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Forward Planning For Your Yard In The 'New Normal'

The events of 2020, continuing into 2021, have changed the way many run their business. Livery yards and equestrian centres have been particularly hard hit; not only by the effects of closure or reduced income, but also by the lack of clarification in rules and the subsequent people management involved when the rules have not been particularly clear. It has made many yard owners consider how they can improve their yard for the better moving forward.

Getting Your Contracts In Order

Many issues that have arisen have been due to a lack of clarity on paperwork. For example, livery contracts lacking in detail, or a lack of livery contracts at all, have made it difficult to ascertain the level of responsibility many horse owners or yard owners have over the equines in their care. Many yard owners have faced difficulty in preventing horse owners from wanting to attend their yard on welfare and exercise grounds, even if the yard owner feels it has not been ‘essential’. These horse owners feel that they have the right to visit, due to their livery contracts and the loose government guidance, regardless of the impact this may have on the yard owner or their staff.

Considering recent events, it’s advisable that all yard owners now amend their livery contracts – where necessary – to include reference to such unforeseen events that may require rules, regulations, and laws to be met, and which in turn can affect the ability for horse owners and livery clients to carry out horse care as normal. This clause can then be referred to in such instances and the care of the horse can be adjusted in a contractual manner, in order to best meet the yard owner’s need to meet such requirements. 

On the Yard Owner Hub we have a detailed Template Livery Contract available, including an updated clause referring to situations such as COVID-19. We also have template livery contracts for varying packages on the Livery Contract page of the Yard Owner Hub.  As each yard offers something different, it’s important to make sure that your contracts meet all of your needs, and as such, we would always advise having them reviewed by an equine contract specialist, such as the Equine Team at Gunner Cooke.

Having A Contingency Plan

The COVID-19 pandemic has also made many yard owners realise that they do not have a fall-back plan to rely on if they were to become ill, and it has raised questions as to who would assist with the management of their yard for any length of time, whilst they were out of action. This is particularly important to yards who offer serviced livery packages – such as part, full or retirement – and especially those who offer exercise within these packages.  It’s worth bearing in mind that this does not only apply to those who fall ill with the virus, but can be an issue any time that a yard owner might be injured or taken ill at short notice, and are therefore unable to work on the yard. For smaller yards that do not rely on regular staff, this can be a worry.

It is important to consider a plan that can be put into action in these circumstances, whether this is by appointing someone – or several people – to take over or share yard duties, or by altering the management of the horses. The larger the yard, the more difficult this can be. Unfortunately, several yard owners have faced this difficulty during the pandemic and despite it being a possibility, few of them had considered a backup plan in the event that they had to isolate or be absent from the yard for any period of time. There is no harm in having several options for this; no one can predict when such events may occur so having various options to consider at the time, and ensuring these are reviewed regularly, is not a bad thing. It is also important that you discuss these plans with the people in question that can help, and ensure your liveries are clear about the changes should they affect them in any way.

Changing The Way The Yard Works

One of the main issues with yards remaining open is the nature of cross contamination, with the sharing of equipment and communal areas such as tea rooms, tack rooms and toilets being the largest issues. Social distancing and taking measures to reduce cross contamination will be around for a while yet, and will undoubtedly continue for even longer in some areas.

Whilst time slots have been issued, many yard owners have had difficulty in managing their clients, finding they are often breaking the rules, taking longer than anticipated or congregating in communal areas, despite requests not to. Some yards have removed the need for communal areas, giving each client a dedicated space, with the need to provide their own tools and equipment, such as mucking out tools and wheelbarrows. Although this can take up more room – and there may be some investment needed – it does have added benefits. With each person responsible for the storage and access in their own area, this reduces the need for the maintenance of communal areas, removes the cross-contamination aspect and creates a noticeable drop in thefts or losses on the yard!

Make The Rules Stick!

Another major issue for livery yard owners has unfortunately been the lack of full support from their clients, or not having their authority respected by their clients. This is not uncommon on yards but recent events have demonstrated how important it is that when a serious event occurs, your clients understand that the rules are in place for a reason and that you, the yard owner, know how to enforce these effectively.

If, during these restrictions – or at any other time – you have considered the need to change the way you manage your clients, or even that there are items you need to address or clarify about the yard rules, management of horses or suchlike, then now is the time. Even with existing clients or existing livery contracts, it is very easy to amend and issue updates and start putting your foot down with those that choose not to adhere.

An alternative to lots of notes or a lengthy livery contract is a Yard Owner Handbook. You can create one of these to include contact details, yard rules and information that can be a reference point for new and existing liveries. Plus, it gives you a reference point if issues do arise. Having this in a separate document, as opposed to all the points being included in your livery contracts, means you can update it accordingly with ease. This also means that you can keep a copy available on the yard, as well as issuing them individually to each livery with their personal contract.

If you have liveries that are continually difficult to manage, break the rules or do not respect your authority, then it is not the yard for them. ‘Your Yard, Your Rules’ is often repeated as a cliché but is certainly true when it is your business, and you should have clients that respect and appreciate the services you offer.

Reconsidering The Finances

Unfortunately, many yards have been hard hit financially; not only due to closure and a loss of liveries but also because existing liveries have been unable to afford the services they would normally pay for. Plus, with many off work and able to attend the horses themselves, this is another way in which yard owners have seen downgrading of livery packages. And all this is alongside an increase in the cost of certain consumables and the day to day running of the yard.

Now is as good a time as ever to ensure your costings are correct and that you are not only covering all of your outgoings, but that you are also allowing a contingency for loss of services or an increase in supplier prices. Many yard owners find they are undertaking more care for the horses at yards where the owners are on time-limited visits, so it’s important to factor in any additional labour costs as well. Unfortunately, many minor costs are forgotten when yard owners calculate their costs and it is the smaller forgotten pennies that soon add up. We have a handy guide ‘Making a Profit from Your Livery Yard’ and a calculation sheet here to help you work out your package costs and we’d urge any yard owner, new or old, to do this to ensure their business is viable going forwards.

Limiting Visitor Numbers

The restrictions on non-essential movement have made many yard owners regulate the flow of visitors to their yard. As a result, many have realised just how many unnecessary visitors they were receiving to the yard previously, the additional people management this requires and the potential risks involved in having these people on the premises.

All visitors to the yard pose a risk. Your livery clients are your business customers, but anyone else they invite or appoint to carry out services on the yard pose additional management issues on your part. Access for loaners and sharers has become an issue that’s arisen several times during the lockdowns, with yard owners realising these are additional people to manage. This has also raised awareness and understanding of the importance of knowing exactly who is on the yard; where and what they have access to and whether they are appropriately insured if riding or handling your client’s horses. This also extends to liveries inviting friends or family to the yard – either to ride, or just to help or spectate – and the implications that can arise from this when, more often than not, these people are not experienced around equines or a yard environment.

Those providing paid services, such as farriers and vets, have been permitted, but what about regular attendance by non-essential service providers? Many yard owners now feel it’s obligatory that they are made aware of who is on the yard and are given forward notice of when they will be there. They also feel it’s necessary to request proof of attendees’ professional qualifications and insurance (for paid services this must be a professional insurance policy) and limit the access they have to the animals and certain parts of the yard. One way of monitoring this is by creating a file for each professional who visits the yard, including a copy of their contact details, insurance and any other relevant information such as is suggested on our Third Party Service Provider Form (this can be found on the Client Documentation section of the Yard Owner Hub).

The potential for cross contamination during the COVID-19 pandemic has also made yard owners realise that this is not dissimilar to the potential for cross contamination of infectious equine diseases. This is particularly relevant if you have other horse owners or mobile service providers coming into regular contact with the horses on your yard. It’s certainly worth considering asking them to take the professionals #StampOutStrangles pledge to raise their awareness and help them consider the potential for spreading disease. Whilst a focus has been made on this during the pandemic, actions like washing hands when entering or leaving the yard should always be the norm!

Changing The Way Potential Clients View The Yard

Continuing on from the previous point, the restrictions on movement have meant that yard owners need to be more creative when advertising and filling vacancies. With the inability for many yard owners to allow yard viewings at this time, many have moved on from traditional ‘viewings’ in person, to online interviews and tours of the yard via video call. This not only saves unnecessary visitors to the yard – again, limiting risk and security – but also reduces the likelihood of wasted time when appointments are missed or delayed at short notice.

It also means yard owners are taking more interest in initial contact from potential liveries to reduce unnecessary visits, and asking more detailed questions about the horses or their owner’s needs, as well as discussing the finer points of life on the yard, contracts and livery charges.

Rather than using traditional advertising when there’s a vacancy, many yard owners are now being advised to create a waiting list and advertise year-round. This means that when a vacancy arises, you have an existing list from which you can select the most appropriate candidate and the one who would best fit your yard, rather than the first person to come along after perhaps a week or two of advertising. Maintaining a year-round presence can be hugely beneficial in this way, ensuring you find the most suitable liveries for your yard, whilst enabling you to advertise your other services – such as instruction or facility hire – on a continual basis.

LiveryList was established in 2011 and is the UK’s top ranked livery yard directory. The LiveryList Yard Owner Hub offers the most comprehensive range of information available, including resources, templates and guides on the practical and administrative management of livery yards, backed up by a whole host of professional equestrian organisations and businesses.

If you are a yard owner looking for support to manage any aspect of your yard, LiveryList also runs the Livery Yard Owners UK- Discussions and Advice Facebook group. A closed group especially for verified owners across the UK, it is a friendly and welcoming group allowing yard owners to discuss and share advice, as well as network with other yard owners in their area.

Cheryl Johns - Livery List
Horsemart Brand Ambassador
Published on 2021-01-20