Talk to me about setting up a co-op

Just what the title says - I’d really like to hear about how other co-op style boarding barns are run. How much is self-care, how much is shared responsibility? I realize a lot of it is set by the circumstances and the individuals, but I think information is power and want to know what has worked for others! (or what hasn’t worked for others!)

I did it for a while, wouldn’t do it again… I have a F/T job and only have a chance to get out to the barn, at best, ~3x/week; it got to where I felt like all I did was work and never got to enjoy my horse. But I digress… Co-ops seem to work best for people whose time is very flexible, live near the barn, etc. That wasn’t me.

Anyway, when I did it, there were (I think) about 7 boarders and 14 horses. Everybody took 2 “shifts” per week, either AM or PM; you had to come in, hay/feed/water, (depending on season) turn them all out or in, and then prep feed for the next shift. Initially, daily stall-cleaning was each individual boarder’s responsibility, but then that came to fall upon whoever had that shift. Each “shift” ended up averaging about 2 hours per occasion.

We had a big dry-erase board posted at the barn for the whole month, so you always knew who was supposed to be doing what on each day. Boarders with multiple horses had to take on more shifts than boarders with one horse. We also had a designated “manager” (a longtime, very organized and responsible boarder) who took care of ordering all the feed/hay/bedding and made arrangements for big tasks to get done, like mowing, repairs, etc. We had “boarder meetings” monthly, usually a group dinner at a nearby diner, to go over how things were going and make suggestions for things to change.

It seemed to work out well for some boarders, less so for others. There were a few times when people forgot their shifts; thankfully, some boarders were out at the barn every day anyway, and I don’t think anything bad happened… But like anyplace, you will have people who are more organized than others, who will have more attention to detail than others, stalls some days didn’t get cleaned to certain people’s liking, etc., etc.

Like I said, for me personally, it ended up feeling like I was there working more than riding, AND paying pretty much full-care board rates for doing so. Some people like self-care, some don’t… My time is rather limited; I would rather pay someone else to do the manual work and have my horse time to myself. YMMV…

It’s a nice idea, ONLY if you can get the right people on board. No pun intended.

I’ve not run one, but boarded at several. The only one that worked for me was in college, where we paid for the stall, but everything else was on us, included doing turnout and feed. So I got to provide all my own feed/hay/bedding,do all my own chores, the way I wanted them done, bed my horse how I wanted, etc. The downside? I got to provide all my own feed/hay/bedding and do all my own chores. But it worked for me, because I have very high standards of horse care, lived 10 minutes from the farm and didn’t mind the commitment.

The others? It was a number of things. People’s care standards differed. Some horses required “special care” (or their owners thought their horses required special care). One morning feeder would come at 6AM, another would come at 9AM. Feeders would forget supplements. People would “borrow” things. Belongings would migrate or disappear. The list was endless.

I also found that a lot of the folks who answered the ads as being interested in co-ops were the folks who wanted the full-care experience at the self-care price. Not generally dedicated equine owners.

YMMV. I wouldn’t own or run one, having experienced what I have.

Been there, done that. Never again.

Don’t get me wrong, I do self-care for my two horses now, and have done so since 2011 when I reacquired a formerly leased horse for keeps, and the only way to keep 2 was to do it myself. I LOVE self-care, love being 100% in charge of my own hay, what I feed, being able to weigh it, using a slow feeder (Porta-grazer) for the easy keeper air fern pony, I don’t mind mucking, love that I have access to the full care facilities, but have my own hay shed and tack room with my own locks so my stuff stays where it is. I have my own little horse-keeping slice of paradise, complete with deck and bistro table (and the barn is only 2 miles from home and fits in great with my school schedule) I got to rebuild and expand my corrals a few years ago, they’re some of the biggest corrals on the property, aside from the pastures, beats out full care by a landslide in space (downside was I had to put my own money into it, but oh well, it’s nicer than it was before)

But as much as I love self-care, I dislike doing a co-op because I have a set and efficient way of doing things my way, and I’ve found there’s got to be the right kind of dedication to doing it and not everyone’s got that. I don’t mind swapping feelings occasionally with a fellow self-care boarder or two, but most of the time, I only take care of 2 horses and 2 only.

The one co-op I was in was not the most enjoyable of experiences. There were barn chores everyone was expected to do, but it was a unassigned list and some people did the “easy stuff” every single time and left the harder stuff for others, which meant it always got put off and the maintenance usually got worse over time. Some people acted like special snowflakes and drama queens and overall it just wasn’t very pleasant.

I ultimately felt like I was spending more time working and taking care of other people’s horses than my own, and then they made a rule that you needed to ride X times a week, and being in high school I didn’t really have all that much time in the afternoon to ride. Plus, they were trying to foist a lot of morning feedings off on me because nobody wanted to get up in the morning – awkward since I didn’t drive at the time and well, there’s that whole show-up-on-time-for-home room issue.

For me, co-ops were no bueno. But oh how I love my self care. I have plenty of time to fit riding in (helps one horse is retired and only goes of her corral out on hand walks) along with my daily care, and it’s great being in control, I don’t think I’d do c o-op again because I don’t want to give up that control.

If I had any advice though, I’d say getting everyone on the same page, and trusting them to follow through with what they see as proper horse care (i.e. Feeding times, stall cleaning, etc.) It doesn’t have to be ritzy posh boarding stuff, but being dedicated and willing to make it work is important.

I was in a successful coop situation as a kid. Neighbor’s barn, all us kids were in 4-H and we dealt with it. I still remember how we rotated weeks for morning feedings and turn-out. But as others said, it was a small group, we all lived close by and we all were dedicated to making it work. We all knew that if it didn’t work, our parents’ solution would be no more horses.

Not worth it. Did it years ago and will never do it again. Unfortunately there are too many lazy people out there who will find a way to not do their fair share of the work. I always got stuck bailing others out and I refuse to do it again. There are also those who don’t pay attention to when something isn’t quite right with a horse and don’t bother to tell the owner. And there are those who think they know it all yet in reality are basically clueless.

My horse is on rough board (13+ yrs now) and that will never change - I am responsible for 100% of her care and prefer it that way.

Well we had sort of a co-op

There were three of us families who had stock at each home… we devised a plan that allowed for coverage when coverage was needed

The exchange rates were established in bales of hay or in bags of shavings . Take care of one head equaled a bale of hay per feeding or two bags of shavings. We were buying tuck loads of shavings another family was buying hay the other just had plenty of cash

I’m in a co-op now and it works very well. We divide the feed/turnout shifts by the number of people (well, technically, the # of horses, if you have 2 horses you have to cover more shifts than someone that has 1). Right now we have 7 horses which works out great, each of us has two feed shifts and one day that we feed lunch hay. The feed shift requires dropping grain, putting hay out and turning out in the AM, in the PM it requires bringing horses in and dropping grain. Owners clean their own stall, set up their grain and pick their paddocks. Whoever is on the feeding shift sweeps the barn before leaving. We all buy our own grain and bedding, we split the cost of the hay, no one stresses too much about making sure every horse gets the exact same amount of hay. In general they do, but some eat a little less and some a little more. We have one person that we write checks to that then pays the owner of the barn our board cost (we have to pay the property owner by the stall) and they also write the hay check. We split the cost of supplies and the cost of the vet bill for the barn cat. If we drop below 7 people we rotate the extra feedings so everyone shares in that. Like any barn there are some people who see things that need to be done and take on more of the burden but in general its a good group and it works. We are careful to screen new people before we say yes to someone.

Our horse club on base is co-op/self care. We look after our own horses with feeding and turn out, buy our own feed and so on. The up keep of the grounds is everyone helps, but that doesn’t always happen. We put in a new pasture and other then DH and I there was only one other couple that showed up to help with putting posts in and they don’t even have a horse. Then it was just one other new board and me to put up the wire. We had a meeting last night and talked about getting a ride-on mower to help keep the grass. The one person that was against getting a mower hasn’t helped do any extra this year.

I love being able to do self-care, but hate the BS when it comes to getting everyone to pitch in and work around the club.

I have found that when you have a person who won’t pull their weight, then you monetize the value of the work and they need to pay for it in order to stay. That way you can hire someone to pick-up their slack.

I had one decades ago- a tiny three stall barn. It worked really well for a while, but my co-op buddies were honest and hard working. Then I got two others in, and things fell apart. I was already feeding EVERY morning AND two nights- they only had to split five times between them. Got bitched at because Partner A’s stall wasn’t done- um, not MY problem. Then Partner B got PO’d because she ordered two loads of hay and I only had $$ set aside for one, so couldn’t pay right away.

When they told me I couldn’t go out of town because I had to feed, I told the TS- I’m going and suck it up.

When I got back, I left and went back to full boarding.

I was at one with 14 horses I believe. Everyone worked one PM shift M-TH each week OR Friday PM - Sunday PM once every 6 weeks. My math might be slightly off since it fluctuated a bit depending on the total number of horses.

Owners provided their grain and bought hay by the bale from the owner (everyone kept a bale on a pallet behind their stall). Owners were responsible for remaking supplement cups and adding bedding to the stalls.

Pros: I fed what I wanted and the amount I wanted to feed, was able to deep bed her stall, and could do whatever blanketing combination I wanted (limit of two blankets on the rack at any time). I had a group of relatively engaged horse owners to be around. Everyone was working so there was more of an effort to keep things clean and report issues. The barn owner lived on property so he could and did step in if there was an emergency and someone could not show. I don’t know how that would work if someone did not live on property.

Cons: I hated handling unsafe horses. One was so bad I eventually left. Sometimes people would do boneheaded things and there weren’t easy repercussions because they were both an employee and boarder.

We had very clear expectations for every shift, people could buy and sell shifts at a set amount, and there were limitations on how complicated you could make things for the sanity of other boards. If I were to try and recreate that I would have more stringent standards for incoming boarders, clear guidelines for disciplinary steps if someone did something unsafe, and some sort of penalty fee if someone did not show for a shift.

I was part of one for a couple of years. It was actually a hybrid of co-op and full board. We had a few people that were full board and a few that were co-op. there were 3 of us in the co-op side. I had 1 horse, J had 1 horse and Head had 2 horses.
I fed M-F mornings. I did PM 2 nights a week. Since the Head person had 2 horses he picked up the extra day. He also would feed on weekday holidays since he lived closer to the barn.
He arranged the feed, hay, electric and collecting board from the full care boarders. We divided expenses based on number of horses. Truthfully I think he cut me a break on price since I was early 20s and just starting to work. J and Head were both about 15 years older than me and had better long established jobs.
It worked for a few years until the property was foreclosed on and sold.

I’ve boarded at a “coop” barn “up north” for many years (now summer only). It’s a large facility. About half the horses are owned by the BO and used in her lesson program. Boarders can opt to “be in the coop” or have full board. BO develops the coop schedule on a monthly basis and it varies by day (So Monday schedule, Tuesday schedule, etc). She gives “credit” against the full board price for work in the coop and has set amounts of “time credit” for different jobs (stall cleaning, morning chores, turnout and turnin, pasture manure picking, etc). Some folks who take lessons only (or parents of kids in the lesson program) also participate in the coop, with the credit against lesson fees. It can work but my observation is that its ALOT of work on the part of the BO to organize and oversee the operation. And, as others have said, there are the inherent problems of any operation that involves lots of people – some more motivated, careful, skilled, experienced … etc than others. I’d say it takes both strong horse management skills and strong people skills on the part of the BO. It also allows people to own a horse / learn to ride who perhaps couldn’t afford it if coop wasn’t an option. If it was me though, I’d hire staff (hard enough often) and charge a board rate commensurate with my costs.