View Full Version : Buying a horse property: what to look for...

May. 18, 2012, 05:56 PM
I thought I'd pick the brains of those more experienced at home horsekeeping than I. My husband and I are in the very, very early stages of planning to purchase our first horse property. He grew up riding western, and I did the hunters and equitation as a kid, then IHSA in college, then dabbled a little bit in the Novice Adult Jumpers before retiring my horse due to soundness issues. Moving forward, we both hope to event at the lower levels and hunt. We have a son who is three months old.

I'm interested to know how those of you who own your own properties prioritized the attributes of the farms you considered. What are the most important things to look for? Must haves? Can do withouts? Talk to me about everything from the earth to the buildings to the layout of the property. I'd be interested to hear how all of you dealt with housing on the property. Did any of you build your homes from the ground up, add onto or significantly renovate a dwelling, or move into an existing home on the property?

I guess I'm curious how you prioritized and how you selected the properties you did. I'm looking for a window into your decision making processes; what choices did you make that you feel strongly were the right ones, and what might you do differently (or give more thought to) were you to do it again?

Initially, we'll be a two horse family. Eventually we may add a pony (or two). We don't plan to take in boarders.

May. 18, 2012, 06:05 PM
I bought an existing property and am very happy. I got lucky with good neighbors and lots of privacy. However, based on what I've read on this board, not everyone is so lucky. Obnoxious neighbors can really wreck things. Not that you can really control that (nice neighbors you start out with could move away) but I would be concerned about the proximity of houses, fence lines etc.

The other thing I would want to be very aware of is the drainage conditions either around the barn/paddocks or where you would be siting them.

Also be aware of existing trees/shrubs on the property and what you might have to work around, such as toxic maples.

May. 18, 2012, 06:38 PM
I needed a minimum amount of acreage because it's near impossible to make your property bigger.
I had certain school districts I wanted to stay in (or out of).
We HAD to be in an area where I could ride out on at least some safe roads. We did not want our driveway coming out on a major highway or busy road unless we had trail access some other way and even then we like to walk/bike and really just don't like traffic whizzing down the road. Also, since it snows plenty here, we didn't want to live on a road that might not get plowed.
I wanted FLAT as possible (we're in a very hilly area and I saw a lot of driveways that I can't imagine pulling a trailer up, especially in the winter)
We seriously wanted already-cleared land, and got it. As a bonus, it was already perimeter fenced.
And ditto what HPF just said, we were moving from a hellish neighborhood situation so we did our best at guessing what the neighbors would be like, and fortunately did a great job at it. Plus we had spent probably around $10K on our last property with flooding and drainage issues so being out of a flood zone was critical. It was funny how the realtors would downplay the flood zones. "oh, it might flood once every hundred years", well yeah that happened last Sept. SO glad we didn't move into a flood plain.

The house was a non-issue. If it was habitable I was fine with it. It is, and luckily it doesn't need work.

The barn was also a non-issue. I didn't see a single barn worth keeping on any of the 20+ properties we looked at. Many didn't even look safe. The property we bought had a 3-sided storage shed (huge- 36x60 or so?) which we re-did into our four-stall barn. What I would do over... maybe... forget saving money by re-doing the storage shed and just build the barn from scratch. We probably didn't save a lot, and now our barn sits in a low spot so I've spent a lot of time and energy (but really not any money other than gravel) diverting runoff (NOTHING compared to our last place). I've got it mostly taken care of now (fingers crossed) but it was kind of a pain.

So, when we pulled up to a flat, cleared/fenced property on a 2-lane road that turns into a gravel road, and just 3/4 mile from state forest trails, with two large outbuildings visible from the road, but no visible house, I was sold. We pretty much knew, right there sitting on the side of the road that this was it. Drove up and down the road and saw cows, kid's play equipment, and even other horses, and gathered that the neighbors would be a lot like us. That's my story with a happy ending!

May. 18, 2012, 06:50 PM
Look at your long term plans, whats the max # animals you plan to have (be sure to remember if you retire someone, will you get another riding horse) If possible, try to find at least 2 acres per horse if you want good pasture.

Good drainage is a big issue.

Location - If you are not sure, look into what or how many vets are available. How far are you from what you like to do with your horses or are you content just to ride in a ring on your property. Does there seem to be a good supply of hay locally. If you're set on 1 feed, can you get it in that area

If you are building - what are the requirements or limitations. Zoning - any restrictions on animals or bldgs. We ran into a large hassel getting our barn built (but thats a whole nother long story ;)

How does the area seem. We even stopped and started chattitng with a couple of neighbors before putting a contract on our place.

May. 18, 2012, 07:00 PM
look for the buried pot of gold, it will need to be cashed in

May. 18, 2012, 07:24 PM
We are on a clay based soil (lovely though it is) the horses punch through and the ground stays wet longer. A few miles away there is a gravel seam - it is soooo much better for horsekeeping with its drainage. Pastures don't last so long, but out of the mud is the payback.

Make sure you have quality well-water if not on city.

May. 18, 2012, 08:26 PM
Zoning is everything.

Christa P
May. 18, 2012, 09:18 PM
If the buildings are already there, look at the general maintenance. A lot of lawn arranged where it is hard to fence or landscaping that might be hard to change and require work to maintain will cut into horse time.

Also look at the driveway layout - where will the vehicles and equipment be parked? Is it easy to turn around and park a trailer, even a large one? What about extra trailers of you happen to have friends come over or eventually get boarders?


May. 19, 2012, 10:24 AM
If you have/want kids and schools are important, then you'll have to limit searching by school district. Same with any work - if distance/time is critical...

Neighbors, already mentioned, though of course they can come and go. But don't be afraid to talk to a few around, if there are any, and get the scoop on how things tend to be.

Land - have an absolute minimum you'll settle for - as said, it's rare you can expand. But if there is adjacent property you can lease with an option to buy, you might be able to settle for less than the min on the initial purchase.

If you are going to build (whether you want to and look for raw land, or have to because that's just how it worked out) make SURE you get perk tests done first, or at least have the contract contingent on it perking to your satisfaction. If it's 10 acres and the only place it perks is in the far back corner, you want to back out if you don't like that. There are options for crappy perk sites, such as uphill from where you want the house, but they can get $$$ as you'll end up running a pump to get it there.

Look at the land after (and during! that's always fun :lol:) a heavy rain. See how the water moves, or puddles, or ponds :eek: Thankfully we didn't have any of that problem as ours is basically a lopsided upside down bowl.

Ask neighbors about their wells - how deep, have they ever dried up, how old are they. Call a welling company in the area and tell them where the property is and ask if they are aware of any issues. Bedrock 50' down, or having to go 800' may turn that $3k well into a $10k well LOL Of course they won't know exactly what the deal is on YOUR property until they start drilling, but they will know the general area and any issues.

Zoning - even if the property is zoned agriculture, check other issues regarding placement of barn in relation to house. This usually doesn't apply if the land has farm status, but that usually requires income off it in the past few years which usually hasn't happened if it's raw land :rolleyes: Where we are, the barn cannot be in front of the house unless you have farm status (which we do not, could not get see above) and "in front" is between the house and the road, not in front of the front face of the house.

Also check zoning for # of horses/acre allowed. I think we don't have one for personal use, but there IS one if it's a boarding/teaching facility IIRC

FWIW, we have clay too. Red clay. It's all there is on this property, despite our catty-corner neighbor having some awesome black topsoil :rolleyes: Her property was entirely wooded for eons before she moved in and cleared though, and ours was overgrown old cattle grazing, so that's the difference. It's a pita where the grass doesn't grow due to congregating horses, but we DO have grass - lots and lots of it. But as said, our property is a lopside upside down bowl, and open, so sun and wind dry things out quickly. It stays wetter, longer, in the Winter of course, but what can ya do LOL

Access to the property - one place we looked at was accessed only via a VERY short, steep, curved communal driveway, and I was never sure a gooseneck trailer wouldn't get caught on the "hump" LOLOL Now, we actually have a very short road frontage, but the guy we bought from lives sort of behind us, and he gave us the right of the first part of his driveway and then ours comes off that. We did not want a driveway coming off the road front as we wanted the house much farther back, and neither he nor us wanted a another driveway running parallel to his, so it worked out for both of us. He actually offered it up.

May. 19, 2012, 10:56 AM
In addition to all the above discussions, one of my criteria when buying years ago was permanent access to a trail system. I did not want to wake up one morning and discover the neighboring farm had been sold for development. We looked for a year and a half and finally found a parcel next to a state park.


May. 19, 2012, 12:53 PM
You need to be clear about what you want too -- do you want an arena and an 8 stall pretty barn with a jump course and wash stalls or do you want something simpler? Because there's a vast difference.

I am in the same process and my first criteria is that it has to have a livable house (I can't afford to build a house, ahh!) and good drainage. I just got soil tests done on a property I am considering. Land is surrounded by forest in permanent conservation so no neighbour issues, which was another priority. Plus there is already a big shed that is an easy conversion to a two stall shedrow barn with tack/feedroom and another shed that could be a hay shed.

All I want is pasture with some grass space to ride on. I'm an eventer, but I live in a region that as long as I have a spot that drains well, I don't need footing and I can set up jumps wherever I want. When I want to get hardcore, I can trailer to several nearby properties/friends and let them spend the money on upkeep.

So what do you want? A fully tricked out facility of your own, or a laid-back, simpler place? Either way, soil, neighbours, zoning, and water all need to be at the top of the list.

May. 19, 2012, 01:10 PM
You need to be clear about what you want too -- do you want an arena and an 8 stall pretty barn with a jump course and wash stalls or do you want something simpler?

So what do you want? A fully tricked out facility of your own, or a laid-back, simpler place? Either way, soil, neighbours, zoning, and water all need to be at the top of the list.

Wilflifer, in answer to your question, we live in a cold weather climate and lose daylight fairly early in the fall. For this reason and to maximize use for riding throughout most of the year, we'd be looking for a property where we could put in an outdoor ring (perhaps eventually adding lights) with a good base, footing, and drainage as well grass on which a handful of solid fences could be placed.

In terms of the barn, we would eventually like four box stalls and a center aisle with room for tack and grain storage. I like the idea of a simpler, shed row barn, but we have such cold weather so much of the year that I'm not sure it'd be practical.

I appreciate all the thinking points everyone has provided. It's a great start!

May. 19, 2012, 10:27 PM
water. Where it comes from, where it goes, how much you'll have for horses (Natural streams and/or your well).

we bought an old cow farm and I would only look at cow farms b/c you need a lot of water to make milk. Even through the droughts we've had here over the years we have never ever had a dry well. heck even when one of us has left the hose running by accident all night, we've never run our well dry.

Many of our neighbors did have their wells run dry during those times.

Also, think about what would be your emergency plan if some catastrophic weather even happened-where could you move your horse to a safe area in less than 15 minutes. I have seen, as many here probably have too, flash flooding that would make your eyes pop out.

While our barn thankfully has never been flooded, even when I had 4 feet of rushing water running over my lower pastures totally engulfing them, I also have an emergency plan to move them to higher ground, still on my property if needed.

Plan for the worst, trust me it will be well worth the time and effort.

May. 20, 2012, 03:21 PM

Property Report that tells you where all the utility right of ways are (gas, electric, etc).

Taste the water. Some things are like iron and other bad tastes can be removed with filters. Sodium cannot be filtered and depending on how much is in there determines whether you can personally drink it without it being a problem for your kidneys. Some people can drink water with a bit of sodium in it just fine. I can't.

Get the sellers to provide you a well water analysis. When was the last time they did a chlorine challenge on the well?

Always gets an inspection of all structures including the house. Don't let a seller pressure you into not getting one. If you lose the deal, that's fine. Not getting an inspection can leave you vulnerable to hidden defects. That being said, not all inspectors are alike. Make sure you get a good one - one who is willing to get ON the roof and IN the attic and pry into the deep dark corners of the basement checking the structure and foundation.

Make sure they pump the septic tank and provide proof of same. Have the septic inspected by a septic specialist to ensure it's functioning okay and that the field is working.

May. 20, 2012, 04:08 PM
Lot of good advice here already.

For myself, I fell into the perfect farmette for me: 5ac, livable house and the rest in corn/beanfields.
Every place I looked at with existing horse facilities would not have worked w/o major rehabbing.
Instead I chose this place (the 3rd one I looked at, hence the "fell into") and built a 36X36 2-stall pole barn w/attached 60X120 indoor.
8 years later I am still in love with it and easily able to care for my 2 horses myself along with working a 4/D/W job.
I could probably do w/o the indoor, but it's nice to have in bad weather and invaluable for me with the pony I have now & am retraining, hopefuly to drive.

In hindsight I offer the following:

#1 - Zoning! Check, recheck, do not take the word of any realtor, get yourself to City Hall or local equivalent (here it's called the Govt Center) and verify the place is zoned for the number of horses you want there now & in future.
3 years after I moved in, local zoning changed and if I bought now I would be allowed just one horse.
New buyer would not be grandfathered.

#2 - If you decide to build a barn use a builder with barn experience. Period.
Contractors w/o can cause problems that you will not be aware of (unless you've built a barn before) and they honestly may not take into consideration things that will make you crazy later.
Visit local barns and ask or get referrals from satisfied customers.
In your area Wick & Morton are 2 of the bigger names. I can'tspeak for them, I used a local IN company - FBI - that specializes in equine construction.

#3 - consider IN.
I see you list your location as "Chgoland" - acreage here is going to be a lot less expensive than IL and taxes are waaaay cheaper.
I am a 1h drive from Chicago and 2h from the horsy NW 'burbs.

4 - Neighbors?
Unless you see your potential neighbors doing their best impersonation of Deliverance in their yards there's no real way to assure they are good people.
I got lucky and also learned not to judge books by their covers.
My neighbors can probably say the same.

Have fun & post here to update us :D

May. 20, 2012, 04:20 PM


School district (for resale, too)!!!

We had to buy property with an existing house, if nothing else. We built almost everything else. In hindsight, Mr. EqT wishes he had coughed up the extra $$ and bought the turnkey farm closer to his work. His choice ;)

So anyway, give that some thought.

May. 20, 2012, 11:17 PM
Well, everyone has different budgets, but if you are not in the "I can buy what I want" category, I'd save money by building a barn shell and dividing the inside however and whenever you want and spend your money on good base and footing for an arena up there in snowland. Although no matter what you do, it will freeze at some point, so another thought is just attaching a big pole barn to the barn shell or make a really big shell so your footing has some cover to really maximize rideability.

May. 20, 2012, 11:58 PM
We are looking currently and so don't have great seasoned advice as some of the previous posters have, but I can tell you what we've learned during our search.

--Location: like you, we have a young kiddo, so location is more of a deal than it would be without her (think good schools). We also want to be within 15 minutes or so of shopping (groceries above all), and pools, playgrounds, library, etc. My husband travels a lot, so proximity to the airport is pretty important. (We're lucky in that he has a mobile office and I work from home, so we don't have a daily commute to think about.)

--Land: our budget won't allow a huge property, so off-premises riding is a huge priority. I'm also an eventer, so hills, gallops, trot paths are key. We've decided to limit our search to properties adjacent to or with easy access to open space, public land, bridle paths, or good gravel roads.

--Water: we're in Colorado, so this is a huge issue to us. Do we have the right to water our horse/livestock during drought conditions? Is it a well? Has it ever run dry?

--Zoning/HOAs: many neighborhoods here are "horsey," but some have restrictions on the number of horses (one HOA wouldn't allow more than 3 different types of animal...so if we wanted a bird or guinea pig in addition to our cat, horse, and dog, we were in violation) or access to grazing (same said HOA prohibited grazing on more than 1200 square feet), so be sure to read those HOA bylaws closely before making an offer.

--After-purchase $$: I've realized that if the only money we have to put in after the purchase is the horse stuff (i.e., a barn), it'll never happen. (I'm married to a very un-horsey hubby.) Decide whether you really want to sink $20K + into building the barn you want or whether you can wait to find the place with that barn in place. Because honestly it doesn't seem to have the ROI that re-doing a kitchen or bathroom has. But maybe since your husband rides he'd be more willing to spend for what you want than mine is. :)

Anyway, it's exciting and I hope you find a place faster than we have! We've been looking for 4 months and have yet to discover our dream home. Good luck!

May. 21, 2012, 11:08 AM
Lots of great advice here.

One thing I would do is get your financing straight. Depending on what you look at, the property may not be conforming to the requirements of residential real estate lenders. Usually it has to do with acreage size, but sometimes there are other factors. Anyway, find out what those requirements are so that you know if you can use traditional financing or go to a specialty lender like Farm Credit. I happen to love Farm Credit, but we also own 133 acres and our choice of where to go for financing was severely limited by our size. I probably had a dozen conversations with my Farm Credit CSR before we bought our farm. They were incredibly helpful.