between a boarder that is being overbearing and controlling and a boarder that simply nervous and unsure. Each person might express themselves a bit differently but they are wanting the same exact thing. A safe place to keep their horse where they are going to be fed enough food, fresh water to drink and shelter. The simplest of basic needs for a horse seems to become such an issue at many barns and it should never get to that point.
A person might not come right out and tell you that the previous place was terrible and the care was bad. They might not tell you that their horse didn't get fed enough or that the conditions of the facility were not healthy for a horse to live in. They might not tell you that their horse developed nervous panics because of the way they were handled. Some people are very quiet and don't want to talk bad about anyone but their concerns will show themselves in a more aggressive or opinionated way because that is how they communicate and they want to make sure it never happens again. It is your job to dig a little deeper and find out what their fears are and then you can start to ease those fears with time.
Some of my most difficult boarders in the beginning were only that way because they were driven by fear. They watched me like a hawk and talked to me on a daily basis about how I did things and why I did them the way I do. It would be very easy as a new barn owner to be either intimated by their overly strong personality and questions or annoyed because you feel like you are being watched constantly. But if you take a step back and look at the big picture they are just looking for reassurance. You need to put yourself in their shoes for a minute and think back to when you boarded your horse. Give them the time to ask questions and watch how you do things. Give them time to trust again and you will see a person change into a devoted boarder that will be one of your best clients for a very long time.
Sometimes you just need to say good-bye
Most of your boarders are going to be wonderful but you will come across someone that you just can't please under any circumstance. Even after six months at your barn they still seem to question everything you do and are making more issues for you at your barn. I hope you never have to deal with this but the chances are that you will come across a person like this now and then. Sometimes a barn is just not a good fit for someone and that is okay. There are people who have their own idea of how things should be done and will easily share that with you on a daily basis. There might come a time when you need to have a heart to heart talk with a client like this and find out if it is time to go your separate ways. Usually a boarder like this will move on and eventually down the road you hear about them moving many more times. I often think people like this would be better off having their horses on their own property. Don't take it personally because it is not your place or the way you do things. It is just the person and who they are. Most clients are great and not like this at all. You will learn to tell the difference with time and lots of practice.
You will learn so much as the years go by...It will get easier
If you take the time to let your boarders adjust to their new barn home and are willing to share how you do things, you will be paving the way for a great relationship built on trust. That is what makes a barn healthy and strong and that is what keeps your clients staying year after year. I encourage you today to put the extra time and effort into your boarders in the beginning and give them time to adjust. Have the heart of a teacher and you will see wonderful changes in your boarders with time. Don't be to quick to judge otherwise you might miss out on a wonderful and devoted boarder who just needed time to trust again. Remember that they are entrusting you with part of their family.
Remember that they are entrusting you with part of their family
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! If you would like to read more about real barn management and how to deal with the everyday issues that come up, please check out my newest book, "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover." This is the most honest book you will find about running a horse business and making it the best it can be. Remember that a huge part of your business is the relationship you have with your clients. Learning to problem solve will be a big part of your job. I would love to help you get on your way to better barn management.
I wish you many blessings in your horse business,