Boarding is a wonderful convenience. It allows us to have our horses in a facility few of us would be able to afford on our own. We get to be a part of a community with like-minded people and a lot of boarding facilities offer wonderful opportunities we wouldn’t get to experience on our own – like quality trainers and clinics. Given all of those good things, sometimes boarding can be frustrating. Boarding is a two way street. You want to find a barn that fits your needs, but you also want to be the kind of boarder any facility is happy to have. Here are some tips for making the most of your boarding experience, and things to think about to make you a better boarder.
Read And Understand Your Contract
A reputable boarding facility should always give you a written contract – unless you’re boarding your horse at a friend’s barn (and even then it’s probably a good idea). It’s important that you have a document that specifies everyone’s responsibilities. A contract will outline all the things you need to know – what services will be provided; what services aren’t provided, or are provided at an additional cost, and what that cost might be; when and how board is due; what sort of notice you’re responsible for giving if you’re leaving; barn rules; use of facilities; barn manager and contact information; and pretty much everything else that goes on around the barn. If you have questions or concerns, ask before you sign. It’s better to know it isn’t a good fit before you move in then to figure it out a month or two in. Be prepared to pay for services or perform them yourself if they are outside of the services outlined in the contract. If you need your horse’s blanket changed three times a day, or eye drops put in six times a day, you should expect to pay extra for those services. A boarding barn isn’t a training barn. The level of care is different and if you aren’t sure if your expectations are reasonable, talk to friends, other boarders, or check other facilities to see what services are provided and what costs extra.
Pay Your Bills On Time
Most boarding facilities operate on a slim margin. Your monthly board goes to pay salaries, feed, bedding, utilities, insurance, mortgage payments, maintenance costs and probably a dozen other things. A lot of those costs have to be paid on a monthly basis, and just like our bills, are often due at the beginning of the month. Boarding facilities are businesses, not charities, and it’s our obligation as boarders to treat them as we treat all of our other obligations. There are a lot of things riding on those monthly board bills, be respectful and remember your deadlines. If something happens, it’s always best to have an upfront conversation with the barn manager to see if you can work something out. Maybe you can have a slight extension, but don’t assume it’s ok without having that conversation. If you have questions about your bill – how much you’re charged for bedding or why your neighbor is paying $25 less than you are, always ask. It’s better to find out from the manager than to let resentments build over time.
Follow The Rules
Rules exist for good reason. You might think some of the rules are dumb or that they surely shouldn’t apply to you, but they do. If rules aren’t followed, or are selectively followed, things end up in chaos. If you have serious concerns about a particular rule, talk to the barn manager about it. It may be that the rule exists for a very specific reason that you don’t know about. A boarding barn isn’t your barn. It’s a facility that caters to and is charged with ensuring the safety and well being of a large number of horses and riders. Things have to be different at a public facility than they could be at your personal barn (if we had one). Continuing to break or ignore the rules makes the barn manager’s job harder and doesn’t endear you to your barn mates.
Communicate Directly With The Manager
One of the things I like the least about boarding my horses is the negative barn drama that can occur. When you get a bunch of horse owners together, you’re going to have opinions galore. And we love to share our opinions about everything and find a sympathetic ear for whatever perceived grievance we have. However, I’ve found that can be incredibly counter productive and create a lot of problems. Have you ever played the telephone game? Barn drama is like that, on steroids. If you have a problem with something happening at the barn, whether it’s something the barn manager is or isn’t doing, or if it’s an issue with another boarder, talk to the barn manager. In private. Be professional. Treat her like you’d want someone at your work to treat you. Our horses are our hobbies and our babies, but they’re her job. The barn manager cares about you and your horse and wants to do the right things for you (if you don’t believe that, it isn’t the right barn for you), but no one is perfect or a mind-reader. Mistakes happen and things aren’t always done the way you want them to be done. However, this is why reading that contract is important. Know what you have the right to expect and be really upfront about issues you have. You don’t want there to be secrets or resentments. It’s also a good idea to talk to the barn manager about issues you have with another boarder. You don’t know what conversations have taken place. Maybe you aren’t the only one with the same issue. Maybe there’s a plan in place, or in the works. And you don’t want to be the one to get in trouble for causing problems or creating drama. If you get the go ahead to talk to the boarder, remember to take as much emotion out of the conversation as possible. It’s always best to take the high road and give people the benefit of the doubt if possible. Rather than saying, “I can’t believe you’d be stupid enough to tie your horse outside my stall and not clean up after him!” instead say something like, “I noticed you tied Bob in the aisle by my stall and that there was some manure in the area when you went to ride. Can you please clean up after you use that space?”
Clean Up After Yourself
Always, always, always clean up after yourself and your horses. And sometimes, clean up after other people. We’re all busy and get distracted, but it’s your responsibility to clean up after your horse. Pick up any manure you leave in the arena and dispose of it properly. Don’t assume someone else will do it, or that it’s the barn manager’s job. If your horse poops in the aisle or grooming area, clean it up immediately so the concrete isn’t stained (urine needs to be cleaned up immediately as well). Sweep the grooming area and around your horses’ stalls. Even if the barn gets swept every day (or multiple times a day), don’t leave your hoof pickings and hair for someone else to deal with. Make sure your blankets are neatly stored and your tack is put away in it’s proper place. Piles of blankets on the floor are a haven for mice, mice poop, dirt, and debris. It’s easy for horses to get tangled up in stray reins or leg straps. We have a lot of money invested in our tack and equipment and it’s important for everything to have a place. If you take the few minutes to clean up, you’ll be helping keep the barn nice and setting a good example for the other boarders. If you get out to ride, and someone has left a pile of manure in the barn aisle, mention it to the barn manager, but pick it up. It will annoy you for the minute it takes to pick it up, but if you leave it, you’ll be annoyed the entire time you’re at the barn looking at it. Sometimes cleaning up someone else’s mess is more about making your time at the barn as enjoyable as possible more than it is about picking up after someone who was rude enough to leave the mess in the first place.
Mind Your Own Business
This one used to be really hard for me, but I’ve gotten better over the years. If someone asks you for help, and you think they really value your opinion or assistance, by all means help them. However, don’t butt into other people’s business. If you see someone wrapping their horse’s legs wrong, walk away. If you see someone feeding moldy hay, mention it to the barn manager, but don’t tell them their hay is junk. Don’t tell someone what they’re doing wrong when they’re riding, or how that saddle isn’t in the right place. Just don’t. They won’t necessarily thank you for your help (because they likely don’t want it) and you’ll use all your barn time on everyone else’s business. The exception is if you see a dangerous situation. I’ve tied horses up shorter because they were going to step over the lead rope, and I try to be really positive and say something like, “oh look, he’s gotten his leadrope really long, we’d better shorten him up so he doesn’t get hurt” without making a judgement. If the barn manager is around, it’s always best to tell her and let her make it an educational opportunity, but if not, it’s better to prevent an accident than to walk away. The other word of advice I have is to not get in the middle of an inter-barn disagreement. Don’t take sides, don’t sympathize with both sides, don’t even give the time to listen to the parties “make their case.” Why do that to yourself? You can just say, “I’m sorry, but I’m really pressed for time today. I need to get my ride in and get home before x time. I hope you and Other Boarder get things worked out.” And then walk away. We want to be nice and to support our horse friends, but drama feeds on drama and if you don’t make time to feed it, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.
Don’t Borrow Things
Don’t borrow anything, even a pitchfork, without permission. Don’t borrow feed or treats and think, “I’ll bring them some tomorrow.” You don’t know what their plans are and maybe that feed can’t be purchased locally or there was only enough to last for the week they were out of town on vacation. Boarders leave a lot of things out in the barn aisle that can be accessed by anyone who walks by. That doesn’t mean it belongs to the barn or that because you’re there, you can use it. If you have questions about what tools are available for boarder use, talk to the barn manager. If you don’t know, don’t assume. You should also write your name on your items so that it’s clear they belong to you. Put your stuff away and keep things in your area tidy. It helps take away any confusion as to what can be used, and what can’t be.
We all do this for fun and our horses are our hobbies and our stress relievers. Be nice to your fellow boarders, the barn manager, the employees, vets, farriers, trainers, the horses, and the barn cats. Help out when you can and treat everyone like you’d like to be treated.
If It Isn’t Working, Don’t Be Afraid to Leave
There’s no perfect facility, but we all have different needs. If your boarding facility isn’t living up to your expectations and your attempts to come to an understanding with management hasn’t resulted in a satisfactory resolution, don’t be afraid to find a new barn. Always give the notice required in the contract and leave your stall in as good a condition as it was when you moved in. Don’t talk smack or try to get your friends to leave with you. Be comfortable with your decision and take the high road. When someone asks why you’re leaving, you can tell them the truth, but don’t be negative or bad mouth the facility. I think saying something like, “I found another barn that is a better fit for my guys” is a good answer. You may want to come back some day and you don’t want to burn any bridges. Be honest with the barn manager about the things you liked and didn’t like about the facility. Most businesses welcome constructive criticism and will try to improve the areas they can.
What things have you found that are critical to a successful boarding relationship?