Owning or managing a boarding stable can be a dream come true—if all goes as planned. Most people who board their horses are easy-going, reasonable and responsible. They follow the rules, pay their board on time and are grateful for a clean, well-maintained boarding facility. But nothing is perfect, and even the most bucolic boarding facility can suffer from a difficult boarder now and then. And this can lead to a host of problems for barn owners and managers.
How you deal with a hard-to-handle boarder is important. Such a person can affect the morale of your other boarders, the safety of the facility and ultimately your bottom line.
The vast majority of issues with boarders seem to result from a breakdown in communication. This can cause all kinds of problems, from violating rules to expecting different services than those actually provided.
“The only difficulty I’ve had with boarders was when a miscommunication occurred based on a boarder’s expectations and the services we were willing to provide,” says Leslye Shellam, owner of Bryn Melyn Farm, a 25-horse boarding facility in Burleson, Tex. “I was once awakened at 11 p.m. by a boarder who thought her horse should have been blanketed. It was above 40 degrees, and I don’t blanket unless it’s expected to be freezing. She didn’t understand that.” Shellam now carefully explains her policies regarding blanketing to prospective boarders.
“Communication is the key,” she says. “A prospective boarder can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to our program. I don’t expect or want to be the perfect barn for all boarders. It just has to be a match.”
Ed McAdam, owner of The Longbranch Stable in Parrish, Fla., a boarding facility that houses 22 horses, also finds that misunderstandings are behind most conflicts at his barn. “Basically, difficulties boil down to poor communication between the owner, manager and boarders,” he says. “In 1994, I developed a written stable policy statement, which is signed by all boarders and staff. In essence, it states ‘Be a good neighbor to all.’”
The difficulties McAdam has encountered with boarders involve poor communications and non-adherence to stable rules, even though the rules are clearly defined. Some of these issues have included rule violations such as grooming a horse while inside a stall, smoking in the stable, and leaving open a stable or stall door or gate.
These violations can have consequences, he notes. “One time, a boarder was grooming a horse in a stall when another boarder passed by the Dutch door and spooked the horse,” says McAdam. “This caused the person in the stall to panic, which made the horse panic. The horse pushed the boarder into the wall.”
Another issue involved the 16-year-old daughter of a boarder, who loudly disobeyed her parent regarding the family horse, on two occasions. It got worse. “When the girl disobeyed my instructions in front of the parents and nothing was done about it, they were evicted immediately,” says McAdam.
Sometimes when communication is a problem between barn managers and boarders, the boarders come across as overly demanding. In reality, the problem is that boarders simply don’t understand the services the barn owner is offering.