"Good Horsemanship is Built on Solid
Basics...So is Good Business!"
Finding Balance In
The Trainer/Landlord Equation
By Lisa Derby Oden
Trainers often do
not own their own facility. There are several reasons for
this. Some prefer to focus on training and not deal with property
acquisition and maintenance. Some are just getting started in building
reputation and clientele. Facility ownership may be in their future, but
feasible during start-up. Some trainers own a facility that they operate
of during most of the year, but move for a season to another location.
may be to locate closer to competitions, top-level trainers, or for
year-round operations at an indoor.
Horse property owners often look for trainers to operate out of their
facility. Some horse property owners have in-depth horse industry exposure,
and some have none at all. Some horse property owners have refocused their
own horse business by specializing in one particular aspect of many that
they previously offered. Some have decided to curtail their entire equine
business, but wish to have the facility used by someone else. In this
they have part of their facility available for use by another horse
The interface between those owning facilities and those looking for a
facility to run their business can be challenging. Though there are many
shared goals between these two, not all goals are. When these topics are
articulated and well discussed from the beginning, they can prove to be
huge bug-a-boo over time.
The Trainer's Perspective
Consider the following scenarios. They are from different regions of
the US, and different breeds ad disciplines. The first relates the
experiences of a trainer couple that would like to buy their own facility,
but are getting started by working out of other's property to start with.
They have been working with horses a combination of 30+ years. They have
been doing this full-time for two years, part-time before that for 3 years,
and trained their own horses prior to that for 25 years. "The landlords
we've had that have experience with both show horses and business have
the best landlords. They know what it takes to make a successful horse
facility. This includes equipment needed, training time, cleanliness,
security and first impressions."
"Unfortunately, we also have had others that have been very
frustrating. They have a lot of money, never owned a horse, let alone
horse, and decide to open a boarding barn. We get the impression that
fantasize about many fields full of horses and money just rolling in.
are unaware of what it takes to operate a successful facility, and in
instances have not seemed to care. They want to see results now and don't
realize that it takes a few years to get a barn established. They will
take any professional advice from anyone."
"We come in as trainers and try to help them out. Our students are
nice people, we have great resumes, and we have most of the barn filled
our students. We win all of the time when we show, which gives the barn
great reputation. We pay board on our horses, and our students pay their
board directly to the barn owner. We've had a property owner park hay
in the indoor, and because the outdoor was covered with ruts we didn't
a decent place to ride. We were told we could simply ride around the ruts.
The landlord kept threatening to close the place down. We found this to
true with several barns in our area. There was not a lack of boarders,
decent boarding barn owners. We had trouble getting new horses in because
the prospective clients didn't like the facility."
"As far as interviewing goes, we usually write a resume and sit down
and talk to the owner about goals. We always ask what their goals are
what they are trying to accomplish. Usually they are trying to attract
business. It's really important to remember that if the property owner
appear to be nasty, non-caring, or don't get along, that the clients see
that right away. We can hurt each other's business greatly."
Scenario two is from the perspective of a trainer that has leased
blocks of stalls seasonally for indoor arena access for about 12 years.
"I've had a variety of experiences. My interview process has evolved
over the years. I investigate things like: How do you organize the barn?
Will you rent a block of stalls? Can I bring my own help and can we do
own thing? If not, does their management style fit mine? Does the property
owner/barn manager know enough to recognize a problem? Do they care enough
to do something about a problem?"
"I haven't always had a contract, but we did last year and it worked
out really well. It spelled out all the details like security deposit,
utility bill payment, and port-a-potty rental. One year when I didn't
contract I received a bill that was different than what we had discussed.
was a good thing that I had taken extensive notes that I could subsequently
show the landlord to back up my recollections."
"The biggest issues I've encountered are 1) the footing is very hard
and just dirt, 2) turn-out ends up being way too big for competition horses,
3) the indoor is very dark and we aren't allowed to turn the lights on
because of the electric bill - there also is a lack of translucent panels,
4) the property owners want to put their two cents in about what I am
with my horses, and conversely are not open to suggestions about management,
5) the barn help is often very inexperienced, 6) people are not used to
seeing horses that are really in training - our schedule is not organized
just around cleaning and sweeping, 7) the barn management is not customer
oriented but is oriented towards their own convenience - some barn rules
have them closing at 5pm."
"I sure have learned a lot by leasing in the winter. I've worked
many barns that are not set up efficiently. For example, the manure pile
too far away. Some things need to be rethought to be more efficient. I've
also learned to try to be the buffer between my people and the barn owner.
The barn owner has often been lacking in people skills and perhaps a little
"prickly" to deal with. My customers are not used to that."
The Landlords Perspective
Having had a chance to walk a mile in the trainer's shoes, let's switch
to the landlord's shoes. A landlord whose property has been in the family
since 1964 gives the following anecdotal information. The operation has
passed from the parents to the current generation. This 50 acre facility
an 80 x 200 indoor arena, large outdoor ring, miles of trails, hunt course
out in a field, world champion trail course, fields for riding, paddocks
fenced with Centaur fencing, 40 spacious stalls to rent to trainers, heated
bathroom, tack rooms, feed rooms, wash stall, and stocks.
Current management originally operated it as a boarding facility. "We
used to board about 25 horses. But we found that when we went away to
that we would return to boarders sitting on our porch and acting like
had taken over. It was also frustrating that many boarders believed they
knew it all because they read it in a book. They had no real training
trainers helping them. So we closed the boarding business. We then had
entire facility rented for cheap money to one person. Unfortunately, he
't keep the property up well, and mickey-moused all the repairs. We want
this place to be beautiful, so we took over operation again."
"For about 5 years we have been renting blocks of stalls to trainers.
It's been a great way to operate overall - we can go away and not worry.
only downside is that there are people around all the time. The biggest
problem we are encountering is the trainer's dogs."
"Most trainers can't afford to own a facility like this when they
just starting out. In renting stall blocks, we become somewhat of a horse
business incubator. We really want to see our tenant trainers be successful,
so offer help in another way too. I do website design as part of my career,
so provide the trainer with the chance to have a website designed for
"When we rent to a trainer, we often are taking a little bit of a
chance on them if they are new. But word-of-mouth often helps us know
little more about the person. We can tell early on if they will make it
not. If they can't keep their customers then the red flag goes up. Other
things like the trainers work ethic - are they here at 6-7am or do the
stroll in from 9-10am? What effort do they put into this and how much
do they project about their work? Is professionalism portrayed in their
vehicles cleanliness, their dress, and even their shoes?"
"We have basic farm rules that must be followed, which are primarily
common sense and common courtesy: No smoking, hours 7am-9pm or by
appointment, don't use others equipment without their permission, shut
lights when done, don't waste water, lessons given by licensed farm
instructors only, indoor arena is for riding - if you turn your horse
please stay with him, keep aisles clean and clean up messes your horses
make, stall fronts kept clean, when riding be courteous to others, boarders
not allowed to bring dogs to barn, children must be supervised at all
please keep vehicles and horses off lawn, and keep barn doors closed tightly
when 40 degrees or below."
"We charge by the stall by the month, and go month by month. We do
have a written contract. The fee varies depending on the number of stalls
the trainer uses. We don't generally rent out less than 4, because then
just about end up back in the boarding business. Electricity is split
paid by the trainers based on number of horses for the month. We pay the
water bill. Arena is watered on a weekly basis with all tenants taking
turn. Lessons are to be given by farm instructors only. Farm instructors
must hold a valid state instructors license. Liability insurance must
carried with a certificate of insurance with our farm listed and provided
us annually. Trash is the tenant's responsibility. Lessons may be given
outside horses by farm instructors for an additional charge. Paddocks
split to accommodate all tenants. Trainer's customers are not allowed
bring dogs. Private areas are off limits. Only 2 jumps can stay set up
the arena - more may be used, but taken down when done. Do not move trail
obstacles. Tenant is responsible for repairing and keeping up fence and
stalls occupied by their horses. As landlords, we take care of having
manure hauled away.
Spanning the Great Divide
Trainers looking for facilities and horse property owners looking for
tenants can fill each other's needs. If a property owner is new to the
bringing someone into the barn gives the property owner an introduction
the horse community. It also gets the property owner started financially.
Remember that having the public on the property means that some privacy
relinquished. In determining property policies, the property owner must
in mind that they owe the trainer the ability to earn a living. Since
is a tenant/landlord situation, and not a situation where the property
is hiring the trainer to work directly for them, the property owner must
prepared to let the trainer run his own show.
On the other hand, the trainer owes the landlord a financial
responsibility. Trainers should be conservative in making business
projections, and must anticipate seasonal fluctuations, as well as loss
clients due to client's life changes (lay-offs, divorce, etc.) This is
the landlord's responsibility, but these "what if's" should
ahead of time.
How well trainers and landlords accomplish filling each other's needs
hinges on a variety of factors. Communication is a key component. The
following checklist provides a basic outline for clarifying mutual
1) What is your business plan? Can you articulate your short-term and
long-term goals? Both trainer and landlord will be able to use their
respective goals as a means of comparison in early conversation to determine
2) Trainer: What are your facility needs and requirements? Make a list
includes general facility requirements such location, stalls or run-ins,
indoor and/or outdoor arenas, round pen, turn-out, fencing, lighting,
security, handy access to major highway, bathroom facility for self and
clients, jumps, trail obstacles, trails, track, breeding set up, tack
feed room, stall cleaning equipment, tractor, ring drag, wash stall, parking
for self and clients, parking or storage space for trailer, viewing area,
Landlord: What areas of the property are off-limits and how is that made
clear? How is property maintenance handled? What about damage to the
property caused by or because of the tenant?
3) What are your operational requirements and policies? These will include:
days and hours of operations; who provides horse care labor; how will
billing be handled for stalls, farrier, veterinarian, feed, bedding; horse
health requirements required to enter the barn. Other areas to consider
how many trainers will be working out of the facility? How will congruence
between trainers be achieved? The largest factor here may well be scheduling
of ring time, and how all trainers will be given a fair schedule.
4) Trainer: Prepare a resume to give to the landlord. Make references
available, from your clients as well as former landlords if possible.
get to know the property owner before you move in. You are making a mutual
commitment to each other
Landlord: Check into the trainer's history. Ask for references from
previous landlords and clients Ask why the trainer is looking for a new
location and how often they have moved barns. If the property owner has
background with horses and/or the horse business seek some out. Realize
horses are 24/7, horse have people that come with them, and horses and
people cause wear and tear - these are a given for the business.
5) Trainer: Carry insurance that covers your horse training operation.
Trainers sometimes rely on the property owner and assume that they are
covered if they are an "additional insured" on the owner's CGL
coverage does cover the trainer's actions while on the property, but it
covers the property owner. The trainer is also not covered when they are
on that property. Many insurance companies offer a tenant farm package
policy that will also cover other exposures, such as theft and instances
where strangers may wander onto the property and become injured. Examples
here include the kids next door come in and fall out of the hay loft,
someone discovers the old tractor that doesn't need keys to start and
hurt joy riding on it.
Landlord: Very few insurance companies will add trainers to the CGL policy
as an "additional named insured", which in theory covers the
trainer in the
same regards as the property owner. The companies that do this will do
a very selective basis only, and will want background information on the
trainer. Adding a trainer as an "additional insured" will not
extra. Adding the trainer as an "additional named insured" will
small fee, usually under $100. Be aware that the aggregate total applies
the entire operation. If you carry $500K, and are involved in a situation
where an injured party is seeking $500K from you, and another $500K from
trainer, you will only be covered for $500K, not one million. In this
fashion, it is possible that you dilute your protection.
Sometimes property owners that have limited or no knowledge of the horse
industry will carry lessor's risk insurance. They believe that they are
covered for having trainers rent or lease stalls from them. This insurance
product is not geared towards the horse industry, and claims that are
oriented are usually refused. Be sure to ask all the questions you need
of your insurance agent, and that you are really getting the coverage
6) Ask to put your agreement in writing. If either party does not want
this, explain that it clarifies what you both have agreed to, so it protects
you. Besides that, memory gets fuzzy over time - paper doesn't forget.
Include what will happen if someone doesn't pay. Provide a time frame
notification of vacancy. This should be discussed so that the trainer
t leave the property owner high and dry on little to no notice. Conversely,
property owners need to offer a comfortable window for trainers if the
property owner has chosen to cease operations. It may take the trainer
month or more to locate adequate facilities for their string of horses.
If you are unable to agree about putting it all in writing, this should
raise red flags. It may be better in the long run not to enter into this
agreement at all and keep looking for another landlord or trainer.
7) Educate yourself regarding the laws in your state about your rights
tenant, as well as the landlord's rights. If both parties have spent enough
time and consideration prior to moving in, you should not have to use
knowledge. But, like carrying an umbrella, better to be prepared for the
rain and then get sunny skies, than be caught in a downpour unknowingly.
Find an attorney that understands the horse industry. They will be able
direct you to statutes that apply to your situation. They will also be
to draw up a contract for you, or review the one that you have prepared.
this way, they can inform you of all the legal ramifications of your
In addition to landlord/tenant laws, it is wise to be familiar with agister
's lien statutes. These cover the security interest in a horse that arises
by law when a horse owner or someone acting on the owner's behalf leaves
horse with a person or stable for care.
You can begin familiarizing yourself with legal issues by reading Equine
Law and Horse Sense and More Equine Law and Horse Sense, both written
Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law.
8) Plan regular reviews. This will benefit both trainer and landlord.
problems can become huge issues if there is a communication void. Regular
reviews provide both parties the opportunity to raise issues and propose
resolutions before they grow out of proportion.
Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and
association consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. Oden
author of "Growing Your Horse Business" and "Bang For Your
$ense of Marketing For Your Horse Business." . She is the 1999 AHC
Van Ness Award recipient for outstanding service to the horse industry.
She can be reached at: (603)878-1694; email at Lisa@horseconsulting.com;
or visit her website at www.horseconsulting.com)