The horse industry Series: old problems, new solutions.

Photo by Philippe Bertrand on Unsplash

The horse industry is as old as, well…since we can track our first book about classical riding to the 4th century, it’s fair to say it’s really freakin’ old. But since cars came along, our equine partnership is more focused on specific jobs and recreation vs basic transportation.

How much have we changed in the century since? In particular, when it comes to running horse businesses and hobby farms? Very little it seems. 

Definitions matter…

For example, we still think almost every skilled worker or service provider we need in the horse industry is an independent contractor. Sadly, the IRS disagrees. So does California. The rest of the states may follow.

Someone who works on your farm 6 days a week for 10 or 12 hours a day isn’t going to be viewed as self-employed, no matter what you call them or their preferences. There are some exceptions of course, but only if we keep very careful records and meet very specific criteria. Who has time for that in the horse business?

Photo by Jacob Jolibois on Unsplash

The horse industry is challenging.

The IRS and other government entities have little sympathy for the intricacies of owning and caring for livestock, not to mention how hard it is to break even, or <gasp> make a good living once we add up the costs and labor involved in the care of our animals. We do this for love, not money, but we still need to eat.

Skills matter…

As with any business, fluctuating customer demand, busy seasons, slow seasons and disruptive weather events are constant challenges for the horse industry. And when it comes to hiring, specific skill sets are important for specific tasks and projects. If you hire an electrician from the day labor pool at your local park, you are asking for serious trouble. Similarly, lack of skill from a farrier or a show groom can result in far worse outcomes than the Amazon guy getting your address wrong.

Photo by Phil Hodkinson on Unsplash

The horse business is trying to stay dry.

And why do we keep rolling the legal dice, even as the risk of consequences grows? The answer is simple. We’re trying to keep our budgetary heads above water. 

But maybe, just maybe, we need to look at this problem differently. Maybe the way we’ve always done things isn’t the answer in a world where everything we do in business (and personally) is available in online databases and within easy reach of authorities. 

If you think paying someone under the table isn’t high risk, you underestimate investigators. I know because I was a detective and worked in an advancing world of tech that made following the money trail easy. All it takes is one complaint to the authorities. Finding out where you took shortcuts is simple for them.

Innovation matters…

So how can horse and livestock owners hire help in a cost-effective way? Consider the benefits of using a flexible workforce. A flexible workforce includes freelancers and independent contractors who actually and provably fit the description the IRS requires. 

Using a third-party platform to hire freelancers/contractors for specific tasks and paying them per project on the platform is one possible solution. It’s important that the platform you use has features allowing the person or entity to define their own availability, advertise their services to multiple clients and negotiate their own fees with you. 

Yes, you can find workers on a platform and bypass the system, but you’re trading a low transaction fee for a much higher risk with a much more expensive consequence. The person performing the service can still be viewed as your employee because you took your business outside the platform that helps establish them as self-employed and beyond your control.

Using a talent marketplace to hire and transact with freelancers and independent contractors will help streamline a time consuming and frequent task, but it may also help protect you in ways you haven’t considered. Times are changing. Change can be your friend.

Photo by Fas Khan on Unsplash 

The horse industry needs innovation.