Today's post is a must read for all barn owners and managers who are running a horse boarding business. It is about the pressure that every barn owner and manager will have put on them at one time or another by their boarders when things are not going right at your stable. It could be that the weather has been horrible and it has made for stress in your barn or you might be feeling the pressure to build and add more amenities even though you don't have the money. You could be pressured to feed a different type of hay or do regular farm chores differently so that your boarders are not inconvenienced. The pressure from your clients is stressful and at times can even leave you second guessing your decisions and your knowledge. I never thought about this part of barn management when we first opened our facility but it is very real and it can wear you down if you are not mentally ready for it.
The last two months have been a true test for me and my husband as barn owners as well as so many others that are taking care of horses. You can read about flooding in the west and crazy fluctuations in temperatures in almost every part of the United States. Here in Wisconsin we have had unbelievably terrible weather and between heavy snow followed by rain and then ice everywhere, the horses have been in their stalls for long periods of time. In fact they were in their stalls for almost a week because we were covered with thick ice that quickly turned to water when the rains came and then froze back up overnight which made it impossible to turn them out. To add to the work load, when you have snow then ice followed by rain there is a good chance you will have some flooding because the water has nowhere to go. We sure did. For a week we had several stalls where the water was seeping in and In all the years of boarding horses, this has been definitely one of our most challenging winters so far. It wasn't safe to let the horses go outside at all but in most cases the horses handled it pretty well each time they were in for longer than normal periods of time. I think often it becomes more frustrating for the horse owners than it actually does the horses. This has been a pattern for the upper Midwest over the last two months which has created many challenges for barn owners and managers everywhere.
When this kind of weather happens it will test the patience of everyone and as the barn manager you are going to find yourself under pressure to do something that might not be in the best interest of the horses. This becomes even more of an issue when you have clients that will drive by other barns in your area and see the horses outside and they will start to ask why their own horse isn't outside. First of all, I want to say that it is normal for a client to ask this question and it is a very reasonable question to ask. However, how you answer it will make a big difference in the outcome. Communication is going to play a huge part in how you resolve this and you need to be ready because not everyone will agree with your answer. Before I had my own barn and business I never really understood either how everything works in all four seasons and all types of extreme weather for horse stables. It is something that I believe you definitely have to work and live for a few years and throughout all four seasons to get a true grasp and understanding of.
The one thing that most of your clients will not understand is that each barn and the layout of their paddocks, land and the way the water flows will dictate how they do turnout and it will change especially when the weather has given you the "Perfect storm." You can have two barns that are only a mile apart but the land that the businesses are on can be as different as night an day. Our barn and the land we own is very flat, low and it has clay soil which makes for imperfect conditions when water is involved. With this all said - you as the barn manager will be educating your clients when they ask questions about your place and how you do things.
It doesn't matter what other barns do
It is only natural to feel many different emotions from stress to defensiveness when you start to feel pressure from your boarders to do things that other barns are doing. If you are new into the business then you might feel you are doing something wrong or inadequate especially if you are lacking confidence. During long stretches of bad and trying weather is when stress and impatience will appear and this is where poor decisions are made because you and your clients become frustrated. Don't go there! This is where you need to stand strong and feel good about the decisions you are making for the way your stable is set up. You need to remember that a poor decision made out of pressure can have an extremely bad outcome if a horse gets hurt in the process. The decisions you make will always fall back on you and you need to remember that no matter how upset or impatient a client becomes, safety of the horses in your care is the most important thing.
Extreme barn management
If you live in an area where the weather changes often and you can have snow, rain and ice all within a twenty-four period, you will experience extreme barn management and you are going to grow as a barn owner and manager like never before. During these times of adversity is when you will find out what it means to really lead and run your business under all conditions. Is it frustrating when your place is compared to another? Of course but that is human nature. We all do it including myself. It is okay to compare a little bit and notice how things are done at other barns but don't let it cause you to make a bad decision for your place.
The best thing you can do when unforeseen circumstances happen at your barn and questions are being asked is to keep the communication open. Explain the decisions you are making at your barn and educate if you need to. Most of your clients will be very understanding if you take the time to talk with them. There is a chance that you will have a client that will not be understanding and might even tell you a "better way" to do things and that is okay. You can listen to what they have to say but at the end of the day you need to do what is best for your barn, business and most of all the horses. You might even lose a boarder or two that become frustrated and they decide to move to a place that seems to be run the way they prefer and that is fine. Let them go and remember that the right boarders will find you and be happy with how you do things. They will be patient under the most difficult circumstances and weather the storms with you. Remember that there will always be storms and once in a while the perfect storm is going to hit. When it does-hang tough and don't give into pressure. When it is all said and done and the weather has cleared up, you will be glad you stuck by your decisions.
The one thing I want you to know is that the longer you are running your horse business the easier it will be for your clients to trust you. I believe all new business owners will go through a time of testing and gaining trust from their clients. It doesn't mean it will always be perfect but it will get easier and you will be amazed at the support you will have from most of your clients.
Remember that running a horse business is always easy when the sun is shining and the weather is awesome. My goal is to prepare you for when the storms hit, the weather is unforgiving and your clients are frustrated. The perfect storm can come at anytime and it may have nothing to do with the weather but the pressure will be very real. You will get through it and you will grow with each storm that hits and with that will come a new confidence that will be incredible. Hang in there!
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! I wrote my newest book to give you an in-depth look into the business of boarding horses and all that it entails. This post today is one small example of what my new book addresses. If you are boarding horses or are planning on it, please check out, "A Step By Step Guide To Starting And Running A Successful Horse Boarding Business." It is a very comprehensive book on boarding horses and covers every part of it from building your barn or stable to solid barn management. I wrote this book because I realized there is an information gap when it comes to this subject and my goal is to help others so they don't make all the mistakes I made when we first opened our boarding facility. I want you to be prepared for the crazy and wonderful new career you are going into.
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business, Sheri Grunska