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The (Should I Run A) Boarding Barn Debate

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  • The (Should I Run A) Boarding Barn Debate

    Hi all,
    Long time since I've logged in, but I need some thoughts from experienced people of all back grounds. Boyfriend and I have been house hunting for a property with small horse keeping potential for about 6 months. We are getting no where and property price in our area is on a steady incline. Ideally, we were looking for a average house on a few acres with a little barn or something that could be converted, preferably with some cleared area. Doesn't sound like a hard find in eastern Canada does it? I didn't think so, but it seems to be like getting blood from a stone, unless we want to pay out the waazoo. My intention was/is to keep a couple of my own and maybe a boarder or two, breed a couple (bestie not too far away is a accomplished breeder and great resource) and continue to work part time for the family business and part time for the other company I work for (as I am now). This would be a fun venture that could break itself even. I grew up with horses in the backyard but sold my last horse in '08. Since then I have worked at small and large farms in Canada and even the US for stints, but also at a bank, a long time at an agricultural retail store, etc, trying to find a niche that would be a 'real job' close to home (I love to travel but have concluded I real am a homebody at the end of the day). The family business grows, but probably not to the extent where it will develop into a booming career in my position. If you are still reading here I applaud and thank you. All this is leading to --- there has recently come up for sale, in my area (literally walking distance to the new home of the family business!) a successful small boarding barn that doesn't need any fix me ups and is full with a waiting list. 15 stalls. The current owner pulls in one of the highest boards in the area with no complaints. I know the place well as I worked there when I was younger and boarded there myself for a couple years when I was showing and circumstances were different. Would I be out of my mind to be considering this as a career option? It would require business planning obviously and some financial backing. I always kiboshed the big barn idea because I've heard so many horror stories, but in a perfect world I would love to have a barn this size, and you'd never build it for the price. So I guess my question is, can boarding barns actually work if done right?? Or do I need my head examined???

  • #2
    There are still a lot of factors you haven't told us. For example, can your boyfriend support the mortgage only on his salary? (side note, not sure I'd advise getting into such a serious venture with a "mere" boyfriend . . .)

    I have a small barn, so no experience with larger numbers. But you have economies of scale and -- up to a point -- the more horses you have the more profit you make. I would guess that any money left over after all expenses are paid would be on the order of $100/boarder (reminder: this is a guess). In which case you'd have $1500/month to pay yourself. Is that enough to replace your current jobs?

    Would you try and continue what's already there, or would you do what you originally planned?

    Also, a big reason places are full with waiting lists is that the care is really good. (I'm sure you already know that). But that means you'd have to keep the current standard of care at a minimum. To do that do you need employees?

    I have not had enough caffeine this morning, so forgive the disjointed nature of my comments. Those are my first thoughts.

    With any luck, the boarding guru, BeesHoney will chime in.
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    • #3
      I think you'd need to see the BO's books or know something about their financial situation before you can decide whether or not the business makes the money you'd need in order to be able to afford owning it.

      If it's a just "break even" proposition, then financially, you need to realize that your investment is in the real estate. And if so, do you think that the time, money and effort you would put into this piece of property will ultimately mean you profit more than had you bought a modest house and boarded your horses for, say, the same number of years that you would own that property?

      Some of this depends on how much house or real estate-based lifestyle you want. Since boarding is just about a break-even proposition, the math question is about how much you'd like to pay for the luxury of living on a horse farm and doing things your way.

      It is great, but it isn't mathematically a better deal than, say, living in a small apartment, boarding your horse(s) and investing well. If, on the other hand, quality of life in your living situation is important to you and nothing less than a horse farm will do, then you might as own/run the place that does the most to bring your mortgage and horse costs back to what they would be if you lived in the dinky apartment and boarded your horses modestly. That could be any sized farm, but my sense is that the people who run big, active boarding barns with all the bells and whistles (the labor, the maintained footing and fencing, the equipment to keep that going), have money behind them that didn't come from the business, at least initially.

      ETA: Hope I haven't been too confusing or depressing. Since the 2008 Crash, I have become a ruthless math-head when it comes to decisions like this. Take what you like and leave the rest.
      The armchair saddler
      Politically Pro-Cat


      • #4
        Run one? Maybe. Buy one? No.

        I don't care how much the current b/o charges for boarding, boarding alone will not, reliably, if ever, pay the mortgage, expenses, payroll, insurance and repairs. If it worked that way, without having to rely on spouse's income, family support, Grace of God, etc., everyone would do it.

        15 horses is a lot of work. Getting financial backing for an equine enterprise, unless you don't need it, or have wealthy friends or family, is likely a very small possibility.

        It's nice to dream, but most of us on here, at one time or another, have either had, or tried that dream. It's not completely impossible, it's just that it takes so many things to go perfectly right, at the same time, to accomplish buying a "commercial" barn and having to finance thru conventional paths, that it's almost impossible.


        • #5
          Originally posted by SMF11 View Post
          (side note, not sure I'd advise getting into such a serious venture with a "mere" boyfriend . . .)
          Amen to that. I solidly run under the policy of I don't do something I can't financially support by myself. A quote from the "Always Wear Sunscreen" article by Mary Schmich that sums it up nicely, IMO:
          Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

          Originally posted by 2ndyrgal View Post
          I don't care how much the current b/o charges for boarding, boarding alone will not, reliably, if ever, pay the mortgage, expenses, payroll, insurance and repairs.
          This is what I've heard. All of my former BO's who have been good friends make their money solely on sales/training/etc. Definitely not boarding.

          And I could not imagine walking into having to own and manage a barn with 15 boarders right off the bat. I about had a meltdown walking into a situation where I bought property and boarded and care for my own three horses. But perhaps the OP is made of sterner stuff than I.


          • #6
            I am grateful that there are quality people out there willing to run boarding barns because I sure wouldn't want to do it! I trained race horses for over 20 years which is sort of similar except I didn't have a facility to upkeep. There is very little to no money in it, most people do it solely to make money off of lessons and showing or in my case winnings from races. If you don't have lessons or showing there is no reason to have a boarding barn whatsoever in my opinion.
            McDowell Racing Stables

            Home Away From Home


            • #7
              Laurierace is right.

              And uses a perfect example.


              • #8
                Who will actually be running the barn? Since you work 2 jobs and I assume you BF must work full time also. I don't think you can count on the boarding barn to make up for your income if you are thinking of running it yourself. 15 horses is a load of work and would likely take more than 2 people full time on any given day. Additionally, who is financing the mortgage, you, your BF or both? What happens if your relationship falls apart, who gets the barn and can you afford the mortgage alone? While the barn may be full of boarders now, that might fluctuate so income could also fluctuate. Honestly I applaud anyone that runs a boarding facility, I'm pretty sure very few if any are making much money on it. I think the big barns that do well make their money off lessons, training, hauling clients to shows and selling horses.
                "My treasures do not chink or gleam, they glitter in the sun and neigh at night."


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks for all the replies. First off I think I've learned never to use the word boyfriend again, and will forever just refer to him as my spouse. It seems that derailed the post quite nicely. We would finance something like this together. I guess I wasn't clear in that this property is selling for less than a good quarter or more of the houses (houses alone) on local Mls. Hence the reason of interest! I would keep my position with the family business, as it would be next door and I make my own schedule day by day and could easily work some from home. Spouse works a rotational of 48hrs on, 6 days off. Part of the reason for consideration is my current income situation, as it would not take much to improve it! Very good advice in Always Wear Sunscreen, and in a perfect world I woul never rely on anyone, ever. But we don't have a perfect world, so no, if I could afford the mortgage with an empty barn and no spouse I wouldn't be thinking twice (I'd just buy) and I certainly wouldn't be posting on CoTH! It is worthy to note this barn has never not had a waiting list and is for sale due to illness I believe. Not to knock the feedback, I see where everyone is coming from and I am grateful for it! But farm could easily be maintained by us and one working boarder per say (no shortage of people looking for that in this area either). I have been looking into coaching certification and would definitely be wanting to do some sales, just don't want to fill up with my own horses, as I think that is what gets a lot of our local spots in trouble.
                  Interested to see the replies with this new bit of info!


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by MaritimeH/J View Post
                    Thanks for all the replies. First off I think I've learned never to use the word boyfriend again, and will forever just refer to him as my spouse.
                    Still, I've seen too many of my friends divorce and are left completely unable to support themselves. I can provide multiple specific examples, but it's neither here nor there. I am married and completely support myself and my horses with no help from the SO.
                    I realize the world is not perfect, and in a perfect world you would be able to buy this place by yourself. But you really need to be thinking about protecting yourself.

                    Originally posted by MaritimeH/J View Post
                    But farm could easily be maintained by us and one working boarder per say (no shortage of people looking for that in this area either). I have been looking into coaching certification and would definitely be wanting to do some sales, just don't want to fill up with my own horses, as I think that is what gets a lot of our local spots in trouble.
                    "But the farm could easily be maintained" sends up HUGE red flags for me. No farm is "easily maintained". It's hard freaking work, and if you have another job with the family business, and your SO has another job, it's going to be even harder. As I said, I only have three horses at home and have absolutely no time to do anything else between working at my "9-5 job" and the mowing and hauling hay and weedwhacking and repairing gates the horses rip off brackets and fighting carpenter bees in the barn and and and and.... And while you say there's no shortage of help, it doesn't mean there's no shortage of good help. I've lived in multiple areas where you could find 20 people to help with barn chores, but those 20 people were never reliable. And it's not like you can have your barn help just not show up to feed horses that day.


                    • #11
                      Some points to consider:
                      - Here in the US, you don't want to buy a farm with the intent of running a boarding business right away when it's financed with a residential mortgage. The mortgage people will catch wind of it and lock that idea down quickly. In Canada I'm sure it's different but something to consider.
                      - Running a boarding barn without any horses of your own seems odd. It seems that small boarding operations around here are done mostly to help support keeping one's own horses and controlling the level of care.
                      - I would never count on a working boarder. That kind of situation may not always be available and although it can make life a lot easier, take care to not be dependent on this resource.
                      - I would start small, say 4 horses and get the place running. Jumping in with a large number from zero could be overwhelming.

                      Good luck. My wife and I are on week 4 of our own place and we have two of ours and two boarders at the moment. Probably a couple more boarders by the weekend and bringing our other two home by late summer.



                      • #12
                        Are there zoning or business license issues? In other words, are you permitted to have the same number of horses, and have the boarding business on the property. Sometimes the current owners are 'grandfathered' in , and when a business or situation changes hands the new owner is out of luck. Can you get a mortgage/agricultural/business loan to cover the expense? You will probably have to get all of the boarders to resign agreements with you. Will you maintain the current price structure, and offer all of the services the current management does now? Will all current suppliers give you the same prices and deals that the current owner gets?
                        You can't fix stupid-Ron White


                        • #13
                          Honestly, if you have a job you might consider offering rough board where the boarders have to pay for everything...and do all of the work to support their horses. You can try to charge them for what it would cost you to keep your horses...and still work your job.

                          When we purchased our farm it had been a boarding facility in the past. We looked into boarding but found the cost of liability insurance too high to make it worth while.


                          • Original Poster

                            Thank you, last two posters (and a couple others!). So honest feedback with great questions. While I appreciate the fact that without writing you all a novel of my experience, the barn and the area I'm sure you have me pictures as a know-nothing dreamer with stars in my eyes (the post about huge red flags); but, things are done QUITE differently around here than anywhere else in Canada and the US (that I have been to) and that is the appeal. You say it's impossible to maintain how I describe but that is exactly how it is being maintained. Us east coasters aren't afraid of hard work - its how we get some where with our sometimes limited resources. Of course I'd have to consider all things about my relationship, I'm not disagreeing. But I don't know too many farms that aren't a family operation - I'm sure they exist, but I'd say the scales tip to a joint effort.
                            Suppliers of feed and bedding and supplies - no issue. Of that I am sure. Hay could be a different story. Id be wanting to discuss many many things with the current BO before making any kind of decision. Barn wouldn't be full right away as many of the horses are hers.
                            I didn't realize it was odd that I wouldn't want a pile of my own horses, only two or three.. Though I should maybe point out that I used to have more than that. I wouldn't rule it out for the future, but I wouldn't go on a buying spree just because I had the place to put them.
                            Would never rely on a working boarder, just saying its a common situation around here and there are many reliable ones, tho just as many who are not. I've seen many situations not work out, and I have a good idea as to how I would go about setting it up. This goes the same for if we wind up with a small place. Also could be noted I am already familiar with many of the clients. It is a tight knit community. Hence being vague at points, you'd be surprised how easily the math could be done if someone stumbled on the post, and the last thing if want is the BO getting a dose of gossip to the tune of "so and so is talking about buying your place". You may think that sounds far fetched, but it's not! In fact, that is one thing I am extremely wary of. The drama!!
                            Certainly aware there is always something to be done around the farm. We had 5 at one time, I know multiple BO's that have 4-8 horses who still work structured positions, have worked at farms having up to 40 horses. There's also a big difference between a few pleasure horses out all day and in all night, versus a full work training barn with horses in all day and all hands on deck. My last spot had 15-20 in training with 3 riders and it kept 7 more of us employed full time. A little different scenario than this however!!
                            There's lots to be thought about, from contracts and liabilities to farm equipment and maintenance, to future developments, insurances, consistency, everything! I do not think any of it is cut and dry, or to be taken lightly.
                            Thanks for the thoughts folks, some very good points being made.


                            • #15
                              I think you have thought things through very thoroughly. I also think you are in an ideal situation with the flexible schedule and spouse with a lot of time to devote to running the farm. And you wouldn't be starting from scratch which is a huge advantage.

                              My husband and I built a house and 5 stall barn on 25 acres. We have 3 of our own and 2 students boarding here that "help." One is great, the other is lazy and annoying (texting at 5:00 in the morning to micromanage blanketing of her horse). My real job can be annoying and aggravating too, that's life, right?

                              It's a lot of work, but we LOVE it. I think you should give it a go.


                              • #16
                                No, the additional information doesn't change my answer,

                                In fact, it reinforces it. What you said was, if something in your life changes financially, you are not sure if you can afford the mortgage.

                                That's your answer. Add to that the fact that, you won't be able to get a conventional mortgage on a "commercial" property. So your downpayment and interest just went up. So did your insurance.

                                It sounds like the current owners have had this property a long time. That is likely why it works for them.

                                Doesn't matter if you live next door or in the next county, doesn't change the math.

                                If you cannot pay the mortgage if the property is completely empty, then don't buy it. Really, or you'll be on here in a year or so, if it takes that long, saying that your "spouse" left you because you were too tired to pay attention to him, cook his dinner, do his laundry or well, you get the idea and left you for one of your boarders.

                                Here's what I found out when DH bought and developed my dream farm. Spent $$$$$$$$$$. First thing he determined was "if it's empty, can I still pay the payments?". Yep. Guess what? It actually costs us less to have those stalls empty in the long run. I have 12 stalls, an enormous indoor, have to mow the pastures once a week, because I have ONE HORSE, and he belongs to me. I work for my husband, we have our own business (nothing to do with horses) 15 minutes from our farm. I found out really quickly that I make WAY more money doing what I'm doing than boarding, teaching lessons and selling a couple of horses a year.. If I had figured up what I made per hour spent while I was running it as a boarding/lesson barn, I would have slit my wrists, it just wasn't worth it, and if I was one place, I should have been at the other.

                                I'll say this one more time. If you and your "spouse" can't make the payments if you are empty, or you can't make the payments by yourself even if everything goes perfectly, nothing breaks and none of the boarders leave, then you can't afford to do this properly. And since we've all said that, it doesn't matter to me if you jump into something you can't afford, but consider for a moment, how you'd feel as a boarder, if you, the new BO, 8 or 9 months into it, suddenly have a life event and well, you're gonna start being a shavings Nazi, and forget about all that hay your horse wastes and forget the gravel for the parking lot and don't wash your horse every day and well, add in all the little ways people cut the horse care when they start running out of money.

                                There are other reasons I choose not to have boarders. People think that you can have a top notch facility and they should only have to pay 350/month, because well, the falling down barn down the road with no indoor, 20 horses in a field full of weeds and ground hogs living in some of the stalls is only 350/month. You can't keep horses like I keep horses for 350/month and make any profit at all. So it simply is not worth doing. That and I found out I'm just not a people person, which is an entirely different conversation. The person you board with that you LOVE will be the last person who's car you want to see in the driveway once that person is your client. It makes a difference and in a big way. I've worked in the industry for years, but never had my own farm. It's amazing what little stuff pisses you off when it's your place instead of someone else's, no matter what jobs you've done in the past. It's like night and day, the difference between renting an apartment, and owning your own home.

                                And like the difference between a boyfriend and a husband.


                                • #17
                                  I'll be honest, everytime you post, it makes me a little more worried that you don't know what you're getting into. Not trying to be snarky, just hoping all the alarm bells some posters are raising make you step back, do more research & think it through long & hard - not defensively think "I'm going to buy it dammit & show all you annoying Cothers how easy it is to make a success of this thing!!" LOL.

                                  It does sound exciting, but I would hope one would have a serious down payment, family involvement (above and beyond "spouse") and a viable exit strategy before taking the leap.


                                  • #18
                                    Another big factor that you haven't mentioned is how much land is involved. On the one hand, the more land, the more the horses can be out and therefore you can save on shavings etc. On the other hand, the more land = more maintenance (fences, mowing, weedwhacking, seeding etc).

                                    If the place looks beautiful almost certainly *it takes a lot of time* to maintain.

                                    I agree with the others who say there are still red flags in your posts. Mine is the fact that you repeat that there's been a waiting list for this barn. There is a waiting list for this barn, under the current management. If you do things differently, or not as well, I would bet that boarders would leave and the waiting list could easily disappear in a matter of months. Be careful! You are not thinking critically about this decision!

                                    I am not one of the ones telling you not to do it; I have 8 boarded horses and 2 of my own, so 2/3's the size of what you are contemplating. However, stop and think things through critically. Make a business plan. Run it by a banker or someone who knows small businesses. Question every assumption. Keep asking questions on COTH.
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                                    • #19
                                      My husband and I own a small farm and barn (5 acres and five stalls) and we have had a boarder or two over the years to offset some expenses. Overall, it has been a good experience, but there are a lot of not so good experiences.

                                      First, with boarders you will have people coming over to your home/property any time and any day. If you have one or two boarders it isn't a big deal, but 15 boarders is a different story. You will be responsible for 15 horses care and welfare, which may include colic and other emergencies at unpredictable times.
                                      We spent a Sunday afternoon hauling a critically ill horse to the emergency vet clinic when his owner was out of town on business.

                                      Some boarders may be great and others a PITA.

                                      We had the lovely half lease boarder who thought nothing was wrong with bringing 4 or 5 of her daughters' friends over for a birthday party to ride the half-leased horse, with no helmets or signed releases!

                                      We had an eccentric boarder whose horse came with a complete wardrobe of sheets and blankets with explicit instructions as to which sheet/blanket/hood horsie should wear at any given temperature with a ten degree range (I wish I was making this up, but it's true).

                                      If you want to go out of town you will need reliable barn help, which isn't always easy to find. We've had a few nightmeres over the years including a being contacted by a boarder while on vacation because the horse sitter hadn't fed the horses.

                                      Then there was the freak ice and snow storm here in Texas a couple of years ago which was the only time our water lines in the barn froze. My DH and I hauled water from the house to the barn for several days in the ice and snow.

                                      I cannot imagine personally mucking out 15 stalls everyday, which means that you will need good barn help. Good barn help is hard to find, and if you are lucky enough to find good barn help you will treat them like gold.

                                      Our barn, fences and arena is brand new (we built the place from the ground up) and stuff still breaks. Horses kick through fences (often at inconvenient times). Arenas need to be drug regularly, pastures weeded and fertilized.

                                      I was committed to keeping my horses at home and having a boarder or two isn't that much additional work in exchange for offsetting some of our expenses. I happen to really enjoy our current boarder and look forward to his coming out to ride.A 15 stall barn is a much different scenario.


                                      • #20
                                        One factor to consider: what equipment and supplies come with the place (and any other places you consider) and how much you'll have to buy upfront to be up and running. As with horses, the purchase price can pale in comparison to the supplies and upkeep needed.