Trade vs. Pay on Horse Farms

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If you’re in the horse business, then you’re probably in the “innovation” business, too. Thinking of clever ways to stretch your dollars has become business as usual so you can get to the finish line without having to perform major surgery to the bottom line.

Which gets to one such option: a trade of services in exchange for payment.

There seems to be two distinct schools of thought on the subject: those who claim “trades” never work; that the lines of expectation are guaranteed to blur, leading to ill will on both sides, and those  who claim to have had a good experience. So, what’s the secret to their success?

According to Mary Thomas, president of, the key is to be clear AND PUT IT IN WRITING. It doesn’t have to be a formal contract, you can jot down the terms on a brown paper bag, just so long as you have something to refer to should a question arise.

“The agreement should include the estimated number of hours it takes to complete each task and an assigned a dollar amount from which to subtract the cost of the board,” said Thomas.

 For instance, how long does it take to feed, blanket, turn-out and set-up for the next feeding? Are mucking stalls included? For how many horses? And most importantly, she said to be clear about the care and attention to detail you expect. Do you want the blankets folded and hung up a certain way? Halters put in a specific place? The aisles swept or blown clean?

Trouble usually starts when someone feels they’re not getting a fair deal–tasks are piled on over and above what was agreed to, or conversely, when work standards start to slide (stressing again the reason for having a written agreement).

That said, we all know working around horses is anything but linear, which is why Thomas said to keep the lines of communication open. Everyone has an investment in this. The goal is to have a long term, win-win relationship, so do what horse people do best: adapt.

Editor’s Note: Because of the complexity of this issue, we will have a full article in the spring issue of Stable Management magazine looking at the pros and cons of barter. If you have not signed up to receive FREE print magazines, make sure you do that on by clicking on the Join Stable Management tab at the top of the page.






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