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Barn Management - biggest struggles and challenges?

When it comes to managing a barn, what are the biggest struggles and challenges you face? Is it making a profit? Keeping things organized?

Please include whether you board horses/just have your own, and the size of your operation! Thanks!

I have a 29 stall barn that’s usually at about 80% capacity. The biggest struggle in my boarding business is PEOPLE!

I have 1 unreliable employee who calls in sick all the time, doesn’t show up for shifts, doesn’t do the job as I expect her to, etc. She has even gone as far as to dent by brand new $50,000 tractor.

Boarders are also a big challenge. People expect a lot for very little compensation. Most are polite and friendly, but I have gone through a few nightmare boarders who were absolutely horrible to me. One in particular still won’t leave me alone. She still texts me and the other boarders who are still here and I’m constantly putting out fires that she’s started. She loves to spread rumours and gossip and generally loves to cause trouble.

Then, there’s the outside coaches who do come in and leave their garbage in my rings (coffee cups, etc.) that I’m supposed to pick up. They are earning big bucks by using my property and don’t compensate the barn at all. I had one trainer who was earning $1600 off of my property every month at one point. If I ban outside coaching, I’m mean and unreasonable. If I ask for compensation, I’m also mean and unreasonable.

I work very long hours and I don’t make very much money, if any. We are actually using our own money to fund the barn in some months. My advice to anyone thinking about doing this is DON’T.

You can make more money with less trouble boarding dogs and cats

29 stall barn - been doing this for 35 years. Full with a wait list.
I agree 100% with the above.

This is a bad week to ask me this. :lol:

But yes, the people. Boarders want everything for nothing. They don’t understand why you can’t spend “just 10 minutes” doing this extra thing. I actually had one boarder tell me that we are supposed to make sure anyone can afford a horse.

Staff (if you’re fortunate enough to have one) can be a headache. I’m lucky enough to have good employees, but that’s hard to find and time consuming to train. They will never do things exactly the way you would and have lives outside of the barn.

Finances are always tight. Boarders want more and more without price increases. Expenses are always increasing and there’s never enough for your salary or the staffing you need. The tractor breaks when money is extra tight.

I also have some other challenges (and benefits) because I’m overseen by a parent organization. But that doesn’t apply to most places.

But then there are those days when PITA horse’s owner thanks you for all the extra time you spent with their horse. Or when you finally figure out the magic recipe for the hard keeper and you see them in the pasture fat and happy with a shiny coat. Or when the horse you’re rehabbing finally feels good enough to play a little. Some days it’s all worth it.

Some days it’s not.

It is extremely expensive to run a decent boarding facility. First of all, it requires a huge capital outlay for facilities and equipment–barns, sheds, arenas, fencing, waterers, driveways/parking areas, mowers, tractors, weed whackers, arena groomers, manure spreaders etc. Secondly it takes a huge amount of daily labor not just to care for the horses but also to keep the facilities maintained. You know, the lawns and pastures mowed, the fences repaired and painted, the arena dragged, the aisle clean, the feed/hay/bedding ordered and stacked, the tractor repaired, the mower greased and repaired…I could go on for pages.

Then, you have to deal with clients who happily spend $100/month on the latest special supplements and thousands of dollars in show and lesson fees and even more on the best tack and clothing but who are offended by additional charges for time consuming extras that are (per your contract) not included in the monthly fee. Clients who also think nothing of leaving a mess behind them in the grooming areas and the arena when they leave each afternoon, and who also often leave the lights on, the air conditioned/heated tack room open, or the water on.

Lastly, it’s an enormous 24/7/365 responsibility. There is never a point in time where a barn owner/manager is “free” from responsibility. There’s always a list of little tasks that need to be done in the evening–fixing a blanket, medicating a horse, checking that everything is locked/turned off. If an employee doesn’t show up, if a horse gets sick or injured, if a water main breaks and the water gets shut off on a hot summer afternoon, guess who gets to deal with it? This is EVERY SINGLE DAY that you are responsible, including Christmas and the day you thought you were leaving to go on vacation with your family for a few days.

I am lucky in that right now (and almost always) I have great boarders - for the most part really nice, decent people who care about their horses well being. With that being said, you still cannot make everyone happy all of the time. There are always compromises to be made and someone ends up unhappy. If we charged our boarders for the extra things that we do and provide, we probably would have a lot less boarders because they couldn’t afford it.

The amount of upkeep labor is staggering. As others have said, there is always something to be fixed, cleaned, mowed, painted, etc. I am ALWAYS picking up after people. I feel like I am always behind on the list of things to be done. I am there at least 6 days a week and actually get to ride my own horse very little. I never turn my phone off. Ever.

The horse business would be all right if it wasn’t for the people.

This was a typical mantra of mine, even when I hadn’t reached the point of full on burn out. Even with a barn full of great boarders, it is still a rough line of work.

I think the biggest challenges will depend on some factors, too. Someone who manages their own facility will face different problems than someone hired to manage someone else’s property/business. Managing a barn full of training clients is different than managing a barn that is just a boarding barn (personally, I MUCH preferred managing a training barn because people were there because they wanted to be part of a program and understood that for best results it wasn’t just about the training, but also about the care).

When you run your own barn, I think you’ll find that the biggest issues are making ends meet, finding good, reliable help, and not running yourself into the ground.

When you run someone else’s, at least from my experiences, you’ll often run into the problem of convincing those who hold the purse strings that quality is ALWAYS cheaper in the long run.

And, yes, either one, you are ALWAYS on call. Even when you get to sneak away. I can remember brutally hot summer days, where I would tuck everyone in to their stalls under their fans with mountains of hay and fresh, cold water, and then sneak away to cool off in a movie theater for the hottest couple of hours, and routinely having to get up and respond to texts. Or being on vacation (a small perk if you are employed instead of your own boss) but still having to field emails and texts and phone calls.

I have no regrets for doing it as long as I did, but I don’t miss it. :wink: