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Horses, Mud And Your Boarders...A Very Challenging Time Of Year

Updated: Apr 18, 2019

A couple of days ago I was leading horses outside for the day when a mare spooked and knocked me down into the mud! I couldn't move fast enough in the mud to get out of her way.  Not the best way to start out the morning to say the least. It was the first day we had the horses outside in over a week due to the bad weather and extremely muddy conditions and we were waiting for warmer weather to dry out the paddocks. Boarding horses here in the Midwest seems to come with its own unique challenges for each season and springtime can be a tough one! Needless to say, when we finally did decide it was fine to put them out they were a little excited and that is an understatement. 

If you are running a boarding stable in an area that gets muddy during the springtime then you will encounter many challenges besides the mud.  Not only will you be dealing with impatient horses while they are in their stalls for extended periods of time but you will undoubtedly have some clients that will become frustrated during this time.  It can be a very difficult time for everyone.  If you have mud and horses then I am sure you have experienced what I am going to talk about.

If you are just at the beginning stages of your horse business then this is a part of barn management that will most likely catch you of guard and you will learn a lot about yourself during this time.  When we first opened our boarding barn years ago I was not prepared for this part of barn management and how complicated it can become. 

Our Barn

Our barn is in a part of Wisconsin that is flat and low.  When the springtime comes and the ground is thawing out, any extra rain will play havoc on our paddocks.  It takes them a while to dry out and depending on the weather and winter we had it can be a little longer than other stables in our part of the state.  It is just how it is and this is something that I make very clear when new boarders come to our barn.  The one thing I have come to realize over the years is that no matter how clear you are when explaining something to a new boarder, they won't fully understand what you are telling them until they experience it for themselves.  This can happen especially when they join your barn during the dry season and the paddocks look wonderful.  

You are going to have many boarders that will be patient during the springtime especially if they have boarded at other places and owned horses for a while.  Then you will have a few that will become upset that the horses are in for an extended period of time and they will share their frustration with you.  You will have boarders that will drive around and see other horses outside while their horse is in his stall and that will frustrate them even more. That is when they need to decide what is truly important to them in a boarding facility. Some clients will not be able to take the mud and how you run your barn in regards to the horses going out and they will leave. You will have others that will stay because they know you give fantastic care to their horse and they are willing to wait out this muddy time of year. They also know it is only a short period of time compared to the rest of the year and their horse will be fine.  As the barn owner and manager you will experience both sides of the spectrum and it is never easy.  

Educating Your Boarders

You are going to do a lot of educating during this time of year. You will find yourself explaining how the water flows and the kind of soils you have at your farm.  Your boarders may not understand that depending on where you are located and if you are flat or hilly will make a huge difference.  And of course the type of soil is a huge one.  You will also need to be very clear on if you will allow horses to stay in while it is muddy (purely for the mess and time it takes to clean them up) or if all horses will go out when conditions are safe and they will have to deal with muddy legs and bodies for the ones that love to role in the mud.  This is a part of barn management and your business that you want to really think about because it will get complicated and even stressful at times when dealing with horses, mud and frustrated boarders.

When Conditions Are Not Safe

When is it not safe to put them outside in the mud?  That is a great question and everyone has a different opinion about this.  There is so much to think about when it comes to mud and the horses in your care. How much mud is too much and when is it too deep?  That is something that you will really need to keep an eye on and watch how the horses are doing in the mud. We are more conservative at our barn and I want to make sure they are safe when they are outside. As the barn owner you will carry all the responsibility and if a horse gets hurt it will always fall back on you even if it is not your fault.  At the end of the day you need to do what is best for your barn and business and not worry about what other stables are doing in the area. It is better to be conservative and safe then to give into pressure and have a horse get hurt.  If you have a client leave your barn because they were frustrated because of the mud or how much you keep the horses in during the muddy season then let them go.  It would be much better to have someone at your barn that is patient during this challenging time of year because they know soon the sun will come out and the rest of the year will be fantastic at your barn.  

You are going to have many different boarders throughout your career and they will have their own feelings about mud and how you do things. You will have clients that want their horse out no matter how much mud you have and then you will have others that want their horse in until it is completely dry. That is why it is so important to be very clear on how you do things at your barn in regards to springtime and mud. Don't get caught up in trying to please everyone because it is impossible.

You will have clients that want their horse out no matter how much mud you have and then you will have others that want their horse in until it is completely dry. That is why it is so important to be very clear on how you do things at your barn in regards to springtime and mud. Don't get caught up in trying to please everyone because it is impossible.

Summer Is Right Around The Corner!

Don't put that kind of pressure on yourself!  It will only bring you down and wear you out.  Give the best care you can during all four seasons and under all circumstances and most of your boarders will see that and be willing to weather the muddy season with you.  They will not leave because their horse gets a little muddy or is in their stall for an extended period of time while your paddocks dry out.  It is a short season and soon your paddocks will dry up and the horses will be fine. Remember summer is right around the corner.  Hang in there.

Important thoughts about improvements

Also one last thought - You are going to come across people that will say to you, "why don't you fix that?" Most people that board on your property will not know how your water flows or the type of soil you have. They will also not know your finances. It can be extremely expensive to bring in the right stone and dirt to raise a low paddock and keep it draining correctly and dry. In a perfect world we would all do that if we had the financial means but most people that get into horse boarding don't realize there is a problem with mud and water until the spring rains come and the frost starts to come out of the ground. By that time you are already sinking money into many other areas of your stable that need improvement and might not have the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to fix an issue like this at the beginning. I encourage you to take it one step at a time and be ready to educate and if you give great care for the horses on your property then your clients will make a decision on what is truly important to them and you will get through this muddy season and your clients will wait it out. Life isn't always perfect even though as barn owners we try our hardest to make our stables perfect for the horses and clients who board with us.

A special side note - I want to thank all my boarders who are patient during this time of year at our barn.  You make my job so much easier and we appreciate you all. 

If you are new to my blog, then welcome!  If you are having issues this time of year with mud and even clients that are concerned about the mud then I encourage you to read my newest book, "A Step By Step Guide To Starting And Running A Successful Horse Boarding Business."  You wont find a more comprehensive book about the day to day job of running a boarding barn and all that goes with it.  This book is making its way into equine programs in colleges across the country.  I wrote to this book because I want you to be successful in your horse boarding business. 

Wishing you many blessings in your horse business, Sheri Grunska

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