July 1, 2021

Co-op

After 9.5 years of full care boarding, I suddenly find myself managing a modified co-op. How did THAT happen? 

Our stall cleaner quit in mid-May, and finding someone new was challenging. My barn has incredible amenities, but the fact that it's only 7 stalls means the economies of scale in terms of paying someone are just not there. So we went co-op, with the BO's encouragement and blessing. 

Hydrangeas are killing it this year #lazygardener

 

I know these situations can end badly, but I've boarded with my fellow boarders for several years now. We all approach horse ownership the same way, we're all very detail-oriented, we're all engineers (lol), we all live less than 10 minutes from the barn, and we all want the same thing out of the co-op: to have a high standard of care without any of us feeling like we're so tied down we can't get away.


 

In case anyone else finds themselves in this situation, here's the high-level overview of our rules:

  • Each boarder is responsible for doing their own stall(s) every day
  • If you can't or don't want to do your own stall, you pay someone else $5 per stall to do it
  • As a condition of boarding, each boarder picks up 3 to 4 AM or PM feeding and turnout/bring in shifts per week
  • BO will continue to provide hay, grain and do anything that involves the tractor 

There's more - we have a full one-pager laying out roles and responsibilities - but that's the gist of it. This model allows for us to either do our own stalls, or pool the money we're saving on the reduced co-op board to find someone to do stalls for us. We can also decide to do that on an individual basis, if say I'm okay doing Connor's (insanely easy, omg) stall forever but my barnmate isn't.


I know $5 seems like a tiny amount, but we all travel quite a bit for work and fun, and having a monetary exchange will make it feel less like an imposition/favor when we have to ask a fellow boarder to cover for us. It's almost more of a psychological necessity than a financial one. No one likes feeling beholden to others.

 

Barn upgrades: I hung a new saddle pad rack for us

So far it's working out pretty well. We're holding monthly meetings to discuss what is/isn't working, upcoming schedules, etc, and we're all erring on the side of over-communicating. At our first monthly meeting, I encouraged everyone to not hold back, if something is bothering them they have to say it rather than let anything simmer, and so far they've actually done that respectfully, even when it was a little uncomfortable, which is great. It gives me the confidence that we'll be able to continue to modify this in the future, if it's not working in some way.

So who knows if this works long term or not, but so far, so good!


21 comments:

  1. This is the way to approach this as an adult - I hope that everything works out!

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  2. Sounds like a great start to a lovely co-op facility. I hope it works out!

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  3. INTERESTING. And very cool. It would way not work at my barn but I'm so glad it's working for you!

    How do you handle the emergency stuff? I feel like for me, one of the pluses to a fully staffed boarding barn is that they are consistently there every day and pick up any problems immediately.

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    1. I did think through that when I was designing the co-op model. This model actually ensures more than one set of eyes is on each horse every day (up to three, if someone is doing AM, someone is doing PM and then the owner is doing the stall). It's also explicitly called out in the co-op model one-pager that one of the AM/PM feed responsibilities is to look the horse over and notify the owner of anything unusual. So all in all, I honestly feel better about people not missing anything this with this model than I would if we hired a random person off the street to do stalls, but I am willing to admit I could be wrong about that in the future.

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  4. Sounds out like it's working out really well! Hope that continues. I've never lived close enough to the barn to be able to consider a situation like this, but sometimes kind of miss working to feed/muck like I did in college. It's peaceful, even though hard work.

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    1. That's how I feel too. I don't mind it, and it's "thinking time". Of course, ask me that when it's winter and I may change my mind, lol.

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  5. Wow, that sounds great. I hope it keeps working out for everyone. I would have loved to be part of a well-organized co-op, as I love taking care of my own horse, but I've also known people who spoil it for others. It's tough! How do you keep the feeding/turnout/mucking schedules organized and communicated for everyone? Do you have a calendar in the barn or online or something like that?

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    1. Great questions, we're still feeling out what the best communication style is right now so I held off on going into detail about that, but plan to in a future post. Currently we have a Google Calendar for the barn that I've auto-filled "AM" and "PM" blanks, and people go in there and assign themselves to a shift. It's also color coded with empty slots highlighted in red, so it's easy to see when we don't have coverage. Then that of course also syncs to everyones' phones and notifies them when they have a shift coming up. It's far from perfect though and I'm exploring better options at the moment.

      In addition to that, we also have a command center at the barn with a VERY clear feeding/turnout instructions whiteboard (literally someone off the street could walk in and know how to handle our horses lol) and a whiteboard calendar as well for things like "farrier coming" and "Connor gone for training."

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  6. Good for you for making this work. I've been doing self-care at my neighbor's barn (3 miles away) since 2016. My daughter and I share 3 ponies and we have 2 mini donkeys for companions. We don't share the barn with other boarders, though, and we don't have an indoor. BUT, we do have great infrastructure (good footing in the ring, great turnout, heated tack room and hot water) so that makes it worthwhile for me.

    I think a co-op can work over the long term, especially if it is a better option than other boarding situations available. Emergencies can be tough, but then again, it can be tough when boarding too. Around here, even at the most expensive barns, you're on your own if you want medications at a certain time, etc. And if I need to do that, I'd rather have my horse 5 minutes away, instead of 20.

    Thanks for sharing how your co-op works. My daughter will be going off to college in a couple of years and I might have to rethink my situation.

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    1. Your thoughts are exactly mine when thinking through this co-op model. After my old trainer quit the boarding business, I was never going to have that level of complete full care again, because that requires someone to dedicate their life to the barn. At best, we were going to get a random stall cleaner off the street. So this allows us to have educated eyes on the horses at all times, divvy up the work to where nobody is completely tied down and hopefully that makes it sustainable long-term even though we all have day jobs.

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  7. For a moment there I thought you fed your horses at 3am to 4am and oh my lord.

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    1. Hahaha, going back and re-reading that sentence I did not word that well!

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    2. LOL! Same! I had to read it 3 times.

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  8. Glad you're making it work! Sounds like you have a great community, and I think your encouraging discussions is the smartest thing to do!

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  9. I love this! Mine are all at home, but this would be a happy second choice for me if that wasn't an option. I love how hands on you all can be while maintaining independence. And kudos for all of you adulting and having solid communication. I think that is the greatest skill adults lack today, the ability to be honest and not be a jerk OR just not say anything and blow up later.

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    1. That's pretty much where I'm at, this is a happy second choice to either boarding or having them at home (which I strongly never want to do). It's why I mentioned that not only do I know these ladies well, but we all do think the same way and work in male-dominated fields, we're capable of having tough conversations and remaining friends at the end of it, which gives me a lot of hope that this will work.

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  10. My mind is officially blown. I don't think most boarders in South Africa even know what grain their horse is on! (Speaking as a boarding barn manager!) Kudos to all of you, sounds like you guys are making it work great!

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    1. That's so interesting! Even when we were full care we were all very involved in our horses' care, so switching to a co-op model wasn't crazy. Partial care and no care barns aren't completely common in the US, but they're not hard to find either, if that makes sense.

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