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Starting a boarding co-op... advice?

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  • Starting a boarding co-op... advice?

    I'm not even sure if this is feasible given the situation, but I wanted to see if anyone had any experience in doing a boarding co-op.

    The facility is owned by my trainer's family (along with extended family) in Vienna, VA. She ran her business from one of the barns on the property for several years, and recently moved it out to The Plains when one of her clients bough a huge farm out there. :P

    She kept the Vienna barn running with a reduced client load and coming back once a week to do lessons. However, she can't continue to oversee the barn due to her obligations at the other place, so the stragglers/people who couldn't afford the drive/high board at the other place are left trying to find a new place.

    Anyway, she said she would be open to have someone run the Vienna barn as a co-op and leaving the responsibility to other people, but still coming back to do lessons. For those of us who enjoy training with her, this would be a welcome alternative to uprooting entirely and finding a new barn/trainer/farrier/vet/etc.

    I've been at a co-op before, but this time the owner actually took part (he fed in the AMs, the 3 boarders split up evening chores). I'm unsure of how to start putting together a plan for this. I feel like there should be someone "in charge" that is responsible for overseeing things, but should be more available than someone like me (who works fulltime).

    Where do I start? Do I place an ad? What if someone's a sucky boarder? Ahhh!
    Road to the T3D
    fri [fri:] fritt fria (adj): Free
    skritt [skrit:] skritten (noun): Walk

  • #2
    Sounds like a pain in the ass. If the board is so high why can't they afford barn help? Or is there already barn staff?

    Are you getting a reduction in board in exchange for doing chores?


    • #3
      I've never co-op boarded but it sounds as though this could be made to work if the trainer and family is still involved through owning the place.
      They might be open to maintaining it.
      It's a given that co ops cost less because the boarders have to do some (all) of the work.
      Has trainer not considered hiring a BM for Old Barn and continuing to run it as before or have all the staff etc migrated to the new place?

      I've been involved in two non-horse Co-ops and they had groups of people "in charge", like a BOD, with people using their strengths such as bill paying and price negotiation, physical plant, grunt labor, but there was always the possiblity somebody was going to flake or personality clashes would cause someone to pull out. of course I've seen the revolving barn worker syndrome too.

      Time to poll the boarders that are left and see how they feel about things.
      Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
      Incredible Invisible


      • Original Poster

        Showhorsegallery - No, no, the board at The Plains facility is super high. ($1000/mo).

        The trainer tried using a BM for the barn for the past 6 months, but she's completely flaked out and is not doing her job up to standards -- isn't ordering hay/grain/etc., not cleaning stalls, not doing paddock waters, etc.

        Unfortunately the other barn on the property (which is run by her aunt) is much larger and the aunt refuses to allow my trainer to hire any of her barn workers as help. (There are tensions b/w the aunt/uncle and my trainer's family. Sucks because they both live on the same property!)

        My trainer wants to have someone else deal with it because her parents are constantly getting caught up in the mess between the uncle (who sends bills for stupid things to her parents -- stuff that isn't even USED at our barn, like loads of bluestone or whatever) and the barn my trainer was running. The idea is having someone outside the family in charge of this smaller barn would mean we'd actually stand up to the a--hole uncle and not let him blackball us into paying stuff we didn't hire him for.
        Road to the T3D
        fri [fri:] fritt fria (adj): Free
        skritt [skrit:] skritten (noun): Walk


        • #5
          It sounds like there are many ways this could go bad, with the family issues as well as starting up a co-op arrangement.

          What about the Aunt and Uncle managing the Old Barn? They have an interest in seeing the barn run right, and they are already there. Unless they are impossible, in which case never mind.
          Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


          • #6
            All depends on the PEOPLE . . .

            I was in one of these many years ago; and it worked like a well-oiled machine. BO just leased us the facility, which was a lovely antique barn with 4 huge rubber-matted stalls, tack room, enormous storage and 4 nice small pastures.

            There were 4 of us; a vet and his wife, one other lady, and me. I procured all the supplies, hay and grain; the rider who was an early riser did the mucking, feeding, and turnout AM; the vet and his wife did the evenings bringing in, feeding, lights-out.

            We never had a single disagreement with each other, and rarely with the BO, during the 5 years or so we did it. The key is get together with people whose temperaments are compatible or who can at least work rationally together and are willing to remain flexible.

            It's a HUGE way to save money when it works!

            Good Luck,


            • #7
              I don't think this scenario sounds as if it is likely to work out. First of all, for a co-op to have half a chance of working there does need to be someone who is clearly in charge. Typically it would be a property owner (or someone who rents the barn) who charges a basic boarding fee per horse that doesn't include care and then ensures that the work gets done and that everyone follows some basic rules. In the best case scenario, the person in charge double checks things daily and is available to pick up the slack if something happens and the basic board rate reflects this.

              The problem is that there are many opportunities for things to go sour with a co-op. All it takes is one person who is irresponsible or who doesn't do their share or who simply doesn't have good common sense or a respectable level of horse knowledge. It has been my experience that many people are flakier than you think. Sometimes a difference in opinion about horse care can be a source of conflict.

              If the owners of the property have any common sense, they probably aren't going to want to have a co-op on their property to begin with. There are liability issues to having potentially unqualified people caring for horses, and if the co-op does not have a commercial policy or CC&C insurance that would potentially increase the liability exposure for the property owners. They could also reasonably be worried about having people wanting to come and feed and do barn chores at odd hours and doing odd things that might affect their privacy or cause other issues. They also could very reasonably be worried about horses not getting cared for daily, and let's face it when you own the property you ARE going to worry when you see that it is 9pm and the horses haven't been fed/watered yet.

              Lastly, I'm not getting the impression that the property owners would be easy to deal with to begin with. That could be a lot of stress for the person who ends up in charge.


              • #8
                Ack! Run Away!!

                Can a barn co-op work? Yep, theoretically...but it sure doesn't take much to kill it. One lazy boarder who just never seems to do it correctly (if at all). The boarder who beds their horse's stall knee deep in shavings and skimps on other's stalls. The boarder who never seems to buy grain for her horse but he never loses weight...amazing! A TB with the feed needs of a Shetland!

                I was in one co-op that worked, but the couple who leased the barn kept it running well. She fed and turned out. If people wanted to clean their own stall, fine...but she would clean them if asked for a fee. Same with feed...everybody locked up their feed so it didn't wander and she had the key to the feed cans...little to no theft.

                It can be done, but rarely done well. Too many spoiled brats who don't want to do their share.
                "Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc"


                • #9
                  I'm in a co-op and it works quite well. We each pay per stall, split the cost of the hay and buy our own grain and bedding. Each horse gets the same amount of hay and if you want your horse to get less you just suck it up and pay for your full share anyways. Have never had a case where a horse needed more. Feedings are split up by the number of people we have, each person cleans their own stall and picks their pasture. We are picky about who we let in so there is rarely any drama. I did have a little throw-down with someone the other day about not doing what they are supposed to do, but they apologized and have not been a problem since.

                  It can work, there is always the chance for problems, but we try to nip them in the bud. We do have one perons who is "in charge" but we all work well together.


                  • #10
                    I boarded at a co-op a couple years ago, and while I would never do it again, it can work for the right people in the right situations.

                    At our place, one boarder was essentially the "manager;" she collected board and made all the arrangements for feed/hay/sawdust delivery, paid the utility bills, acted as the liaison between us and the BO's (who weren't involved with the barn at all), etc. As for day-to-day care, we had a big calendar up on the wall; every boarder was expected to take a set number of "shifts" per week, either AM or PM. Each "shift" included bringing all the horses in, feeding everyone, putting them back out, cleaning all the stalls, and setting up feed for the next shift. (Barn was 14 stalls.)

                    There were two reasons it didn't work out for me... For starters, my schedule only permits me to get to the barn 3-4 days/week, and on a weeknight when I'd also be pulling a shift after work, it didn't leave much time for me to ride my horse too-- it wasn't uncommon for me to get out to the barn 4x/week but only actually be able to RIDE 2x/week.

                    My other issue was the division of labor based on the number of horses a person owned. Most of us only had one horse, but a couple boarders had multiple horses; in my thinking, if you have 3 horses, then you should be taking 3x more shifts than someone who only has one horse... because if those stalls were rented to 3 different people, then that would be 3 additional workers to share co-op, not just 1. Anyway, that wasn't the case, at least not when I was there. (I think they may have since rectified this.)

                    All the people I boarded with were really great people; I never had any issues with worrying over stuff not being done. From what I understand, they've since gotten a P/T barn worker to share some of the workload, which seems to have helped a lot.

                    If you decide to proceed with a co-op, I highly suggest you have regular monthly meetings with all the boarders to work out any issues that may come up as things go on. Best of luck!
                    *friend of bar.ka

                    "Evidently, I am an unrepentant b*tch, possible trouble maker, and all around super villian"


                    • Original Poster

                      Yeah, there's some family drama between my trainer's family and her aunt/uncle. I'm not sure how much of it is legit, but that's my #1 concern. The uncle is a d*ck about letting her family use the tractor (even though they've paid for all repairs/maintenance to it) and will try and charge them to drag the rings, even though the aunt's boarding barn uses the same rings as us! I think if someone stood up to him and said, "eff no, I didn't hire you or contract you out to do XYZ," then he'll stop trying to pull this crap. Or, at the very least, we'd be willing to fight back.
                      Road to the T3D
                      fri [fri:] fritt fria (adj): Free
                      skritt [skrit:] skritten (noun): Walk


                      • #12
                        Twenty five years ago I was in a co-op type barn. I fed M-F in the AM and did stalls/evening feed 2's per week. Matt did evenings 2xs per week and John & son did evenings 3xs per week plus weenkend morning feedings.
                        We also had a woman with 4 full board horses.
                        John held the lease on the property, ordered hay and grain and arranged for the farrier. I normally arranged for the yearly vet visit.
                        It worked out well for about 2 years until the bank foreclosed on the property and the water then electric got turned off. Place is now a shopping center.
                        Before we got the full boarder in we had another husband & wife co-op pair that had two horses. I was glad when they left. Wife was a know it all that had only been owning/riding for 2 years.
                        She would throw a hissy fit if horses weren't fed exactly 12 hours apart. And at exactly the same time all 7 days of the week. Therefore since I fed at 6 am during the week, John HAD to feed at 6 am on the weekend and everybody had to feed at 6pm EXACTLY every night.

                        Never wanted to shut the front and back barn doors in the winter. She couldn't figure out that even though there wasn't glass in the windows it was warmer in the barn when the doors were closed to prevent the wind tunnel effect.
                        She would constantly tie her horse, who would sit back and panic so she would cut the lead line. She never figured out to 1- use baling twine, 2 teach horse to tie, 3 -groom horse in stall or not tied fast. She would never replace the leadlines/crossties that she cut either.
                        She was upset when I yelled at another boarder for letting their dog chase my orphan 3 month old filly. But "He was just playing with her". Will the dog owner pay for my vet bills when she gets hurt? "Why would they do that?" Then keep the dog out of the field.
                        I think a co-op could work with one person clearly in charge and the right group of people. I am not sure that it would work with the Uncle involved in your situation.
                        You could commit to a 3 month trial with the people you currently have in the barn. Don't add any new co-op members until after 3 or 4 months. Maybe OP can be in charge of ordering hay, grain, yearly vet visit and collecting board/feed split fees.
                        Have another co-boarder with better availability be the back-up if somebody can't feed/turn-out due to illness etc... Any new boarder after the 3 month trial has to have references checked and be approved by at least 2 of the current boarders or by OP plus 1 other boarder.

                        Make sure you have a very detailed contract that spells out the boarder's responsibilities. You may want to include a clause that if a boarder doesn't show up for their "shift" there is a monetary penalty- and make it hurt. They can switch with another boarder to cover their shift with no penalty but a no show costs mucho dinero.
                        Have a clear eviction policy for boarders who frequently run out of feed or who "borrow" supplies/feed/shavings from other boarders. Have a clear timeline on how fast the horse becomes the co-op's property due to non-payment so they can sell or give horse away. (If state law allows in place of stableman's laws).
                        Maybe the co-op boarders can approach uncle and give him a fee each month based on the numbers of co-op horses towards dragging the ring. The fee is just part of each co-op boarder's monthly board fee. Have a contract with uncle and clearly spell out Uncle will be paid say $20 per horse per month towards dragging the ring, manure spreading and whatever else. Include that no other fees will be assessed by Uncle without the express written permission of OP (or whoever is in charge), that person should be in the contact by name. If that person changes do an amendment to the policy. Make the Uncle feel like he is getting something for doing the work. Depending on how many people in the co-op ride he may need to drag the ring more, spread manure more, grade the driveway or whatever else he does for the small barn with the tractor. Yes he would still have to do much of it for Aunt/Uncle's business but maybe not as often. He may feel taken advantage and that the small barn gets off by not having to spend the time or resources to drag ring.
                        Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


                        • #13
                          Maybe take a trip over to Clifton and talk to the guy who owns/runs Oliver Stables? It's pretty close to a co-op - owners were responsible for providing hay, grain, and cleaning stalls on top of board. Seems to work for him. Not my cup of tea.
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