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The Silent Power Struggle Between The Barn Owner And The Trainer

There are many things about owning and running a boarding barn that are wonderful but there are also things that can make the job very hard and at times maddening as you try to navigate through the issues that come up. Some of the issues a boarding stable will have are in your face and you can recognize them easily and in most cases are easy to fix. Client complaints, barn rules, financial questions, herd management are all pretty easy to work on and with time become non-issues if you start off with a good foundation. The one thing that is almost always overlooked for a new barn owner is in regards to the trainers that will work out of their facility. When we first opened our stable many years ago there was no writings or books that discussed the relationship between the barn owner/manager and trainer and what that looks like for the business owner. I didn't learn until we were into our second year that their was definitely a silent power struggle that can take place between the barn owner and trainer if allowed. Of course no one told me about this and I had to learn the hard way a couple times how things can go bad very fast and it can cost empty stalls and lost revenue if you are not prepared.

First of all this post is not at all meant to bad mouth or put down horse trainers or instructors. In fact I have the utmost respect for what they do for a living and the horse industry would be in dire straits without them. This post is about real barn management and your boarding business (remember it is a business - a REAL business!) and the struggles that can happen and what that looks like from a barn owner/managers point of view. Barn owners and managers are not perfect either but that is for another post.

As a barn owner you have put a lot on the line to purchase or build your barn and stable and make your dreams come true with your horse boarding business. What usually happens after you open for business is that you will soon be contacted by trainers and riding instructors who would like to start up a training/lesson program out of your barn. Often times they are independent people who often travel to several barns for many different clients. They can also build a huge clientele and make your barn their sole place of business. They are an asset to your business in many ways and are a very much needed part of every barn because after all, if you have people and horses, you will need someone to help them learn in every part of horsemanship and safety is a huge part of that as well.

When things start to go wrong

I have talked to many barn owners who find themselves in a pickle because they feel like the trainer has taken over their barn and they have no say or control anymore. On top of it the rules they had originally set up are no longer being respected because the trainer is doing their own thing and the boarders are as happy as can be because they like the set up. I have had barn owners call me because they want to ask a trainer to leave but they know it will cost them thousands of dollars in lost income and the trainer has no respect for them or how their facility is run and the barn owner feels like they are isolated against everyone including their own boarders. This may sound extreme but it happens at times and it can sneak up on you without you realizing it. Let me be clear, it doesn't happen with every trainer but it does happen.

We were no different when we opened our stable and I was not prepared for the complexities of the barn owner/trainer relationship and how it all worked. It became evident to me early on that the trainer carried more clout with my boarders than I did even though I owned the barn and that caused undue stress when I made decisions that affected the clients and their horses (they are my first priority) because it may not have been what their trainer wanted. Slowly and without notice a silent power struggle emerged between me and the trainer and in the end it cost me clients and heartache.

Years later as an author and speaker, I have made it my passion to teach REAL barn management so that as a business owner and manager you can learn to deal with issues that arise between trainers, clients and you - the barn owner. My passion and goal is to help you figure this part of your business out and equip you with the tools to navigate this part of your business which is a very important part of any stable.

The power struggle is real

The power struggle is real and can happen if there is no respect from the trainer for how you want to run your barn and that includes ALL parts of barn management. From turnout to barn hours and everything in between the trainers need to be on the same page as you because after all, everything they do will affect your pocket book. They can be a real asset but they can also cost you money if you don't have everything set up in regards to your working relationship. It is a working relationship first and that is important to remember. They also do not have any "skin in the game" as your banker will call it if their name is not on the loan papers. You need to remember that empty stalls do not affect the trainer at all but it will affect you. As the barn owner you carry all the financial risk. Trainers will bring you clients and they can also create a situation where you lose many horses and clients if they pull up and leave. It is something that you need to be prepared for.

I truly believe if you have a good relationship with the trainers that work out of your barn and you both are on the same page about your barn and business, you can have an incredible working relationship for many years but you need to have it set up correctly in the beginning to protect yourself and your investment. This means you might want to have a contract between you and the trainers that work out of your barn and trainers liability insurance is a must! (which they need to purchase) and a heart to heart discussion about how your facility operates and what that looks like for them. The money transactions for each client and lessons need to be discussed also and that includes haul-ins and clinics. These are things most new barn owners and managers don't think about when they start out and you are not alone. In fact it can seem overwhelming at first trying to set it all up. Remember that every barn does things differently and you need to do what works best for you and your business. (Side note - if you are going to write up any contract between you and the trainers working out of your barn, I strongly encourage you to have a good attorney read it over and make sure it is legal for the state you do business in.) You always want to make sure you are protected.

This post today is not a doom and gloom post by any means. I have five wonderful trainers that work out of my barn and our barn is better than it ever has been. It just took me time to really figure out what I wanted in my barn and also be the leader I need to be for my business. At the end of the day it all falls back on me and my husband and we need to take ownership with everything that happens both good and bad at our stable. Thank goodness the good days far out number the bad days and that is my goal for you too.

You know the best part is that I haven't had a power struggle with trainers in quite some time now and they are all a total delight to have at our barn. I enjoy talking with each of them and they each bring so much to our barn and they complete our stable and make it healthy and a positive place to board. That is when you know that the foundation you have in place is a solid one for equine professionals as well as boarders.

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. 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

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