Yesterday I sat down with the barn manager of Travelers Rest Dressage, Christy Hart. Christy has many years of experience as a barn manager and let me tell you, she’s one of the best. I have worked in a barn since I was 13 years old. It’s no easy task and being a barn manager is even more stressful. I wanted to talk to Christy about how to have the best Boarder/Barn Manager relationship. You always hear horror stories about crazy barn managers that are terrifying to talk to or of course, the crazy boarder that is not so easy to deal with. You don’t see that at Travelers Rest Dressage and I wanted to find out Christy’s secrets.
1. Communication Is Key
Christy says her top piece of advice is good communication. The number one rule of all relationships, communicate! I would say this is probably the biggest problem in most barns. Christy stressed that if her boarders have a problem, she wants them to come to her and tell her. Barn managers can’t be mind readers and they will appreciate it more if you come straight to them, and let them know that you have a problem. This also means you need to know who the manager of the barn is. A lot of times boarders will go to the first worker they see and tell them about a change needed for their horse. Well, say that worker doesn’t get the information to the manager. Then, only one person knows about the change that was made. It’s very important for all information to go to the one in charge. Christy has made an excellent fix for this problem. She has made a “Changes to be made” binder. This binder is sitting on her desk in the tack room. It contains a page for every horse in the barn. So say you want your horses grain increased. You go to the binder, find your horses name and write it down. When Christy or the other workers in the barn come in first thing in the morning, they look at the binder to see if any changes were made. I personally also love this because everything is documented. It’s not only a great tool for organization but it’s also great to have all changes that were made written down. It would be easy to go back and see when things were changed and what all is happening with your horse. Love. It.
2. Is it important?
After working in a barn for so many years, you learn that there are simply not enough hours to get everything done. Horses are high maintenance creatures. They just take a lot of time. ONE horse takes a lot of time to take care of. Now imagine you are in charge of 30+ horses. Not exactly a walk in the park. I feel that it’s very important for boarders to remember this. Know that the people taking care of your horse are also taking care of 30 others. When you feel the need to ask them to do something extra for your horse, ask yourself, “is this important?”. Obviously, if you need your horse to have medication in his breakfast, that’s very important. If your horse needs a spritz of show sheen in the morning, maybe not so important. Think of it this way, if every boarder asked for one extra thing to be done a day, that’s adding at least an hour and a half to the barn manager’s day (which was probably already at least a 12 hour day to begin with).
3. Trust your barn manager
Being a barn manager is far from an easy or glamorous job. So let me tell you, your barn manager has that job because they love horses. With that being said, you have to trust your barn manager’s opinion. They, most likely, are extremely knowledgeable about all things involving horse care. Trust that they have your horse’s best interest in mind, because that’s why they have this job. They love horses and they want what is best for them. As a horse owner, I understand this is difficult. Our horses are normally like our children and it’s very hard to give up control. But I think it’s very important that you find a barn where you would feel comfortable giving up all control of your horse to your manager. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, perhaps it’s not the right barn for you to be in. I recently have been traveling for two weeks (darn you Hurricane Irma) and I can tell you that I 100% trust my barn manager in Florida and have not worried or questioned one thing while I have been gone. I trust that she has my horse’s best interest in mind and is very knowledgeable in knowing what is best for my horse. And as an owner, that give me great peace of mind. You have to be able to somewhat give up control in a boarding situation. Obviously, that is your horse and you should always be in charge of how you want your horse taken care of. But you also have to be able to say, I trust your opinion and give up a little bit of that control. Sometimes it may not be exactly how you would do something, but there are other roads that lead to Rome. Just because it’s not exactly how you would get it done, remember that your barn manager knows what they are doing and it will get done. Trust them.
4. Know what you’re signing up for
Christy stressed that it is the horse owners duty to find a barn that is a good fit for them. She described it as “vetting barns”. Some people may love a barn that has a lot of people riding all of the time while others may want peace and quiet. Some people may want perfect footing in the arena to ride on while some may want miles of trails. Know what you want and find a barn that fits that criteria. Don’t expect owners or managers to make drastic changes in their barn just for you. Find one that fits your needs. Christy said it’s very important for barns to have a detailed agreement to be signed. She compared it to renting an apartment. When you sign a rental agreement, there will be rules such as: you can’t paint the walls or you must give a 30 day notice before leaving. Renting a stall should be no different. Know your barns policies and don’t expect to be able to bend them.
5. Help your barn stay organized
I think there are many ways that you, as a boarder, can help your barn stay organized.
- Smartpaks or baggies for supplements- If your horse requires more than two supplements a day, help out by getting smartpaks or put the supplements in ziplock bags for the week. You’re adding so much time for everyone when they have to serve up 7 supplements in your horses feed. Again, for one horse that’s not such a big deal. Do that for 30 and you’re in the feed room for an hour.
- Blankets- You will be your barn managers best friend if you bring in basic blankets for your horse. At the very most you need 3. A sheet, a blanket with fill and, if needed, a stable blanket. Blanketing can already be very confusing, and if you bring in an entire wardrobe for your horse, it’s a recipe for confusion. Simplify it.
- Know your horse’s schedule- I think it’s very important to know your horses schedule and try to work around it. If your horse gets turned out from 9-10:30, try your best to not come ride at 9:15. When there are 30 horses that need to get turned out, I can guarantee you there is a very strict schedule for it. When one horse changes that, it’s going to mess up the whole schedule.
- Help clean up- I completely get that we are all busy and we have things we need to get done. But if you have an extra 20 minutes after you ride, help out by sweeping the aisle or washing out the wash stall. Little things like this are going to help out more than you think.
6. Tell your barn manager about your horse
If your horse kicks people’s heads off when you put a blanket on, please tell your barn manager. It’s very important to tell your barn manager everything about your horse. Warn them of any bad habits they have, let them know a medical history and if they are prone to allergies, colic etc. Christy says the worst surprise is when a horse does something you are completely not prepared for, and then the owner mentions that they are prone to doing that. Tell them everything, even if you’re not proud of it!
7. Have equipment that is in good working condition
Horse equipment is very expensive, we all know that. If some of your equipment is not in good working condition, most likely the barn manager is going to have to use some of their own equipment on your horse. And that will get very pricey for them over time. If you want turnout boots on your horse, make sure you have decent quality boots with working Velcro on them. If they start to get overused, they will fall off in turnout, leaving your barn manager on a search in the field for your boots. Same rule of thumb for blankets. You don’t have to have a $700 blanket but make sure all the straps work easily to save your barn manager time and frustration.
Managing barns and horses is no easy task. Owning horses is no easy task. But at the end of the day, all parties involved want a happy and healthy horse. I hope some of these tips can help everyone find a happy, peaceful relationship with their barn managers!
Christ Hart’s clear love for horses