On the grapevine a few weeks ago I heard that I was in the market for my own livery yard. This was news to me, so I think the grapevine may have been a rose bush in disguise.
A couple of years ago I did dream of having my own yard, being my own boss, and potentially having my own riding school. Well, I now work for myself, so that is one box ticked. However, I`ve discovered that I prefer teaching for the long term, rather than the riding school one hour hello-goodbye sessions. I love seeing the progression of a relationship between horse and rider, as they work on the foundations which build into a great tower of success. This means I can cross “owning a riding school” off my bucket list.
The last one, of owning a riding school, is I believe a pie in a sky dream. I`ve seen recently the politics, heavy workload, loneliness, responsibility, and paperwork involved in running a livery yard. Now, whilst I wouldn`t dismiss having my own house with three stables annd paddocks in the garden – I think I need to win the lottery first, though – I have decided that I am thoroughly happy with assisting the running of a yard, working on a yard and teaching. I have the best of all worlds!
One of my recent observations I`ve made is about the decision a yard owner has to make about whether they offer DIY, part of full livery.
I`ve always been a firm supporter of the DIY route, with assistance from yard staff on an ad-hoc basis. My main reason for this is that I don`t see the point in having a horse unless you look after it yourself. As an adult, I now realise that part livery is actually a very good option to consider. Each yard has different elements in their part livery package – five days or a staggered week, am and pm, bedding included or additional – so it is worth speaking to yards individually. Anyway, as an adult, weigh up your petrol costs driving to and from the yard twice a day, the time involved versus your home life, and your working day and work load. The petrol cost alone usually balances out most of the additional part livery cost. Something I only realised recently is that as an adult you juggle so many balls, often it makes life easier if you know that someone is caring for your horse on a daily basis so you do not need to get up an extra hour earlier, or sacrifice valuable family time mucking out. After all, aren`t you better off spending the only hour you have for your horse riding or grooming, rather than mucking him out? I think part livery allows owners to focus on the better part of horse ownership, rather than the menial task of mucking out or turning out. Another aspect of part livery that I like is that the yard staff know your horse well, because they look after him every day, not on an ad-hoc basis, as in the the assisted DIY situation, which means they are likely to pick up on behavioural or physical changes. If a yard is run from your home then part and full livery means that you, as an owner, have more control and knnowledge over who is there at odd times of the day. I mean, do you really want to be awakened at 5am every morning by the DIY livery who is turning their horse out before catching the train to London for work?
Full livery still eludes me, as I`m not sure I would ever be able to justify paying someone to completely care for my horse, while I did not even have the privilege of being responsible for him on weekends. Perhaps time will change my feelings towards this.
Another element of running a yard which must be considered is the subject of instruction. If you are an instructor than it is logical to promote yourself and put a ban on external instructors teaching liveries. However, this is quite egotistical and would only work with small yards, as a bigger yard will have diverse learners and riders, so needs more than one instructor (perhaps one who focuses on flat, or jump, or one who teaches visually, or another kinaestheitcally) to satisfy all the clients. So perhaps a livery yard should offer a variety of clinics – where an instructor of a specific discipline and of a high standard comes in and teaches for the day once a month. But then this self-limiting as owners cannot always book time off work, and may prefer to have more frequent lessons.
As a riding school you should have enough of your own instructors to satisfy the liveries, so they can book lessons through the riding school and so increase the riding school`s revenue. This sort of situation is very appealing to first time horse owners, as they have good continuation from their riding school era, and a good network of support.
If you do decide to allow external instructors to teach your liveries, how do you police it? Should arena`s be booked off, and an arena hire fee paid? Or should the instructors have to lump it and share with other liveries? Should there be an arena hire fee, or does the arena hire come from the liverie`s monthly fee? Who should be responsible for booking an arena?
I work at one yard who bills liveries separately for arena usage – this accomodates the happy hackers, who want to save fifty pounds a pony, or the retired horses, yet for those who use the school it is not an astronomical cost, and there is no limit on usage for the arena. Those people do not have to pay arena hire if they are taught by an external instructor. But this yard does not provide an instructor, so an external one is not taking income away. Another yard I go to charges arena hire for external instructors, which is payable whether the arena is shared or not. This gets into difficult waters because I know that if I was paying to have a lesson and had to pay to hire the arena as well I would not want to share my space with others, or have jumps erected in the middle. In that case it is also necessary to have a good method of policing arena bookings. I`ve seen large white boards at some yards, where liveries write in the time slot. But then in petty environments names can be rubbed off and double bookings made.
When looking at the responsibility of booking an arena I can only say that from my point of view as an instructor who visits four different yards a week I do not want to be ringing each yard manager to book each arena. I juggle enough balls teaching at three different locations in three hours! If I were at a yard that I had to book the arena for my dressage lesson, it would be very easy to pop in and book one day when I was already there with my horse.
I think this area of running a yard is very difficult, and I am yet to see a suitable, universal method, which keeps everyone happy.
Another aspect of running a yard is, of course, the dreaded politics. Unfortunately horse ownership brings out the worst in people but there is nothing worse than when a yard manager gets involved. They should remain impartial, rise above any bickering, yet at the same time be quick enough to bang everyones heads together. This makes me realise just how lonely running a yard can be. No one talks to you unless they have a complaint, and you have to keep everyone at arm`s length so you are not accused of being biased. I guess this, along with the paperwork, can lead to a yard manaager isolating themselves in the office under a mountain of paper. Which creates it`s own problems, as the yard manager is not out on the yard interacting with the horses and liveries, so is not seen as being approachable and they do not nip problems in the bud because they don`t hear of them until the molehills become mountains.
All in all, the last couple of weeks pondering has led me to decide that I`m perfectly happy being involved with the running of a yard – giving my input and suggestions to improving and helping in the day-to-day running, but I am just as happy to go home at night and not worry about who hasn`t paid their bill, or who isn`t talking to who. Meanwhile, I am left alone in my evenings to plan the next day`s lessons, riding, and itinery in peace. Although, sometimes this juggling act can be as much of a headache!