The sad part is that your dream career can become a nightmare overnight if you are not careful about how you set up your barn and all that goes with it. I have talked with many people over the last couple of years and this sadly has happened to them because of so many unexpected problems that come with owning your own business.
It is very true when they say that the first five years of a new business will either make you or break you and I have met a few people who were ready to call it quits. I understand their pain and frustration because I have been down that path and there were many times when David and I wanted to quit and sell the farm. Then I started to realize that the problem wasn't with my clients. It was with how I was running the barn. The problem was with me and my poor organizational skills. It was my poor business and financial skills. It was my poor communication and lack of leadership skills.
Those days are behind me!
I am so glad those days are long behind me. Looking back I made everything way to complicated and I was not ready for it. I didn't have enough experience of how things were going to work at my barn through all four seasons and it was a bad way to start a business. I bit off more than I could chew to say the least. The one good thing is that I am a fighter and I don't give up easily. I knew I needed to make many changes and I didn't know where to start but I took each issue and addressed them one at a time. It wasn't an overnight fix. In fact it took several years to really get a feel for what worked and didn't work at our barn but I just made it a point to grow and learn along the way and if I could find a way to make things more efficient and cost effective I was going to do it.
It's only natural to want to please others
The one thing many new barn owners want to do is to please their clients no matter what. As a new barn owner you will have an amazing amount of energy. You will feel like you can do it all and even have your hair and make-up done! I am laughing as I am writing this because I so remember that feeling of endless energy. I offered everything I could to make our barn stand out and I didn't realize how it would wear me down.
Keep it simple for the first two years
I believe the best thing you can do for your new boarding business is to keep things very simple for the first two years. You can offer extra services but be realistic and don't go overboard. If you are going to offer grain then offer only two or three types of grain. The more grain you offer the more complicated this part of chores will become. Give yourself time to know what type of clientele you will have at your barn. Especially when you will have some clients that will change grain every month.
When new boarders ask you what type of hay you feed, I encourage you to tell them what you feed but don't make this part complicated until you have a good feel for how you are going to feed outside and inside horses. Deciding on the type of hay you want to offer is an individual decision and this area can become easily complicated as well. Storing it will be important and equally important is your hay supplier. If you are going to offer several types of hay then your job has just become more complicated especially when it comes to storage and suppliers. If you offer straight alfalfa hay and your hay supplier has run out, do you have a back up plan?
Keep it very simple when it comes to blanketing for the seasons. Blanketing takes time and it is a great service to offer but I have heard of barns where the blankets are requested to be switched twice a day depending on the temperatures? That is fine if you have the time or employees to do this service but if you are doing it yourself and you have thirty horses to take care of, your day will become extremely long and you will burn out fast. Until you go through a couple of winters changing blankets be very careful about how you offer this type of service. Blanketing is never fun when the blanket is wet or muddy and the straps are broken. It happens more than you know.
The list of things you will do as a barn owner and extra services you will provide can be endless. You need to remember that most new business owners don't have the extra money to have full-time employees for these services so start out a little simpler until you have a real feel for all of it. If you are going to offer a service then make sure you are getting paid enough for your time or to cover the cost of paying an employee. It is true when they say time is money.
The sky's the limit at first
As a young business owner you will want to have long barn hours for your boarders and rules will be extremely hard to think of and put on paper. They will be even harder to enforce and many times you might even look the other way and say to yourself that it will probably never happen again. In the beginning you will pick up after your boarders and be okay with it. Your life will become entwined in their lives and it will become emotionally complicated. You will have an extremely hard time saying no and you will offer many special perks for many different reasons.
Boarders will ask you to build things and supply many extras and you will say yes at first. You will have many unexpected expenses that you will pay without worry because you will have a false sense of financial security because your barn is full and money is coming in each month. Until it is time to buy hay and now you need to come up with twenty or thirty thousand dollars to buy hay for the year. You will make more changes during the first two to three years of your business then you will for many years after. Many of those changes will be boarder requested at first. Later on the changes will be driven by your need to improve your quality of personal, financial and business way of life and doing things. They are all deeply connected and if one is out of balance it will affect the other parts of your business.
The first year will be the honeymoon and reality will set in shortly after.
When reality sets in you will be glad you kept things simple at first
If I can give one small bit of advice, start small and keep things simple. Get a real feel for the daily work that will be seven days a week often. Don't be in a hurry to build this or that. You won't have a true view of your finances for a couple of years and the last thing I would recommend is going into more debt at first. See how much hay, grain and shavings will cost each month for a couple of years and the same would be true for electricity, water and gasoline. Equipment will break and repairs will be daily. Horses are extremely hard on stuff and you will find yourself running to the closest hardware store often.
Once you have a good understanding of the work involved and the money it takes to keep a barn up and going then grow with it. If you want to add on or add lots of extra amenities than go for it. You will be much more equipped to handle what is ahead on a larger scale once you have experienced it on a smaller level for some time. I want you to be successful and have a much more solid foundation starting out with your horse business than I did with mine. I would love to be part of your journey along the way.
If you are thinking about starting a horse boarding barn I would encourage you to read my book, What it really takes to start and run a horse boarding business." If it my families story of building Vinland Stables from nothing but empty farm land. It is the most honest book you will find about starting a business and I will share our mistakes and what we learned from them. My second book which is equally important to sound barn management is, "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover." This book talks about every part of barn management and running a horse business but with a twist. It is all about the relationship between the barn owner, manager, client and trainer and how to resolve issues that will be part of your barn and business. Remember that the easiest part will always be the horses.
I wish you many blessings in your horse business,