Monday, February 28, 2011

The Horses, Riding, Boarding

Doug and I went to the barn yesterday. We'll be bringing the horses home early this year. We need to find a way to make our own indoor arena viable. My horses are like my children. I need to be managing them. That's all I'll say about that. For now.
We free lunged over ground poles yesterday. Then I rode. Rogo was great.
We're exploring business ideas that would help sustain an indoor. I do know that I don't want a boarding barn. The profit margin in this region is too slim, it's tons of work, and there's potential for barn drama (a few boarders would be okay, but having a lot of boarders wouldn't be a good fit with trying to keep my own riding time, etc.). What other options are there? We'll partner with an experienced and well trained equestrian, so there are a variety of avenues we could take. Breeding, training, teaching, competition and clinic venue, ... 
I don't have any illusions that a horse business is going to be a big money maker, and there's a big risk management piece to be done, but I think with careful planning and a little luck, a fun, satisfying and sustainable business can come together. Does anyone have any thoughts, ideas and / or advice?
I was Director of Community, Culture and Economic Development for Halifax Regional Municipality when I retired early a few years ago. It was a large department with a big budget and I loved the work (events, heritage, recreation, culture, community development, etc., etc.), but hated the politics, so I left. After a break, I started a consulting business with a friend. We do management consulting for municipalities and we have quite a bit of work and have fun together. Life is good. The thing is, I like that work, and I'd like to keep doing a bit of it, but I don't love it. It isn't what I'm passionate about. 
I wake up and fall asleep thinking about horses. I need to build more of it into my life instead of doing other work and paying someone to look after my horses in the winter.
Sorry if this is rambling. I'm just thinking out loud... I think change is coming... Thanks for listening.

17 comments:

Kate said...

Good to be thinking about that - you're right - it would be good to have your life of one piece where the horses are a central part. Will be interested to see how your plan develops.

Jan said...

Carol, This is an exciting prospect! Maybe you can get good ideas as well from the others in your dressage community (I think you have done some volunteering with them) as to what needs riders/owners in your area have. Good luck with the plans!

horsemom said...

That sounds exciting! No suggestions for you other than saying you are making a good decision not to take on boarders. From what I've learned working at my place for the last year and a half, it is rough, in times like these no one is paying. It is more of a headache than anything and hard to get out of when you're in over your head because boarders won't pay.
Not to mention being stuck with horses when boarders just disappear!

Annette said...

Good luck! Keep blogging about your ideas - I'm very interested. I love having our horses at home where we can manage them. I also don't want to deal with barn drama so we only have one boarder and we weren't even sure about doing that -- although it has worked out great.

juliette said...

Carol,

This sounds so exciting. Having your horses with you and caring for them year round is the way to go - only you can give them the best care.

I do worry about you having boarders. Even a few. I went through a very difficult year when I took in boarders - 3 people with 4 horses. The horses were fabulous. The boarders started out to be helpful and kind and ended up generating a lot of stress for me and my family.

Brian and I often philosophize about just went wrong. I think that the bottom line is that in a boarding situation, everyone actually has an even say. You can think that you own the facility and have excellent managing skills and can prevent drama. I thought that. But, I didn't own the horses and no paperwork in the world can make people agree on how to take care of THEIR animals.
You'll not believe this, but our problems arose because one day, I moved our boarders horses to a pasture with shade in a 90 degree heatwave. They were angry because they wanted their horses to "cowboy up" and endure the heat. That sounds nutty and that I must have just had "bad" boarders, but in reality I just had boarders. It was our farm, our pastures, our stalls - and their horses. Conflict comes from differing philosophies about horse care and nothing generates more passion than the proper way to care for a horse.

I still can't believe what transpired when I think back on it. I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone.

I am usually the ultimate optimist, and I am sorry that this comment is so bleak. I hope you wanted honest advice. I adore reading of your sweet horsey life and would hate to see anything upset your balance. I get the sense that you are going through some pain now where you are at - imagine something similar at your own facility. I really took my time and every precaution so it couldn't happen to me - but it did. Please be careful!

Shannon said...

I realized several years ago that the only way a facility would be up to my standards is if it were my own! Not because boarding barns are all bad (although, I've been in some doozies!), but just because everyone has a different standard of care. There's always going to be something that someone does that annoys you. I brought everyone home two years ago and haven't been happier since! I don't even mind the barn chores on cold and snowy days (too much).

Back in the day, I used to manage a training facility. Our biggest money maker was sale horses. Horses in training paid the overhead, sale horses turned a profit. Of course, that was in the late 90s/early 2000s when money was flowing freely, I don't know how well that business plan would work now.

The best piece of wisdom I learned was to have a business plan and stick to it. The businesses I know that have failed were always inconsistent. One day they were breeders, the next they were trainers, then a boarding facility, back to breeders, etc.... then they were closed! Pick a plan, focus on it, do it well, build a reputation. Good luck!

Carol said...

Great advice you guys! Wow - thanks. My feelings about boarders have been validated, so I appreciate knowing about that.
Shannon my business partner is interested in sales horses, so that's good to know. Our economy is a little more better here (seems it never has the highs, but also doesn't crash) so it is worth researching.
Thanks everyone.

Barbara said...

If I had the property I would run a clinic venue. You need facilities, parking and to fit into the local clinic schedule/offer facilities for ongoing clinics that need a better place. I think it would be a blast, and everybody goes home after!

Carol said...

Barbara I like that idea. It's where my thoughts are turning, perhaps with some smaller competitions too.
Juliette, I meant to say that I just can't believe people would want their horses in 90 degree heat with no shade. That's awful and certainly a cautionary tale.

wendyu said...

Carol what an interesting point in your life! I'm going through HUGE changes too. At the end of this month I will be leaving an organization I've worked for 20 yrs. I'm going into an area I'm much more passionate about which incorporates two hobbies of mine - horses and photography. I won't make nearly the amount of money I have been making but I will be much happier in my work.

As for boarding, I couldn't imagine running a boarding facility. If I did it'd be small. I'm currently keeping my horses in a self care facility with only 2 other boarders. This is the best! I give my horses the care they need! No more complaining about feeding times, others leading (mishandling) my horses out to the fields, turnout time, etc. And the other two boarders are adult women (we're all about the same age) who can help me out in a pinch.

It's really a wonderful arrangement. On the flip side, if it was me running the facility I'm not certain I would like having people coming to my place everyday. I guess you'd lose out on some privacy. But then when the monthly check comes in, it may not be so bad. :)

Best of luck to you in taking an adventure in your life. I'm all for doing what makes you happy! Life is too short to be doing drudgery!!

TeresaA said...

I hear you. I have boarded many places- two were horrific but the rest were fine. But I need to have my horse home. We are finally working on that :). But there won't be an indoor so I am still looking at boarding in the winter. For me it's worth it though. I agree about the drama. I have learned to keep myself out of the drama. The problems arise when the owner and BO cannot agree on care. Don't know the answer it's just what happens.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

I have only one boarder, whom I really like, but we have already had several conflicts...

I held her horse (no charge) once for the farrier who arrived hours early - they complained and wished I had made him wait around for them to arrive - he was on a super tight schedule...

They have asked me to relax my rule about no minors riding without supervision - inconvenient to the Mom's schedule to wait around...

They don't feed nearly enough hay but load the horse up with concentrates...

There are so many ways opinions can differ and people will say anything when they are anxious to find a boarding situation.

The event facility idea sounds promising, especially if you're aiming at subsidizing an indoor. And as Barbara said everyone goes home after. My only advice would be write your contracts very carefully - I'm glad I did.

Excited for you Carol - keep us posted!

Kitanna said...

If anyone can do it hun, it's you!

Amy said...

Cool thoughts. I am constantly trying to find a way to turn my passions into profit. The risks are always the hardest part. You have no one else to blame if it all falls apart, you know? I really hope you find something that works. We have gone the direction of building a facility and finding a way to pay for it but agian, those risks eek are scary to me. Good luck on this journey!

smazourek said...

EEK Boarders! If you can make money out of having a clinic venue then that has my vote.

Story said...

I'm so excited for you! You're talking about living the dream.

It's funny, I've often said that if I ever find myself so fortunate as to have my own facility, I will not take boarders. As you said, the potential for drama is just too much. But that makes me think...is it so hard to find a good boarding stable because most people are just too smart to want to run one? lol. Ok, a little over the top but still a funny thought.

I can't tell you the frustration I'm having with boarding. The hay is scary, I can't get turnout (BO said he's too busy for that), now they've run out of bedding so we've been having to buy our own in town at a rediculous price, husband has to go out every evening to feed her grain because we can't even get smartpaks fed (wouldn't dare not check her water every day anyway), the place is so dirty, we've had problems with people taking our supplements and grain. I could go on. I dream of the day we can find some property and bring my girl home. In the meantime, we shop for a new boarding situation. It will mean going from being 5 minutes away to an hour. We do what we must for our horses, right?

Best of luck to you, Carol! I can't wait to hear your great success story! :)

Carol said...

Wendyu - sounds exciting. Good for you and god to know other people are making major life changes.
Story - your boarding situation sounds nightmarish (no pun intended). I sure hope you can find something better and not too far away.
All of you - thanks so much for the ideas and feedback. I'm feeling pretty sure at this point that boarders are a risky bet at best.
Kitanna - you're sweet. Thank you :)