A boarding barn needs constant care and upkeep. Large projects can be intimidating, while the sheer number of small updates a facility needs can be overwhelming. Learning how to identify, prioritize, and communicate improvements can help owners work their way through the updates their facilities need.
Improvements come in all shapes and sizes. They range from repairing a broken stall gate to adding an indoor arena. Determining what improvements will benefit a barn is vital.
Shari Patterson has owned and operated Patterson Training LLC, in Payson, Arizona, for 26 years. During that time she’s made many improvements to better her facility, including adding stalls, paddocks, pens, and a third riding arena. She’s also installed arena lights for night riding.
“When you have a place you’re always making improvements and making the facility better (and) nicer for everyone,” she said.
Patterson said talking to people connected to her business helps her identify areas that will benefit from updates. For example, several trainers work out of her facility. Asking them about their needs shows her how she can help the boarding facility and her trainers’ businesses.
In addition to talking to her trainers, Patterson surveys her boarders. She believes addressing client needs through improvements makes people feel heard and encourages boarder retention.
“To me, boarder feedback is super important because I need to know what they’re wanting to make the facility better,” Patterson said.
Holli McMahon echoes Patterson’s thoughts about consulting boarders to learn about potential improvements. McMahon previously owned and operated Mountain View Stables, in Salem, Oregon, for 12 years and found boarder feedback to be invaluable.
When she first purchased the facility, McMahon held a get-together with existing boarders to find out what improvements they wanted to see. That meeting helped her identify several potential projects. Once she completed those updates, McMahon returned to her boarders to see if they had more suggestions for future projects.
“We continued to survey them and ask them, ‘Okay now we got this done. What else is it that you would like to see done?’” she said. During her time as stable owner, McMahon added 12 new stalls, installed a new wash rack, built tack lockers, installed a new roof, built new fencing around the property, and added an outdoor arena. Conversations with boarders helped her identify the need for many of these improvements and form good relationships with her boarders.
Once an owner identifies areas of their facility to improve, they might be overwhelmed thinking about where to start. This is where prioritization comes into play.
Patterson sets both long-term and short-term goals for her facility. In the end, however, finances often dictate when she can move forward with a task.
While Patterson does budget for improvements, she also holds fundraisers to help raise money for large projects so they can be completed faster. For example, in the past, clients have donated items to raffle off at horse shows the facility hosts.
The barn also hosts one to two volunteer days per year to cut down on labor costs and speed projects along. Patterson finds her boarders are supportive when it comes to helping improve the place their horses call home.
“People are always willing to help and donate their time,” she said.
In addition to funding, Patterson considers facility safety, boarder requests, trainer desires and general needs when prioritizing her improvements.
McMahon chose to prioritize her facility’s improvements according to safety and needs. Ensuring her boarders (humans and horses) were safe was important to her. Because of that, safety-related updates took precedence over other projects. If safety wasn’t a concern, she took on improvement projects as they came up. There was always plenty to do.
McMahon also used information from her boarders to help her prioritize projects. She remembers asking them to share what updates were most important to them and why.
After an owner identifies and prioritizes improvements, construction typically begins. At this point, it can be helpful to communicate with boarders about the improvements taking place. It’s also an opportunity to alert boarders to the new things that will be available to them.
McMahon ran a smaller boarding facility. Because of its size, she saw her boarders frequently and could communicate facility updates to them in person. Although some improvements caused temporary inconveniences, McMahon found her boarders weren’t upset because they saw the end goal of what was happening.
“They were thrilled because they knew that they were getting a better facility,” McMahon said. “So they were very agreeable to anything we were doing.”
McMahon and her husband oversaw and completed most of the barn’s updates. This allowed her to control project timelines and move improvements forward at a quick pace. Additionally, her boarders saw her actively working on projects for their benefit. They recognized her dedication to the facility and were well aware of when new offerings would be available.
“They could see the progress. They were super excited,” McMahon said.
Patterson runs a large facility that requires multiple forms of communication to inform her boarders about facility improvements. She uses social media, a community bulletin board, flyers on community tack
When an improvement is complete, Patterson often holds get-togethers to celebrate large projects and communicate their ready-to-use state to her boarders.
“We usually do a barn party,” Patterson said. “That’s always a good way to get everybody together.” Depending on where the improvement is, Patterson’s staff will show people the completed project during the gathering. For example, when they installed the new arena lights, they waited until dusk and then turned them on for everyone to see. She finds this is a great way to unite the barn and encourage everyone to use new offerings.
No matter a barn’s size, time in existence, or state of completion, facility improvements are inevitable—but that doesn’t mean they must feel impossible. An owner who learns to identify, prioritize, and communicate improvements will have a head start tackling the updates a boarding stable requires.