Are We Having Fun, Yet?

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It’s a brave new world out there, and it’s a tough one. With empty stalls a common sight at many barns, it makes sense that you want to do your best to make sure your clients stay happy…without necessarily “giving away the farm.”

We checked in with barns across the country to see what strategies they are using to help retain their existing clients and attract new ones. Some of them are making a concerted effort to do fun things, while others are expanding services or offering simple freebies to help boarders feel they’re getting more for their money. Here are 10 ideas we wanted to share with you.

1. Boarder Sundays. Stephanie McComiskey of Shalimar Farm in Monroe, Connecticut, has “boarder day” one Sunday every month or so. “We usually get together at around 4, when all of the riding is done, and everyone brings something to eat. Children are welcome. It’s a really nice time when we can all relax and get together at the same time,” she notes. “I have some women who ride during the day, and others who come at night after work. So once a month, it’s really nice to have time to meet, share our stories, and have a few laughs. It builds up camaraderie, and the cost is nil,” she notes.

2. Survival of the fittest. Island Hills Stable in Middle Island, New York, has recently installed a gym for parents to use while their children are riding. Housed in the space overlooking the arena, the gym boasts a treadmill, elliptical trainer, stationary bicycle, and universal gym. Island Hills also offers two-hour birthday parties for anywhere from 6 to 12 children. The children get to ride and feed the ponies, and they’re also served pizza and soda. Summer camps and on-site horse shows round out the fun at Island Hills.

3. Barn rats and cats rule. At HorseHaven Farm in Medina, Ohio, owner Solange encourages juniors to become barn “rats,” hanging out at the barn and learning all aspects of horse care. The girls pitch in, groom, tack up, ride, longe, and also attend such special events as hunt dinners. Love of all animals is a central theme at this family-friendly barn, and clients are invited to share photos of their pets on the farm’s website. Anyone truly looking to “mix it up” can try their skill at riding sidesaddle, lest they become bored with riding astride.

4. Fun is all in the family. Diamond C Stable & Ranch in Boerne, Texas, is the home of the Culver clan, and a family atmosphere prevails. Adults and children alike learn reining, barrel racing, western pleasure, and trail riding. “We’ve watched a lot of the kids grow up and go to college…one graduated from A&M this summer, and some return to teach here,” Debbie Culver notes. Special events that make Diamond C especially festive are play days and trail rides. “Play days are for our students. These are adventures that last anywhere from five hours to an overnight,” Culver explains. At practice runs, students get to test their skills in a simulated rodeo situation—complete with an audience of cheering families and friends. “When we go to rodeos and shows for real, everyone wears their Diamond C shirts and we all cheer each other on, no matter how we do. We have a great group here,” Debbie smiles. And at Christmas, boarders and horses alike don their Santa hats and have their photos taken together.

5. When in doubt, decorate! At holiday time, some barns encourage boarders to add some flair to their horses’ stall fronts. Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and Happy Spring are excellent themes for a friendly contest to see who can be the most imaginative. Offer up a prize such as a free lesson, complimentary grooming or a gift certificate.

6. Philanthropy is fun. For this idea, we galloped across the pond to check in with Millview Farm Riding Stables in Heckington, Great Britain. The barn participates in a community-wide fundraising event by hosting a fun pony show to benefit Children in Need. Riders are invited to bring their own ponies or use the barn ponies to participate in such fun classes as “most rounded bum,” “best fancy dressed, “ and “best 6 legs.” Everyone gets a ribbon, and spectators can tuck into home-baked goods sold at the barn for the benefit. Farm manager Sarah Johnson says, “We do something like this every year, and everyone has lots of fun.” It’s also a great way to introduce youngsters to the idea of philanthropy.

7. Think outside the stall. Riding Star Ranch/TKM Stable in Punta Gorda, Florida, offers up all kinds of opportunities for clients to learn and have fun at the same time. Once a month, they offer a hands-on learning class, “A Day with Horses,” for young children. Their website (www.tkmstable.com) offers a kid’s fun page, where children can download activities, like coloring sheets, that teach them some safety basics. The fun is not limited to children—adults can also learn English, Western, dressage, driving, and trail riding. Obstacle challenge, overnight rides, and picnics round out the farm’s packed schedule. They also offer a “membership option” where people can choose to come to the barn once or twice a week and participate in select activities for a set price. Periodic open houses invite area residents to come check out the barn and see what all the fun is about…and can yield new customers.

8. Jump for joy. Sarah Dalton-Morris, former manager of Frazier Farm in Woodbury, Connecticut, and now based at her Great Vista Farm in upstate New York, always makes sure something fun is on tap for the boarders. From young horse clinics, to guest clinicians, to the annual high jump competition, boarders always have an opportunity to learn and challenge each other.

These ideas are just a start. With a little creativity, you can mix it up for clients and keep them looking forward to coming to the barn every day.