I am a longtime lurker that's finally mended from a couple of rough injuries. Many thanks for keeping me entertained while I was bedbound
We're nearing completion on fencing and infrastructure on our 50 acre farm. It's always been our plan to have equine retirement and layups on our farm, and now that I've been able to keep myself accident-free, we're just about ready to put our plans into action.
I know there are lots of retirement farm COTHers on here. Any advice would be appreciated as we launch into this venture.
Thanks in advance for any advice and guidance! I am so appreciative of this board.
Last edited by Sunnymeadefarm; Apr. 27, 2012 at 10:16 PM.
Reason: Lack of spell check!
I'm sure you've researched it more extensively than I -- given that I"ve only looked at one retirement farm's website -- but the one I looked at asked for $6,000 up front and the horse had to be 20. I do retirement board and charge $425, so that one time fee doesn't cover even one and a half year's board at my place. The way that farm does it is by being a not for profit and having lots of volunteers and applying for/getting grants to subsidize the care of the horses.
I don't see how the one time fee thing can work unless you find some other way to pay for the care of the horse, that, or charge a LOT more than $6,000, and then I suspect there aren't that many people out there that want to pay $12,000 or $15,000 in one go.
Let me know what you've found on that, I'd be interested!
The one issue I've had, much to my surprise, is *owner* ill health. One owner is in her 40's and battling very late stage colon cancer (she was diagnosed three months after her horse came here). It is unsettling for me to think about where the board check is coming from, and if it is coming this month etc. What am I going to do, bother her? (no!). Up until now she's been diligent about paying, but she owes two months board and a farrier bill . . .
I don't know how you can do this, but I intend to talk to people about 1) another contact in case they are incapacitated 2) plans for their horse if they should die before their horse. The problem w/a retirement farm is that these horses -- usually -- have no monetary value, so even if you were to exercise a stableman's lien and sell the horse, who would buy it, besides a kill buyer? So that's not great.
I've discovered texting photos from my phone, which is very handy for keeping owners up on how their horse is looking.
I'll speak as a retirement farm shopper, not owner.
You might want to think about starting up the 1 price option a year or two in. That will let you know how much it really costs in terms of time and labor per horse per year. It will give you a chance to get your contract and perspective on "no heroic measures" really solid. Well, if you are lucky (and a horse unlucky), you'll get to walk through a real live decision about where to stop with vet care. It will also give you a chance to build the kind of reputation I think you would need to have people ready to turn over their horses to you forever.
That having been said, Mitchells Farm in CT has a huge waiting list (and it is rumored, people moving up on that with larger donations). None of that is my cup of tea, but there does seem to be a demand for this kind of retirement option. I do know some good owners who have chosen that.
I want to see the place in person and meet the people before I send a horse. Be up for that if you can. I love the guest apartment feature. That's lovely.
I also want to make sure we are on the same page about when and how euthanasia gets done. My standards for "pasture sound" are probably a little higher than most. Whatever your owners want, it does help if *someone*-- you or them-- has an idea about how to approach this topic.
The farm where I board does retirement boarding. They have a set monthly board amount and then an ala carte menu of additional services that can be chosen by owner. There currently are two retirement horses and they live in the same pasture as my mare. I have kind of adopted them as their owners live in another state. They always get a treat and some pats when I go get my mare, extra hay (I buy my own hay to give in addition to what barn feeds) if I am giving my mare a flake during the winter or when the grass is a little dry in the summer. I also occasionally give them a grooming.
OK, more issues -- I've found the best way to get boarders is through word of mouth. I only have five, though, so don't have to fill a big barn. And word of mouth through *trusted* sources. An acquaintance recently referred someone to me saying she was really nice (she didn't come); my farrier used to shoe her horse and when I mentioned her name he said "Whew, you dodged a bullet" because she was incredibly difficult! I'd say from that, to require and check references. I also offer the same -- my vet, farrier, current and past boarders. Having said that, no one has ever checked my references!
I've found with my seven horses and one donkey here that it makes sense to have two herds; one pretty sound, spry guys who can on occasion go tearing around, and the other the really old, creaky guys who couldn't keep up galloping around with the others. The old creaky guys are very sweet and mellow, and do canter around, but feel no pressure to keep up, or to deal with a pushy or playful younger horse.
I agree, it is helpful to have people who are doing retirement boarding all talking!
And as for the very sick owner I have, unfortunately she was misdiagnosed so the cancer is a surprise to her and she's only been fighting it six months -- she's giving it everything she has, and she believes she can beat it so thinking of not beating it does not enter her mind. I've raised various scenarios with her close friend who is my contact and she is not interested in any of them.
What a nice idea! We need more retirement options. I am constantly meeting owners who can't afford big-money board on a horse they don't ride anymore. If someone can provide more affordable board, some of the owners might retire the horses instead of seeking out rescues, Freecycle, or the auction.
If you're going to follow the Ryerss model, I encourage you to visit the place. Their horses require an up-front larger donation, which seems like a lot of money, but you can burn through $4-$6k in a year or two with a hard keeper elderly TB who has health issues. If the horse is 20 and lives to be 30, the question is where does the money come from?
If you structure yourself as a non-profit you could solicit grants & donations to help offset the cost. But as someone who administers a 501c3 horse rescue myself, I can tell you that fundraising is time consuming work unto itself. Visit & talk to other non-profit sanctuaries & retirement facilities.
You could do a for-profit retirement boarding place. But the trouble I am told with those is that you'll have some owners who either lose interest or income. And each year you'll find yourself stuck with a few horses the owner stopped sending boarding $ on. Regular boarding barns may resell the abandoned horse, after following legal procedure. But reselling a 20something barely-pasture-sound horse is not easy. At auction you might get $100 from the guy who supplies a pet-food factory. Or you can put the horse down, but if you require a vet and a removal service, budget a few hundred dollars.
What a nice idea! We need more retirement options. I am constantly meeting owners who can't afford big-money board on a horse they don't ride anymore. .
Sorry, this annoys me (not you, the owners!). If you look, there are TONS of retirement options out there, that are not "big money board"! The owner *does* need to actually do some research, though. I would imagine it could be a simple as asking their vet who does retirement boarding in their area, or going online and finding the many websites of retirement facilities and then visiting/researching the ones that seem most promising. Grrr. Ok, vent over.
As for deadbeats, touch wood I've never had one. I've only had deeply concerned owners who really loved their horses. I think being small, and operating through word of mouth screens out people who don't pay.
Which reminds me, when I was thinking of doing this, and worrying about many potential scenarios, I talked to my trainer (my mentor) about what if I get a really difficult horse. She said "people don't retire nasty horses" -- and this is true, my retirees are *really* great horses -- real personalities and very people oriented. In fact, my two favorite horses at the barn are two boarders, not my own!
But I agree, you have to think about what you'll do if someone doesn't pay. I already know I could never sell a deadbeat boarder's horse, and I couldn't put it down b/c its owner didn't pay; I'd just suck it up and keep the horse. However, it might make me decide to close my doors to other boarders and just go back to having my own horses at the farm.
Yeah, but SMF11, you need to put your price and part of the country into a larger context.
There are other places not above NYC that will do retirement board for half of your rate or less. I imagine you provide more supervision and TLC than the farms I'm thinking of in VA.
To someone paying a minimum of $1,200 a month for a barn with a covered arena in Westchester county, your rate is a bargain. Reading about board rates all of the country here, however, makes me think that retirement folks in other parts of the country would have a hard time creating the same "1/3 the cost of riding-horse board" that you have going on. The amount I'll save by sending my horse to my retirement farm of choice is considerably less!
That's too bad for everyone-- retirement farm owners, horse owners and the pensioner horses.
I completely agree with you, MVP -- but I suspect the numbers work proportionately in most areas of the country. That place w/an indoor in Westchester is more likely to be $2,000 - $3,000 by the way; the place w/an indoor where I am is along the lines of $900 - $2000 here. So yes, $425 is a bargain. Of course the farther away from a metropolitan area you are, the cheaper the board, both the high end and the pasture/retirement. I suspect that if board somewhere in the midwest, e.g. is $350 for a place w/an indoor, then the retirement/pasture option is going to be $100-150.
I certainly don't think my $425 is going to be a bargain for someone in western NY, or probably for most areas of the country. But that wasn't my point -- my point was that anyone paying "big money board" could find something cheaper for retirement.
Yeah, SMF11, the $1,200 is the lucky and probably not-so-nice Westchester County rate. $2,000 is probably more middle range and $3,000+ usually means "in training."
I still think the prices you quote for boarding in the Midwest would place a tough burden on horse owners and barn owners looking for the same ratio. Land values only go so low and that contributes to the minimum price for boarding, especially that based on ample pasture.
I agree with what I take to be your sentiment: Owners need to be willing to pension their animals appropriately.
And for the purposes of this OP's question. That means retirement rates need to be high enough to support the business. The good news is that there are plenty of owners whose values or thick wallet make them willing to pay what it costs for good retirement care. Just do your costing, stick to your guns about your standard of care and price structure, and the right owners *will* come.
Some retirement places do offer the option of setting up automatic bill paying. That can help with billing and owners who don't pay visible-looking bills promptly enough. I also think it's appropriate to think about the part of the contract that does specify what happens to abandoned horses. The unique think about the retirement case is that people are setting up very long-term relationships when no one holds a crystal ball.
You may not be able to discover whether or not the horse owner is a bad payer until the horse has already arrived. Or that may change in the future to something like illness, divorce or job loss. The best you can do is set up a plan for dealing with non-paying owners and put that in the contract. All terms of contracts can be modified if both sides agree. But putting this contingency in that document does give you a way to get your prospective boarder to think about an arrangement that will last a decade or more. Truly, most of us have never chosen a barn with that kind of timeframe in mind.
I know some owners wish to keep their horses close, and I don't blame them a bit. It's just a matter of what is a priority and what one's budget allows. Are you all-inclusive or do you a la carte, too?
PS. If anyone knows of a good equestrian website designer, could you please let me know? The guy we hired is out of his league on this one.
I am all-inclusive -- worming, all feed, occasional grooming, fly spray, blanketing, fly masks etc. I pay the farrier and they reimburse me (I hold for vet/farrier w/no charge). Not included is: medication if needed, supplements, farrier, vet, or *really expensive* tick stuff (Frontline, $50/bottle) that I ask the boarders to get.
I think many (not all!) boarders like the one board fee. I know *I* really like not having to keep track of who I blanketed/who I didn't etc. Much simpler for me.
Agree, the reason why people are willing to pay my board price is so they can see their horses. Many people around here are aware that sending their horse "to Virginia" to retire is much cheaper, and it is a good option. However for those that want to be able to see their horses, they have to pay in my range, there just isn't much cheaper (for good reason -- someone would be losing money in this area if they charged less Though of course if they have a friend w/horses at home who just wanted the boarder to cover feed costs in exchange for having a companion, that would be cheaper, though of course a difficult situation to find).
As to the website, I think there are one or two people on this board who design websites -- maybe do a search, or start a new thread.
Sunnymeade, it would help if you put your location either on your profile, or in your posts. Location does matter
I've been doing retirement boarding for the last 12 years. Only retirement boarding. There are a lot of different types of retirement farms, you just have to choose what suits your abilities and area.
I admire Ryerss, I really do. However, they get major funding and lots of volunteer help. Can you do that too? I can't. So the owners pay me $300 a month for full care. Owners cover vet, farrier, and supplements. I supply the food, bedding, daily care, multiple great pastures, quality hay, and love 24/7. Would I like to charge more for all that? Sure. But I do live in the middle of nowhere, by choice. So that dictates how much I can charge.
There is a place for that $150 a month large pasture/round bale situation, and a place for the $600 a month individual stalls, paddock, personal groom and those in between. People do have to do their research. And they have to know what their individual horse needs. Pasture turnout would not work for the COPD horse I have in one of my barns, nor would it work for the Cellulitis dude either.
While there is a vast difference in land and taxes from where I live, to where say SMF lives, there is plenty of things that cost me the same as everyone else. Bedding, grain, fertilizer, building and fencing materials, etc. Bedding alone has gone wild, my costs a couple of years ago were $50-$75 a month, now its closer to $175-$200 a month I did have to raise my rates to reflect that. I do all the daily work, DH and sons help with what I cannot accomplish on my own.
While it is easy to visualize multiple horses grazing on your acreage, remember that it won't always be 70*, with 15 hours of daylight to get your chores done. Honestly, I don't know how you could have more than 5 retirees if you, and your DH are working full time. There are just too many times I'm up all night with a NQR horse, or I'm wiped after making hay for three days straight. Like right now.
I guess I wouldn't have to mow my pastures as frequently so they have excellent grass. Those phlox, buttercup, and wildflowers make for great photos but photos aren't as important to me as good nutrition.
I've been very lucky that I've only had to kick one boarder out for non-payment. But I've only taken customers by word of mouth (or thru Coth recommendations) for years now. My excellent boarders tend to send me other excellent boarders. I've had a few that have gotten behind in board because of circumstances beyond their control, but as long as they keep me informed, I can handle it. Its the ones who lie and avoid your e-mails or calls that you have to get rid of asap. Do it before you feel sorry for the horse. That is what gets me every time!!
Honestly, I love what I do. I've met the nicest people, become good friends with some of them, and gotten to love and caretake exceptional horses. I mourn each one that has passed, and look forward to the next one I get to meet.
It is a good business if you go into it with eyes wide open. There is plenty of hard work, heartache, and frustration to go along with the joy, fun and satisfaction.
I also do retirement boarding. My farm is small, only 7.5 acres with 6 stalls. I charge $428/month(includes darn NJ sales tax) and the horses have individual stalls which they have access to between 8-16/hrs/day (depending on season) and access to overhangs when locked out of stalls. I include grain/hay/blanketing/deworming/stall fans in summer/holding for farrier/vet. I actually am supplying the blankets and blanket cleaning for the current boarders because I have extras. I groom once a week-more during shedding season, if possible. I also add Cocasoya and either MSM or Ration Plus-mainly because I've found it really helps keep the weight on the horses here. The horses have either private pastures or share a pasture with one other horse. My place is more expensive than most local retirement places, but then I offer a bit more, too. I think the point is that there are options out there for every type of retirement boarding-and pricing to match.
I think if you grow your own hay, that is a tremendous advantage!! I would also go small scale for a while do get an idea of exact costs, otherwise you may end up having to raise your prices before you would have expected. Do you have long cold winters? My costs in the winter are much greater-as well as the labor.
Word of mouth is definitely the way to go. I've had boarders tell me they've come here because they know me and trust me. They also agree with my outlook on horse care and that keeps issues to a minimum. Interview your potential boarders extensively. I've also found that writing down everything I do or don't do in the boarding contract avoids many misunderstandings.
Good luck and feel free to PM me if you have any other questions!
Have you checked out onthebit's website retiredhorses.com?
Also I am reminded that my first boarders (one owner, two horses) ended amicably with me kicking them out because their horses needed more care than I could provide, so that's a situation you might have to face.
One had anhydrosis (didn't sweat) and he needed to be hosed off almost hourly if the weather was over 80 . . . since I'm a one-woman operation that was not something I could commit to. (The horse had gotten worse w/age, so the owners only thought he needed to be hosed off a couple of days during the summer). I told them they either needed to put him down, or move him to a place w/full time staff who would be guaranteed available to do extra care on the horse when the temps got too high for him. They chose to move him to a place with that set up ($1000/month).
Then about six months later their other retiree was diagnosed by their vet w/Cushings (after repeated abcesses and white line disease that required a lot of extra care by me). They did not want to follow their vet's orders to put her on pergolide. (I went on COTH looking for advice!). I told them I was willing to do the extra care, but they needed to follow their vet's advice. If they weren't willing to do that then same scenario, fine, don't do the extra care, but put her down. Or, move her.
In both cases the horses aged (they were in their mid twenties) and they needed more care over time. In my mind, they were at a turning point, either put down or step up the care. The problem was they didn't want to do either.
As I said, we parted amicably but I had to figure out what I could live with.
Your thread title caught my eye but I've got a ton of chores waiting on me so only skimmed. Will come back and read in full later.
My first word of advice is . . . INSURANCE. Carry more than you ever dream you'll need.
Second word of advice . . . PROFESSIONAL LEGAL HELP. Pay the price of an attorney and get them to draw up your paperwork. It could save you many heartbreaks down the line.
Third word of advice . . . LEARN TO SAY NO. Figure out what you can and can't take care of. Will you take a stallion, a lamnitic horse, a young, but never sound, horse. Also you will get many sad stories. Realize that you are a business not an inn for uncared horses.
I do do retirement care. Best advertising is word of mouth. Certain disciplines seem to be more interested in retirement care for their horses. I also do long term layups. Again word of mouth is your best advertisement but having a website is a good professional move.
Be very careful about one time donations and taking ownership of the horse. Many horses live well into their 30's and, as you probably already know, horse care keeps escalating. Many retirement farms have gotten into terrible trouble over the last several years and horses ended up at auctions or being seized. Unless you have unlimited financial resources and lots of willing volunteers it will be tough to meet ends meet going this route.
I also think that word-of-mouth is very wise. I'll spread the word in our local horse community and see how it goes.
90% of our clients are referrals from existing clients and contacts we have with trainers and training/show barns in the NE. It is doubtful that you will get many clients from your local area unless you are in an area where normal boarding is very expensive. Most of your clients will likely be from out of state. I suggest if you have any contacts out of your area that you network like crazy and let them know what you are doing. Trainers and training barn owners are happy to have a reputable source to refer clients with retirees to (so they can fill that stall with a horse on training board ). It might not be a bad idea to advertise in a national publication that caters to your target market as well. Good luck!
TOGM - Your post mirrors what my hubby said last night. He is in business, and the first thing he told me was that local word of mouth won't do much to get this venture started. I'll need a better marketing plan that starts with a good website and working my connections in the dressage and eventing world. As much as I'd like to serve the local area, we don't have expensive boarding here, nor do we have a majority of English riders. He thinks that we'll need to broadcast to areas like Florida, California, and up North to find ideal boarders. Thanks for the marketing reality check! Are you advertising nationally? What kind of marketing budget have you forecast?
Actually Sunnymeade, we don't advertise at all (save for our listing on USHJA and another site, which are both free). Fortunately, we never had the need. Work those dressage and eventing contacts, they will be invaluable to you. Perhaps spending part of your marketing budget on key words would be a good idea as many people start their retirement farm search on the internet.
If you do the up-front one-time big cost, relinquishing thing...and also maybe take in some rescue horses as well,..then make yourself a 501(c)(3), you would be able to apply for all kinds of grants, which would help you immensely with expenses. As well, companies would be willing to donate in-kind feed, pharmaceuticals, supplies, etc. Just a thought...