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Experiences: small boarding operation

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  • Experiences: small boarding operation

    Hi all, I did a search but didn't find anything about this situation specifically, so here goes...

    My husband and I are looking to sell our house and move to a farm. We are looking for 50-100 acres, with open pasture as well as some forest. Our goal is to get out of suburbia, raise kids in the country, keep horses at home and possibly board a few to offset the cost of building/buying a barn and arena. We are realistic, and know what things cost in reality, and that it is very hard to profit from a boarding operation; our goal is only to offset the costs of the country/horsey lifestyle. I would love to have a few x/c jumps, and hubby wants some trials to play on with the four-wheeler.

    Realistically I can see us ending up with a medium sized indoor and an 8-10 stall barn, and boarding 4-6 horses along with our own. Currently I am horseless and riding someone else’s horses.

    We are in our late 20’s, currently childless. I grew up on a farm with horses at home and have owned/rode for 20+ years, hubby is an outdoorsman. We both work, but could easily live very comfortably on hubby’s earnings, he has a very good, very secure job. I plan on staying home to raise children when the time comes. As we both work in construction, we are able to do lots ourselves (access to cheap or free rental of heavy equipment, able to operate it as well), and are in the know about current prices.

    I just want to hear from anyone who has actually done this. How did you make it work, what have your experiences been, did you actually offset the costs of your hobby, how big of a pain in the ass are boarders :P etc.

    I would very much appreciate thoughts!

  • #2
    Originally posted by tartan View Post

    , how big of a pain in the ass are boarders :P etc.

    Oh you have no idea lol.

    Personally, knowing what I know now, I would make the barn whatever size "I" wanted for my own horses and thats it. The small amount of profit really won't offset your costs when you input your time. And that time comes from the time you could have spent with your own horses. JMO


    • #3
      Originally posted by kasjordan View Post
      Oh you have no idea lol.
      ^ THIS x 1000.

      I haven't done this, but I've taken a good look at the numbers, and the returns are just not enough to offset the hassel.

      You may make a few hundred bucks here and there, but keep in mind that you are going to have 'strangers' coming into your backyard, and using your things. And there is a good chance that are they not going to take care of your things the way you would.

      The only way I would let someone come board in my barn (which is 150 ft from my house) is if they had a retired horse that just needed some pasture land in its last years and the owner would stop by quarterly to give treats while I'm at work.

      I'm selfish. I want my barn to be... mine.


      • #4
        I don't own a small boarding operation but I board at one with 10-12 horses. Honestly it works out really well 99% of the time since it is a co-op. Having everyone work shifts increases accountability and tends to weed out the crazies, lazy, and unsuitable types.

        Clear contracts and having a strong backbone about tactfully addressing problems help keep small barns (relatively) drama-free.


        • #5
          Something that you have to factor in, when you want kids, is that you'll have to take time off to spawn and deal with the aftermath.

          I don't have my own farm, but I farmsit for my BO, who has a small farm. Having my DD brought a whole new level of 'fun' to the game. I'm sitting right now, praying that it doesn't rain before naptime because what am I going to do with her while I bring horses in?

          If it were just my mare I had to think about, it'd be one thing... but I have someone else's horses to be responsible for as well. I can't imagine if I did this full time. I'd be bald from the stress! I used to want a small farm like the one that you describe, or the one where I currently board, but after having her, no way would I consider it until after she (and any others that happen along) is much, much older. It can certainly be done, and I'm sure that others with more experience will chime in. Just something to think about.


          • #6
            Well, I'll be the voice of encouragement amid all the doom and gloom.

            We have a 200 acre farm which came with barns. We've installed fencing, converted the barns for horses, put in an outdoor ring and auto waterers.

            I board retired horses and now have 8 boarded horses. They live out 24/7 so their care takes about 2 - 3 hours a day on average. *IF* you are going to have the infrastructure anyway (i.e. you'd build the ring anyway for your own use) THEN boarding makes economic sense. (You couldn't pay for the capital costs out of boarding income in any reasonable time frame).

            All my boarders have been really lovely people. This is partly b/c the kind of person who's willing to pay for a horse's retirement is probably a pretty nice person, and partly because I screen very carefully and reject probably about 30% of those asking about boarding. That's what's so great about having a small private barn -- you do not have to take whoever comes along!

            Two of my boarders ride, but I knew them before they came here. I'd be a little more leary of riding boarders as they expect more (ring dragged regularly for example, or complicated blanketing for body-clipped horses) than owners of retired horses.

            As long as I do most of the work, the barn makes enough money for me to pay myself. I love that I was able to create a flexible, part time job, doing something I love. And, the money is worthwhile. [Side note, when people talk about boarding not being profitable, they are correct -- once labor costs are factored in there is no money left over, and as I said, if I had to pay for all the improvements out of boarding income, I couldn't]

            I think one person can take care of 10 horses (give or take), so that's what I'd be building for. I'd urge you not to get too many of your own horses or the scheme won't make money!

            Also, with such a set up you are a very attractive home. My current horse (a TB/Oldenburg cross who's been there and done that and the most bombproof horse I've met) was given to me because of the kind of home I could provide. So you may find you can cut your horse expenses that way too!
            Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


            • #7
              PS I make enough to pay the farm's taxes (over $10,000/year), which you'd have to pay anyway, plus clear more than "several hundred dollars" a month. If you do it right, it does make financial sense to offer boarding.
              Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


              • Original Poster

                Thanks for the responses!

                I am the one worried about the costs and not wanting to just jump into this, my husband seems to think this is a GREAT IDEA!!! :P I find this interesting as this is all I have ever wanted, while he is new to horses, but has always wanted land.

                I surmise that it's totally about finding the right group of horses and people to make this work, otherwise it's a royal pain and not worth it financially. I have to say, boarding retired horses is not something I've thought about previously, but is something I should look into. Maybe something like what SMF11 does, mostly retirees, but 1-2 riders would work out well.

                I think my apprehension is the horror stories I've heard. People not paying, disappearing, and you're stuck with a horse to feed/re-home/sell to try and cover some costs/etc. Also PITA boarders who abuse your piece of paradise, although I am a contract and firm rules kind of person, and hubby and I both are easily able to tell people what's what and to get lost. Ideally we would like the barn to be a little ways away from the house so we can have some privacy, but we will see what we find.

                SMF11, I appreciate the positivity! I am kind of being a Debbie Downer regarding the feasibility of any financial benefit, and maybe needed an alternative approach to the whole thing


                • #9
                  Well, I'll echo SMF11's experience. We've been here about 23 years, on about 42 acres, about 1/2 in pasture. We built everything from the ground up, as we could afford it. I have 12 stalls, but only keep 10 horses to keep the time/labor manageable. We have a lovely retired woman who lives in the mobile home we started out in, who wanted to live with her horse, but not have to do farm work every day. She helps 2-4 days a week, some mornings and some evenings. I can do all the chores in 3-4 hours a day, she takes a bit longer.

                  When we started having (2)kids, we leased the mobile home and farm, with varying success, the last being pretty awful, the first being excellent. We've always run it in a businesslike manner, and as a business, but figured the income was offsetting improvements and helping pay for my "addiction", plus, what a great place for kids to grow up! We do make a profit and file taxes as a business.

                  The pluses are having someone to ride with, boarders help out when we need to go on vacation, and when I was hospitalized suddenly to have my (premature) firstborn, everyone pitched in to help take care of the horses. I do screen and have asked one to leave ~ I've gotten smarter about being clear about what I will and won't do so expectations are realistic for both parties. We are not fancy, but safe, not a show barn, but provide, I believe in many ways better care from the horses' perspective.

                  We also can be not full, and wait for the right boarder to come along to fill the open spot, thanks to husband's decent paying job, plus I work every other weekend as an RN (second career after the kids have gotten a bit older).


                  • #10
                    Something that I thought was smart that goes along screening boarders, is actually go and see the horse in question before allowing horse & boarder to come in.

                    I didn't understand at first why my BO would want that, but reflecting it does make sense. You can get a sense of what the horse is like (destructive or not), if the owner is high maintenance, if there are so many problems or whatever to cause them to leave, etc.

                    Of course, not feasible in an extended distance, but sometime that perhaps more BO should look into. A little hassle up front to save headache later on.

                    I have to say, so far, new barn is very quiet as far as drama (both equine and human) since both were screened up front.
                    Semi Feral


                    • #11
                      I grew up on a small 20 acre farm and my parents always had 2-4 boarders. The only people they would accept were people they personally knew or a friend-of-a-friend so they had an idea of the kind of person they were getting. They have almost all been "weekend warrior" trail riders so they aren't out 24/7. The horses live outside but are brought in twice a day to eat so chores don't take long. I don't know the details of their finances but my Mom always says she makes enough to cover feed every month and to help with hay costs.

                      I think if you keep it small, get either retirees or the weekend warrior type, and keep horses in an inexpensive way (keep them out 24/7, do the work yourself, etc) it is totally feasible.


                      • #12
                        I have done exactly what you describe, for 10 years.
                        My gut reaction is don't do it!
                        Yet here I AM, setting up facility #3, for a handful of "boarders".

                        You have to crunch the # and really watch your expenses. When I had to get divorced, and really looked at the Barn's bottom line... I could NOT stay there and live off board/training/ lessons/ hoofcare.
                        I had to liquidate all my mares and foals, sell, and move.

                        I found a farm that was smaller, older, did not require staff, and most importantly, the BILLS were 50% less. I could do it on my "income". (and ride my 3 horses, keep 2 farmdogs/cats)

                        NOW, that farm was so far out of town, it had a ceiling on what customers wanted to PAY for good feed, care, farrier, lessons. Over 5 years I struggled with this, and the answer was MOVE to a better location.

                        I believe I will be able to charge nearly double for the same feed, care and service...just a better convient location for the clientele.
                        Maybe if you haven't bought yet... make this a top priority, if you ever want income off the property!


                        • #13
                          making a profit with horses

                          Is much more difficult than one would assume; The last year I was in business I sold two horses for a total of $1444,000 after paying $19,00for them two years earlier; I thought I had made $ but, after being sat down with a friend with his legal pad; and made to put a value on my time, I had actually lost money
                          breeder of Mercury!

                          remember to enjoy the moment, and take a moment to enjoy and give God the glory for these wonderful horses in our lives.BECAUSE: LIFE is What Happens While Making Other Plans


                          • #14
                            Boarding is great for cash flow, but not so useful for actually turning a profit. I keep everything in a detailed spreadsheet and, IIRC, I end up making a dollar or two an hour for my labor in a good month (boarding a couple horses).

                            Having had boarders ranging from absentee/non riding to people who want to mess with their horse nearly every day, it's much, much more pleasant and a lot less work having the former around. Don't underestimate the extent of the suck of having nothing truly private or 'yours' on your own farm. Bad day and just want to snuggle a horse? Suck it up, buttercup, and be pleasant to the paying customers wandering around your home. I also can't emphasize enough how important it is for you and any boarders to be absolutely on the same page re: their expectations versus what you can provide. You WILL have things come up (at work or with kids) where you can't drag the ring or the water buckets won't be immaculate, and some boarders won't want to stay, especially if it happens often. (Search here for threads talking about the quality of care declining.)

                            That stuff is hard to stay on top of day in and day out for people who have day jobs. It's immeasurably harder for SAHMs until the kids are truly big enough to not need constant supervision (I'm thinking like 10 or 12 yrs old, not 5 or 6, AND well-trained in barn manners). Honestly, most boarders are not going to be sympathetic to your child care issues if it has any negative impact on the quality of services you provide. Just do a search here for threads taking about the BO's kids and/or dogs. You will need to budget for a sitter, daily, because your husband can't do all the barn stuff before and after work.

                            I strongly suggest, if you do decide boarders might be in your future, to lay out your facility with either separate barns or at least separate wings for your stuff and for boarders. You really, really want them to have their own tack room, feed room, and equipment like wheelbarrows and rakes as far away from yours as possible. Ditto car and trailer parking, an area they can hand-graze without tearing up your yard, access to trails, etc. (Oh, and a dog kennel is super-nice to have available so you can enforce "no unsupervised dogs".) Even nice, responsible people can and will borrow, break stuff, leave messes, and otherwise make themselves a little too much at home. That way, too, you can keep a smaller amount of feed and hay in the boarder area and track useage more easily. It sounds a little mean, but removing temptation also removes later hard feelings.


                            • #15
                              We've kicked around the idea of taking in a couple boarders-our place used to be a boarding facility-but I'm a very private person and I know it would get on my nerves, especially since our house is between the driveway and the barn. If the barn were closest I might consider it more seriously than we have so far.

                              A horse retirement home would be pretty good-they don't get ridden as much, you could have more but charge less and remove the "annoying boarder" aspect... old horses are usually easier to manage as a general rule.

                              Another option I've seen is a horse rehab facility though that would be tough with kids around. Horses that need stall rest or meds given or special treatment for a limited amount of time, ect. Usually chosen by people that don't have the time or facilities to care for an injured/ill horse. Of course you need to be qualified for the care you offer...

                              good luck in your choice and I hope you get your place and dream if it includes the boarding or not!
                              “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


                              • #16
                                I'd really think carefully about your decision. My advice would be to set up your farm such that you and your DH can afford it without considering any "income" from boarders. Then, you if you get into the boarding business and decide it isn't for you, you can simply give people notice and carry on with your life.

                                FYI, running a boarding business will pay you less than minimum wage for your time most likely, so there are much better ways to earn a little extra money to subsidize your farm. When you have kids your time will become very precious and while you may not mind taking care of someone else's horse for $1/hr before kids, you may mind when you are paying a babysitter $12/hr while you do those same chores, or when you've been up all night with a crying baby and would rather be squeezing in a quick ride or taking a nap.

                                There are a lot of aspects to having a boarding business that you need to consider. There's the business angle--lots of number crunching to make sure you aren't running a charity to subsidize other people's horse ownership. Also, a farm lifestyle is VERY expensive both money-wise and time-wise. Your finances might be a little tighter than you think in general once you have a farm and a few horses of your own.

                                There's the liability/insurance issue--making sure that your horse business doesn't put you at risk to have an ugly lawsuit or lose your farm. Boarding is a very risky business liability wise, so you will need to consider insurance and asset protection in your plans.

                                Then there's the lifestyle issue--loss of privacy, 24/7 responsibility to the farm, phone calls at all hours, and the need to deal with customers who are occasionally inconsiderate, rude, demanding or downright crazy. I've had a lot of great boarders, but it isn't always possible to know ahead of time how someone is going to work out. I mentioned on another thread, I've had people walk into my house without knocking, I've had people steal things, I've had people call me at all hours, I've been stuck in the middle when owners didn't want to call the vet (or the vet didn't want to come because-surprise-the owner hadn't been paying their bill), I've had to mediate disputes between grown adults, I've had people ride their horses on my lawn in the wettest possible weather, and I had one client develop some very scary mental illness and start showing up at the barn at odd hours behaving very strangely. And I've had the very nicest boarders bring guests that had never ridden to ride to ride their very green horse, boarder's guests light up cigarettes in my barn and go through the medicine cabinet, throw trash in the manure spreader... It can be a big headache, and not one that you are very well paid for.


                                • #17
                                  Just don't do it. I downsized to one boarder, a retiree...the owner is a repeat client. Now I finally like owning a boarding barn


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Eek! Sounds like there have been some interesting experiences from barn owners on the forum :S

                                    I do agree with BeeHoney, and hubby and I are in agreement on this; we are going to get what we can afford ourselves, and then see about adding boarders.

                                    Maybe I am out of touch, but from some of these posts, it seems like there are some extremely inconsiderate boarders out there... stealing, tearing up wet lawns, garbage everywhere??? Are these just the few 'worst of the worst' out there, or are these people at every barn? I am so careful to keep the horses and stable I ride at looking better than I left it, I am in this person's HOME.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by tartan View Post
                                      Eek! Sounds like there have been some interesting experiences from barn owners on the forum :S

                                      I do agree with BeeHoney, and hubby and I are in agreement on this; we are going to get what we can afford ourselves, and then see about adding boarders.

                                      Maybe I am out of touch, but from some of these posts, it seems like there are some extremely inconsiderate boarders out there... stealing, tearing up wet lawns, garbage everywhere??? Are these just the few 'worst of the worst' out there, or are these people at every barn? I am so careful to keep the horses and stable I ride at looking better than I left it, I am in this person's HOME.
                                      It's just like the rest of life - there is good, bad & ugly!

                                      I board at a facility which is essentially a private home (albeit one with really lovely amenities.) The BO has done everything from a big, showing-oriented training program to breeding. She now has a relatively small boarding operation and does teaching/training, but the majority of horses on the farm are her own. It works quite well.

                                      Many years ago, I managed a similar operation for a woman who had a nice "semi-private" farm. She did have boarders and some sales horses, but carefully screened clients (and had no hesitation about asking people to leave if things did not work out.) We had a good contract, reasonable rules that were uniformly applied to all, and ended up with a very nice group of boarders that were good company for the BO, and provided a very nice income stream that more than paid for the amenities (indoor ring, jumps, etc) that the BO would otherwise have had to pay for just for her own use.

                                      It is perfectly possible to have a decent small business that supports or helps support your own horse operation. Like any other enterprise, you have to treat it like a business and run it accordingly, something that quite a few horse people seem to struggle with - but that doesn't mean it isn't possible.
                                      We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                                      • #20
                                        Just be ultra clear about what you will and won't do and what the rules are. For example, do you want 30 days notice? Spell out what that means. Giving a break on board paid by the first of the month works well for some barn owners I know, versus the inevitable I will pay you by Friday....I assume you have boarded at barns and are familiar with how things go (the good and bad). If you haven't, I would board before taking on boarders.

                                        So if you don't want someone there after 8 pm, make sure you state that up front (that may be a deal-breaker for some working folks). I think big, vented tack lockers are a good idea so you don't have to deal with messes or people who just "need one more saddle rack" etc. That said if you have a tight, heated barn they aren't as good (wet stuff getting stinky). Be up front with how much hay you are going to feed (four flakes a night or whatever). How much grain is included and how often you will give it. You don't want the boarder who thinks her horse is hungry and decides to give extra when you aren't watching, but you may get a boarder who is up front willing to pay extra for more feed each month because you told them up front they only get x.

                                        If you want people to pick poop from the arena after riding, leave a fork and bucket and tell them that.

                                        Are you going to bed lightly or deep? How often will you clean stalls? Explain how it is to prospective boarders. I have seen lots of fights over bedding, actually.

                                        What are you willing to do with blanketing and boots, etc.? Include your labor in your price. If you aren't home during the day, or aren't willing to blanket, then tell boarders it is up to them, but be ready to watch some horse roast because they didn't come to switch out his blanket for a sheet.

                                        Set up your farm so if a boarder fails to latch a gate and a horse gets loose there is a perimeter gate would be ideal, imo.

                                        Be up front about your maintenance plan. Arena is dragged once a week, or whatever. Don't promise you are putting in an indoor next month, etc. I've seen that a hundred times. Don't promise improvements that aren't there. Something else will come along and eat up your money and then you have disgruntled boarders who didn't even realize they had something to be mad about until you set their expectations too high.

                                        Treat your boarders the same (same fees, etc.). Run it like a business.

                                        I've seen it work well, but the issues that did crop up were due to lack of communication on both sides about expectations.

                                        Also, think of your care fees for stalled (injured) horses, and tell people right away what that will run if they are unable to do wound care or you have to board a horse that is on stall-rest for a month.

                                        And if you advertise that you have electric fences, then make sure they are on all the time. That's one of my personal issues--coming out and seeing my horse's neck and one leg through the fence because it isn't on.
                                        DIY Journey of Remodeling the Farmette: http://weownblackacre.blogspot.com/