Irritations as a barn manager

I’ve been on both sides of the equation – a boarder and a barn manager. I’ve also been #1 poop scooper. While boarders can complain (and are often justified to do so), there are also justifiable complaints on the side of the barn manager/owner some of this can be lessened though with some thoughtful changes.

IMO the biggest issues as a barn owner are:

1.) Living on the property means constant contact with people, often when you are ready for a break. To offset this big downside, have operating hours when you are available, have barn visiting hours, and set aside at least one day a week when the barn is closed (even a “quiet day” when still open to boarders only, no lessons, no trainers, no visitors and house off limits unless an emergency can be a stress reliever).

Being a BO/BM is a full-time, 24/7 job that provides no relief from work and contact with boarders. People (mostly women who love horses) think they can become a public stable as a part-time, quick and easy way to earn money. It is anything BUT and this is where the BO/BM’s expectations hit the hard wall of reality.

Since living on the property is necessary for the horses’ safety, you will have people knocking on your door when you just sat down to your very late lunch (late because you have been up since 6 a.m. dealing with a colicky horse and waiting on a vet who didn’t show until hours later).

You must have people skills to make this work – even when you are tired and aggravated, you must be able to reach a state of some sort of calm when dealing with difficult boarders.

2.) Limit reasons why boarders would need to enter your personal living space (i.e. house). Set office hours where people can be expected to reach you; make some office space in the barn so you can quickly check records when there; have a bathroom in the barn; have a separate drive for boarders then for your home; put in an intercom system in the barn and let people know to buzz you if they need too; and provide a secure place to pay bills (lock drop box) at the barn.

3.) Utilize texting, cell phones, email and online services to stay in contact with boarders (in addition to person-to-person contact). Horse owners want to be reassured that their horse is receiving wonderful care and they also need to be kept aware of upcoming appointments and expenses.

For example, email barn board bills a week before they are due and then return an email receipt once paid (this keeps it all professional and if they are late, they will be charged a fee).

As a boarder, my #2 complaint would be BO’s who don’t keep me informed and drop a bomb on me at the last minute. The #1 complaint is that they provide poor care (i.e. no water, no hay, poor grazing, etc…). Horse owners need to know about farrier and vet dates, as well as the expenses they will incur (a battle with the GEF BO happened because she gave my horse $200 worth of shots and I had no idea until faced with the bill when I arrived the next week).

4.) Even if it’s a family-run operation you need at least one reliable helper. Animals have to be fed, moved, watered, and seen to everyday. Having at least one reliable helper who can take off that burden from your shoulders 1-2 days a week, or complete some chore on a daily basis (i.e. evening feed) so you can sleep in, go to a movie, and enjoy family outings, will help you can come back with more energy and enthusiasm.

Probably the number one reason for grouchy Barn Owners/Managers is being EXHAUSTED! There’s a lot of physical work as well as the management of stretching the budget that can just drain you of any enthusiasm for this business.

5.) While you love horses, you MUST VIEW THIS AS A BUSINESS! It’s when people get so emotionally involved with the boarders and the animals that they lose all sense of reason, resulting in hurt feelings, unreasonable expectations (on both sides), and a business that doesn’t pay for itself.

Like any business you should have:

  • a business plan (even something a few pages will help keep you on track);
  • a financial budget (working in cash, like so many horse trainers like to do to avoid the IRS may seem like a good idea on the surface, until you are caught);
  • bookkeeping skills (some expenses have to be averaged over the year);
  • understanding liability and a plan for dealing with the boarder who wants to sue;
  • contracts (online sources are now available for download with a small payment);
  • reliable professionals: vet, farrier, accountant and lawyer;
  • a must is a reliable back up worker who is not family.
  • contigency plans for when things don’t go well (i.e. nonpaying boarder, horse dies, horse has a contagious disease, injured person at barn decides to sue etc…)

As a business, it is easier to set reasonable boundaries; the problem comes from BO’s who become so frustrated that they set unreasonable rules!

Overall, the old joke: how do you make a small fortune in the horse business? start with a large one ~ is too often true. Remember, that before entering into a business and lifestyle you think would be an easy way to earn money.

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4 Responses to Irritations as a barn manager

  1. All that you say make sense, having run a riding operation. Now that I’m writing a book about it, much of the text involves business activities and people skills rather than actual work with horses.

    Riding is an essentially expensive activity that clients expect equestrian businesses to provide cheaply. So there is a lot of pressure, margins are low, and there is little or no safety net.

    I would add something about liability and safety. The barn manager needs to run a safe operation and take care to avoid unnecessary liability. Obviously adequate insurance cover is needed.

    Another thing that annoyed me was dishonest clients. Especially where agents booked holidays there was always a layer of scum that would lie to try and get a refund. At the barn I know that some people get into arrears with payment and steal – and often they aren’t the ones with the least money.

    Here in the UK there seem to be a fair proportion of yards without staff living in. In one sense that is worrying. In another way I’m glad as too many live-in workers are alcoholic or idiotic – after all how many good people want to work physically hard for the minimum wage?
    There is also the matter of a unique selling point, or what differentiates one from the competition. All too often that means “good trails from the barn” (but the manager is an idiot) or “big pastures” (pity about the mud in winter). The offer must be genuine and sustainable.

    Not having time and space to oneself was a big burden. People called at all hours. There was no time for holidays. By the end of the season I was exhausted to my core.

    • horseideology says:

      All of what you write about is why this is not an “easy” business.

      I have found, because I’ve worked from home with my other business you MUST draw a hard line in the sand when it comes to working hours such as when you answer the phone and deal with clients. Without it, you just wear your spirit down with their constant needs.

  2. Pingback: tracking horse expenses « Horse Ideology

  3. Pingback: Choosing a stable for you and your horse « Horse Ideology

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