Barns and stables develop their own societies, where (the mostly women) can not only enjoy their horses, but themselves, in the company of like-minded individuals. Fostering the atmosphere that allows your clients and boarders to become friendly, and possibly friends, will help your business flourish in that community setting.
For most horse owners, a boarding facility is more than just a place to keep their horse. It’s also a way to escape the stress and hassles of daily living, and to socialize with others who share a deep interest in horses.
This is why boarding stables that provide a strong sense of community to boarders tend to be the most successful. While maintaining a well-kept facility and offering excellent care to horses are also important, creating a friendly, community-oriented atmosphere is vital to a boarding stable’s well-being.
“Owning a horse is a major time commitment,” said Sherri Kiefner, co-owner and manager of Transitions, a boarding stable in Manhattan, Illinois. “Since horse owners spend such a large percentage of their limited free time at the stable, they are often fulfilling multiple needs with the same hours. Time at the stable is not only time spent with one’s horse, it can also be a convenient and enjoyable source of social interaction.”
Sharon Picciolo, owner of Clancy Lane Boarding Stables in Rancho Mirage, California, agreed, noting that having a friendly barn is a vital part of running a successful boarding stable.
“I think that a climate of friendship in a barn community is of utmost importance,” she said. “You may have a topnotch barn, with the best arenas, trainers, riding trails and barn stalls, but if people aren’t genuinely enjoying themselves while at the ranch, they will eventually take their horses and go where it is more fun. Often, they will take their best barn friends with them, and this can quickly deplete the number of boarders at your ranch.”
Picciolo said she learned the importance of fostering community the hard way.
“It only takes one unhappy person to create tension,” she said. “If someone feels that something is unfair, someone is unkind, or that their horse is not being properly cared for, news will quickly spread and people start choosing sides along the lines of personal friendships.”
If a boarding stable has a strong sense of community, however, boarders develop loyalty to that facility, she says.
“When people are happy to see their friends, ride together, share stories and work together with their horses, they will pull together to save your barn at any cost,” said Picciolo. “If this is the place where they go to get away from the troubles in their daily lives and just relax with their horses, they will remain even through troubled times.”
Lisa Scebbi, a multi-discipline trainer at the No Drama Ranch boarding stable in Norco, California, agreed that fostering community is vital to the health of a facility.
“Having a good group of boarders who look out for each other offers many advantages,” she said. “This creates a base of individuals to pull from who will trail or arena-ride together, and this encourages boarders to stay at the facility.”
Scebbi said that a good community feeling at a barn helps the facility manager by providing an extra set of eyes to watch for sick horses, or horses that have gotten into trouble in their stall.
“People check on each other’s horses,” she said. “It’s like having your own stable security system. Plus, boarders take the extra time to help maintain the stable because the barn is like their second home.”
While a sense of community often comes naturally at many boarding stables, there is a lot you can do to help encourage this kind of atmosphere at your barn.
“I try to have fun barn events just for boarders,” said Picciolo. “These are not money-making events, but are friendship-making events.”
Picciolo’s favorite is a Christmas horse expo/cookie exchange, which encourages boarders to meet one another.
“I invite the boarders to bring a plate of their favorite cookies, and we all swap cookies so that we end up with a plate full of different treats,” she said. “I supply the hot chocolate and coffee, and I decorate the patio area.”
The horse expo part of the event follows, when boarders are invited to demonstrate their horses’ talents, one at a time, in the arena.
“I try to have everyone who is interested get their chance to ride, or even just show a trick like bowing for a carrot,” said Picciolo. “We generally get a few dressage riders, our jumping team and some fancy reining horses. We also have a small equestrian drill team group.”
Some other events at Picciolo’s barn include a Halloween playday, a dressage show and an Easter parade down the street in front of the barn, with the horses and riders’ hats decorated with flowers.
Scebbi has taken the initiative—with the consent of stable management—to host events at the boarding facility where she trains, designed to help encourage community among boarders.
“We’ve had monthly potlucks that take place at the barn,” she said. “Everyone spends time together socializing at these events. We’ve also put on small informal horse shows, with classes that have the skill level and discipline of your boarders in mind.”
Barn owners can foster community by encouraging social activities outside of the barn aisle, noted Kiefner. This can be anything from organizing a potluck to simply providing an inviting place for owners to sit and relax together while their horses are grazing.
“And do not underestimate the value of social media sites for helping owners get to know one another beyond the horses they own and the discipline they are involved in,” she added. “Social media can be a great source of conversation starters for future face-to-face conversations. When horse owners find they share common interests outside of their horse activities, they become more connected to one another, which contributes to a healthy stable atmosphere.”
When it comes to bringing boarders together in a spirit of community, Picciolo advised barn owners to be fair and recognize the needs of all the different types of horse owners at the barn.
“Always keep in mind that the love of horses and the people who love them is the reason why we are here.”
“One of the ways that I foster community is by discouraging division among the owners,” she said. “One way to deter division is to be consistent in how individuals, both horses and owners, are treated, and how rules are enforced. The quickest way to destroy community in a stable is for individuals to think that everyone is not being held to the same standard. Community is difficult to create once division is established.”
But once it is established, there is no better place to work!