Trust: the Real Secret to a Low Drama Horse Boarding Barn

Trust: the Real Secret to a Low Drama Horse Boarding Barn

Did you know that if you’re caring for other people’s horses at your barn, paid or unpaid, you are actually running a horse boarding business? Whether it is a business or a hobby, you could be setting yourself up for more hassle and drama than you thought you were signing up for.

So many horse lovers have purchased properties because they love horses, and then ultimately ended up keeping one or more horses in addition to their own for friends, neighbors or owners that do not have a property of their own. Sometimes without really sitting back and making a “plan” for what exactly their services entail and what the rules are for horses and owners while they are there.

Unfortunately, such an easy going “hobby” sort of attitude can turn into a source of continuous headaches associated with boarding other people's horses because their assumptions regarding your services aren’t what you had in mind. For example, owners at your barn may assume you will just do whatever it takes for their horse (which you probably will), but they may not expect to pay you extra for your time and dedication when care goes beyond the day to day boarding duties.

Thinking of your boarding operation like a business will help you avoid the creeping discomfort of tense relationships and steer the barn culture toward “low drama and low maintenance” it’s important to establish clear expectations up front. Then as odd situations occur follow your preset plan of action. When everyone sees that you are doing “what’s in the best interest of the horse” at all times and that you take the standards for operation seriously, they will learn to trust your judgment and relax. If you set up the structure right, trust will come naturally from your consistent operations. The more trust you have, the less drama you get. Sometimes we get too deep in the issues to see the direct link between structure - which creates trust - which discourages drama. It's this simple:

Truth = Trust

More Trust = Less Drama

How to Develop Trusting Relationships with Your Boarders

  • T - Truthful - Be clear about what services are “included” and what things will incur an extra charge. (see “Services Detail Sheet” below) Doing “favors” for people always ends up with you feeling overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. Put some detail in writing about what you provide, what you do in emergencies, and even the process to be used for questions and time frame for answers. And then when situations occur, stick to the policies as stated. This establishes a good pattern and solidifies the expectation that things will be charged and completed as promised. In a sense, you are reinforcing that you keep your word, every time you follow through.

    It may be tempting to “make exceptions” and not charge for items not included in regular services, unfortunately, this sets up a pattern for continual questioning about fees and practices. For Example: If there is a charge for holding each horse for the farrier visit and the owner knows this but doesn’t arrive in time and you decide NOT to charge for it, then the customer may arrive late more often! Not at all what we want.

    Think of the car sales market, it’s virtually impossible to just go in and get a rock bottom price because the culture has been so conditioned to ALWAYS negotiate. No one really believes that the bottom line is the bottom line. Dealers tell us this is the best they can give us, but then when we walk out, they offer a lower price. Rather than feeling GOOD about the ultimate price, the customer feels insecure about whether they were taken advantage of or not. They have created the expectation in customers that the bottom line is not really their actual final offer! Very frustrating for most buyers.

    Setting your policies and sticking to them is absolutely essential to creating a “drama free” boarding relationship where people believe you will do exactly what you say you will do. If you tell people you don’t negotiate on price, and then you don’t they will feel comfortable in knowing everyone pays the same rate and be happier. Counter-intuitive but true!

  • R - Regular Communication/Regular Routine - Establish your contact method for general communications and emergencies with each boarder. Put things in writing whenever possible (email is great for this) to ensure that everyone is on the same page on important issues. If there is going to be an exception to expected procedures, notify people beforehand of the what and why - don’t wait for them to “find out” on their own.

    Using our “car sales” analogy from above, how would you feel if you reached the closing table and then you discovered that the quoted price didn’t include the wheels! Seriously you just “assumed” they were included right? Now you question everything about that deal and no longer feel confident. You don’t TRUST that you are being treated fairly.

    So, do whatever it takes to hold up your standards every day, be consistent and methodical. If you need to make a change, give people a heads up. This regular, dependable process of open communication builds confidence over time.

  • U - Offer Useful advice - Give your boarders the benefit of your knowledge, if they ask, but “think before you speak” is a great rule for daily operations. There might be a temptation to over-manage people when you experience them doing something incorrectly. But honestly, if they are not asking for input, they probably won’t listen to your input anyway. One great strategy is to take the time to research controversial issues they may bring up before you offer your opinion, try to educate them with articles from other credible horse resources, then also include your own tidbits of wisdom. Offering boarders a broader basis for why you do what you do can be very helpful to them in changing their interpretation of your policies.

    Take the time to formalize a Referral List that you can email or hand out to your boarders. Locate like-minded service provides and horse resources that have provided quality services for you in the past, this is extremely valuable and useful for your boarders when a need arises. GoHorse.com is a fantastic resource for you to use to fill this need! Use the GoHorse search feature to scan your local area and find other horse businesses. (Verify that your barn is claimed and completed on the map as well). Call some of the other local businesses and set up a reciprocal referral arrangement. They will be happy to know you are referring customers and will return the favor!

  • S - Satisfaction Guarantee - If you begin every conversation by saying “my goal is to have every horse healthy and every owner completely satisfied,” and you mean it, misunderstandings can normally be worked out. Again, this requires you to set specific expectations for your boarders, and then to follow through and do what you have told them they could expect. Satisfaction is really another term for expectations having been set and met. If not stated clearly in writing, you run the risk of people making up their own expectations.

    For instance, people may expect that “no horse will ever be injured”. This would be an unreasonable expectation, especially for horses kept in herds. No matter how well they are monitored and how safe the pastures, accidental injuries may occur. Why not include some sort of statement in your paperwork around what you do when accidents do occur such as: “We do everything possible to keep your horse safe and sound, however, if there is an injury or we detect something out of the ordinary, these are the steps that we take:” Setting this up ahead of time allows you to establish clear-cut expectations that you can strive to meet and exceed. Even if someone’s horse does get injured, you can be communicative and follow through with your promises and maintain a high satisfaction rating.

    You may lose a potential boarder over a policy you have in place before they sign on the dotted line. If they don’t like your practices, it’s far better to part ways early than to end up in an escalating disagreement after they have moved into your property, right?

  • T - Tolerance - Great concept, hard to implement. It’s hard to have people continually asking for exceptions and favors. Best advice is to “choose your battles”. Sometimes small things are very important to your boarder and won’t really disrupt your operational routines - those things might be worth compromising on. Especially if they are a short-term exception. Overall “stick to your guns” remembering that too many exceptions will cause your people to lose confidence in the predictability of your operation, which then leads to more questions, requests, and drama.

    Put these processes in place and communicate them to your boarders with an attitude of humility and openness. Listen to their opinions and communicate clearly about why you have set up your operations the way you have. Ultimately some people will not mesh well with your policies and/or your barn management style. That’s to be expected and maybe even encouraged. What you want to end up with is a group of like-minded riders and their horses that you can enjoy having around.

    Here’s an example of how you can put together an easy-to-use checklist that outlines expectations regarding your services. Easy to complete and a great format for making sure it’s all covered before they move in. Just fill in your own services and fees.

Easy Services Detail Sheet for Your Horse Boarding Business

SAMPLE: Your Barn Name Here

Check included services and enter prices for add-ons - review this list and have your boarder sign it. This will eliminate any sore feelings due to charges incurred for special services.

Customer Name: ________________________________________ Date: ___________________

Horse Name: ____________________________________________ Monthly Rate: ____________

Included Description $ Extra
 
  • Pasture Turn-Out (rain or shine)
 
 
  • Morning & Evening Health Checks for Soundness (ex: twice daily w turnout)
 
 
  • Type of Supplements included - (brands offered)
 
 
  • # Flakes of Stall Hay Provided - (2,3, 4)
 
 
  • Stalls Cleaned Daily- Shavings provided
 
 
  • Name-Brand Dewormers Administered Every 2 Months According to Our Veterinarian's Recommendations
$5/month
 
  • Blanketing in the Winter and Fly Masks in the Summer
$5/wk
 
  • Initial Wound Clean and Care
$10
 
  • Feeding Schedule - (When - sunrise/sunset)
 
 
  • Holding for Vet/Farrier
$25/hour
 
  • Other services by the hour
$25/hour

 

Signature of Customer: _____________________________________ Date: _______________

 

We do everything possible to keep your horse safe and sound, however, if there is an injury or we detect something out of the ordinary, these are the steps that we take: 1) address the issue 2) contact owner 3) contact emergency services etc...