Chronicles of a Stable Owner are real-life stories about caring for horses and their people
Written by Dr. Gwen Donohoe, Owner/Manager at Sagehill Stables
It had been a busy day, but a good day. My husband was working off property, my daughter was at daycare, and I was getting things done! I was getting things done so well, I lost track of time, and was 10 minutes late picking up my daughter from daycare... After rushing to pick her up, and with my husband still not home, I suddenly realized that part of the reason I had lost track of time was because no one had showed up to do afternoon turn-in...
Staff scheduling mix-ups are 99% of the time the managers fault (and that would be me), likely poor communication on my behalf. So I couldn't waste time being mad at the staff and needed to find a solution ASAP. After a few quick texts, one of my long time boarders came to my rescue to baby sit my daughter for an hour while I did turn-in. She went completely out of her way, after a long work day herself, to come and help me out! I was so grateful and humbled.
Boarding clients are one of the most challenging business relationships a barn owner will ever have to deal with, right up there with going into business with family. I've been given lots of advice regarding boarders, such as have contracts and strict rules that are enforced, and make sure your decisions are for the wellbeing of the business, and so on... But there is more to it than that!
Boarders probably spend more time with you and see you more than your own family and friends. Managing your emotions and feelings with people that you see so frequently but who's personal happiness and horse's wellbeing directly impact your livelihood and business reputation is extremely challenging. Your ability to handle your emotions and self-confidence are directly intertwined in how you manage these relationships. It is definitely something I'm still working on and I try to reflect on it frequently.
Some questions you can ask yourself about your relationships with your boarders:
Having good, clear communication is very important, especially when you live and work at your business. I have many regrets about getting upset about little things that I shouldn't have, that were just miscommunications that I should have sat down and cleared the air about immediately. Often clients (and staff for that matter) don't realize that their behavior may cause you to feel disrespected or upset. It's hard not be upset and take things personally when , for example, people don't follow the rules. This might be on top of you already feeling physically and/or emotionally exhausted, stressed financially or stressed in your personal or business life. Communication, sitting down and having meetings to discuss why you can or can't do something, and how their actions make you feel, is important. I'm lucky to have a couple coaches who are really great at this and have taught me how important this practice is!
I've found that one of the toughest things when a boader leaves is dealing with them suddenly finding fault in nearly everything. Things that they were OK with in the past are suddenly not OK. There is a phycological reasoning at play here as they try to justify their leaving to themselves, to you and to the other boarders who are staying. Knowing and understanding that this is going to happen in advance is extremely helpful in knowing how to deal with these complaints and concerns.
Boarders such as my friend that came to my rescue are a huge asset to any equine business because they will be there to help you when you need it. Their horse's home is also your home, and it is important to them to keep it a safe and happy space. Always keep in mind that everyone's life situations change, their horses needs change, their goals and desires change, and those boarders you thought were your friends may eventually leave one day. And its OK and totally normal. You can still be friends once they leave, they will just be normal friends of a stable manager - the ones that you only see once a year or less at a horse show, or maybe even just on Facebook!