BHS Buckinghamshire held a very well received Livery Yard Proprietors' Forum at BCA near Maidenhead on 1 May 2013. Owners and managers of yards were welcomed by organiser Jan Eedle-Wells before listening to a variety of speakers on pertinent topics.
Nick Wright, a partner at Darbys Solicitors LLP, legal advisors to the BHS, spoke about some of the most common questions Darbys equine legal team are asked:
- What if clients can't or won't pay their bills?
- What if the client disappears and leaves their horse at the yard?
- Disputes between clients and management
Nick's mantra throughout the evening was "contract, contract, contract"! Ensuring a comprehensive contract, including the right of lien, is in place before accepting a new livery client gives both proprietor and client peace of mind. Proprietors were also advised to take a deposit, and to take up references from the client's previous yard. Nick explained that if a prospective client is unwilling to sign a contract, pay a deposit or provide references, alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear.
BHS Gold members and Approved Centres have access to the BHS Legal Helpline, which is manned by Darbys, and isn't even restricted to equine-related legal issues - one member recently called the helpline for advice about her consumer rights after taking delivery of faulty white goods, and the Darbys team were pleased to be able to assist.
Jo Millward-Croft, who is the Safety Officer on the BHS Buckinghamshire committee, presented on Fire Risks and Health and Safety. Jo has worked for Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service for nearly 25 years in different roles, so has a wealth of experience. She began by showing a short film of the Bradford City football stadium fire, a tragic event that took place in 1985 killing 56 people and injuring nearly 300 more. The video showed how quickly fires can spread - with a wooden roof and benches, a fire thought to be caused by a cigarette spread in just four minutes to engulf the entire stand. As Jo pointed out, most yards have an overwhelming amount of combustible material - hay, straw, wooden boxes and barns - in which fire can spread very rapidly.
Proprietors learned some simple ways they can reduce fire risks and found out about their legal obligations. Jo also outlined some things that can help the emergency services in the event of a fire, and explained that inviting the local fire brigade to visit the premises is a good idea - they can locate and test the nearest hydrant, and familiarise themselves with the premises. Another key thing for proprietors to do is to ensure they have a landmark at the gate. Some proprietors don't have signage, for security, but as Jo says "Anything will do. Paint a large rock white, for example. Yards are often in secluded, rural locations and it's vital to be able to tell our team about a landmark at the end of the driveway if you don't have a sign. If you aren't lucky enough to have a handy postbox or something, make your own landmark."
After an interval for coffee and biscuits, Bob Weatherley, the BHS Approvals inspector for the South and South West, took the floor. After outlining the benefits of the approvals system, Bob conducted some useful market research by asking delegates to list the five benefits they felt were most important to them - those from approved yards listed the benefits they valued the most, and proprietors of non-approved yards listed those they found of most interest. This information will be fed back to the BHS Approvals department. Bob then took questions from the floor.
The final speaker of the evening was Helen Evans, BHS Buckinghamshire and BHS South Regional Welfare Officer and Thames Valley Horsewatch Co-ordinator, who spoke about the importance of keeping records, tack marking and security. Helen used examples whereby entire tack rooms full of saddles are stolen, and their safe return depends on them being identifiable. Helen advised that all tack should be stamped with the owners' postcode so that, if recovered by Police, it can be returned. Owners should keep a file of photos of all their tack and equipment too, as well as photos of their horse in summer and winter coat, clipped and unclipped, and close-ups of any distinguishing markings. Helen can visit yards in the area to mark tack on request, and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everyone who attended the evening learnt something and the feedback was generally very good. Please keep an eye on the website for details of all forthcoming BHS Buckinghamshire events. Other counties may also hold similar forums, so if you are keen to attend one in your area please contact Hannah Marsh, Development Officer for the South region (details on the right) to register your interest.