If you have extra room at your barn, you may have considered boarding horses for other people. Maybe you could use the additional income, or maybe you want someone to ride with or share the chores.
Whatever your reasons, you need to do your homework before you offer to keep anyone’s horse at your barn. Boarding horses can be very rewarding or it can be miserable. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your boarding experience is great for both you and your new clients.
Can Your Facility Handle Boarders?
Before you can bring extra people and horses onto your property, you need to be sure the facility can handle it.
First, look at your acreage. Do you have enough pasture to support additional horses? The general rule is two acres per horse, but that varies by area and pasture quality. If grass is sparse in your fields, you will need more acreage per horse.
Next, take a look at your barn. Do you have additional stalls, or do you plan to only offer pasture boarding? Unless you have abundant pastures with run-in sheds, you should limit the number of horses on the property to the number of stalls in your barn. It simplifies feeding and caring for the horses during bad weather if each horse has its own stall.
Do you have an area where boarders can store their tack and grooming supplies? People need somewhere to store their “stuff.” You don’t have to provide the storage cabinets or trunks, but you do need to provide a tack room area for the boarders’ use.
Before You Board
- Honestly evaluate your facility’s ability to handle boarders.
- Decide on what type of boarders you want based upon what you can offer.
- Determine the specific services you can offer to potential boarders.
- Analyze what it will cost you to keep a boarder and what the going rates are in your area to determine your fees.
- Provide each boarder a list, in writing, of what you will provide and what you expect from them.
Do you have a wash rack or an area where boarders can bathe their horses? This is especially important during the summer. An enclosed wash rack is ideal, but if that isn’t possible, you can provide an outdoor area. At a minimum, boarders will need somewhere to tie their horses and access to a hose. Be sure this wash area is convenient to the barn, but situated so that the water runoff will not cause a problem in the barn.
What about restroom facilities? If your barn doesn’t have a restroom, you may need to consider adding one or renting a portable toilet. Don’t plan to let boarders into your house to use your restroom. Keep your home separate from the area boarders are allowed to access.
The final consideration is what kind of riding areas you can provide to boarders. Where will you expect them to ride? If you have access to trails from your property, this can be a big selling point, especially to endurance and trail riders. An arena or a round pen will appeal to boarders who enjoy training their horses.
Some riders may prefer to ride on open land. Do you have areas where people can ride? If your acreage isn’t very large, do you have neighbors who would allow people to ride on their land? If you don’t have this kind of access, you may want to consider boarding horses that are not in work, such as retired horses.
The type of facility you have will have a big effect on the types of boarders you will attract. Once you know the strong points of your facility, you have a better chance of marketing your services to the right people.
Before you board horses, you need to be experienced, confident and resourceful enough to handle all sorts of situations, from medical emergencies to horses that won’t load in the trailer. Your boarders will expect you to be the expert. They will look to you for advice on topics from teeth floating to supplements to shoeing. Regardless of the crisis, they will want you to resolve it. If their horse gets loose and they can’t catch it, they will expect you to catch it. When their horse gets cast in a stall, they will expect you to be able to get it up. Be sure that you are ready for the challenge if you decide to board horses. It can be full of unexpected surprises.
What Type of Boarders?
When you consider boarding horses, you should decide what type of boarders you would like and who is likely to be attracted to your facility.
If you enjoy having people around and would like to have someone to ride with, you’ll want boarders who also like to ride. If you prefer less activity around the barn, you could consider boarding retired horses.
Maybe what you need is a boarder who can help around the barn with chores and take care of the horses when you are out of town. In that case, you might be able to find someone who wants to trade chores for board. If you have plenty of time to spend with horses, think about working with your vet to board horses that need follow-up medical care.
What Type of Services?
Once you decide what type of boarder you would like to have, you should decide what services you can provide. Be realistic. Determine how much time you have every day to work in the barn. That will make a big difference in the services you can offer.
Here are some of the specific services you should define:
1. How much time will horses spend in the stalls? How often will the stalls need cleaning? Do you have time to clean them or will you need to hire help?
2. What kind of turnout can you provide? Will all the horses be turned out in one herd? Can you provide separate pastures for the mares and geldings? Can you provide individual turnout if boarders don’t want their horses pastured with other horses? How many hours of turnout will the horse have each day?
3. How often will you feed and what feed will you use? Do you want to cater to special requests from boarders for specific types of feed for their horses?
4. How will you handle supplements? Dealing with supplements can be a daily, time-consuming process. You could require owners to provide daily packets for each horse to simplify feeding time. Another approach would be to charge an additional fee for feeding supplements. Decide who is responsible for keeping the supplement in stock. You may require the owner to buy the supplement and bring it to the barn, or you may purchase it when needed and bill it to the boarder monthly.
5. What about blankets? Will you provide blanketing services and, if so, how often? Consider how you want to handle stable blankets, turnout rugs and fly sheets. Some horse owners are very specific about using different blanket weights for different temperature ranges. Do you have the time to provide this degree of service?
6. How will you handle veterinarian and farrier services? You may choose to handle these yourself, or you may make owners responsible for their own horses. Decide if you are willing to let boarders use vets and farriers different from your own. If you are handling these services, you may not want to deal with different providers for every horse.
7. How will you schedule worming? Worming is something that you, as the property owner, should dictate. You may want to require the use of a daily feed-through wormer. You may choose to worm the horses on a rotational schedule. If the horses are going to be pastured together, it is highly recommended that all the horses be wormed on the same day.
What to Charge?
Now that you have defined what services you will offer, you need to determine how much you will charge.
First, calculate how much it will cost you to keep a horse at your barn. Start with the cost of feed, hay and bedding. Some horses will require more feed than others, but use an average. If you plan to hire help to clean the barn, be sure to prorate the cost of that help across the number of horses in the barn. Other factors you may want to prorate include fence repairs, pasture fertilization and pasture seeding.
The next step is to determine what the standard boarding rates are in your area. Visit boarding stables to see what services they offer and the rates they charge. This will allow you to set your boarding rate in accordance with other facilities that offer similar services. When establishing your pricing structure, remember that “at home” boarding rates are generally lower than the boarding rates at large stables with more comprehensive facilities.
If you are considering boarding horses that require follow-up medical care, talk to your vet about the best approach to charging for these services. You will probably need a variable rate structure based on the amount of time you will be required to spend on the horse’s care. Your vet can help you determine reasonable charges for your area.
You may have decided to take on a boarder to have someone help with the horses and the chores around the barn. Trading board for chores can be a great arrangement with the right person, but be careful. All too often, the boarder starts out with great enthusiasm, but soon grows tired of the work and you are stuck doing the chores and taking care of their horse.
If your boarder wants to trade chores for board, establish a dollar value for each chore every day that it needs to be done. At the end of the month, calculate the boarder’s bill by deducting the value of the work the person does from the board bill. Whatever the outstanding balance is, the boarder is expected to pay it. This way, everyone benefits if the boarder does the chores and you are protected financially if they don’t.
As a general rule, the nicer your facility and the more services you provide, the higher you can set your boarding rates. Expect to charge slightly less than a public stable that offers similar services. And be sure you can make at least a minimal profit on each horse that you board.
The biggest key to successful boarding is establishing realistic expectations. These expectations work both ways: What can your boarders expect from you and what do you expect from your boarders? It is important to define these expectations in writing. You cannot assume that your boarders will meet your expectations unless you tell them what you expect. Likewise, you want to be sure that your boarders don’t expect you to provide services that you have not defined.
Write out, in detail, exactly what services you will provide. Be specific. Answer questions that you expect a boarder to ask. How often will the horses be fed? How often will the stalls be cleaned? What is your worming policy? Do you allow boarders to bring their dogs on the property?
When you are finished, your boarders should be able to read this document and know exactly what you will do and what care their horses will receive. The objective is to have the list so comprehensive that the boarders will understand that you only perform services that are on the list.
Then make a list of the expectations you have of your boarders. Again, be specific. You may want to start the list with “Boarders are expected to pay their bill before the 10th day of the month.” Do you expect boarders to clean the wash rack after they are finished? Do you want 30 days’ notice before boarders move their horses? Think about everything you expect from a boarder and include it on the list. You can’t get upset later if your boarder violates an unspoken rule.
Be sure that your boarders receive a copy of both lists. You may include it as part of your boarding contract or give it to your boarders as a separate document. Work with your attorney to develop a boarding contract that describes the agreement between you and your boarders. Add to that a release of liability that anyone who’s going to be riding or handling horses on your property must sign.
Selecting Your Boarders
One of the key factors in running a successful boarding business is to select the right clients. Often, people who open boarding businesses at home begin by boarding their friends’ horses. It is great to be able to have your friends at the barn, but be careful. You are adding a business relationship to your friendship.
Don’t take anything for granted. Have a signed boarding agreement between you, even if you are best friends. It clarifies the relationship and can reduce the risk of trouble in the future.
When interviewing people you don’t know, spend some time talking to them. Don’t just quote a price and tell them if you have an open stall. Find out what sort of services they want. Ask how long they have had horses. What do they do with them?
Try to determine if the services you provide will meet this person’s expectations. It is better to ask what they are looking for in a boarding facility than to just tell them what you offer. You want to gather enough information to decide if your services will meet their needs.
You also need to get a feel for a potential client. Is this someone you would like to have around your barn? Does their philosophy of horse keeping seem to be compatible with yours? If you plan to leave the horse in the pasture most of the time and clean stalls once a week, you don’t want to board a horse that the owner wants kept in a stall 20 hours a day. Similarly, be sure you’re comfortable with how they handle their horse or how well they ride.
You also should tell a prospective boarder about yourself. Discuss your experience level with horses. Explain the barn’s daily routine. Give people the information they need to decide if your facility fits their needs, and be honest. You only want boarders who are looking for the services you provide. The better explanation you give of your services and facilities, the better chance you have of finding the right boarder. Let them know your rules regarding having friends come to ride, hours they can come to the barn, holiday schedules and so forth.
If you decide, for whatever reason, that you do not feel comfortable with this person or if you feel that your facility will not meet their needs, do not hesitate to tell them that your facility will not meet their needs. Try to recommend other facilities. It is very important to understand that not everyone who contacts you will be happy at your barn.
Keys to Success
The most important key to running a successful boarding business is to establish expectations and live up to them. Consistently meeting expectations allows your boarders to trust you. And trust is the key to all successful business relationships.
Remember that the services you provide will not be suitable for every person who owns a horse. You can’t be everything to everyone. Don’t even try. Instead, find boarders who genuinely want the services you can provide.
Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable with a prospective boarder, send them somewhere else. It is better to lose a possible boarder than bring in someone you don’t feel good about.
Enjoy your boarders. Make them your friends, but never forget that you are running a business and that these people are your valued clients. Treat them as such.
If you follow these guidelines, you are on your way to making horse boarding an enjoyable experience for you and the people who board with you.