Important lesson from barn owners and managers
Hello all, if you have read my other posts in this section, you know that I am the stable hand of a barn that is offering boarding for the first time this year. The BO and I work together to help build the barn up and manage everything. I'm the only person here mon-fri, and often work weekends aswell as week days. I also live on the property and am here 24/7. so I more or less manage the physical aspects of barn ownership, maintenance, the care of the horses, etc. the BO deals with finances, promotions, etc.
There is certainly a lot to learn, and though we try to educate ourselves and learn and take advice from more experienced BOs and trainers, there are still things we overlook or don't think to address (as was the case with the farrier)
So, I was wondering if any barn owners, or barn managers, had any advice or lessons that they learned, or any suggestions/tips to keep everything running smoothly.
If anyone in general has any ideas or suggestions, that would be great! I rarely, if ever, get feed back from the boarders or my BO, so I'd love it if there were things that I could improve upon or avoid doing, or start doing to improve the experience for the boarders.
I'm not a manager or owner, but I am a boarder. I've had a few issues that have caused me to leave barns and some that have made me enjoy the experience of boarding much more, so I'll comment on a few.
Fairness. Each boarder should be treated the same unless there is a specific reason (something they've done a previous barns and gotten the boot for, per say) behind it. This doesn't only encompass the boarder his/herself either, it goes for their horses.
-My mare leads beautifully, you don't even need a lead on her, nor do you have to hold her halter. She'll wait at the gates until you either walk her through or give her the go-ahead to go through on her own. The first barn I was at refused to turn her out when I moved her to stall board (with daily turnout) because she was "dangerous" and wouldn't lead. That's absolutely ridiculous and I told them she needed turned out..Said they would but everytime I found her she was in the stall that was messed as if she was in there all day (I cleaned my own stall at night).
-I was also harassed by the BOs husband. Her husband knew nothing of horses and when BO and I worked out deals in exchange for hauling, if he ended up driving he refused the deal and wanted cash..That wasn't what was discussed and worked out, I would not have asked for the service if I knew he only wanted cash. BO would always take his side and tell me I "misunderstood", of which I didn't. There was no communication between the BOs/managers and that's not okay. It makes unhappy boarders that eventually leave.
What I've loved at barns (including when the above is taken into account as well) is BOs working with someone on board (as long as they can afford it). I have a very odd job. I make plenty of money, but the first or last week of the month I might not work at all and can't afford to have board there on the first or by the fifth. While, this is definitely not necessary to do and I have never expected it, it's nice when you know the person will keep their word or create an extra contract to attatch to the boarding that state dates/amounts.
A family/friendly atmosphere. If I didn't feel at home at the barn, I doubt my horse will. If staff is inconsistent/rude/etc I have no interest in seeing them everyday when I come to see my horse. I won't spend money somewhere that doesn't have the social skills to be courteous to paying customers.
I'm sure there are others, but that's all I can think of now. I know I'm not the audience you were looking to ask, but I think it's always good to get perspectives from everyone involved.
The issues I've had are what I've heard a lot of people having, so it's over the board that it happens. Hope it helped some.(:
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Your boarding contract must make it very clear to boarders, in writing that there is a $10 per day late payment fee that will be added to the regular board fee. Some boarder get a bit slack on this. Also, make it clear that after 30 days of non payment, the horse will be sold at auction. We've heard countless tales of non-contract boarding situations backfiring and either the BO or the owner getting screwed.
Agreed on the strict boarding contract. Make sure that before this happens you know EXACTLY how much of the board money per horse will go to you, and how much goes to the owner. If not, you'll end up with a mess of a situation. Keep the lines of communication open between the two of you and the boarders. Try to keep things consistent. Say that the horses get fed at 7 and 4 every day (or whatever times work for you) and stick with it! My current barn manager doesn't feed at the same time everyday and it frustrates me to no end. Same with turnout- the horses go out at 5 after they eat, that way folks know what to expect. Keep a presence there. People are less likely to cause trouble or mess with someone else's horse or belongings if they know you may walk in at any second.
Just a few things off the top of my head ;)
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When I boarded , I showed what was fed at each meal. How large a flake was etc. I also explained that on weekends and Holidays the feeding schedule would be different.
Weekdays the horses were fed at 6 am and around 4:30 or 5 pm in the evenings.
I had the Boarder supply the salt licks. I insisted on salt licks, If I had to supply the salt, then I would add a couple bucks onto the price of the salt lick, just for the inconvenience it caused .
I would also state.. the horse has Feeder, I am not responsible if your horse pulls the hay out and eats off the ground.
I had water troughs, and if the boarder paid to have the pen cleaned it included trough cleaning, IF the boarder did their own pen cleaning, they also were responsible for trough cleaning, And I hate scummy water troughs.
If I had to clean the troughs, I would add a charge . ( some people are just lazy)
I would not have shared tack or feed barrels. That is just asking for drama.
I would make sure every boarder knew not to mess with any other persons horse . ever.
If there was a problem to contact me.
no one was to mess with the hay stacks.
be sure to specify how often shavings are changed out, and how many bales of shavings per stall. or bales of straw etc.
If you are going to be giving supplements, make sure it is all written out Exactly, how much , and what time its to be given. And make sure the owner pays for the supplements or supplies them . State you will not give notice when the supplement is low, that is the Owners responsibility to have the supplemental feed there and ready to feed.
If you say a scoop you need to specify the scoop size, one quart or three quart . i have four different scoop sizes.
You need to specify how many times a week a pen is to be cleaned, daily or two times a week etc.
Be Specific .
The first thing you need to do is identify who your boarder is. Based on the facilities and staff, what can you offer? Is your arena only large enough for pleasure riding or is it big enough to do other disciplines? Can you ride off the property or are you stuck riding down the driveway? How will you compete with the other facilities in your market? How competitive with them are you and how will you distinguish yourself from them? How much time a day can you dedicate towards the boarding operation? Riding your own personal horses will quickly take a back seat so decide where the balance is between income and free time. And on the note of free time, set hours of operation if you have to so people aren't wandering in at all times of the day and night. If Sunday's your day off, sunday's your day off otherwise you will get sucked into doing something and you never have time for yourself. Are you willing to blanket, feed grain, provide special diets or turnout and is there a cost associated with that service? Will you allow outside trainers and what is your compensation for them using your facilities while they make $$ (yes you should charge something to the trainer to come in and use your arena) It is hard for your boarders to not become your friends as well but you must do what you can to have a professional barrier between you and them. Makes it hard to raise you board or ask them to leave when they are your friends too.
Just some basics to start with.
Makes no sense to me.
We had one woman at our barn who was from Russia, and stayed there half the year. She entrusted her ex-husband to pay for her horse while she was there. (It was part of their divorce settlement.) What would happen if we had a clause like that, and he just chose not to pay? That horse was compromised physically, and would have been sold to the packers. There was no way to contact her while she was in Russia. He would've been a goner with a clause like that.
Also - that clause is not a good idea due to the amount of unwanted horses just laying around. Want to dump your horse and make sure it has adequate care for at least a month, and have someone else deal with selling it? Just dump it at a barn with a clause like this! Genius!
Please, for the love of god, never do this.
Ya know, NOBODY likes to get an attorney involved, but REALLY, in my job I see a LOT of "legal" paperwork cut and pasted together into 150 page documents with duplicates, poor grammer, badly constructed sentences and wording--all done bc banks are cheap and don't want to have a lawyer write it!
An attorney will provide you with fair wording and fair contracts. You won't have horses sold at auction bc of late 30 days, but there will be clauses that say after so many attempts at reaching you, your horse WILL be sold at a reasonable rate at an attempt to recoup losses from the care of said horse.
It is WELL worth your money. Plus, if there are conflicts you can settle them bc you have an attorney available.
I don't think the number of unwanted horses in the world has anything to do with the situation. If someone's not gonna pay for their horse, then they're not going to. The kind of person that would knowingly dump their poor horse on a barn with such a clause is the sort that doesn't care about their horse to begin with. Why dump it on the barn where it'll get sent to the stockyard instead of dumping it on the stockyard yourself and get a few bucks? I see why you aren't in favor of this clause, but I don't think that the unwanted horse population should be the reason :wink:
I would board at a barn with such a clause. I KNOW that if I ran into a dire financial situation that I would at least try to contact the barn owner and make other arrangements. The only reason something like this would affect your horse is if you're an absentee owner that stopped paying. IMO, part of owning a horse is looking in on its well being. In today's world I find it very hard to believe that, even living out of the country, a person would be completely unable to send an email or phone call once a MONTH to ensure that their horse is alive and ok. I wouldn't rely on ANYONE- much less an ex husband- to be responsible for the welfare of my horse for six months. That may come across as harsh since I don't know her full story, but that is far too long for her to have not had any contact.
I DO think that a barn manager should have a plan of some sort outlined in the contract to enforce payment. Were I in the position to come up with such a policy I would avoid the auction option if at all possible. You need to look up the legalities in your area to see what they include. My barn manager is WAY too lax about those sorts of things. There are currently a few boarders that pay less than full board, and a couple that have skipped multiple months in a row. The barn manager doesn't go after their money because she understands that they have fallen on hard times. She says that she has been in tough positions in her past, and if she were in their position she would hope that someone would cut her a break. Where does this kindness get her? Having to feed and clean a full barn, and coming up several hundreds of dollars short a month.
I'm not saying that you're a bad person for NOT wanting horses to be sent to auction. Trust me, I feel the same way! I'm just curious to see what you think would be a more reasonable alternative.
If you do offer feeding supplements, make it so the boarder has to preportion the product so all you do is dump and go. They need to provide a week's worth of bagged product with horse and owner name on the baggie. This will prevent it running out on you and now it's your problem, you don't have to charge for it, if you do have a problem with people helping themselves to other's supplements, if it's all mixed together that's not as apt to happen and it will save you a bunch of time. 1 minute scooping X 10 horses twice a day is 20 minutes you didn't waste.
On the subject of late paying boarders, all I can say is if you let it happen, it will happen. People get penalized for paying rent late, car payments late, cc payments late but they somehow feel like they can skate and pay board the middle of the month when they get their next paycheck. Restructure the payment due time to the 15th if both parties agree if it's an ongoing problem. It costs you if you have to replace a boarder so work with them if the are worth it.
On non paying boarders, know your local agister's lien laws. Nothing anyone says on a forum such as this is of use to you unless they live in the same state and know the laws. Some states you can simply seize the horse and sell them out from underneath the boarder with virtually no legal steps while for me living in a brand state, there is a rather drawn out process that must be followed or else I am in violation of the brand laws and the sale is invalid. In 20 years, I have had to go that route only once. Your board fees can quickly exceed the value of the horse if you aren't proactive but you are running a business not a rescue.
If you live in an area that has been hard hit with fluctuating hay prices, put a provision in your boarding contract so if hay goes over X (only you need to know what X is) you will tack on a surcharge of $ X until prices drop. Because I had 0 turnover with my boarders, I would tell them I need and extra $100 (whatever it was) before Sept 1 to buy my winter supply of hay. Some would spread it over a few months while others paid the fee all at once. It's so easy to just absorb the little extras here and there and by the end of the year, you're in the red. Review your pricing structure at least once a year.
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