I am going to be totally honest right now and tell you how naive I was when we opened our horse boarding barn over ten years ago. We didn't have any rules and we had forty horses to take care of and with those horses came their owners! I was definitely running my barn with rose colored glasses on.
Enforcing the rules is difficult
I had a very difficult time enforcing the barn rules at our farm in the early years. I wanted everyone to like me and I worried inside that if I reminded them that they needed to clean up after themselves or any other issue that was happening at the moment, then they would become angry with me. I even worried that they might leave our barn and that was the last thing I wanted. I was again running our barn on emotion and fear and that is a terrible way to run a business.
Because of my lack of assertiveness when it came to enforcing the barn rules, I ended up creating much more work for David and me. We were constantly going in the barn and picking up after our boarders. I would find tack and everything else from half full coffee cups to candy wrappers all over the floor and David would find several piles of manure left in the arena because no one bothered to pick it up and put it in the muck bucket. The wash stall was not cleaned out the way it was supposed to be and many times it wasn't cleaned out at all. The barn hours were not observed and people would leave long after the barn was closed and I would sit up at the house waiting for them to leave and becoming angry as the time got later and later. It was absolutely crazy! There was finally a breaking point where enough was enough.
Learning to enforce the rules is not easy but necessary.
Learning to communicate without anger
I was going to have to make a change on how I ran my barn regarding the rules and it would take many mistakes along the way and effectively learn to communicate without anger. I have lost my temper a couple of times at things because I kept it bottled up inside of me instead of talking to my client right away and keeping it professional.
When I started to enforce the rules at my barn I was in unfamiliar territory. I had let things go for so long that I was going to have to basically start at the beginning and the changes would need to start with me. It was baby steps of learning to talk with my clients about uncomfortable issues and not letting my emotions get the best of me. I was a barn owner and I needed to start acting like one. I have to say that each time I have reminded someone to clean up after themselves or pick up the manure in the arena has become much easier over the years. And when I remind someone that is guilty of forgetting often, they quickly learn to remember after I have reminded them a few times. They will remember because they don't want to see me coming towards them to remind them again. It is as simple as that.
Time to be firm
Have I inconvenienced a client or two at times when they need reminding? Sure. Have I irritated them at times? I am sure I have. I have had them get off their horse to clean up their manure, hair and mud in the grooming area so another person could use it. It is something that needs to be done before you ride so another person can use the space without stepping in the mess. It is common courtesy for everyone at the barn. I have had people stop what they are doing and go clean out the drain and wash stall so someone else could use it because they left it in a complete disaster. Was it easy to do? No, but it was needed. If you have ever had to call a plumber out to fix flooding in your barn due to a clogged wash stall drain then you will understand why very quickly. These are the things that can make a barn easy to run or completely exhausting to run.
As I started to grow as a business owner, barn owner and manager I learned how to handle these issues as part of the job and not take it personally if my client became annoyed with me at the moment. I have realized that once you start enforcing your rules they become good habits that your boarders get into and after a while you will find out that you don't need to be reminding them as much. There are so many issues that we used to have that are non-existent now and I believe it is because they have become good habits that everyone does. I also believe it is because my boarders know that I am serious about following the rules. I am proud to say that even most of the teenagers at our barn do a great job of cleaning up after themselves and their horses! I am sure they don't jump for joy when it comes to cleaning up their mess (what teenager does!) but they do it and it is just the way it is.
Having barn rules is important but they are a waste of time
if you are not enforcing them.
Having barn rules is important but they are a waste of time if you are not enforcing them. If you find yourself becoming irritated often and even blowing up at times because your barn is a mess and the rules are not being followed, then I encourage you to first take a look at how you are running the barn. The change needs to start with you and what you expect from your clients. Don't let the fear of making your clients angry control how you run your barn. I truly believe that a client is not going to leave your barn because you talked to them about following the barn rules. If they become that upset then your barn is probably not the right barn for them and it is better off to let them go and open the spot for a person that will appreciate the rules you have.
Most people love a barn that is well run and that includes barn rules that are followed. It will separate your barn from the rest and it is vital to creating a healthy atmosphere. You will find you have less turnover from your boarders and your waiting list will grow. Everything you do at your barn is connected to each other and that is what makes a barn successful.
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 one, "What it really takes to start and run a horse business" is my families journey of building our barn and starting our horse boarding business. I talk about all the mistakes we made during the building process and the first couple of years. 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 I believe will change how you look at yourself and how you run your barn. There is no other book out there that talks about real barn management and dealing with all the issues you will experience. You won't find more honest books out there about running a horse business.
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business,