Moving Livery Yards- Is the Grass Always Greener?
As with any business, clients of livery yards come and go. Some horse owners move very rarely and only through necessity, others move more regularly simply because they feel a better offer comes along. Spring and autumn are the most popular times for horse owners to start thinking about moving yard, with lots of movements of equines between yards and vacancies being advertised and sought. But just because a new yard opens, or your yard owner makes changes to what they offer… are you really better moving to unfamiliar territory?
There is always competition between livery yards, the packages and facilities they offer, the level and quality of care and the personal touch they offer their clients and equines. No two yards are the same and so you will often have numerous yards in a fairly small area offering a wide array of varying facilities, services and package prices. Just because a yard is cheaper, or more expensive does not reflect on the quality of the services and facilities they offer, but generally purely on the running costs of their yard.
Moving yard can be a big upheaval - for both horse and owner, getting used to a new yard routine, new yard manager and staff, new riding routes and meeting other owners. When many people look to move yards, many overlook the most important factor- their horse! If your horse is settled at the current yard, in a good herd, in a good routine and looking fit and well do you really want the upheaval of moving, introducing them to a new herd, unfamiliar surroundings and all the potential stress they can be caused in the process? While sometimes it is necessary to move yards for reasons the horse presents, often it’s the horse owner’s decision and it’s important to consider the potential effects an unnecessary move may have on them. It can take time for horses to settle on new yards, especially if greatly different from the previous one, which can make them difficult to handle or ride for a time. Worst of all could be the longer term negative effects on your horse of an unsuccessful move to a yard- clashes and injuries from introduction to a new herd, changes in behaviour or condition caused due to the move, or possibly the need to move yet again soon after if issues cannot be resolved. If your horse is very settled in the current yard, you should consider the amenability of your horse to accept such changes before deciding to move.
Many things can trigger an owner needing to move yards such as house moves, changes in employment or income, but more often than not an owner wanting to move is triggered by changes on their current yard and the want to move is a kneejerk reaction to try to solve the problem. If your yard owner makes changes to their yard set up or services, you need to firstly consider why this is. Changes to basics such as turnout times, allocated paddocks or herds are often down to management of the grazing and ensuring there is enough grazing to last all horses year round. Yards that do not carefully manage their grazing, especially in wet or very hot weather- risk detriment by overgrazing which can take years to recover and reduce the grass available at the times its really needed. Likelihood is if the winter is wet, and the summer is very hot, most yards even with the best grazing management, will need to implement changes in the interest of the land and the equines who graze it. Many people choose to leave yards after a hard winter if the fields have been muddy and the turnout has been restricted, but if the yard owner let everyone out to graze day long in the wet months, the liveries would no doubt be the first ones to question why there is no decent grazing in the spring! You also need to bear in mind that weather is localised and no doubt if one yard is affected by being too wet or too dry, likelihood is other yards in the area will be too. If mid-winter you’re tempted to move to a yard that offers unlimited winter turnout, you may find come mid-summer there’s nothing left to graze and you’re needing to pay extra for the fields to be hayed or looking to move again!
Increases in costs, or alteration of services can also often trigger a move. Many yards rarely increase their prices but even then, these are often well below the annual inflation rate you’d have on your utilities at home. A price rise or change in the services a yard offers can often trigger a rapid response from horse owners, immediately looking for a cheaper alternative and moving yards. You do need to consider realistically the comparable costs of moving to a different, possibly unknown, yard. Many horse owners make the mistake of moving to a cheaper yard but must drive extra miles to get there twice a day and counteracting that livery saving on more fuel! Its important to put an increase in livery charges in perspective, work out the daily increase, and when considering everything that is included for that fee and the annual price rises that the yard owner must incur it can seem somewhat undervalued! A yard owner will not want to implement changes or price increases on their yard unless they feel it a necessity, and again you’d need to consider why these changes have been put in force, most likely to improve the service they offer and the routine of the yard for the better.
The introduction of contracts is another reason some owners choose to leave a yard. A livery contract is very much standard on yards now, and not only covers the yard owner but the horse owner too. With a clear and concise contract, everyone knows where they stand, what their responsibilities are and what remuneration is due for the services. If you’re already a customer and are making payments for the livery regularly, you are already in a verbal contract and a written one is simply a form of recording what has been agreed as a reference point for both parties. Many yards these days are starting to bring in biosecurity policies and protocols and enforcing these for equines on the yard- isolation after travelling, tests for strangles, enforced vaccinations and changes in routine are some of the changes being introduced. Some owners feel this is unnecessary, especially if there are costs involved, but- taking the strangles testing or requirement for horses to be vaccinated against influenza as examples- changes like these are a good thing and shows the yard owner taking an active interest in the health and welfare of equines on the yard. If a yard owner bringing in changes such as these makes you want to move to a yard without biosecurity considerations, then you should seriously consider the implications on your own horse of making such a move. Biosecurity should actually be a huge consideration in your choice of new yard as moving to a yard with little or no biosecurity consideration could actually be putting your own horses health at risk, and cost you more in the long run. If your yard owner brings in a contract, or in fact any new procedures on the yard, that you are not happy with… talk to them. Get information direct from the horses’ mouth as it were and discuss any issues you may have.
Friction on a yard, either with the yard owner or other horse owners, can also lead to horse owners wanting to move. Understandably, not everyone on a yard will get on. If you do not gel with the yard owner or other horse owners on the yard, this can be hard and no one wants a bad atmosphere when they should be having fun and enjoying their horses. However, particularly for a yard owner you may feel is unapproachable and unwilling to flex the rules, you need to remember that the yard is their business, and in the course of running the yard they will only be undertaking what they believe is in the best interest for all clients, equines, and their own business. Whilst a yard owner should be approachable with requests and concerns, you need to ensure you are not asking them to go out of their way to accommodate requests, or to make changes that will affect others on the yard or exceed the realms of the services they provide under your livery agreement. If you have a dispute, for any reason, with your yard owner- or any other horse owner- it is important to discuss the issues and understand the reasons behind it. If you are having issues with other horse owners on the yard, bring this to the attention of the yard owner, so they can try to resolve any problems before they escalate. More often than not, personal issues are something that can be resolved with discussion and compromise and reduce the need to consider moving yards because of a misunderstanding or altercation between parties.
One pitfall that some owners make is moving yards just because their friends do. Not because they have any issue with the yard, but because one or two people they spend their time with on the yard are heading to pastures new and want them to join them. If your horse is settled at your current yard, you need to consider if a move is really necessary when in effect this is not your choice and probably not something you’d consider doing if your friends weren’t making the move. Friendships can blossom on livery yards but do consider the effect on your horse of an unnecessary move just because one of your group has made that decision to move, especially if they are the one who have selected a new yard already. Just because your friend deems a new yard suitable for their horse and their needs, the same may not be the case for your own.
The most important thing to remember when planning to leave a yard is to tell your yard owner. Be open and up front if you are considering a move and discuss with them the reasons why you feel you need to make the change. It may well be that it’s something that can be resolved, but if not your yard owner will appreciate the heads up that they will have a space becoming available. Once you’ve given notice on a yard, there’s no reason to act any differently. The yard owner should not take it personally and understand that it’s a horse owners’ prerogative to keep their horse where they like. Remember, in the event your move to a new yard does not go well, you may wish later to return to the familiarity of your old yard and as such it is wise to stay on good terms with the yard owner on departure. Whether you’ve a livery contract or not, a period of notice will be expected, and this is usually 30 days. Standard procedure is to give your yard owner 30 days’ notice and then leave on the last day of this notice for your new yard, the other option is to pay the months’ notice and leave during the notice period as is convenient for the new yard. Communication with your existing yard owner is key as it will really help them know expected horse movements on the yard and vacancies they have available to advertise.
Overall, if you’re thinking of moving yard, you should seriously consider the potential difficulties of joining a new yard, versus the familiarity of staying where you are. The following questions are ideal to help you decide if a move is right for you:
- Is your horse happy and settled at the current yard?
- Is your horse in a good condition and well looked after at the current yard?
- Do you enjoy spending time with your horse at the current yard?
- Does the current yard offer services that meet your requirements?
- Does the current yard offer facilities that you use and that are beneficial to you?
- Is the current livery yard affordable for you?
- Is the current livery yard a convenient distance from your home or place of work?
- Do you benefit from things that you may not at other yards (such as free trailer parking, clinics on site, sharing lifts to events)?
- Do you get on with the current yard owner, and have you approached them about concerns leading to your decision to move?
- What is your reason to want to move? Is this something that could be worked out or compromised?
- Are you wanting to move to a specific new yard, and how does this differ from your current yard in what it offers?
To conclude, moving yards can be a big upheaval for both horse and owner, and sometimes can be the wrong decision if the new yard does not meet expectations, or does not provide quality services or facilities an owner was expecting having made the decision to move there. It is therefore important to consider all factors of a new yard versus the existing yard to make sure you make an informed and justifiable decision, and do not jump into the wrong yard through the whim of just ‘wanting to move’!