Updated: Jul 11, 2019
I was talking to a woman the other day who owns a boarding stable and my heart ached as I heard the discouragement in her voice. She had been boarding horses on her property for many years and she opened up to me and said, "What is it about this business that makes it so personal?" Her words cut me so deep and after I got off the phone with her I couldn't stop thinking about her or the boarding industry all day. The conversation I had with her is not the first one of that type and context. It has been a theme for me over the last few years as I have been honored to talk to many incredible women who have taken a chance to live out their dream career only to have it shattered either emotionally or financially and often times it is both.
What makes this job so personal?
I have always said it's not personal, it's business. Yes that may be true but when it comes to boarding other people's horses on your homestead there is an added element that is missing from almost every other career out there. Opening up a boarding stable on the property that you live is very unique in itself and then add the horses, clients, stable, arenas, pastures and paddocks and it becomes uncharted territory for most new barn owners. If I am going to be totally honest with you I still have situations once in a great while where a client becomes upset with something or they don't like my answer to a request and afterwards I walk into the house wondering what happened. I still take things personally when something goes bad in my barn even though I know that people are people with their own ideas and opinions and you are going to have to understand that not everyone will like how you do things. I have cried privately when someone leaves our barn for another place even though I thought the care I gave was the best I could give.
What makes this job so personal is the accumulation of many things. The first and most obvious is that you have opened your home and property to people you don't know when they first come to your barn. Most barn owners live on the same property as the stable so you are close to it and you can never get away from it unless you leave the property. You have taken your family and interwoven them into your new business and the lives of your new clients. The two become entwined with the horses being the center of it all and there is no other job that does that. Boarding horses is so different because you are not just walking into a retail store to purchase the latest fashion or sitting down at a restaurant to eat a meal for a short time. You are taking care of these amazing horses and you envision your place to be a safe haven for your boarders and the horses they love so dearly.
What makes this job so personal is your shared passion. Your passion for horses is what drives you but you start to become close to many of your boarders as well. You will see many of them often and do things with them outside the barn. You will hurt for them when their horse is injured or worse needs to be put down and you will celebrate with them as you watch them grow in their horsemanship. You will share in weddings, births, graduations and funerals as they will with you. You will make hospital visits when one of your clients is sick or is having surgery and they will be there for you as well. Yes the horse is what brought you together but if they stay for a long while it will grow into something much deeper.
When things go wrong
What is maddening about this career is that you invested so much into your business and the relationships with your clients is a huge part of it. Then when things start to fall apart it will hurt and at times it will feel like someone ripped your heart out. I know this because I have been there a few times. I am human and not a machine so even though I run a business I still once in a while take things very personal. We all do. People are going to leave your barn for many reasons and some of them will hurt. The best thing you can do is to remember that it happens in every barn and stable and you need to realize that people's needs change. You will have a client or two that you will be glad they left and then you will shed tears when someone leaves that you truly enjoyed being around. It becomes even more personal as you wait for them to leave after they have given their notice. You will watch them gather their tack and belongings and then they hook up the horse trailer and your heart will sink as you see them lead their horse out of the stable and onto their trailer. Then you know it is final. Yes is it personal at times and you will need to work through it as all of us have had to do. I can guarantee that no retail store owner has ever shed a tear because someone returned shoes or clothing or stopped shopping at their store!
Taking care of horses does become personal
Yes taking care of horses does become personal. It's almost impossible not to do this business without it becoming personal if you have a heart of any kind. You will grow to love the horses in your care and you will see them more than their owners at times. You will be the first one the horses see in the morning and the last one they see at night when the barn closes. You will know each horse like your own children the longer they are at your barn and you will know immediately if one of them is not feeling good. You will know their eating and drinking habits better than anyone and you will be able to tell whos stall is whos by how messy or clean it is. Now that is personal!! You will watch them in their herds and you will make sure that each horse has a buddy and is thriving well with their pasture mates. You will worry when you see that a new horse is not mixing well in the chosen herd and you will work hard to find a good fit for him. You will spend a large amount of time making sure the new horse and their owners feel comfortable and are adjusting to their new barn home. Yes it does become personal at times.
There is so much to this career of boarding horses that makes it personal but as you grow as a barn owner or manager you will learn to separate the two at times. There is no guarantee that a client won't leave or that it won't hurt when they do but it will get easier as you start to realize that people are people that often change things in their life - not just boarding stables. It happens in all walks of life and business.
Today I want to commend all the people who have chosen to open their homes and property to board horses. You have taken a great chance both financially and emotionally. I still love what I do every day and even though I have had my share of heartache throughout the years I wouldn't change a thing. I love boarding horses for a business and I pray that you will find that sweet spot where you have a healthy balance between business and personal. Above all else I want you to know you are not alone and we have all gone through it and experienced what you are feeling. Yes this job can be very personal at times but as you grow as a business owner my hope is that the personal stuff becomes more of the good stuff that you love about the job, the clients and of course the horses. Hang in there, it does get so much better!!
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business,