Building an indoor and attached barn, should I go big or go home?
Hubby and I are planning on building an indoor arena and attached barn this year and are in the planning/design process. One thing I am really struggling with is how big I want this project to be. Currently we have an older hip roof barn which hubby did a fantastic job renovating so we have 4 modern box stalls and hay storage above. This barn currently houses my 3 babies and the 4th stall is used as a feed room. There is no tack room, grooming area and we have no riding ring at all, so my dressage horse is boarded about 1 half hour away.
My initial plan was to build a small indoor arena, 70 x 132. This wouldn't be large enough to practice a dressage test but we would build a full sized outdoor that I could practice in during the summer. My thought was that at a later date I could extend the size of the indoor if necessary. I wanted to build a small attached barn (maybe 4 stalls? with a very basic heated tack room and wash rack with hot water). I do work full time off of the farm, but am a certified coach and have recently been doing more and more teaching, so I figured I could have a few boarders/students to offset the cost of the indoor. Now, after talking to a few different builders, who had some great ideas and suggestions, the plan has expanded to a full sized indoor (70 X 200), and 8 stall barn, with a loft upstairs for hay storage and viewing lounge. Hubby is really encouraging me to "go big" as in the long run it will be cheaper to build the larger sized indoor I want all once, rather than build a smaller indoor and extend it later. He also points out that more stalls would allow for more boarders, therefore more income and extra storage space is great for hay, tools, equipment etc. Others have pointed out to me as well, that a larger arena will be better for resale. I agree, however the larger this project gets, the more uncomfortable I am getting. I am not really that keen on running a boarding barn and having 8 boarders will certainly mean that I have to hire staff. I have been playing with different ideas in my head, everything from just building a small indoor and no barn at all to keep it a private facility, to building a full scale equestrian center. So for those of you who have been through this process, do you wish you had build bigger or do you regret building as much as you did? I have had boarders before and some of them are great, some of them are a nightmare. Would you take in boarders if it meant that you could have a larger and more fabulous facility?
I think that the question here is, do YOU want to be a professional horseman, or do you want to keep boarding your horse and do a bit here and there as you fancy, easy in, easy out, no long term obligations to a big horse project?
Sounds like either is doable for you, so you seem to be up to coin flipping time.
I wouldn't take on boarders if it meant that I had to default on my fabu home and facility if they were to decamp en masse, that's for sure.
I've read here that it's more difficult to widen an arena than lengthen it, and IIRC I took lessons in an arena that was 210 by 50 or 60 feet ( it felt very narrow) and set up for jumping. It got crowded in there fast. 70 feet is just a little bigger than the small dressage court, 20 x 40 or 66 x 132.
What you'd be doing is making a huge lifestyle change that you can't undo - I'd be too chicken to spend the money in my position.
Have you really discussed the need to be running a business in addition to your FT job with your DH? Insurance, payroll, advertising, debt collection, maintenance, you'd never have time to ride!
Running a large eq facility is a monstrous pain in the ass..... Every boarder/client/service provider involved is not just $ in or out, it is also people management/issues. And managing people can be a real headache.
I would first ask what else is in your area? If you would be offering something that people want and no one else has, they you are in a good position to set your own rules/agenda for management and stick to it.
BUT, if you are in an area where there are already 50 other indoor arenas, and customers are accustomed to hopping from farm to farm as it suits them (like my neck of the woods...) then things may be a lot more complicated.
If you put yourself in a situation where you NEED to have those clients in order to either justify your outlay of $ or balance the budget, they you are setting yourself up to be dependent on THEM.
Big indoor or not, do not build a facility that puts you in an ultimately weaker position.
. Hubby is really encouraging me to "go big" as in the long run it will be cheaper to build the larger sized indoor I want all once, rather than build a smaller indoor and extend it later.
I agree. Although it may cost a little more initially, I would guess it would cost more to change things down the line. I would also worry that spending money on an expansion could become one of those things that you always talk youself out of because it become a luxury and not a necessity at that point. Is there any reason you HAVE to justify a larger indoor with more stalls/boarders.....could you do the bigger the indoor but still keep the barn smaller........I think boarders can be hit or miss. I don't think they generally bring in the money people think they will once you factor in all the extra wear and tear on the facitily....because remember...the more people you have there the more likely things will be broken...worn out etc....and then you will have do all the repair. WOuldn't you also be saving money by not boarding your dressage horse anymore?
Thanks for your replies everyone. Defaulting on the payments isn't very likely, even with the larger facility. I do have enough "rainy day" funds put away that if my boarders left en masse, I could still make the payments for a good while. Yes, I will certainly be saving money by not boarding my dressage horse. My youngsters will all be going under saddle in the next year or two and the thought of paying board on all 4 horses is what is spurring me to get working on building the arena this year.
If you are like hey101 who had the money to buy that facility and keep it without having to have any boarders at all unless it suited her, then definitely build the nicest indoor straight off. As I said they aren't too hard to lengthen, it's generally a case of adding trusses, but widening almost requires they be torn down and start again. Have fun and good luck!
you haven't mentioned your pasture/turnout capacity, etc. Do you have enough turnout space and appropriate fencing for that many boarders? To have mares and geldings separate (I know not every barn does that)? What amenities do competing barns in your area have, and pricing? Hay storage, manure mgmt? Bottom line, I think you really need to develop an organized, comprehensive business plan. It would be a very good exercise to solidify whether it's something you really want to do.
If you are sidelined by illness or something, is DH prepared to manage the barn staff? I guess this won't be new to you since you've boarders in the past, but with a lot more people coming and going, it might affect your enjoyment of the place. I was a live-in manager at a barn for a couple of years, and I'll tell you, there were days when I'd see a car pulling up the driveway and so feel so aggravated. for no reason, no fault of the person coming to the barn. I just got really sick of feeling like a park ranger at my own home.
Personally, I'd listen closely to that gut feeling that's saying it might not be what you want.
Windward Farm, Washougal, WA- our work in progress, our money pit, our home!
Build the bigger ring- I have never heard someone say, "Gosh, I wish our ring were smaller!" I store my hay in my barn--and have boarded at a place that did the same--they had a "firewall" between the barn and the hay, though. If the hay caught fire (which, if put up correctly...shouldn't happen) the wall would give plenty of time for the horses to be evacuated. You don't say if this will be a metal "pole building" type or an all wood structure, and that can mean a difference.
Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!
We are most likely talking about a wooden pole structure. We do have the turnout space, but it is in hay now so if we had a lot of boarders we would have to convert some of it to pasture and fence it (hubby and I would do that ourselves, we are very DIY). If money was no object (and it definitely is an object, lol!) I would do the large indoor and small barn, making it basically a private facility with a few extra stalls if I have a friend or student who might like to keep their horse with me. As my husband points out though, having a private equestrian facility is a luxury that we probably can't afford.
Windward Farm, Washougal, WA- our work in progress, our money pit, our home!
Go bigger, build a few extra stalls, offer limited boarding done right and you'll get good clients who are loyal and will pay for very good boarding. Offer nice turnout, quality feed and first rate facilities and you'll always be "full". That seems to be the case in our local area--barns that are nice (not over the top, but quality and well designed) and that are run well and fairly are always full. Others? Not so much.
Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!
It's been said a lot on COTH, that making an actual profit with boarders is hard to do. You said you've had boarders before, so you know what you'd be getting into there. Most places, the boarders are there to bring in the money for the OTHER services--lessons, coaching, training rides, etc. If you have to hire help, like someone else pointed out, that also includes workers comp insurance, additional help for when the regular help is sick or off. Those expenses can suck up the minimal profit of boarding very quickly.
You said something in one of your posts about doing more coaching/teaching. One way to "have a private equestrian facility" but have it be a business that pays for itself, would be to do those things without boarders. Buy a few young horses (or even not young), school them, sell them. Teach for those who want to ship in--it's nice to have use of a stall/wash stall for tacking/bathing instead of working from the side of the trailer. If you have the clientele for it, it might be good to find a reliable schoolmaster type to teach on too. Offer training--short term "tune up" or "learn the next step" training has always been popular with a certain demographic and that way you aren't having to deal with orangatangs. Something else you could do if you have the parking is to run some schooling shows if you put in a nice outdoor ring too.
My husband wants the 200 acre equestrian facility, with 50+ boarders, multiple rings, etc. Of course, guess who would be running that while he goes off to his regular job? And it isn't happening because I want to RIDE not babysit everyone else and do all the maintenance on that 200 acre facility! I don't want to be so big that I have to hire more than a part-time employee, because I don't want to have to supervise a staff. I do want to do sale horses, training our racehorses on the farm, hold some horse shows, but I've done boarders and just don't want to do it anymore. I want our place to be our place. I REALLY value my privacy.
If you are uncomfortable inside about it, don't go the boarders route. Look at how you can make enough money to justify the facility that YOU want.
Last edited by Chestnut Run; Feb. 3, 2013 at 05:54 PM.
Reason: apparently today isn't my day for spelling or grammar
I am currently building an arena. I had to make the same decisions as you. I built the arena as big as I could afford without needing a boarder. I took into account if I needed extra storage for hay, a tractor, jumps, shavings etc.
I have one boarder. Payment is in consistent.
Currently I can do the stalls when I want. If I need to do them at night because I have the time then, that is when I do them. If I need to bring them in early because I want to go out for dinner, I do. Four stalls is very manageable.
I love the horses, but people, not so much. A friend wanted to board with me when the arena is build. I looked into insurance. It was not cost effective for her to come here. Everyone is friends till something happens.
If the project is getting big and your gut is saying no, do listen. The bigger ring is nice, but you have to really be prepared for running a boarding facility, and if you haven't done it...oh boy, the stories I could tell about the new BOs that lasted months, if that.
Here is just one. Husband and wife were running a fairly profitable HR business and had a nice property with a small barn for the sort of hobby breeding they were doing. Sent the horses out for training as they had no arena. Started building a small arena so the wife can ride...mid construction, it fell down. Decide if they make the arena bigger, with attached stalls, they can bring in boarders to pay for it all. Get a trainer signed up to move in if they build it, so start building.
Long story short...they had never run a boarding barn and were in over their heads dealing with it. Trainer moves in, and within a few months, trainer moves out. Couldn't get anyone else to come in and fill the stalls. Big, beautiful barn housed just their own horses and a couple of boarders from the neighborhood. This does not pay the bills. In the end, they lost the place to foreclosure and it is now a private barn. Sold all the horses and, as far as I know, BO no longer rides or has horses at all, living on a small lot in town now.
I bet if you asked her now, she'd say she'd rather have gone smaller. Her own place, paid for without the massive mortgage nor the massive headaches. Not a trainer and definitely not DIY types, but figured I'd share that as a cautionary tale.
I would make the indoor a few feet wider and a few feet longer. Then, you will have a small dressage arena with a few extra feet around it. There is a small indoor up the street from us that is the size of a small dressage arena. It would be nice if it were 8' longer and 8' wider.