I’m fortunate to say that I have now experienced three different perspectives of barn life: that of a boarder, a barn hand, and a boarding barn owner.
My facility is small—at most, five horses on the property—but with most of the horses here being boarders, I’ve started to learn what I really like about the boarding business, and what doesn’t really work for me.
On the flip side, I have also been a boarder. Until October of last year I was paying for someone to care for my horse (sometimes horses), and I’ve seen a great deal of things that make a barn community work, and don’t.
As someone who’s had to work for many riding (and boarding) opportunities, I’ve seen the equestrian world from the perspective of a barn hand, too.
From each of these outlooks, I’ve learned what works, and what doesn’t. While this (obviously) isn’t an exhaustive list, here’s some of my tips for being a good boarder, a good barn hand, and a good barn owner.
Being a good boarder…
1. Respect a facility’s opening and closing hours.
If you really need to visit the barn outside of those, be polite and give the barn owner as much notice as you can. Of course, extenuating circumstances happen, but do your best to let the people who care for your horse know you need to be there early or late.
2. Clean up after yourself.
I can’t stress this enough, and it comes from experience in all three aspects. No one wants to clean up after you—if you or your horse put it there, opened it, or turned it on, do the right thing and put it away, close it, or turn it off. Facility upkeep isn’t easy, hydro is expensive, and a cluttered barn aisle or tack room is a safety hazard. Do your part!
3. Be mindful of your boarding agreement.
If you want to change barns, do so. You don’t always need to provide a reason—just adhere to your boarding agreement on timelines for notice. Pay your board on time, or make other arrangements if necessary well in advance, or be prepared for whatever consequences might be outlined in your boarding doc. Boarding barns—small and large—are often a business, and it’s important to understand why the rules, regulations, and requirements of a boarding agreement are put in place.
Being a good barn worker…
1. Show up on time and do the job asked.
Scheduled to start at 8am on Saturday? Show up on-time, or early, and get to work. It’s easy to get distracted by in-barn drama or gossip, or watching lessons, but it is also important to do what you’re paid to do. Create a checklist of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and follow through.
2. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
If you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly by a boarder or fellow staff member, say something. Be familiar with your rights as a worker. I can’t stress this enough! On the same note, if you see something that isn’t safe, tell someone—you could save a horse or human life.
3. Take pride and ownership in your job.
Pretend that it’s your barn, or your horse’s home. Treat things the way you’d want your stuff to be treated. If you make a mistake or break something, fess up—people are a lot more forgiving when you admit to mistakes than when you don’t. Take it from me, I drove a tractor into a barn once and just about knocked a door clean off. If I can admit to a screw-up that bad and still be alive to tell the tale, so can you!
Being a good barn owner…
1. Be honest.
Not just with your clients, but with yourself. How much work can you really take on before you have to hire someone? How many expensive upgrades to your facility can you realistically afford? Start off honest and keep yourself that way through the whole process, and your boarders and staff will appreciate you for it. Say you’re going to do something? Get it done.
2. Set realistic expectations, and don’t be afraid to say no.
A lot of people have this problem, in or out of horses. It’s important to set the right expectations with your boarders/clients from the start—what’s included in their monthly board and what isn’t, the type of horse you’ll allow on the property (see ya later, blanket eaters), and what sort of boarder you’re looking for. (If you don’t want an A-circuit show rider at your place, you need to make that clear). Don’t be afraid to say no, or to turn someone away.
3. Admit when you need help.
There are days when I’d like a day off to sleep in, or to go out of town to visit friends. It’s okay to do this, and it’s okay to ask for (or hire) help. Be prepared to pay or to offer something in exchange (riding time/lessons, discounted board, beer, etc.). Don’t get yourself stuck in the scenario of being burnt out because you’ve bitten off more than you can chew on your own.
And last but not least, the old Golden Rule applies to everyone: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Be a good human being, be professional and courteous, and we’ll all get along just fine—no matter what aspect of the business we belong to!
About the Author
Mallory Haigh is an under-30 adult amateur dressage rider living in the middle-of-nowhere Ontario, Canada on 50 acres with her two horses, a few boarders, chickens, dogs, and wildlife. Her hobbies include freelance writing about life on a small farm, web development, photography, and geekery.