The Truth in Boarding Barns
The Chronicle of the Horse July 27, 2015 article titled Boarding barns: The Good, The Bad and The Dramatic and Practical Horseman’s August 2014 This month’s question: What Makes a boarding barn a good place to keep your horse? are two examples of the types of articles on boarding horses that seem to recycle themselves fairly regularly. Undisputedly horses should be well cared for. But these articles, while informative and full of anecdotal stories, miss reality. The truth in boarding barns is that most barns do not charge enough for the services boarders want.
The Chronicle article opens with “There is no such thing as a perfect boarding barn.” And my first reaction is oh yeah, that’s true, but do you know what? There is no such thing as a perfect boarder either.
10 Areas in which boarding barns make horse owner’s lives easier:
- The most obvious perk is that they don’t have to buy or lease a horse facility
- They don’t have to pay the utilities
- They don’t have to pay for liability/care and custody insurance
- They don’t have to pay for tractors, manure spreaders, drags, manure forks, brooms, wheel barrows, saddle racks, bridle racks, jumps, mats, footing, light bulbs, hoses, driveway gravel
- They don’t have to keep the facility clean for boarders
- they don’t have to make improvements
- They don’t have to repair damage
- They don’t have to buy grain, hay and bedding, transport and store it
- They don’t have to dispose of the about 50 pounds of manure and urine produced by each horse each day.
- They don’t have to find horse help just so they can take a vacation
Boarders rightfully want, according to The Chronicle of the Horse author, Haley Burton “. . .quality horse care by trusted, knowledgeable barn staff.” However this a very general statement.
In the Aug. ’14 Practical Horseman – This month’s question contributors defined quality horse care in a bit more depth: at least 8 hours a day of decent turn out, at least 4 hours a day turn out, unlimited turn out. That adds #11 to the things boarding barns do to make horse owners lives easy – turning out and bringing their horse in. Add blanketing, watching for illness and injury, clean stall and a tidy facility, and the number of ways a boarding barn makes a horse owners life easier increases. This is as it should be. Taking care of horses is a 24 hour a day 7 days a week job and very few horse owners are capable of taking this job on. Boarding barns make it possible for other people to become horse owners.
The Cost of Boarding a Horse
Potential boarders are not concerned with how much it costs you to care for their horse. They’re concerned with what it costs them. But quality care costs a lot of money.
During my research across the various parts of the U.S. via the internet I found people who paid from as little as $350 to as much as $3500 to board their horse at a full care boarding barn, in a stall each month. Since $3500 is way out of most people’s league for horse board, I’ve chosen $500 month as a comfortable average monthly boarding price.
A horse owner looks at a boarding barn that has 20 boarding horses paying $500 each per month and they say “Wow, they’re making bank!” Or they go to a feed store and see a bag of feed that sells for $15.99 per 50 pounds and they think, “my horse eats 10 pounds of grain a day. That’s only about $100 a month.”
Let’s break down the cost to the boarding barn for 1 horse, bearing in mind that my figures are general due to a wide variance across the U.S. We’ll use an average horse.
- Grain – we’ve already established grain is about $100 per month.
- Hay- we’ll give our average horse 20 pounds a day or 500 pounds a month. A 100 pound bale might cost $15 or $75 a month per horse.
- Bedding- about $70 a month.
So far our hard cost for the basic needs of 1 horse is $245 per month.
- Stall-Let’s say we lease or have a mortgage on a facility that has an indoor arena, an out door, a couple of acres of pasture and a 12 stall barn for $1200 a month, the cost for 1 stall each month is $100.
- utilities; electric, water, trash – utilities could easily equal $400. That works out to $34 for each of the 12 horses. (More if there are electric fans in summer or tank heaters in winter, or lots of baths in the summer.)
So now our horse is fed, bedded, housed and is paying his share of utilities and we’re up to $379.
- Labor? At the bare minimum if someone cleans the horse’s stall, feeds and hays it, turns it out, brings it back in, checks it over for for injury. . . Your talking 40 minutes of someone’s time- more if you add rinsing mud off hooves, cooling him off in hot weather, or blanketing and unblanketing. But sticking with 40 minutes a day equals about 20 hours of labor a month. Paying a wage of $10 an hours adds another $200 a month.
- Pasture-The pasture your horse is turned out in has to be mowed, weeds taken down along the fence, and manure piles drug, which on a 15 acre pasture might take about 15 hours a month, 1 horse’s share being $12.50 (15 hours x $10 divided by 12)
- Arena Prep- You want to ride in a low dust environment with good footing, add another $12.50 for your share of watering and dragging arenas.
I’m not adding the cost of operating and maintaining the tractors and mowers, insurance, maintenance and repairs (one of the ladies in the Practical Horseman article commented about the barn owner repairing fences that her horse was running through on a weekly basis!) and many other expenditures of money and time that are the result of boarding horses – because our accumulated expenses of $604 have already surpassed our $500 boarding income.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned a statement from The Chronicle of the Horse July 27, 2015 article Boarding barns: The Good, The Bad and The Dramatic “… most riders have the same goal in mind when boarding their horses at full-care facilities: quality horse care by trusted, knowledgeable barn staff.” I told you it was a very general statement but in fact it’s really a minimalist view, as it doesn’t begin to describe what boarders actually want. Boarders want to have the luxury of someone else doing the dirty work related to their horse. They want someone else to have the responsibility of seeing to their horse when they don’t come to the barn, be it for work, other commitments or vacation. They want their horse taken care of according to their standards by someone who will see to their horse’s needs when he is ill, stressed or dirty. When they go to the barn they want a knowledgeable person to address their concerns about their horse and his social life, plus if a problem comes up that they can not solve or handle, they want the knowledgeable barn manager to deal with it for them. In addition they want to use facilities that they can not afford to own, socializing with other people like themselves who view horses and riding the way they do, and they want management to monitor barn drama so their experience can be enjoyable. This is a lot to want – however I think most professionals would like to meet these goals for their boarders or they would not continue in business.
Everybody knows it’s expensive to keep horses, consequently boarding barns might hope that having an economical board rate will result in clients participating in more lessons or clinics. Hoping that clients, who are already struggling to pay board, will pay for more lessons is usually met with disappointment. Barns may develop a package that includes board and a certain number of lessons to ease the blow, but this is usually done to cover up the high cost of horse care by throwing services in to make it more palatable. Every time you add a service, be it a lesson, training, holding a horse for the vet, an extra feeding, or more times cleaning a stall, someone’s time is required. If you have employees, their salaries must be reflected in board prices. If you’re a small barn and you do most of the work yourself, you should be equally compensated for your effort. Your time is valuable.
I’ve never met a boarder who isn’t looking for a deal. A contributor to the 8/14 Practical Horseman –This month’s question made the revealing and common statement, “Finally, the charges must be within reach of my modest amateur’s budget.” Even well-heeled clients ask for a board cut, suggesting their horse could be used for lessons. Sometimes this is a good deal for an instructor but most of the time it’s just proof that boarders really have no idea how much it actually costs to take care of a horse.
The Chronicle of the Horse article points out that “Boarders are spending their hard earned money on this and they most likely earned that income in a professional environment. . .” I have difficulty believing that a boarders’s money is harder earned than that of the people in the boarding barn business. And guess what- even though it’s the boarder’s playground, the barn is our professional environment. In barns where boarding is priced so that the boarder actually pays for the benefits they receive, plus what it takes for the barn to make a profit, boarders are usually treated like clients. But it’s in the barns that barely scrape by because the prices they charge can’t sustain the barn, that boarders find they are easily dismissed as unimportant and annoying. And in barns that give deals and breaks – boarders are easily replaced because everyone is looking for a good deal.
The horse business is no different than the rest of the world. There are people who have unrealistic expectations which usually results in unmet expectations. Unmet expectations result in disappointment, dissent, gossip, and bad relationships. Both the boarder and the barn owner can fall into this trap.
Perhaps the issue is not so much that barns lack good service and atmosphere, as it is that there are many people who have horses but can’t actually afford, or are not willing to afford, the service they believe they deserve. Euphoria comes at a price.
The bottom line is that the boarding barn is in business to make money, not to subsidize someone else’s horse activities. Boarding prices should be high enough to cover all of the expenses plus give the stable a profit. If not, the barn would be wiser to exert their effort and spend their money in another area of the horse industry.
Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor,
Barbara Ellin Fox
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