Surviving The First Year Of Boarding Other People's Horses


Okay you are horse crazy.  Your family and close friends have known it for years.  They know that you would rather be out in the barn than anywhere else.  Then the idea pops in your head that if you board horses on your property life would be perfect.  You could quit your job and stay in the barn all day long and even make some money at the same time.  The best part is that you will make many new riding friends and be in the saddle every day.  Sound familiar?  If you have had these same thoughts you are not alone.  This is how most of us start out boarding horses for a living.  The sad part is that many people don't survive the first year or two. It is much more difficult than they ever anticipated.  


This post is important because so many boarding stables go out of business and as equine professionals we need to learn why and more importantly how to correct a downward trend for the health and well-being of the equine industry as a whole. We are all connected and boarding horses plays a major role for the industry. In fact I am going to be bold and tell you that it is vital to the stability of the industry and it doesn't matter the size stable you operate. Boarding a couple of horses or forty - they are all equally important!


Not prepared


Surviving the first year or two of owning and running a horse boarding barn is something that most people are not prepared for.  The simple reason is that having horses for fun is easy but dealing with horses and people as a career is much more challenging especially in the beginning. Learning to embrace yourself as an equine professional and all that goes with it doesn't happen the day you sign the business mortgage papers.  It can take a couple of years to finally become the confident business person you need to be to run a healthy barn and business. ​   This post today is near and dear to my heart because I talk with so many people who are going through the same struggles and stress that I went through when we opened our boarding facility years ago. When my husband David and I decided to build a large barn with indoor riding arena I thought it was going to be easy.  I had been around horses for years and worked at a few barns in my life and I thought to myself, how hard could it be?  The truth is that I was a person who loved horses but was not a businesswoman at all.  I really didn't have a grasp on what running a barn was all about when it came to dealing with clients and taking care of the financials.  Working for a barn was hard work but if there was any problems I just went to the barn owner.  Now I was the barn owner and the problems all came to me.  It was a whole new world.  

You are going to go through many changes especially during the early years.  Don't be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes because they are going to happen.  Your learning curve is going to go through the roof and how you did many things in the beginning will change and that is okay.  

Many "firsts" to come during the early years

You are going to experience many "firsts" during your first couple of years of business. Some will be great but many of them will have you thinking twice about your decision to start your business.  

You are going to experience the first time someone is not happy with the care you give.  You will experience the first time you have to talk with someone who is not following your barn rules. You will listen to an angry client because their horse has come in with bite marks and they want to move their horse to a new paddock and then you will have to decide how you want to handle it. You will have your first conversation about paying the board on time and dealing with late board payments.  You will have to be the referee when there is drama and figure out how to put a stop to it quickly.  You will have to talk with a client about their difficult and maybe even unsafe horse at one time or another and the response might not be what you envisioned. You will experience the first time you need to ask a boarder to leave your barn. There will be the first time that you have to call a husband or parent because someone got seriously hurt riding and an ambulance is on the way. You will experience the first time you have to call a boarder to tell them that their horse is seriously hurt and the veterinarian is on their way. You will experience the first time that you comfort and cry with a boarder because their horse was just put down. The list will seem endless (and it is!) but with every hard decision and first time experience will also be many good things.

The good stuff will come

You are also going to experience many wonderful firsts during the early years and those are the things that will keep you going through the tough times.  You will experience the first time you make a decision with confidence and you realize everything is going to be okay.  You will finally understand for the first time that people can leave your barn and wonderful new boarders will come that will make your stable even better. You will experience the first time you are able to help and educate a new horse owner and you see their face light up because they just learned something new. You will see people growing and learning new things all the time in a safe environment that you created and it will bring you joy. You will experience the first time you realize that your boarders have become a family and they will protect your barn from any negative talk they hear on the street.  You will experience the first time when you realize that your boarders trust you with the care of their horse completely and that is when you know you are doing things right. It doesn't get any better than that. The list of the good stuff is also endless if you hang in there.

Keep going and don't give up. Learn from each experience both good and bad.  Remember behind every successful horse business is a person that made many mistakes along the way and chose to learn from them and move forward.  

Behind every successful horse business is a person that made many mistakes along the way and chose to learn from them and move forward.  

The first couple of years will be the most challenging and you are not alone.  Every new barn owner, manager, trainer and every other equine professional goes through this and how you decide to deal with all of it will set the tone for your barn and business.  I encourage you to find a mentor who has been in the business longer and is a positive and honest person to help you when you are struggling.  We all could use a fresh pair us eyes to look at a situation from the outside because when you are in the middle of it daily it can become very difficult to see how to fix the problem. 

I am going to be totally honest and tell you that I didn't like my new job as barn owner and barn manager when we first opened.  The first couple of years were extremely difficult for me and I felt very alone in the journey of growing and learning when it came to running my barn and business. I don't want anyone to go through what I did. It can be so much better in the beginning.  The best part is once you figure out what works for your barn it gets only better from there.  I love my job so much now and I still love going out to the barn each and every day and hearing all the nickers as I open the barn doors.  There is no better feeling.  

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. ​

I wish you many blessings in your horse business,  Sheri Grunska

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