Not only do you have to know about horses, you better have the people skills and self preservation instincts to successfully manage a boarding facility. If you can keep the boarders from driving you nuts, you stand a pretty good chance of making it in the business.
Sports psychologist, Ann S. Reilly, said there are two tricks to staying sane in the horse boarding and lesson business: do your best to screen potentially troublesome boarders at the start and then learn to build a protective "bubble" around your own self interests.
"Develop a professional relationship," she said. "Start out with a screening interview when you’re considering new clients. Make sure you understand their expectations and that you carefully explain your own stable policies."
It’s perfectly acceptable to ask prospective clients about their reasons for considering your stable and it’s also good to follow up with references and other professional contacts. "Barn hoppers," people who frequently change stables, are often an immediate concern and you do have the right to decline service.
"You can just tell people right at the start that you don’t think they are a good fit for your barn," Reilly said. "And keep in mind the kind of operation you want. If you have a specialty, then you need to keep that in mind when screening potential new clients."
In tough economic times it’s tempting to accept any new client that shows up. But Reilly cautions that having a negative experience in the barn can cost you far more than keeping a stall empty for a period. "Have some faith that a good boarder will come along. One bad boarder can drive other good customers away," she said.
Go over your written contract policies in person. Make sure all financial policies are explained and understood. Point out your policies on behavior and expectations for conduct while people are using your stable. If you have business hours and are closed one day a week, make it clear to the new boarder there only are exceptions in case of emergencies.
"How important is horsemanship and courtesy to your operation? Spell it out as much as possible right down to use of such things as cross ties," Reilly said.
The relationship with a new boarder then tends to go through phases: the honeymoon when everything is wonderful, a middle phase where the relationship is working day to day, and finally an end phase when a boarder begins to think about leaving.
"The ending phase, if frustration has set in, is sometimes like a divorce," Reilly said. "From a psychological standpoint, you need to manage the ending phase so it goes as smoothly as possible."
While it’s probably not practical to think you can treat each boarder the same, you should have a standard of treating each customer with the same level of fairness. Fairness includes not talking about your clients with other boarders and maintaining standards for boarders and people using your barn to do the same.
"Avoid ‘triangle’ situations. Go talk to someone else about your frustrations and don’t confide in one of your boarders," Reilly cautioned.
"If you have a situation with a boarder, have a private, professional conversation with the person. Listen actively if you have a boarder come to you with a compliant but keep these issues to yourself," Reilly advised.
Troublemakers in a barn generally fall into several personality categories as described by Riley: The border line personality, the narcissist, the obsessive compulsive, the dependent type, and the negative personality. "Try to limit the number of each in your barn as much as you can,""she said.
A border line client has a crisis all the time and everything is a crisis. The narcissist cares only about themselves and has limited regard for the feelings of others. An obsessive compulsive worries about everything and seeks perfection that’s always out of grasp. The dependent will follow you around always seeking assurance. A negative personality is just plain negative about everything.
"Once you recognize one of these you need to build a personal ‘bubble’ around yourself. Remember, you need to take care of yourself. Take a day a week off and stick to it. Some people can just suck the energy right out of you," Reilly said.
Dealing with each personality type takes some coping mechanisms. The main piece of advice is to not get caught up in the personal issues of each client. If a behavior becomes an issue for the rest of your clients, then Reilly suggested having that personal chat with the person in question and reminding them of your policies and rules.
"A verbal battle usually isn’t productive," Reilly said. "It’s perfectly acceptable to point out that if the person isn’t happy in your barn perhaps it’s not a good fit."