April 17, 2024

How We Run Our Co-op Boarding Arrangement

It seems hard to believe, but we are coming up on the co-op's third anniversary.

"You know," my barn owner said on the second anniversary, "I didn't say this at the time, but I had some real doubts about whether this arrangement would work or not. To my surprise, it really has worked out well for everyone."


He wasn't the only one with doubts. For a panicked month that year after my trainer announced she was getting out of the business, I wracked my brain for a solution - we had a facility, we had a non-horsey BO, we had a group of ladies who had only ever full boarded, we had no trainer, and we didn't have enough economy of scale (or money) to hire help at only 7 stalls.

Eventually I fought through the lizard brain panic and created a chore-sharing model that has worked incredibly well, and one that I think more barns around the country could adopt rather than paying criminally low wages to staff or closing entirely. 

In three years, we have had no missed shifts and no drama, both of which I am quite proud of. And it's in large part due to how well that model has worked that I finally gained the confidence to buy the place, so in that respect, the co-op has been life-changing for me. 

I could never run a 20 acre/7 stall/2 ring facility by myself, but with this group of women around me and with no one person being overloaded by chores, it feels sustainable in a way even full boarding never did, with its constant dance to find and keep good help.

So I want to (finally) share the details of how our co-op works in the hopes that maybe it will help some other desperate, lizard-brain-panicked googler someday. I am going to write this out in as much detail as possible, so it will look like a lot, but keep in mind that in effect it makes for about 10 minutes of chores for each person each day, and 30 minutes of chores per person 3-4 times per week.

Note: this post is so long, you may need to click "Read More" below to see the full post.

Rules to Live By


I mean this both in the tactical sense - we send a LOT of group texts so everyone is on the same page - and in the less tactical sense - we strongly encourage direct, respectful communication and conflict resolution rather than people "holding things in" and letting those things build into resentment that eventually blows up. I also refuse to be a go-between for people. If you need to say something to someone, you say it to them directly. Additionally, the right response to "Hey, I noticed you [screwed something up last time you fed]", is always "Thank you for letting me know!" and not getting defensive, because we all make mistakes and we never get upset with each other over it. And we all also have each other's backs.


While we do get a lot of freedom to manage our horses almost as if we could if they were at our houses, there are times when someone or everyone will have to compromise for the good of the group, and everyone needs to embrace that.

Own It

Even though it's (almost) me that owns the facility, I encourage them all to treat it like it was their own, and as a result, you'll find people out picking poop in the paddock, weeding the garden beds, and being mindful not to hose muddy feet in the wash rack. 

There are some chores that are mine and mine alone, like ring maintenance


 Daily/Monthly Chores

  • Daily: Each person is responsible for cleaning just their own stall(s) every day.
    • Justification: Cleaning stalls is the most time-consuming part of horse care - if we asked one person to do all of them as part of a feeding/turnout shift, we wouldn't have time for chores with our 8-5 jobs. This was the most important task to divide equally. I don't police how they do their stalls either - I don't care how or when they clean them as long as they're happy, and the rest of us aren't smelling ammonia.
  • Weekly: Each person is responsible for 3 to 4 morning or evening turnout and feeding shifts per week.
    • Justification: 14 shifts per week, divided by the number of boarders. Because feeding/turnout shift time doesn't increase by more than a minute or two for each additional horse because of how efficiently the barn is laid out, I don't ask the boarder with two horses to take extra shifts (although she typically does anyway).
  •  Monthly: Each person is responsible for attending the monthly co-op meeting
    • Justification: I jokingly refer to this meeting as "Festivus" where everyone airs our grievances (see "Communication", above) but it's much more than that. We talk through the next month - upcoming vacations, turnout schedule changes, etc - and perhaps most importantly, I always read off the previous month's shift totals by person. That eliminates resentment at the root by publicly stating that we all carried an equal load the month before, and gives me an easy way to call out slackers (not that we have ever had a slacker).
  • Monthly: Each person signs up for shifts.
    • Justification: We don't have a set schedule for who gets what shift because life ain't that predictable. We open signups for the next month of shifts on the 15th of the previous month and aim to have them all filled by the first of the month.

That's all of the rules and chores. Now for some pertinent details for anyone considering this model:

  •  Boarders are responsible for their own blanket changes
    • Justification: You're out there every day doing your own stall already anyway. You can ask someone to do one, but never assume it will just get done unless the horse is obviously uncomfortable.
  • Minimize AM chores, maximize PM chores
    • Justification: With most of us having 8-5 jobs, we are hard pressed for time in the mornings, so I designed it to where there is as little work as possible on the AM shift and as much as possible in the PM shift (for example, filling hay bags in the stalls, which PM is always responsible for no matter if the horses are on day or night turnout).
  • We have multiple checks and balances for checking water.
    • Justification: The auto-waterers are BIG reason for our success - there's a 0% chance anyone can ever forget to give a horse water or that buckets will freeze, BUT our Nelsons are so dead reliable, it's easy to forget about them and then miss that one has been pooped in. So each day, both the owner/stall cleaner and then also the person that brings the horses in peeks in at each waterer to make sure they're good.
  • If you can't clean your own stall, pay someone else $5/stall to do it for you.
    • Justification: When we divided up the amount we were paying the full care staff previously, it came out to about $20/feed and $5/stall. Yes, $5 is hardly worth the exchange, but I was adamant that covering someone else's stall cleaning feel like an expected transaction and NOT a favor. The co-op model encourages people to be away for illness, vacation, etc, and I strongly believe you should not feel even a tiny bit of guilt over not being able to clean your stall 365 days a year.
  • Do not make anyone guess anything.
    • Justification: My goal is to make sure the barn is so well-documented, someone could come in off the street and care for the horses no problem without thinking too hard about it, and that includes everyone having a whiteboard outside their stall that clearly states whether Fluffy should have a grazing muzzle, fly mask, etc on for turnout. 
  •  Electronic scheduling is critical
    • Justification: We use Google Calendar for this - we have standing, indefinite "AM: " and "PM: " repeating events that are color coded red on a shared, separate co-op calendar. When shifts open up for signups on the 15th of the month, we all go in and sign up for the shifts we want and change the color of the shifts we took to our individual assigned color. This allows me to easily see at a glance if we have any uncovered (red) shifts after signups are complete, and having it digitally means we can get phone reminders for our shifts, as well as view that calendar alongside our work/personal calendars - both of which I think are big reasons why we have never had a missed shift.
  • Prospective boarders have to live less than 20 minutes away
    • Justification: I don't care who you are, getting to the barn 7 days a week to clean your stall when you live 30+ minutes away will sound good in theory, but quickly become a burden and a recipe for burnout. I won't even consider a prospective boarder that lives more than 20 minutes away for this reason, even if they think they can do it.

I think that's it. Clearly, a lot of detail goes into it, but in practice it has proven to be easy to manage. Please let me know if you have any questions, happy to answer!


  1. Thanks for this. I was really curious how it worked. Now I want to move there to be part of it.

  2. As a full board stable manager/owner, my brain absolutely boggles at the idea of a horse owner dedicated enough to actually see the animal every day, let alone shovel its poo or - gasp - help with someone else's horse. Massive kudos to you! This sounds like the coolest thing, but I can see how it needs good management, which you seem to provide in bucketfuls. I'm awed!

    1. It is definitely not for everyone, and I have no qualms telling someone that calls me looking for boarding that this model isn't right for them. I should have mentioned that the boarders to have a lot of incentives to go for this model: our board price was cut by over 1/3rd after the switch, and there is really only one other full care boarding stable in this area after 2 others closed in the last 5 years, and the one that remains has a lot of children, which, no shade, but some of us just want to come to the barn and relax and have a glass of wine after work, lol.

  3. I run a very small, kind of similar situation and have stolen some of your ideas to move our place from a full care to co-op over the past few years. It's made it so much more sustainable that I can see us operating indefinitely, which is heavily needed in the Salt Lake City area.

  4. So cool! We had co-op at the eventing barn I was at for years. It was quite a bit bigger, but very similar idea. You had to commit to 2 - 1hr shifts per week to board there (one mucking out, one feeding/barn tidy) but board worked out to self care rates. There was normally a work party every couple of months for all the extra things we wanted. I admit to being a bit skeptical about how it was going to work as far as quality of care and everyone sharing the work equally, but it was amazing and I would definitely do it again.

  5. I love how you've got this set up. As long as you have the right people I'm sure it works very smoothly! I don't have boarders, but I agree with your idea that everything should be laid out so someone could walk off the street and care for the horses. I have many whiteboard lists in my feed room too. Though, I think some are pretty outdated and now I have a new project for Monday...

  6. Your model is so well designed and implemented. It's amazing.
    I had a very brief experience with a co-op. There was not clear leadership and there was competition among the boarders to rule the group. The system seemed to include deducting amounts from your board based on how much work you were willing to do. Some horses were not easy to handle. Many owners were temperamental. It was a gorgeous facility, but not worth the drama. Your warning about vetting boarders is wise advice.

  7. I love your setup. I remember being very skeptical about doing self-care at a barn three miles from my house. It was just for my daughter's pony and my horse. We ended up with two mini donkeys and added another horse of our own. No other boarders/co-opers. I'm surprised - it's been six years, and it still works. I'm not sure how I feel now that my daughter is away at college. It's not the work, it's the solitude. But there aren't great boarding situation around here, even if I'm willing/able to pay the money. My horses have great access to pasture and have a run-in stall situation. They're happy :)

  8. This is incredible. I love it. Your brain is amazing and the people you've found to share this all with are equally incredible. Bravo all.