Manage Your Manager

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Perhaps even more important than the size of your equine boarding facility or the amenities that you offer is how your operation is managed. And often times, the quality of the daily operation from care of horses to treatment of people lies with your manager.

In fact, your barn or facility manager may arguably be the most important person on the place. He or she can make or break your business, and definitely has an impact on horse care and customer service with the boarders and others who visit your facility.

Once you’ve hired the right person for the job (see “Getting the Job Done,“ Stable Management, July 2008 issue), how can you keep your manager and facility on track?

Consider that the barn manager is essentially your front door greeter, and his or her attitude and work habits can make the difference between having a high quality barn or one that has the makings of a PR disaster.

When boarders or others have issues with the care of their horses or with the facility, it is often the manager who is the first line of communication. A manager needs to know how to listen, deal with conflict and resolve problems. Each facility owner has his or her level of involvement; some give managers full autonomy and decision-making power, others are more involved in facility management. Owner and manager need to be comfortable with the roles each has in a particular situation and to respect each other.

A manager who is also in touch with the local horse community is an asset. Having a healthy relationship with community equine groups, such as 4-H, pony or horse clubs and various horse circuits, makes your facility more visible and may attract future boarders or events.

Here’s a look at how two stable owners have developed good working relationships with their managers:

Black Horse Stable

Arthur Stafford Taylor, owner of Black Horse Stable, a private boarding, teaching, and training facility located in Hillsborough, N.J., says that hiring the right person is essential. Black Horse Stable has a lot going on: it features a large indoor arena and a large outdoor riding ring complex which includes a dressage arena, jumping area, and round pen. It offers a full-service private and group lesson program open to riders of all disciplines and ages, as well as horse training programs.

His facility manager, Cindy Roesener, has education and experience in the equine field, which Taylor says is “a huge advantage to start with.” But it’s just a start. He and Roesener meet each week to review problems, issues and accomplishments from the previous week, and to establish a plan for the coming week. “She then lets me know what she needs from me as far as communication, supplies, scheduling, etc., to accomplish our goals for the week. We also review our long-term goals and make any adjustments necessary on a weekly basis,” Taylor says.

The owner and manager remain in contact during the week for updates about issues that both agree are important: injuries, illness and scheduling changes.

This level of understanding and trust gives Roesener a fair amount of independence. Taylor says that Roesener is “empowered to make decisions on daily issues and is qualified and capable of handling early any situation that may arise,” but both try to keep each other informed so that they are both aware of any issues.

“This seems to work well and gives our clientele a sense that both of us have our finger on the pulse of the facility at all times,“ Taylor says. But it’s Roesener who is charged with making sure staff and others receive all relevant information.

Taylor also has confidence that Roesener can handle any situation that involves the 75 horses in their care, including medical and behavioral concerns, and “to be able to assess the situation to determine whether she needs help from me, a veterinarian or other professional, and also to initiate all the communications necessary to resolve it, such as contacting the horse owner.”

He says a manager needs to remain calm during a crisis, “which is something that any equine industry operator knows is a potential at any given moment during the day or night.” He also expects his manager to have open communications with clients, “so that they feel comfortable knowing that their horses and/or children are in good and alert hands.

“In other words, I think a manager has to be a good ‘people person’ as well as horse person,” he says.

Taylor says that a good barn manager can establish confidence through competence. And it doesn’t end with keeping clients apprised when something bad is going on, but communicating everything going on around the barn. “Clients love to be informed about goings-on at their facility, and this cuts down on speculation.

“People recognize a job done well and respond to it by placing their trust in a manager. A quiet barn is a good barn, meaning gossip and complaints are at a minimum,” he says.

While he delegates a good deal of authority, Taylor says it is the owner’s responsibility to make sure that the proper infrastructure, staffing, resources and supplies and business structure are in place for a manager and other staff to do their jobs. “A manager must be able to stand on a solid foundation in order to perform well. It’s up to the owner to establish that foundation so the manager can build and maintain the house, so to speak,” he says.

Taylor also believes that the manager should not be bogged down with daily manual labor, but must be willing to muck out a stall when needed. “Let them be free to move around, talk to people, work with horses, teach lessons, schedule and oversee projects,” he says. “While this may not always seem overtly productive in a micromanagement sense, you will definitely see a marked upswing in morale among clientele and staff when the manager has the freedom to be mobile and communicative.”

Rusty Spurr Ranch

The Rusty Spurr Ranch has both indoor and outdoor arenas and caters to a number of disciplines from reining and trail riding to jumping and dressage, and cater to the general horse owner as well as the national competitor. The facility is located in an area with access to miles of trails.

At the ranch, owner Kate Gregory believes in a joint management approach with her barn manager. “It can be hard to turn over the management, because an owner is responsible and liable for what happens,” Gregory says. Luckily, she has found a good barn manager she has confidence in and has partnered with for the past four and a half years. They have established their areas of expertise and responsibilities—for instance, Gregory handles marketing, sales, and recruiting new clients because she has experience in those areas, whereas the barn manager oversees a specific daily care program outlined for the 35 to 40 horses at the facility.

Gregory says part of the inspiration for her and her husband to open their equine center in North Plains, Ore., was the compromises they had endured as boarders themselves. They aspired to build a facility that would meet their high standards.

In pursuit of that ideal, they developed a checklist system including feeding and stall cleaning schedules as well as other duties to be followed each day. The barn manager makes sure that the checklist is followed, as well as making sure boarding payments are made on time, and that staff are being efficient and productive.

Gregory says boarding agreements and specific guidelines as to what is provided by staff to horses and clients are provided to prospective boarders up front, which helps avoid questions or issues later. It also makes the barn manager’s job a little easier to have all of the provisions laid out in writing.

“I try to make things very black and white,” Gregory says. “We are very clear in what we provide for the care of the horse.”

Gregory and the barn manager stay in daily communication about events of the day. She says the manager is on-site, and Gregory lives just across the street, so they are constantly in touch.

And how did she find her ideal manager? She knew exactly what she was looking for—she wanted a manager with a strong background in the horse industry, both showing and practical experience. “I also wanted someone who had accounting and customer service skills, someone who had worked in another industry and could bring those kinds of skills. I had a high standard. I wanted a people person, someone who was articulate and someone who was organized,” she says.

For her part, Gregory tries to show her appreciation for the good job her manager does by making sure she has time to go to shows—something she likes to do—and by supporting her manager with her own equine training.

“I think it’s important that you recognize the good things they do, and that doesn’t always happen in some barns,” Gregory says. “A manager and other employees need to be told when they are doing a good job and that you recognize it."