Okay so I've officially been a barn manager for 2 months.
Don't get me wrong, I've worked in a lot of barns. We also owned a small boarding farm for a couple of years.
I have learned from some amazing people about what quality horse care looks like. I think my horse management skills are getting fairly well-honed. I am continually growing in this department but I feel confident and am rarely surprised by the day-to-day challenges anymore.
That said, managing the "human" aspect of barn affairs is somewhat new to me. I've never been responsible for the day-to-day leadership of other humans in the barn.
Ensuring that I am taking care of the equine needs is one thing but becoming a human manager has proven a bit more challenging.
What's life if you're not up to a challenge though, right?!
My short leadership legacy thus far has taught me a lot, and also brought a few things to light.
I'm assuming since you're reading this the title caught your eye and you have some interest in barn work.
Or maybe you're a barn manager like me?
Or maybe you work in a job anywhere that has a manager ... or you are the manager. I think a lot of this is general life/work "stuff".
I enjoy helping others to learn from what I've learned and also from my mistakes, so that's what I'm here to do.
So let's get at it .... Here is what I have learned (and what I think will help others) about management (of barns ... and I'm sure you'll draw other applications as well):
1) MY TITLE IS "BARN MANAGER", BUT I'M REALLY IN THE LEADERSHIP BUSINESS.
I love that quote above. And I believe it.
I took on this role because I am ABSOLUTELY passionate about making sure that every horse and every client can feel safe and secure leaving their horse in our care. I also think the barn should be a place of joy and learning and friendship. And this begins with a staff that are there for the right reasons and on board with the "vision". A vision I'm constantly thinking of moving closer to.
2) THIS LIST MIGHT SEEM SILLY.
To some of you, this list might seem like .... duhhhh. But what I've realized, is not all of these things are intuitive or common sense to everyone.
As a manager, you might have to clearly delineate these understandings to your staff.
As a staff member, don't be insulted if your manager outlines these things with you. They've likely had employees in the past who required this level of clarity and offer it now across the board.
3) "LIFE OR DEATH" COMES FIRST
Anywhere that you deal with "life" though (animal, human, etc), you have some absolute "non-negotiables" to deal with.
No-show days are not an option. Someone HAS to take care of the animals, so someone HAS to be there. If this weighs too heavy on you, or you don't think you can do what you committed to ... this isn't the job for you.
4) YOUR JOB IS NOT MY JOB.
Due to #3 ... this one can be tough to adhere to. In fact, I include it in here to remind myself more than anything.
The role of the barn manager is to oversee. To organize. To coordinate. To schedule. To record keep. To assess ....
Usually the barn manager has spent many early mornings and late nights in their life cleaning stalls, fixing waterers, feeding hay, tending to sick or injured horses etc. It is this experience that gave them the necessary skills to be a barn manager.
That said, if they continue to do these jobs when they have staff hired for that purpose, then NOBODY is getting done what they are supposed to. If the barn manager does a poor job of managing, the service will decline, clients will notice and then said clients will likely go elsewhere. Clients pay bills and bills fund paychecks.
Soooo ... if clients leave, we have no jobs. So the barn laborers must, well, labor ... and the barn manager must manage. There's no fair or unfair about it. Both roles are vitally important and neither functions without the other. If you are a barn laborer and want to be a manager ... keep up the good work and you'll find your way there.
(And if you're an over-controlling barn manager or your staff aren't completing their jobs, so you find yourself continually doing chores ... well, you're not really managing and will likely find yourself phased out or burned out.)
5) DESPITE #4, "THAT'S NOT MY JOB" JUST WON'T WORK.
Due to the "care of animals" factor, claiming that you didn't do something or that it's "not your job" just doesn't fly in a barn (whether you're the stall-mucker or the owner).
If a waterer breaks or a horse is injured and you're all there is around.... Guess what honey .. you're up to bat!
6) DAILY TASKS AND BIG PICTURE THINKING.
In any business, there are employees who tend to the small (sometimes menial seeming) everyday tasks (in our case: feeding, watering, cleaning stalls, washing buckets, etc). If this is your job, take pride ... the place could NOT run without you.
There must ALSO be someone who is looking out for the bigger picture ... the long term goals and vision for the business. It can be difficult to take on both at once without getting completely burned out, which is why we need laborers and managers.
It's vital to note though that we HAVE TO work together. As a manager I need to consider the daily struggles when planning and strategizing for the future. As a laborer, you must consider the long- term and big picture impact of your work or your daily tasks would get overwhelming and lose their purpose.
That said ....
7) SENSOR YOUR SUGGESTIONS.
Whether you are a new hire or an old farm hand (pun intended), you will have ideas about things that would improve the place.
Some of these ideas will be great, affordable and easy ways to make things run more smoothly and efficiently.
Others will be costly and complicated to implement (a fact that may not matter to you if you don't have to fork over the money or paid labor for it).
Owning and running a boarding stable (especially a modest one) is rarely a money maker. Usually the overhead costs are UNBELIEVABLE to those who haven't seen a barn balance sheet up close.
Owners and managers are always open to suggestion but will grow weary of the constant barrage of ideas, needs and wants from employees to make the barn "better" (especially if they are just to make your job easier).
In all likelihood, owners and managers have tossed the ideas around already and are looking to find the funds or resources to make it happen ... I would hate to see these funds come from the recovered wages of an overly-critical employee.
8) YOUR JOB MATTERS.
This is not just me spouting platitudes or giving lip service. I board my horses where I work and that makes me a client as well as a barn manager and trainer/instructor. That means I have a vested interest and I am telling you ... YOU ARE IMPORTANT. Providing quality care with integrity, honesty and effort is something to be very proud of.
There are a lot of other minimum wage level jobs that you might struggle to find purpose in, but if you love horses, being outdoors or being a steward of animals, you can find endless satisfaction in this type of work. I've seen it many times, in many different employees.
But, you have to check your motives and your expectations. The work is tough. Very tough some days. If you love it though, it's totally worth it.
So ... do you still want work at a barn or have I scared you off?
If you are a true horse lover and have a spirit of determination and a hardy work ethic, there is likely not a whole lot that can deter you.
That is what makes this sport (and this job) so amazing. It's more than just a job ... it gets in your blood and the passion and love you have for it is a force to be reckoned with.
I am sharing this because if you are truly passionate about barn life (and making it your employment) I would hate to see you sacrifice that dream over some simple misunderstandings.
Management of expectations and clear delineation of roles can help to lessen confusion and resent, and help employees and managers to work together to create a wonderful place to ride AND to work.
I have big visions in everything I do and this is no different. I'm loving all of the learning and opportunity that accompanies my latest adventure into barn management.
I might not be able to claim that we are normal, but at least I (and others out there like me) can say I have a "stable" job.
Take it all in stride my friends ;)