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Question of the Week: Starting a Horse Boarding Business

What do I need to know before starting my horse business?

30-Aug-11

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Horse stable
Running your own stable may seem like a dream job, but consider all the risks and responsibilities before taking the plunge.
Q: My wife and I would like to start up a breeding and boarding operation. What do we need to know before starting our farm?

A: Combining a love for horses with a family-run business venture sounds like an appealing proposition. But before you quit your day jobs and start designing a farm logo, here are a few things to consider.

First, realize that there’s more to the boarding business than just feeding horses and picking up the manure. As you calculate what you need to charge each month to make a reasonable profit, factor in the cost of upkeep, repairs and utilities. Otherwise you’ll end up dipping into your personal bank account for unexpected emergencies like a broken fence or a flooded arena. Liability insurance—an absolute must in today’s litigious society—will also add to your overhead. You also have to include some wiggle room in your boarding rates to allow for fluctuations in feed prices. These day-to-day budget challenges are why my friend Susan, who has run a successful stable for several decades, warns that the boarding business can become “the slow road to bankruptcy” without careful planning.

Second, you mentioned a desire to add a breeding farm to your boarding operation. Truly, that can be even more risky than merely boarding. Not only will you have to acquire, promote and manage high-quality stock, but you’ll also face some ethical challenges. For example, what are your plans for foals that don’t quite meet expectations, and therefore prove hard to sell? Also, how do you feel about adding more foals to a market already flooded with affordable horses? Rather than breeding horses, consider alternatives that could also complement your boarding stable. Tuning up sweet but neglected horses, and turning them into dependable, family-safe riding horses, is one idea. Establishing a therapeutic riding program is another. Or you could search for a talented, aspiring professional, hire them as your resident instructor, and start a riding school, with a seasonal pony camp for local kids.

Finally, get legal advice on composing a proper boarding agreement and dealing with non-paying clients. Then be prepared to deal with the public. While the majority of horse people are honest, trustworthy and kind, you’re bound to encounter some of the troublemakers who move from stable to stable, creating drama and havoc wherever they go. If you can look past the humans who cause the headaches, focus on the lifelong friendships you’re sure to forge, and embrace the pleasures of a horsekeeping lifestyle, then your dream of a successful stable might well become a reality.

--Cindy Hale

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Reader Comments

Tommy    Pocatello, ID

9/13/2011 6:44:32 AM

Good question. Thanks

Kimberly    Arvada, CO

9/13/2011 4:55:54 AM

My question is about the insurance. What kind of insurance do people that run a small boarding facility get?

Gee and Haw    anywhere, CA

9/11/2011 7:39:52 AM

I took care of a gals 4 horses, from the goodness of my heart. She brought the hay, but her horses cribbed right through my medal gates, and she figured she should not have to pay for them. Paid for two, and still has not paid for the other 8.
I would never do it again!!

Diane    Beaverton, ON

9/8/2011 12:49:40 AM

We have boarded horses for over ten years now. We have been very fortunate to presently have collected several "word of mouth" boarders who are excellent people to deal with. However, several years ago, we managed to collect several crazy people all at once. One lady was going to build a straw wall - just by piling it up. lol. Apparently her horses knew not to eat it or rub against it. Another time, I came home to a feed bucket hooked onto my front door with a note saying that she couldn't catch one of her horses, so I was to wait in hiding along the fenceline and feed it when the others weren't looking!!! One boarder also accused me of stealing her stuff. Lucky day for me - as she was loading up her truck to leave, her previous boarding stable owner showed up with a barrel full of her junk that she had left behind at his place. I had a nice poke thru it and found all the items she said I had taken! Not one word of apology from her! Oh, the list goes on.....

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