I have had the privilege of talking with so many barn owners, managers and trainers over the last couple of years and with each conversation the same reoccurring issues come up. Many equine professionals are burned out and frustrated to the point that they want to sell their barn and business and move on. These people know horses and all that goes with taking care of them but the boarder/client part of it has left them questioning why they got into the business to begin with. The other huge part of the equation is the money or lack of money coming in. They go hand in hand without exception. I know I have written about business owner burnout before but I strongly believe this topic is so important because it affects so many people in the horse industry. Every single person that gets into the horse business to begin with all have one thing in common. The love of horses and the dream of making a living working with these amazing animals. How do you avoid burnout and financial loss in your horse business and why do so many go through it?
I believe some of the top reasons many people start to burnout in their horse business is because of a few simple things.
Run your business as a BUSINESS!!
The first one being that they have not learned to think of themselves as an equine professional and run their business as a business. It is extremely difficult to go from casual horse owner to running a horse business both mentally and physically. The work load is hard physically and the dynamics change dramatically when taking care of other people's horses. There is a new kind of pressure that most people are not ready for when you start taking care of other people's horses. The second and equally important part is the mental overload that comes with starting a business and getting through the first couple of years. When you become the barn owner and manager your mind never shuts off. The one problem many people have is transitioning from hobby owner to actual business. They may be boarding other people's horses and receive payment for the care of the horse but they are still running their business as a hobby farm which doesn't work for very long.
Learning to say "No" - This is huge!!
Another huge reason that people burnout in their horse business is because they have not learned to say "No" when needed. Yes it is a service orientated business but there comes a time when you need to say no and it's going to be fine. Most of the time your clients won't leave and they will be okay with your decision. I know this directly from personal experience. When we opened our barn I wanted to make sure my boarders were completely happy and I bent over backwards to do what ever I could to make things perfect. I said yes to everything and in many ways it created more work for my husband David. Every time I said yes my husband wanted me to say no and it caused issues for us in the beginning. He was looking at every yes I gave from a work standpoint and I was looking at every yes from an emotional standpoint. It started to put a huge amount of added stress of us and our marriage. One of the quickest ways to burn yourself out is to say yes when you really should have said no. I want to encourage you not to go there. A true sign that your growing as a business owner and professional is the ability to say no when needed and not feel guilty about it.
One of the quickest ways to burn yourself out is to say yes when you really should have said no.
Set healthy boundaries!
Learning to set healthy boundaries between you and your boarders is something that I believe all of us mess up with in the beginning. I sure did. The boundaries become lost in the relationships and then when something happens to the horse or a change in policy has been made, then there are hurt feelings and usually the closest of clients are the ones that get hurt the most or take it the most personal. Sometimes they can't understand why you did this to them because of your relationship. It becomes very personal to some. The view becomes skewed and confusion becomes part of it. It can be hard to recover from this kind of situation when the barn owner/manager/client relationship has been compromised. I also believe women struggle with this problem more because we love having close relationships and sometimes we don't see what could go wrong when there are changes in the business or issues with a client's horse.
I have talked with a few barn owners who were hurt because of something one of their good friends (who happens to be a boarder) did and now trying to talk about it is even more difficult because of the close relationship. Talk about uncomfortable but it happens more often than you would believe. This type of issue is hard on your business and can cost you income when the relationship turns sour. Learning to find a balance between friendships and boundaries takes time and experience. How you view things is going to change the longer you run your barn.
The lack of money will contribute to burnout
Many people who start a horse boarding business get in way over their head because they don't have a clear understanding of the costs involved year round and usually the daily labor (Seven days a week!) starts to burn them out. They can't afford to hire help because they don't have the extra money. I know this first hand because my husband and I lived this way for many years due to the poor choices we made when we first built and opened our boarding stable. Burnout and money issues are deeply connected and if you don't have this part of your business figured out then you will definitely have issues with both down the road. I'm not trying to scare you, I just want you to be smart about how you set up your horse business.
Stop and take a breath
The first few years of running your horse business will be the most challenging but if you are starting to feel burned out and are regretting the business all together then I want to you stop and take a breath. It means it is time for you to re-evaluate how you are doing things at your barn. There were many times in our early years where we started to wonder if we had made a huge mistake with building our barn and opening our boarding business. David and I couldn't see any relief in sight and the work was never ending. Now looking back I made the job so much harder because of my poor business skills and not really knowing what I was doing as a barn owner/manager and businesswoman. I didn't have anyone to turn to back then and there weren't any books that talked about the real issues I was dealing with in barn management.
Things are so much different today
I love my job and I have become the business person I needed to be to run a healthy barn and business. Do I still make mistakes? Of course! But I learn from each one and move forward. My clients trust my decisions and how we run the barn and we have healthy boundaries. Our chores are extremely streamlined and go pretty smooth and fast for a forty horse operation. I don't think I would have made it this far unless I stopped and took a long hard look at what was going on. Only then did I start to see that things needed to change and it had to start with me. I had to stop blaming everyone else especially my boarders. I had to take responsibility and control of my barn and business.
Today I want you to remember why you started your horse business to begin with. If you are having a difficult time remembering the good things about it then I encourage you to stop and take a good look at all you have accomplished and why you got into this business to begin with. Then find someone who you can talk with about your frustrations and who will help find positive solutions.
Remember that dealing with the horses will be the easiest part of your day. It is the client part of your job that usually burns people out. Above all else remember that most boarders are great people. If they know what you expect as a barn owner then the issues will for the most part take care of themselves. If you are not leading your barn and how is it should run then there is no way your boarders are going to know what is going on. It needs to start with you first and the rest will fall in to place.
Burnout is a very real thing in this business. I encourage you to check out my newest book, "A Step by Step Guide To Starting And Running A Successful Horse Boarding Business." This book is the most comprehensive book you will find about running a horse business as the barn owner or manager and how everything you do will have some affect on your clients. This book will talk about every issues that comes up when it comes to boarders and their horses and how to find positive solutions for each problem. I truly believe it will change your barn and business in ways you never imagined.
I wish you many blessings in your horse business, Sheri Grunska
If you want to change your business and life today then I encourage you to sign up for my 2-day barn management workshop. You won't regret it! Please click on link 2-day barn management workshop