Horse boarding facilities – calculating the costs

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Horse owners who are struggling in this tough economy seem to be asking the question “why not start my own boarding facility and make gobs of money.” Few who have always relied on others for the care and feeding of their horses realize the costs involved in keeping them healthy, safe and sheltered. The fact is, most facilities profit from add-on services and operate with razor-thin margins on board. Most who offer ‘cheap board’ either haven’t tabulated their real costs, or aren’t taking good care of the facility and/or horses.

Mom and baby are cute, but they cost money to house
Mom and baby are cute, but they cost money to house

Horse breeds effect costs

Of course, certain breeds cost less to feed than others (we deal primarily with Thoroughbreds (TBs) and TB crosses at Halcyon Acres, with higher feed costs, but no sugar or obesity issues, so we can use pastures for nourishment too without the health concerns other breeds face). Horses in training cost about $160/horse/month for hay/grain sustenance and bedding. There’s more to housing horses for others, though, than factoring what you dump in the stall.

There’s more than feed and bedding

Most who haven’t housed horses figure feed and bedding as the only costs. Some enlightened even calculate time into the mix. Maybe you can get by with this if he’s in your backyard and you don’t care about what the place looks like, but the expenses for a boarding facility are generally considerably higher.

Staff costs can be huge, and few consider this as a cost associated with their horse care. If the owner is doing all work themselves, they’re taking time away from other activities that could be earning them (more) money.

Electric tends to be another big ticket item if you have boarders coming into the barn to pet their horse or ride (we had one boarder who doubled our electric bill with just two horses at the barn by leaving lights on and periodically forgetting to turn off the water hydrant – flooding the barn was costly too).

Add driveway and parking lot care, manure storage and removal, stall repairs, fencing and general building and property maintenance to costs that escalate with every horse you add to the mix.

Have you tallied insurance and financing costs?

GallopDownHillWhat few consider is liability insurance and mortgage fees for financing the place. These are usually very high ticket items that need to be amortized across the number of horses the facility holds if true expenses are to be considered. You say they’re building equity in the property so interest on the property loan should not be factored in – not in today’s economy. Liability insurance is a must have for anyone who has horses on their property (even if they’re in your own backyard) and the cost of this increases exponentially if it needs to include others riding on the property.

Turn-out board

Even with turnout board arrangements, unless you have massive acreage, the only way to keep pastures and horses healthy is with rotational grazing. Moving the herd can take a lot of time. Pastures need to be mowed after the horses are moved off and given time to rejuvenate. The labor, gas and equipment costs for this can be considerable, depending on the size of the property (and your mower) and the lay of land. Pastures need to be periodically reseeded if they are to remain useful. Run-in sheds aren’t cheap (weather purchased or built) and these need to be available in all areas where horses are left outside. They also need to be cleaned at least daily and maintained (time and materials). Give a horse something they can sink their teeth into and they’ll find a reason to chew.

No matter how docile and sedate your horse may be, fence repairs are an ongoing chore and expense.

Here, we need to buy water on a daily basis. That means added costs for the truck, trailer, tank, gas, time and money necessary for the water purchase.

Equipment and traffic costs

Farm equipment (truck, tractor, brush hog, manure spreader, etc.) costs money to buy and maintain. With each horse you add, the wear, tear and operating expenses increase.

If you have boarders cleaning their own stalls, expect broken pitch forks, brooms, rakes, wheelbarrows, lead ropes, buckets and snaps as well as stock farm items being used and not replaced.

Paint, lumber, hardware and other costs associated with keeping the property maintained are constant costs few consider as expenses in keeping up the farm for boarders. The more boarders you have, the more you will need to invest in these items.

Of course, you need to equip the barn with medical and doctoring supplies (you don’t want to face an emergency and have the horse wait until the vet arrives or you get back from your trip to the store), which aren’t free – nor generally replaced by boarders who need them.

Here, the cost of boarding horses (this only applies to client horses in for training, so we collect other fees to make it work) is break-even, at best. We’ll be experimenting with turnout board in the coming months (for horses on layup, retired or for other reasons there would be no rider in the mix). It’s still not clear if the additional pasture drain and run-in shed costs will make this a profitable activity, but it’s worth a test.

Expect expensive surprises

Sometimes you don’t see the added costs until after a horse arrives. We’re keeping a horse here for a friend who is facing some health challenges. After she was put on the truck (from the Left Coast) we were informed she had an allergy to alfalfa. Our standard hay is an alfalfa mix. So, we had to procure hay quickly (at a high cost) for her particular needs as she traveled cross-country. Her special hay is not something our usual providers can supply, so we’re constantly spending time and extra money putting custom roughage in the barn for this mare. The initial plan (and at-cost calculation) was a turn-out board situation with the farm herd. She’s on supplements (something we also discovered while the horse was in-transit), so she needs to be brought into the barn twice a day (or reside for half a day) to be fed. We opted to include her in the crew that is housed in the barn and turned out during the day (or night when bugs and heat are an issue). Add bedding, more labor and stall repairs. We tried turning her out with a couple of different mares (one at a time) and she beat the crap out of them (resulting in vet bills for our mares – she was fine). Now, we need to allocate a pasture for a single horse – creating challenges in our rotational grazing plan. Board is late every month, so we’re paying interest on borrowed money to cover the cost of buying hay and blacksmith services if we don’t have reserves to finance the extra unanticipated outflows. Lesson learned – ask all the questions early and plan for the unexpected.

A horse at home is not the same as a boarding facility

There’s a big difference between putting a little barn at your house and running some fence line and shouldering the costs of a boarding facility. Even if you just add a couple of horses and leave the responsibility of their care to the owners, you’ll be shocked at how quickly your costs escalate. Plus, unless you hire help, your schedule will no longer be your own as it will revolve around horse care, feeding, doctoring, etc.. It’s great fun to have a horse around the house, but a lot of work and probably not as inexpensive as you envision. If you can bring your horse home – go for it! The time and money you save commuting to a boarding facility along with the opportunity to go hang with your horse 24/7 is worth it. If you think you’re going to make a million collecting boarding fees, you might want try the lottery for better odds.

If you’ve figured out a way to make a mint boarding horses, please do tell in the comments below. Are you a boarder who has witnessed great ideas that make your experience better and more cost effective? Share what you’ve experienced with others so we can all learn from your knowledge, if you would. Have something to add that has been forgotten in the list above? All will likely welcome your wisdom. Help build this community and others will undoubtedly chime in to help you learn and grow.

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