View Full Version : Owning a Boarding Stable - Expenses?

Tiffani B
Dec. 29, 2008, 12:51 PM
My fiancee and I are looking at purchasing a new home, and we're considering buying a place that has a heated 26 stall barn and unheated indoor on 5 acres. Two large grass pastures, an outdoor arena, two pole/storage barns and two dry lots. The facility is currently a boarding stable, charging $495/month for board.

What are some of the pros and cons of owning a boarding stable vs. a small hobby farm? What are the usual expenses on a per-horse basis (feed, shavings, liability insurance, water bill, etc)?

The farm is in northeastern Illinois, in a Chicago suburb, if that helps... I know local grain and hay costs vary.

This is the first time I'm looking into doing this on a larger scale (instead of just a couple of stalls on some fenced land).

Dec. 29, 2008, 01:01 PM
It's also important to consider whether you and your fiancee want people having pretty much 24/7 access to your home. It's one thing I think most people don't think about when looking at a small boarding facility. I can't really help you with costs as I am not from that area, but 26 stall on 5 acres seems like a lot. I personally wouldn't want more than 5-6 on that amount of land, and even then only if all 5 acres was pasture (none taken out for barn/indoor/home/yard). It will take a lot more work to maintain your manure and pasture with that small a piece of property, you may need to factor in a manure dumpster, as well as needing to regularly seed you pasture which costs a LOT! Also consider insurance, care custody and control as well as liability if you plan on giving lessons or hiring an instructor. Also be aware that is becomes MUCH more difficult to leave the property once you have a bigger operation that just a hobby farm. Forget weekends away or holidays...unless you can find amazing help, which is tough to come by.

Juat some food for thought!!

Dec. 29, 2008, 01:05 PM
That many horses on 5-6 acres is pretty common out here, but it's insanely labour intensive. Cost wise you'd need to either plan on doing it yourself (essentially for free) or hire someone to do the heavy lifting.

Dec. 29, 2008, 02:05 PM
And don't forget Workers Compensation Insurance...in addition to liability. And taxes on employees. I think it's harder these days to pay under the table plus if you pay with taxes taken, etc. you can deduct salaries off your taxes.

Dec. 29, 2008, 02:21 PM
Consider in your budget to also having access to a hefty cash flow.
Your expenses will keep running even when boarders are late paying or don't pay at all, after being a few months behind.
They disappear and abandon their horses for you to care for and have to eventually gain legal possession of them before you can move them, etc. That happens more with the larger stables.

Dec. 29, 2008, 02:54 PM
Buying a barn and getting started as a business is just like starting any other business. I think the rule of thumb is that you have enough capital to run from 18-24 months without any income. There's also a 75% failure rate by two years.

A boarding barn is a service business, not a retail business, so your not looking at a lot of costs to aquire merchandise for sale. Much of your expenses will be directly tied to your "nose count" at any given time. If you bought the property you have a fixed payment to make each month (PITI).

Business is in America is a very complex thing, with Federal, State, and Local regulations, taxes, paperwork, etc. You would be well to find a local mentor to discuss "start up" issues and costs. You might try the Service Corps. of Retired Executives (I think that's their name) and see if anyone can help you, there.

Maybe the biggest question is the market for boarding barn services. What's it like? Are local barns mostly full (good news for you) or mostly empty (bad news for you)?

More questions: How about local default rates on board? Are you willing to sue people for board bills? Are you willing to prosecute bad checks? What are the IL agister lien laws? Are you willing to consign a horse to auction (knowing full well what might happen) if a boarder defaults? Are you a "collector?" Do you speak Spanish (and I mean "agricultural Spanish")?

On a personal level, are willing to be an SOB when required to protect both your own personal interests and, as far as possible, the health, safety, and welfare of the property entrusted to you?

Believe me, a small hobby farm is a lot less work, headache, and heartache.

Whatever you do, go into it with your eyes open and knowing what you are about to "buy."

Good luck in whatever decision you make.


Dec. 29, 2008, 03:08 PM
26 Stalls?
On 5ac????
Could that possibly be one reason the place is for sale?
How many of those $495/mo boarders stay with the place once it's sold?
That seems like a lot of horses for such small acreage.

I have 5ac total with a house, 36X36 barn attached to 60X120 indoor and barely enough pasture to keep my 2 horses in grass. Even if I redid the fencing so the house was an island surrounded by pasture I bet I'd still be buying hay.

If I multiply the number of horses grazing by 13 there is no way on Earth the pastures can support them without a horrendous amount of maintenance on your part.

Maybe put pencil to paper before making a final decision.
To buy the place for yourself is one thing, but to intend for it to make a living - let alone a profit - for you is a whole 'nother thing!

Tiffani B
Dec. 29, 2008, 03:16 PM
Thank you all for your input - many points I had not considered. We'll certainly be talking it over for the next few weeks. Or years LOL!

Dec. 29, 2008, 04:30 PM
Hold up... Fiancee? WhadI Miss?

Dec. 29, 2008, 04:45 PM
With that many horses on that few acres, your pastures are essentially dry lots.

The other cost people fail to factor in is the endless replacement cost, fencing, stall boards, gates,water buckets, feed tubs, you name it they will break, bend, fold, spindle or otherwise mutilate it. :yes: :yes:

Then there is also equipment maintenance and repair. Not to mention electric. All boarders know how to switch lights on, it's the off that's hard.

Can't remember how many times people started boarding, or bought a boarding operation because on paper it looked so easy. :lol: :lol: :lol:

Tiffani B
Dec. 29, 2008, 04:48 PM
Hold up... Fiancee? WhadI Miss?

I didn't make a big announcement (I know, strange for me :winkgrin:). I got engaged about 4 weeks ago. We're ring shopping, although barn shopping is quite fine instead. :D

Dec. 29, 2008, 05:06 PM
Well congratulations! I think I'd take the stable over the ring myself! ;)

Tiffani B
Dec. 29, 2008, 05:23 PM

I'm not too keen on a ring. I never wear jewelry (what's the point, it'll get covered in mud, manure or fly spray anyways, or lost or broken) and I'm definitely not a diamond-blingy girl. Probably just get a plain band and forget the whole engagement ring thing. We'll see... :lol:

Dec. 29, 2008, 05:26 PM
First congrats on engagement and farm shopping. We very briefly toyed with the idea ourselves and I couldn't come up with enough pros to take in boarders. The per/horse income was too low ($100 +/-) to put up with the headaches. How many horses will you need to make your bottom line. What about PITA boarders - good, solid payers, but personalitys that clash with you - do you put up with the PITA or give up a reliable monthly check. There will always be people who will push the rules.

Especially in this economy, I would be very leary of opening a new boarding operation. I don't know, but I would imagine horses are no different than houses and theres alot more people these days that can no longer afford them and just don't pay.

You also become the first responder to any emergency and may have to handle euthanasia if an owner can't get there in time. How are you in an emergency situation. Can you handle people's grief or their anger/frustration with something happening to their horse - some people instantly blame even if you did nothing wrong and you may take the brunt of it.

Dec. 29, 2008, 05:31 PM
One way I could see making 26 stalls work on 5 acres is to have some clients that require no t/o.. which means they're layups, only requiring handwalking and stall rest. You'd have to develop a relationship with the closest big equine vet clinic, and local show barns, but I'm sure it could be done.

You could always throw up some 15x15' layup or 'sacrifice' pens as well.

Your fees could be charged a la carte for the different types of care the vets order, ie: handwalks, bandaging, cold/ warm hosing, poulticing, liason w/vet/ farrier & owner, administer meds, etc.

Still sounds like an awful lot of horseflesh on a tiny bit of property, to me though.

Trixie's mom
Dec. 29, 2008, 05:47 PM
a thought just crossed my mind...how do you dispose of manure/shavings created by a 26 stall barn?

Dec. 29, 2008, 05:53 PM
Manure removel is going to be your big problem and here in il waste management charges insane rates for removel... I would keep shopping and find yourself something with a little more room...

Dec. 29, 2008, 06:07 PM
Okay here are my experiences.

Cash flow can become tricky when boarders can't pay on time.

Boarders can be a PIA- there are lots of types out there... the know-it-alls, chronic complainers, the unsafe idiots, gossip whores, some who don't show up to pick hooves or groom for like... months..., or bring in new nonhorsey type strangers to pet the pretty ponies, I could go on :) they are somewhat tolerable when you have awesome boarders to counteract.

You always get the PIA annoying horse too. The one who inevitable is determined to break every damn board in the place. Or kicks, or bites, or cannot be turned out with anyone, or good thing you didn't have a gun on you or you might have an immediate opening :)

Employees can either be self sufficient or royal headaches. Know that you will have to search exhaustively to get the good ones and pay well to keep them!

Plus you have to be prepared for emergency situations... colic, kicks, bumps, bruises, gashes, puctures, seizures. Gotta know what to do until the vet shows up or if the boarder decides they don't *need* a vet. (see comment on 'know-it-alls').

Sometimes you have to babysit boarders to keep barn sanity. "She did what? with the wheelbarrow, leadrope, and pony???"

Of course there are the financial matters...
vehicles, trailers, equipment, neverending quogmire of insurance options, employee benefits, taxes, feed cost and fluctuations, bedding costs, disposal, utility bills.

I mean you can wing it... Not recommended but many barns can and do fly by the seat of their pants. I mean on paper I probably looked like I was winging it but I did have financial back-up (personal funds) and when push came to shove, I did tap into it a couple times over the years. Overall, as long as the books were breaking even I was content to enjoy running the barn.

Dec. 29, 2008, 06:48 PM
Come and run my 10 stall barn on 5 acres for a week and see what you think. :) Perhaps the end of March? Say around Spring Break? You could try it out.
Actually I totally agree with what everyone on here has said. And the number one problem will be MANURE. Especially if this is in the burbs. I pay out the nose to have it removed here.
Number two problem will be the actual boarders. I have seen the kind of care you provide for your horses, I do the same for mine and it is maddening to have had boarders that don't give a damn. Then there are the crazies, the cryers, the ones needing medication, babysitting, the list goes on:). The different personalities can be really difficult!!
It is usually the people, not the horses that put you over the edge. Then there are the horses too, the one that mommy says is a perfect angel, however it has no ground manners and tries to kill you everytime you turn it out. I say nooooooooooo to the big barn. Find a smaller one and have 1 or 2 boarders to cover the cost of feeding yours. You will be much happier, and might actually be able to attend a show!!

Tiffani B
Dec. 29, 2008, 09:36 PM
Thanks again to all of your input - it's been very helpful!

I think we'll pass on this. There is already an offer on the property so it probably isn't meant to be anyways. We'll see what comes up - I'd like to have my horses at home, with a few extra stalls to help pay some of the bills. The only reason I was considering this large of a facility would be to lease it to my trainer, but since relationships in the horse business can sour so quickly I don't want to rely on that as a long term solution. You never know. I'd like to think we'd be great for years to come but... it's horses!

My trainer is a Saddlebred/Saddle Seat trainer, so turnout isn't as much of an issue were it a regular boarding stable. But, should the trainer leave and I have to open it up to boarders, turnout would definitely become a problem. Most folks, myself included, prefer to have a decent range for their ponies to wander.

Not to mention the other issues you guys brought up! So thanks again... looks like this will be a "nay."

Dec. 30, 2008, 08:24 PM
Because you can not MAKE money with a boarding barn. Especially one with a lot of stalls and a little ground. You need to have a lot of ground and a few stalls. Buy a property you like, put up a barn you can afford and do not expect any boarders to offset the costs. By the time you do the math (what is YOUR time worth) you won't make as much money as you would if you worked at Waffle House. Have a place that ,if it does not have a horse on the property, you can still afford the mortgage. Lower end boarding stables are ending up with horses they don't want because boarders won't pay. I have 12 stalls, 40 acres, a 72x184 indoor and real grass in the pastures. It's because I have 2 horses, one fat pony and ONE BOARDER. One. A great boarder, who is a riding buddy and a friend. I have a boarder for the company, not the income. It's no fun to ride by yourself. Go to the big show barns, the full ones and ask them where they make their money (I did before we bought and built this place). Sales, Training, lessons. Boarding, for them, is a necessary evil. My thinking when we built this place was I wouldn't have anyone in my barn I wouldn't want at my dinner table. I didn't want to cringe at my own home, when the boarder from hell pulled in the drive. Nope. this is my home, not my business. (don't tell the IRS though.

Dec. 30, 2008, 09:04 PM
Regarding diamonds....

Someone on another thread said: Diamonds are not a girl's best friend unless they can be pawned to buy a new trailer...or good horse.

Dec. 31, 2008, 11:44 AM
There generally isn't any money to be made in boarding horses. If you are a trainer and can charge for your professional services (training, lessons, riding, showing) then you might want to consider boarding clients' horses as an additional service to them. But the boarding itself is usually a money loser, especially on a small acreage.

On a side note, the smaller the acreage-the bigger the work load just to keep things in safe and attractive condition. With 20ish horses on 5 acres you will work your BUTT off just too keep the place in decent shape. With that many horses on such a small place it will start to fall apart and look like crap in a matter of a few months. Be prepared for constant upkeep, repairs, maintenance, etc.
ie: lot of EXPENSES!!

Dec. 31, 2008, 01:03 PM
I first started riding again on a place that could be called a pocket facility. It had roughly 22 stalls on 6 and a half acres, storage buildings, an indoor, an outdoor and 6 turnouts. My trainer eventually left and took her followers with her (19 horses total) because the place was poorly maintained and not well set up. There was about two acres of space lost to driveway, structures, excessive setbacks and distances
between things, junk storage and parking. And the manure pile. . . . .

If the large barn is reflected in the price of the property, based on that experience I do not think you will be able to make it pay for itself. The turnouts were plank and wire and shoes got pulled regularly, which my trainer blamed on the wire, which was large square mesh, not diamond. Horses got cut. The planks got chewed and knocked off. The footing in the turnouts was compacted dirt (but surprisingly enough the mud wasn't really horrible) so she had lameness and a bow, so there were some vet bills. Anyway, when you have a small area like that, or crowding, or both, the expense goes up and the traffic pattern or design of the place can make it, or break it.
Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping on a small acreage has lots of plans that will give you some good ideas on what to look for. Congratulations and good luck!

Jan. 2, 2009, 11:07 PM
Which place were you looking at? Just curious as I am roughly from the same area.

Running a boarding stables is hard work with not a lot of profit. If you are a BNT with an established clientèle then you can expect a profit. Build a BIG lesson program for financial padding.

But it all takes up front $$$$$

The concern now is the down economy Horses and boats go first!

I have never regretted my life with horses, however I do wish I had stayed with a Training Only barn and NO BOARDERS!!! Most boarders are great, but the bad apples are bitter and painful to deal with! They spoil it for everyone! :yes:

I'll sell you my place if you are still in the market - a great little fixer upper that runs in the black 3 out of 5 years. Um those other two years well - YIKES!!!!:D

Tiffani B
Jan. 2, 2009, 11:44 PM
It was this property (http://www.kayfeldmar.com/real-estate/SearchDetail.cfm?PageNum_Search=3&PropertyID=13507077944,13507022739,13506867220,135 06828973). I drove past it a few times and really liked how it looked - nice older house, nice fencing, good location. But there's an offer on it.

Jan. 3, 2009, 01:44 AM
That size property and configuration would not be uncommon in Los Angeles. They can even be relatively pleasant places to ride and keep horses. Yes, turn out will be dry lots, and yes, you'll have to have manure hauled off.

Something to keep in mind for this property as well as any other boarding type stable, is that you should assume that the business just breaks even. And that 'just breaks even' would be on the current expenses, not necessarily covering the note you would pay on the appreciated value of the property.

Jan. 3, 2009, 09:54 AM
That is a very nice place I have been there. Well maintained. I would say follow your dreams where ever they lead you. But in this economy take off the rose colored glasses and do a great business plan! Also NEVER EVER buy anything with a Fiancée! A husband yes, but a Fiancée is not permanent. Relationship issues are not resolved and it is too much stress to add to running a hard working break even farm. Also buying an established business gives you the right to examine the books - see if they are break even , making $ or losing $

Good luck - even though I do not have a lot, I have enough and I love my simple life as a BO

Tiffani B
Jan. 3, 2009, 10:23 AM
We've decided to wait until the house is paid off, and make a decision then (8 years). We do need a larger house, but we can live happily, albeit squished, in this one. At least that way we'd have one heck of a down payment for the new place, whether it's a hobby farm or a boarding stable or just a retirement home in Vegas. :D

Jan. 4, 2009, 09:02 AM
For the same asking price, why not consider this listing by the same agent?

http://www.kayfeldmar.com/real-estate/searchdetail.cfm?PageNum_Search=4&PropertyID=13507077944,13507022739,13506867220,135 06828973

With six stall you can take in a couple boarders and not kill yourself managing the place.
I know it doesn't have the indoor, but you might look into a Coverall or similar if zoning in that area allows.

Tiffani B
Jan. 4, 2009, 11:12 AM
Because we could only afford that price with 20 boarders to pay the mortgage. :D That's why it's not happening - we don't want to have that requirement hanging over our heads!

And an indoor is a MUST HAVE. We can always add one, but the property has to be priced where it's affordable to do so.

Galloway Farms, L.L.C.
Jan. 4, 2009, 11:47 AM
Hi and congrats on your engagement!

My husband and I bought a fixer upper on 15 acres 10 years ago, nice area, 18-stall barn with indoor. But it needed tons of work. I learned quickly how to use a number of power tools.

As far as making money, that all depends on how you run it. I have found the only people that really make any money at this game are the ones that are the Trainer/Owners. They cover all the expenses by their lesson and horse show programs. If you are looking at it as boarding only, you will pour more money in to it than you make, for sure.

Also your feeding program will dictate how much money you will spend. Along with what kind of horses you have in your barn.....Big Warmbloods and Tb's that need a large amount of hay and expensive pelleted grain...and that also trash there stalls and need it striped and bedded everyday, or smaller easy keepers.

One of the most important things is DO NOT buy a barn that you can't clean yourself. Finding someone that will come everyday is not possible. We walked away from a better deal on a 60-stall show barn because of that reason.

Putting all that aside you will need to screen all the people that you are allowing to board at your farm. Handling the horses is the easy part handling a barn full of Woman is a whole other story. One drama queen can start a downward spiral in your barns dynamics. One "No it all" can make your decisions hell when they don't like the way you run things...and one extreme Novice can make it hard when your sitting down for dinner and the phone calls start about things that could wait until they see you..but they still want to keep you on the phone for an hour.

The last thing to keep in mind is that your life will no longer be your own. You will now be responsible for every horse in your barn. I once had to walk a colicing horse in an evening gown on New Years Eve in the bitter cold for over an hour. If you decide to have children you will have to find people quickly to watch them if you need to get down to the barn fast. Also your own riding time will be put on the back burner for more important things, like barn maintenance.

I don't want to make it sound like I'm poo pooing your dream, because we share the same dream. The only difference is that I have been living it for 10 years and it's not what you think in the begging. I came from full service H/J barns that did everything for me, not realizing what went on "Behind the scene". You are a smart girl asking people opinions first and doing your research.

Wishing you the best of luck and have a blessed wedding.


Jan. 6, 2009, 07:18 PM
One of the most important things is DO NOT buy a barn that you can't clean yourself. .....

One drama queen can start a downward spiral in your barns dynamics......


Truer words have never been written :lol::lol::lol: