As we struggle to navigate the uncharted waters in which we find ourselves amidst COVID-19, determining the best practices for equine businesses is difficult. Here is some helpful advice for equestrian business owners.
Editor’s note: The directives surrounding COVID-19 are continuously evolving. Please note that the following recommendations were current at the time the article was written. What is recommended for barn owners in this article may no longer be applicable or even feasible. As we work to respond to this pandemic, keep people safe, and give our medical communities a fighting chance, it is important that horse owners respect the wishes of their barn owners and comply with their requests and CDC recommendations.
By Kaitlyn Schultz
COVID-19 has changed the world quickly and in ways that most of us never thought possible. Who would have predicted even just a few weeks ago that businesses, restaurants, schools, libraries and more would completely shut down? It’s a strange time.
In times like this, it is important to take care of one another. It’s important that we make connections, reach out, offer to help and care for those around us. As an equine business owner, you likely have questions about what coronavirus means for your business and how to best weather this storm. We gathered our team and came up with a game plan to help you, help others, and keep your business strong throughout the coming months.
How To Handle COVID-19 At Your Barn-Based Business
Allowing Owners Access to Their Horses
While the choice to limit access to your property and business is ultimately your decision, after careful consideration of the most up-to-date COVID-19 information, we currently do not recommend banning owners from accessing their horses. In the eyes of the law, horses are considered property and as such owners have a right to access their personal property. Of course, this right is not absolute and exercising it should not come at the expense of the health and safety of others, but if safe avenues of access for owners to spend time with their horses exist, we believe it is important to provide them.
So far equestrian activities are being permitted per section 10 a iii even in counties that are under “shelter in place.” Per the Order of the (Sacramento) County Officer to Stay at Home or Place of Residence:
“Section 10 a iii states that it is permissible to ‘engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, biking, running or equestrian activities.'”
It is important to have social distancing and biosecurity procedures in place at your barn to keep staff and clients safe. Below we dive more deeply into what these measures can look like.
Cancel Camps, Lessons and Events That Bring People In Contact With Each Other
To help stop the spread of coronavirus, it is important to limit the number of people coming into contact with one another. What events take place at your barn where multiple people congregate together? For the time being, it is best to postpone these activities for the health of all those involved and our communities at large.
Get Creative With How To Connect With Your Clients
Can you do remote lessons so you don’t have to travel to give lessons at different facilities? Can you review dressage tests or show videos? Can you offer digital seminars to teach horse skills, young horse development or more? Are online-only camps an option? Perhaps you could teach horse management on group video lessons in bite size chunks so your students come back to the barn better horsemen once this passes.
United State Pony Clubs is offering a number of virtual resources and activities that you can take advantage of here.
Make Your Clients Aware of Social Distancing Practices at the Barn
Send out an email, post on Facebook and post signs about what social distancing expectations are at the barn.
Recommendations like keeping six feet between you and others, having only one person in the tack up area, one rider per arena, etc. can help give people the visuals they need.
If you continue to do private lessons go without using a CeeCoach or device that could transmit the virus on contact and promotes social distancing practices. Go old school with your voice.
Stagger Barn Times
If you’re concerned that cancelling events and posting about social distancing is not enough to limit the spread amongst people at your barn, staggering barn times is an option. With so many people working from home right now, many of your clients likely have flexible schedules. Creating a daily schedule of visitors can help reduce the contact your clients have with each other.
Practice Good Barn Hygiene
Be sure you are cleaning barn surfaces daily or every few hours if possible (if not more often). Surfaces that many people touch including door handles, sinks, toilet handles, refrigerators, etc. are places that you should pay special attention to. Posting signs about coughing into your elbow and washing your hands are also a good idea.
Make It Known That Anyone Feeling Ill Should Not Come to the Barn
Make your clients aware that anyone not feeling well or running a fever should not be at the barn. We all love our barns so much that sometimes we forget that they are public places. Making an announcement about this expectation is important.
Limit Barn Visitors to Boarders Only
Reducing the foot traffic through your barn can help keep barn-goers healthy. Limiting barn visitors to boarders only will help to reduce the number of extra people stopping by for a visit.
Care for Your Staff and Help Them Stay Well
Come up with a plan to keep your staff separated from boarders. Think about ways to reduce the contact they have to have with clients visiting the barn. Also, have your staff work in the same teams. So, if you have six staff members and shifts require two people, have your staff always work in the same teams of two. That way, if anyone does get sick, your entire staff does not fall ill and a group can self isolate to protect the other groups of workers.
Reassure Boarders That Their Horses Are Well Taken Care Of
This is a stressful time for many people. We all love our horses so much that it’s hard to imagine going weeks without seeing them. Reassure your boarders that if they do get sick and need to stay home, that their horses will be well taken care of while they are away. You can even go the extra mile and offer to send pictures and or videos of the horse while they can’t leave home. A little extra kindness can go a long way.
Also, it is important to be supportive of any of your clients who are health care workers. Many health care workers are self-isolating their families due to constant exposure. If you have a health care worker as a client, see if you can offer them any relief if they are asking their loved ones not to make contact with their horses. That may look like offering to exercise their horses, giving extra love and attention to their horses or finding ways to help them stay connected to how their horse is doing at the barn.
Be Understanding of Those That Suddenly Can’t Make Payments Because of Lost Work
Odds are, at least one person at your barn will have lost a job or significant amount of income because of the shutdowns. So how should you handle collecting board and other fees? What if someone can’t pay? Ultimately, it is up to you how you want to move forward with these situations. You may want to offer payment plan options or even delay payment due dates. Or perhaps you work on a case-by-case basis with those that have hit hard times. It is important to be understanding and sensitive to the issue at hand.
How To Handle COVID-19 For Your Online Equine Business
Take Care of Your Staff!
We can’t stress this enough. Take care of the people that depend on you! Letting your staff go during this time is not only terrible for the people that work for you, but also it is a bad look for your business. You want your staff and your customers to know that you are a business that cares about people. Every business’s situation is different, but company leadership needs to be creative. If you need help exploring possible payroll lenders, credit consolidation or tax assistance, then you should seek out resources. There is a lot more out there than you may realize.
Keep Running Your Ads If You Can Afford To Do So
People are at home right now spending a lot more time than usual online. You may have noticed on your newsfeed, the number of daily Facebook posts right now is through the roof. People are scrolling and browsing for long periods of time online. If you can afford to keep your ads running, you should do so. It’s a great time to spread brand awareness even if people aren’t jumping to buy. You will still have people adding products to their digital carts and saving them for later. You will still have people thinking about your brand and all the fun things they can do when quarantines are lifted. And you know what’s going to happen when everything reopens? A buying boom.
Experts are predicting a huge uptick in online sales, in-person sales, restaurant reservations, vacations, etc. when this is over. So keep on advertising! Keep your brand top of mind for your customers so you see a piece of that buying boom.
Get Creative With Engaging Content
How can you engage your community that is sitting at home spending way more time online than usual? What will they find interesting, or funny, or helpful? Fill in your content calendar with posts and activities that will engage your customers. This is a great opportunity to turn buyers in to brand fans.
Take Advantage of the Extra Time You Have
What has been on the back burner for your business? What is on your to-do list for that day when you finally get some extra time? Well, now you have time! Get your business set up for growth and success. If you need some ideas for good ways to use your time, here are a few of ours:
- Get your marketing into shape. What needs to be set up that you haven’t had the time to get to? Ads? Social media? Email automation? Make a plan to get these things set up and ready to roll.
- Estate planning. This is so important for businesses! And we know that it’s hard to fit this into a busy schedule. To help you take care of planning your estate now while you have the time, Entrigue is currently offering payment plans without interest on Estate Planning. It’s an offer that never rolls around, but we want you to be able to get this taken care of.
- Incorporate your business if you don’t have liability protection in place. This is one of the most important business details that often gets overlooked, but it is a must-have for any business especially in times like these. Incorporation allows your business liabilities to be separated from your personal ones in the event you have financial hardship.
- Review your business insurance policy. Odds are that your business has grown and changed since you first signed up for your policy. Ensure that what you need covered is covered and make any required adjustments.
- Update your website. If your website could use an upgrade, now is a great time to take care of that! You have the time to spend reviewing designs and rewriting content. Best of all, the new site can be ready to launch in time to greet your waiting customers when quarantine ends! Entrigue is also offering assistance for those who want to use this time to get a new website. You can have our team of talented website professionals help you create a new website under a payment plan with zero interest.
- Design, prep and launch new products. If you’ve had new products on your mind, but haven’t had the chance to make them a reality, now is a great time to do that. Digital products are especially good to focus on right now since they can be completely developed from home.Get them ready to be sold when the buying boom hits at the end of quarantine.
- Get all of your blogs for the rest of the year written. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about blogs for the rest of the year? Use some of your extra time to get all of your blogs written and that’s a big to-do off your list!
- Develop new ways for your customers to connect with you! If you’ve thought about starting a podcast, vlog, blog or other way of connecting with customers and potential customers, now is a great time to get that going!
Be Sensitive To the Issue At Hand With Your Content and Promotions
Remember to keep your content and promotions relevant to what is happening now. And be sensitive to the struggles people are facing during this time. For example, now is not the time for price increases or removing benefits of a membership group. Now is the time to give extra benefits and special deals. It’s good to even just try to uplift your customer and follower base instead of trying to push sales. There is much uncertainty and it is understandable for businesses and customers to feel a need for a “pause”.
Be Understanding of Ongoing Customers in Tough Financial Situations
Some of your customers will be facing financial hardship right now. Find ways to work with them when possible. Offer payment plans or pay later plans if you’re able. A little kindness can go a long way. We are all in this together.
Think About How You Can Be of Service To Your Community and Customers
It is times like this that the integrity of a business shows. What will your customers learn about the values of your business? Send the right message and do the right thing. Be kind and understanding of those around you, do your best to take care of your staff, and pay your vendors if you’re able, as they too have staff to support.
The COVID-19 quarantines are a big deal right now. It’s all anyone is talking about. It is having a major effect on the world and the lives of countless individuals. But remember that this will pass. Humans have a great adaptability and times like these can spark great creativity, innovation, and collaboration. Use the time wisely, take care of the people around you, and critically assess on-going dynamics between businesses, the government, and citizens. Take this one day at a time and you and your business will come out stronger on the other end.
Kaitlyn Schultz is a certified copywriter, web developer, and ads manager who brings 20+ years of horse experience and a BS in Animal Science – Equine Science from Texas A&M University to Entrigue. Her goal is to help each and every client succeed through unique and eye-catching digital marketing. She is a Texas girl living in Iowa, who has a deep love of travel. Learn more about equestrian digital marketing at www.entrigueconsulting.com.