Good horsemanship is built on solid basics…so is good business!
Conflict…even the mention of the word sets some people to running in the opposite direction, or getting a queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach. Conflict usually triggers that fight or flight response in all of us. And as long as there is more than one person on the planet, conflict will happen. Certainly the horse world is not immune from this human situation. But learning how to deal with it when it occurs can make the difference between stress relief and getting ulcers. There is a middle ground response that lurks between fight and flight.
Let’s look at three different scenarios and see how the conflict can be addressed in this three part series.
Scenario 1: A boarder's horse kicks another horse and the injury requires a vet call and stitches.
As a boarding facility you should have several things in place that help you to address this situation. Your boarding contract should have language that releases you from the liability of this situation. This is called a risk of loss clause and can be captured by this simple language: “The client assumes all risk of loss or injury to the horse.” You should also be carrying Care, Custody and Control insurance, which is meant for situations like this if you are sued. And in addition, hopefully both boarders were aware that their horses were going to be turned out together, which is most likely how this injury occurred. The horses should be introduced to each other gradually and if one appears to be aggressive it is not a good choice of horses to continue to turn out together. If you are careful with your business and horse management practices, you can avoid all that is avoidable.
Yet, accidents happen, and horses are horses, and people are people. Let’s say that you do have the boarding contract clause, you do have Care, Custody and Control, and the boarders did know that their horses would be turned out together. Once the accident has happened, the first step is to evaluate the wound and determine if a vet is required or not. Once that it has been decided that it looks like the wound needs stitches, you should call the boarder and explain to them what has happened and the need for a vet. If the boarder is not available for some reason, hopefully you also have a clause in your boarding agreement that gives you veterinary power of attorney. This means that your boarding facility has permission to provide veterinary care if the horse owner cannot be contacted.
If the boarder is aggravated immediately, you know you may have a situation on your hands. Yes, it is normal for a horse owner to be upset when their horse is hurt, but you can tell a lot about them right away when “crisis” (a first cousin to conflict) raises its head. If the boarder is quite upset and wanting to place blame right away, this is the time to start to defuse the situation. The first thing that you’ll want to do is to listen carefully to what the boarder is saying. In this way you’ll be able to identify what all their concerns are. That way you’ll also be able to ask clarifying questions that can bring the conversation back onto a more level keel. You must remain emotionally level so that you don’t escalate the situation. When you ask questions, make sure that you frame your remarks as “What I heard you say is…….. Is that correct?” By using “I” statements you aren’t threatening the person with “you said this or did that” language which can make someone feel antagonized. You can approach the boarder with empathy, saying that you understand how they feel; you’ve owned horses that have been injured before; and that what you’ve come to understand is that as much as you would want them to be, they don’t come wrapped in bubble wrap. You can remind them that this is natural horse behavior. And you can also remind them that this isn’t a serious injury. Try to identify what the real issues are.
If the boarder starts to level off, you are in good shape. It was more than likely the surprise of their horse being injured that caught them off guard. If this is a boarder that you have not known very long and they remain escalated and wanting someone else to pay their vet bill, or blaming the other horse, or blaming you for putting their horse out with the other horse….well…you might need to make use of your Care, Custody and Control policy. This can give you lots of insight into whether this is a boarder that you want to keep for very long, as it can spell similar trouble down the road.
Some boarding facilities have chosen to eliminate this as a possibility by simply not turning horses out together. Ever. If that is not your plan, then you must make sure that you discuss turnout procedures with your boarders before they come in, along with possible ramifications. That way you have covered yourself in your contract and verbally.
Stay tuned for the next two scenarios and tips for handling conflict that will come in the next two blog posts.