I have learned through experience that if you are not extremely clear about how you do things at your barn regarding the care of the horses, it can cause you a lot of stress and frustration in the future. Potential new boarders that come for a tour will listen to how I do things at our barn but once they are boarding here things often change. They expect things to be different in one area or another of our facility and It has led to frustration at times for both the new boarder and myself. This is something that I believe every barn manager and barn owner will experience firsthand in this type of business.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the last thirteen years of boarding horses is how important it is to be very clear on what you offer at your barn. This is very important for both outside board and horses that are stalled and both types of boarding comes with their own issues at times. You can't assume your potential new clients will already know or have a clear understanding of how you do things. There have been many times that I have given a tour and the person signed on to bring their horse to my barn and it seemed easy enough. In most cases the new boarder is so excited to move their horse that they might not be fully listening to everything you are telling them.
Here is a short list of things I believe you need to very extremely clear about:
1. Barn hours - If you are not clear that lights are out at the designated time you will have clients at your barn after the closing time every day and it will become frustrating when you are tired and want to be done for the day. Barn hours are healthy for a business.
2. How you feed and time you feed - Be clear about the time of day you feed for both morning and evening. You need to be very clear about feeding extra hay and if you allow it or not. You also need to be very clear about how you feed in a herd setting especially if horses are not getting along or some horses cannot get to the hay because they are at the bottom of the pecking order. These are real issues that every barn manager will have to address at one time or another if they have group turnout.
3. The weather and turnout protocol - This is a big one! Weather will play a huge part in how you do things daily at your stable. You will need to be very clear about the seasons and how they look when it comes to turnout. If you try to explain how you do turnout depending on the weather and season, there is a very good chance that you will be talking with your new client several times before they start to feel comfortable.
4. Barn rules - Every barn will have a different set of rules and you can give your new boarder a copy of the rules but I encourage you to talk with them first before they sign on. You will have a few people that come back to you to discuss why you have some of the rules you have. You will also have a client now and then that will forget some of the rules you have in place and you will need to give them a new copy of the rules. It is important to always keep a copy of your barn rules posted where everyone can see them at anytime.
5. How you bed your stalls - We don't bed heavy in our stalls (unless a horse has a lameness issue) but when I give a tour and show a potential new client how we bed our stalls they always seem okay at the time. There have been times after a person moved to our barn that I start to get complaints about the bedding. As the barn owner you need to have a heart to heart and explain to them that you showed them exactly how you bed and they were fine with it when they first chose to come to your stable. You need to be okay with their questions and concerns but ultimately they need to understand that you are not going to change how you do things. In most cases things usually work out.
6. Herd size and mixed herds - This is one that seems to be a hot spot for many barn owners as well as clients. Be very clear if you mix geldings with mares or if they are always separate and also what size your herds are. Each barn does it differently and how you choose to handle this part of your business needs to be extremely clear for your clients. Herd management will be one of the most challenging parts of the job and the horses will be the easiest part. It often has to do more with the communication and expectations from both the clients and barn owner/manager.
7. Water - You need to be very clear about how often you top off water buckets daily and water tanks outside. Also be clear about how often you clean the buckets and tanks.
Of course there are many others areas of your business that you will need to be very direct about and many of those issues have little to do with the care of the horse. I have only listed a few relating to horse care but remember that in running a boarding stable it goes much further than what I have listed above.
Being direct and extremely clear about these areas of your barn management will many times eliminate issues and frustration in the future. Now it will never be perfect and you might even have a boarder that just can't adjust to how you do things and you need to be okay with that. Sometimes it just isn't a good fit. It doesn't mean the boarder is a bad person. They might be a wonderful person but your barn might not be the right barn for them and they will probably give their notice. Don't take it personally even though it will be very hard not to.
As barn owners and managers we try our hardest to make our barns the best place with the best care for the horses but everyone will have a little bit different view of what they want in a boarding stable. If you lose a boarder because it wasn't a good fit, a new boarder will come that will absolutely love your facility. It is the way the business works and some people often change their minds about everything including what they are looking for in a boarding stable. Each has their own ideas and you will find many boarders that will love your ideas of barn management and the care you give and they will stay for a very long time.
One more important thought
Give your new boarders time to adjust and let them ask all the questions they need to until they feel comfortable. Many times you will have boarders that came from bad boarding situations and they just need some reassuring and that might mean they question things more than normal. In these cases it is not that you weren't clear or direct enough. You were, they are just operating out of fear and they need a little more time than many other boarders to adjust. The longer you do this the easier it will be to read the difference between a client that is dissatisfied with how you run your barn and boarder that questions things out of fear. You might not ever be able to satisfy a boarder that thought or expected things to be done differently at your barn but a boarder that is driven by fear will come to be one of your most loyal clients once you can take away the fear they have and replace it with trust.
You might not ever be able to satisfy a boarder that thought or expected things to be done differently at your barn but a boarder that is driven by fear will come to be one of your most loyal clients once you can take away the fear they have and replace it with trust.
Take is one day at a time and learn from each client that comes to your barn. You are going to become very good at communication and your skills will grow in this area. That I can promise!
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