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Partially working off boarding fees - anyone done it?

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  • Partially working off boarding fees - anyone done it?

    In the preliminary stages of making my "post retirement horse ownership plan" and wanted to bounce some ideas off anyone who cares to chime in....

    I worked weekends as a stablehand/groom at a hunter jumper show stables all the way through high school, so I'm a pro stall mucker (a skill you never loose), and have the rest of the requisite barn skills too. I'm a mean mane and tail braider as well, but probably wouldn't be a needed skill at the barn I've got my eye on.

    DH and I have decided where we want to re-locate once we're retired, and I'm putting off horse ownership until after relocation. I have plenty of horses to ride right now, so there's no rush and I don't want to have to move a horse 800 km if avoidable. Things might change if my "dream horse" happens upon me in the intervening 4 years, but that's the plan right now.

    DH is on board with me getting my "retirement horse" and we've decided boarding is the best option because we also both like to travel some, especially during the winter. I'd be looking for outdoor board because I'm a firm believer of horses being horses, in the company of other horses. Since I've returned the the horse world this past year, I've quickly realized I'd rather muck an entire 20 horse barn than vacuum my own house.

    So here's my question: Has anyone had any experience with working at the barn to defray part of their boarding costs? How has it worked out for you? What are the upsides and/or pitfalls? We know where we're interested in relocating, and I have my eye on a particular barn, who also have an active carriage business, so I'm thinking they might need some help during the busy times of summer when we wouldn't be travelling. Do I go and visit them now (or sometime closer to our relocation) and lay the groundwork, or wait until after we're living there?

    Edited to add: BO's -- what kind of experience have you had with this kind of a situation? What has worked for you, what hasn't and why?
    Last edited by NorthwoodsRider; Nov. 27, 2012, 08:04 PM.
    At its finest, rider and horse are joined not by tack, but by trust. Each is totally reliant upon the other. Each is the selfless guardian of the other's very well-being.
    (Author Unknown)

  • #2
    DD did that. If you do it, do it money for money. If the going rate is $10 per stall, get the cash and then give it back if you want. Don't trade service for reduced board.


    • Original Poster

      Thanks for the advice 3dogpack! People might think I'm crazy for planning for something that isn't going to happen for another 4 years, but that's just the way my very type A brain works, and it makes it easier to not horse shop now if I can occupy myself with riding the 3 I have available to me and planning for when I have my own.
      At its finest, rider and horse are joined not by tack, but by trust. Each is totally reliant upon the other. Each is the selfless guardian of the other's very well-being.
      (Author Unknown)


      • #4
        Agreeing with threedogpack... Tried it the other way. Got burned. Get paid, and then write the check back from that.
        And definitely nothing wrong with planning ahead.


        • #5
          I've done it several times.

          I would say if you aren't getting paid and paying board out of that, get it down in writing what exactly you are doing in exchange for what amount off board.

          One facility ended up having a mass influx of more horses (including 4 more stallions which were way more labor intensive since we had to turn them out in particular locations, clean stalls more frequently, etc).

          Another person I worked at would ask me to do whatever else in addition to what I was doing in exchange for board. I was just originally feeding, but she'd call and ask me to muck stalls or stack hay or whatever in addition. Then she'd get angry if I asked for an additional reduction, even though I was just replacing the normal stall mucker who was getting a reduction (and was out a while) or whatever. I was too stupid to get that place in writing and it ended up being an ugly blowout at the end since she said I didn't work X months or whatever, but I had saved the emails showing I did, etc, etc.

          Current place, I do help every other Saturday. I have a specific checklist to do (feed, turnout, etc). Stacking and moving hay is paid in cash, extra. This barn owner is very conscientious about communicating what is changing, what we can do better, etc. Much better than past places. He's also male, which is nice to deal with someone that is more business-like and level headed than most of the female barn owners I've dealt with.

          So I would get everything agreed upon up front as far as specific chores, number of horses, or whatever if you are not being paid in cash. Caring for 20 horses is way different than doing the same work for caring for 45 horses.

          Best of luck in your advanced planning.

          FWIW--I have always enjoyed helping do barn chores (except now being injured, that makes it more difficult, but it just means my darling husband has to muck & help me more!). But I enjoy handling and dealing with other horses and being hands on in a barn.

          I would also make sure that you are very comfortable with handling all kinds of horses if you'd be doing more than mucking. I've had lots of quirky horses to handle and I'm OK since I've dealt with a lot of horses that weren't as well mannered as Old Dobbin.
          Semi Feral


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by starrunner View Post
            I would also make sure that you are very comfortable with handling all kinds of horses if you'd be doing more than mucking. I've had lots of quirky horses to handle and I'm OK since I've dealt with a lot of horses that weren't as well mannered as Old Dobbin.
            Yeah, I'm pretty good with that -- I'm the only one at my barn besides the BO that can handle the one "crazy horse" there that everyone else is afraid of. I'm careful around her, but have never been afraid of her and she's always been fine with me.

            Thanks everyone for your insights & wisdom... keep it coming!!!
            At its finest, rider and horse are joined not by tack, but by trust. Each is totally reliant upon the other. Each is the selfless guardian of the other's very well-being.
            (Author Unknown)


            • #7
              I'm a little negative about the "work off board" scenario. In my experience, non-professional workers work more inefficiently (I pay my workers by the hour) and frequently over-value their work because they are used to getting paid more at other less taxing jobs where their education and other skills were valued. But on a horse farm, I don't care if someone has graduated from high school if they can show up reliably, work hard, handle animals quietly, and follow instructions. Also, I've had issues with people either not wanting to do enough hours to be worth training, or wanting to cherry pick tasks or work times/weather. I also think that it can be awkward to blur the line between "client" and "employee," that just depends on the situation.

              If you really want to do some kind of deal like this, I would wait until you are actually settled in that area, make sure you can afford to care for your horse without working off any part of the board, find a barn where you would be happy whether or not you were working off board, and then open the discussion regarding working off board. Consider that you will earn more $$ for your time and effort doing just about anything else besides working in a barn and be comfortable with that if you decide to go this route.


              • #8
                I did, for almost four years. I had an agreementwith the BO for how much was taken off my board per hour. Each month my board bill showed my reduction and I paid the balance. It worked because we agreed on the dollar amount per hour and how many hours per week. If you find it is not working for you right off the bat, get out. That is when I have seen the most issues- someone assumes an agreement that is not working will get better. It almost never does!


                • #9
                  As a BO I pay $10/hr. I do not allow "working off board". I do allow working for a lesson. Usually when a person is working in the barn for me, I am working right along beside them because I allow no one to operate my tractor and manure spreader except me. I have 1 boarder that gets a discount on her board for 3 horses in exchange for feeding for me if I have an event to work that night. Which is good for her (and me because I can trust her to notice a sick horse, etc) because like this wk I am working 5 nights but did not work any nights for the last 2 wks.


                  • #10
                    I did it for a few months working off lessons and part of board. However, the BO "paid" $1 per stall but would try to deduct you $5 if she thought you didn't do well enough. It was ridiculous. There were about 20 stalls. I ended up working off lessons but paid for my board. I agree with working for money and then turning around and paying it toward board. Make sure things are written down into a contract.


                    • #11
                      I did it for many years. At first it was ok, but then more work started occurring and it was taking me longer to do the work. Of course I didn't have anything in writing and it started to become a problem. I didn't get any additional compensation for it taking me three hours of being at the barn versus 1.5 hours. I would be trying to feed and turnout, clean stalls and the BO/trainer would call me down to the ring to set jumps or video her riding a horse that was for sale. Needless to say when she was done, she would want me to take care of the horse and she would scoot off for home. I was the one stuck staying at the barn having to finish stuff that I could have had done much earlier if I didn't get "added" chores ie, jump setting etc. My initial understanding was feeding, turnout, and mucking, but then frequent changes of blankets was added and treatments when necessary. This was before the days of Smark packs, and all the horses were on several supplements. Then doing laundry was added. I was very reliable and had good horse knowledge and worked hard, but became under appreciated towards the end. The other factor that came to be a problem was that because I worked at the barn, on the days I wasn't working I was constantly plagued by requests or questions from other boarders. This made my horse time much less enjoyable. Would I do it again? Nope, not on your life.


                      • #12
                        I have a small private barn. I've just started having two boarders feed for me on occasional evenings. It is working very well so far, but I've known both women for years. I would never in a million years consider allowing someone I didn't know to have anything to do with horse care! Perhaps this is different at a bigger barn. But, I completely agree with BeeHoney that you need to find the barn you like and be able to afford it without working. That way, after you've been there for a period of time and they've gotten to know you, *then* you could raise the idea of working off board.

                        My trainer has a long established working student program, intended for teenagers, though I believe she wouldn't mind if an older person wanted to participate. You could try to find a barn with a similar set up -- if the system has been going for years with everyone happy that's an indicator that no one (BO or HO) is being taken advantage of. Plus you know the BO would be willing to allow work for a board discount.
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                        • #13
                          I currently do it now at my barn. BO pays a flat hourly fee. Feeding, T/O and cleaning takes 2 hours in the a.m. and 1.5 hours in the p.m.. If you get done sooner, great, if not, too bad. Keep in mind, there are not "extras" thrown into the mix besides the occasional one or two that need to be kept in 24/7

                          This is a no frills barn, so no putting on boots and other accessories. I have been doing it for the past few months. I keep track and when I pay my board, I total it all up and write my check for minus what I have worked, give the BO the board check and the invoice and am done. I have done a lot of work for board situations in the past and this one is by far the best one. Keeps both parties happy.
                          I don't always feel up to arguing with your ignorance


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by BeeHoney View Post
                            If you really want to do some kind of deal like this, I would wait until you are actually settled in that area, make sure you can afford to care for your horse without working off any part of the board, find a barn where you would be happy whether or not you were working off board, and then open the discussion regarding working off board. Consider that you will earn more $$ for your time and effort doing just about anything else besides working in a barn and be comfortable with that if you decide to go this route.
                            This for sure.
                            And get everything in writing!

                            I used to work off board and my mucking was a per stall rate. At the end of the month I would get my board bill and very rarely did my reduction match what I knew I worked (I kept a log, including horses names, etc). Then there was the fight because the person who made the bills would insist she was right even though she rarely went into the barn.


                            • #15
                              I currently work off part of my board with feeding. The BO pays a sent amount depending on whether its the am or pm feed (pm gets more, it takes longer). All the horses live out 24/7, some fields everyone behaves and eats their own food, other fields get tied using a tie blocker so no one steals. Sometimes feeding takes an hour, so then the amount she pays is generous, other times like for me this past day I had took 2 hours for various reasons, and it wasn't worth it. But I put a smile on my face because I love being out there even after working a 9 hour day and comuting 30 mins to the barn. All of us feeders have eachothers contact info, so there is always someone to cover, and always someone who wants to give up a day. BO pays by check or reduces board. She's fair about the amount either way. I have my taken off my bill. I like seeing a smaller number when I get the slip of paper every month


                              • #16
                                I work off the majority of board for two horses right now - one full care and one pasture, and I also did at the previous barn I worked at. The current one has a flat fee for specific jobs; the previous one was hourly originally. The current barn I board at is very professional; the barn owner has managed/owned boarding stables for 30 years, so there really are no issues. I know exactly what jobs I need to get done, she has a guideline of times they need to be done by (for example, we typically turn out around 8 am, but if we need to earlier it's fine. But not later. Same with bringing in - can't bring in before 5:00 p.m.; but they should be in right around when it gets dark, which can vary from 6:00 in the winter to 10:00 in the summer), and I get paid a certain amount for those jobs no matter how long it takes me. How much "per hour" I make depends on me, but it averages $10-15/hr. She's very professional and there are no issues with this arrangement at all.

                                Previous barn was much more frustrating. The original hourly thing was frustrating, because they usually took so much longer in the winter than summer - feeding took longer, stalls were worse because they were in more, and you just move slower when it's cold. So, if you ended up working a full 8 hours, you felt guilty or were questioned if you billed more than 5. Also it made it hard to budget/plan ahead, because you never knew how long chores were going to take. Management continually changed as well, which can be frustrating. The final manager before we left came in during the fall, and we discussed changing to a flat rate to make it easier for everyone to budget, to allow us to take breaks and ride, etc., without stressing how long it took for chores, etc. That worked well over winter, when we were getting paid for 5 hours but chores would often take 6-8 hours; but when summer came and we were getting done in 2 hours or so (which balanced out the long days all winter), she wanted to go back to an hourly rate *sigh*.

                                So really, it depends on the professionalism. I would never do chores at a barn that paid hourly again. I like being able to take my time and not stress how many hours I'm putting in, as long as they get done. I like knowing I have to do x, y and z and I get paid $xx for it. We both keep track and this month's work goes towards next month's board, so on the 1st of every month one of us writes a check for the difference, and it all works out.

                                The downfalls - I do so many chores now that I find it difficult sometimes to go ride my horse, because it feels like I live at the barn on my weekends and not in the good way. Other boarders see me as an extension of the owner and ask questions about when things are getting done, what her plans are, etc. - which I either don't know or am not at liberty to share, or complain about things they aren't happy with, can get demeaning. I'm a boarder too - when I come as a boarder I don't want to be referred to as "the help." Just because I pay my board through work doesn't make me less of a person. I've developed a relationship with all 30 horses that come in and find it difficult to be detached - I've stayed many hours for other people's sick horses, walked colics, cold hosed swollen legs, helped the vets ... and yeah, cried over other people's horses who were lost. BUT when I transitioned to having several horses at home, there weren't really any surprises; I had a good idea of what the work involved because of my years doing barn chores and being privy to the background workings of owning a barn, which was a bonus.
                                If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
                                ~ Maya Angelou


                                • #17
                                  I worked off some of my board when I had both horses boarded. My board bill had a set amount of money that was taken off each month, regardless of whether I worked 3 days or 15 days a month. So at least I always knew my board bill wouldn't change, and at the beginning of the month we'd go over the days their regular stall cleaner wouldn't be there, and I would do as many of the days as I was able to (was expected to do most/all, but if I had another commitment I could skip a day and barn owner would take care of it) So yes, I would have gotten more money per hour by working at McDonald's, but I LOVED spending the time at the barn. Even if it meant I was working for peanuts. The time spent there meant far more than the money I could have gotten from something I didn't enjoy. YMMV.

                                  Getting paid, preferably by the job, then using that money to write your board check is definitely the most fair way to do it, but as long as you're willing to "make"/work off less than your time is probably worth, doing chores in exchange works too. (And yes, I would do it again if I was still boarding.)


                                  • #18
                                    When I worked off some board, I was at a smaller place and I was basically paid by the job. So if it was 5 stalls to clean, haul and spread manure, clean buckets, put out feed and rotate horses? Well if it took BO an hour to do all that, I got credit for an hour when I did it whether it took me an hour or and hour and a half. She and I were friends and I was used to doing my own chores anyway, so we were on the same page. Generally though, I wouldn't go in to a boarding situation NEEDING to work off board. As much as people end up moving barn to barn, it would be best to budget for paying full board and then if you have a situation where you can work some off? Great. If not, you're not totally screwed.

                                    There are a lot of great barns that just don't allow working off board and for good reason IMHO. You're either employed or not. But the money doesn't cross. KWIM?

                                    Good luck on your future horse ownership!
                                    A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

                                    Might be a reason, never an excuse...


                                    • #19
                                      Make sure it's worth it! Current barn will let boarders work off board by feeding and doing stalls... but the amount she pays per feeding and per stall is soo small that it's not worth it most of the time. I'll also add that if we don't have the full number of horses she reduces the amount she gives... although this is not told to anyone until it actually comes up! It's utterly ridiculous, some people end up spending more in gas money than they get for feeding... it's LESS than minimum wage. And the barn owner wonders why no one signs up to feed....

                                      That said at past barns I've worked off board and/or lessons. The first barn I just got paid for my time. The second barn I fed and did stalls twice a week for my weekly lesson.
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                                      • #20
                                        I board at a semi-private farm (I say semi-private because there are only three boarders, a friend of the owner, the farm manager/barn hand, and myself, who got really really lucky when a friend of hers gave me her info when I was searching)...she doesn't advertise and keeps the place very low-key and drama free!

                                        It's an all outdoor set-up, so no stalls to clean or anything, but everyone pitches in. Our board agreement specifically states two things: First, each boarder can be asked to feed three times per month per horse they have boarded without being pay (board is low for all the amenities so it's a small price to pay!) and that each boarder can work for $10/hour that will be applied to the next months board. Work must be agreed upon by BO. So far I've helped dig and put in an electric and water line to the outdoor arena, and helped dig out small ditches/move dirt around the edge of the arena where we put in railroad ties.

                                        I love that there's no ambiguity in the contract....that's what makes it easy.
                                        To be loved by a horse should fill us with awe, for we hath not deserved it.