Starting up a boarding barn - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 12-11-2019, 03:28 PM Thread Starter
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Question Starting up a boarding barn

Happy holidays everyone! I am here looking for some 2nd hand opinions and advice from those with experience

I recently posted a thread asking about the legal/liability side of horse boarding. I have been lightly shopping around for insurance and requesting quotes. Once I get somewhere with that I will look into talking to an attorney about legally covering ourselves.

Anywho, here's a bit of background: I have a back yard boarding operation that consisted on 5 horses since I was 13. I boarded horses to pay for my horse at first, then after I built up my barn I was able to make a small amount of money off it. I also have 10+ years of experience with horses and I have worked for multiple show/personal/boarding barns as a stable hand. I am fully aware of how much hard work goes into something like this and it's by no means easy. But this has been my dream for years.

About the facility: The property is an 80 acre ranch, with a 6 stall barn that has automatic waterers, tack rooms, wash rack, feed bunk and drive-through doors on both ends of the barn. There're 2-3 pastures with lean-to shelters, and several other pasture without. Most of the fencing is hot wired. The property has a big area that was once a riding arena, and with work we can make it an arena again. The property as 3 natural springs that run through it and gets lush and green in the summer time. There are also 1-2 other barn with the potential of being barns with horse stalls (at least one used to be a stalled barn).
With all that being said, there is A LOT of work that needs to be done before we can operate out of the property, but it has such a full potential. The property has 2 houses and my husband and I would be renting out the small bunk-house, so we would live on site.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading and bearing with me.
Here's my question: As a boarder, what would you want to see in a property/barn if you were interested in it? Also, I know that is state pending (I live in CO), and I do have a decent idea but still want to know, what would you pay for full-care board? Both with and without feed included.

My question for people who own/run a boarding operation: What is your advice? What are some things I should consider that I may not think of on my own?

Thank you everyone! And Merry Christmas!
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post #2 of 11 Old 12-11-2019, 03:41 PM
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Well, I'm a boarder, so I feel qualified to answer!

It has to have an arena. And, this is just my experience, having boarded multiple places now, barn owners talk about how they are going to do something (e.g. set up an arena), but for some reason that thing never seems to get done. Is the barn owner too busy? Does she forget? Did she never mean to do it? Did it turn out to be too expensive? I don't know, but as a boarder I will never believe another barn owner about what they are GOING to do. If that place doesn't have a functioning arena right now, I don't expect it to ever have one. So I would pass.

What would I pay? How about what DO I pay? I am in central Texas, and I am fortunate that I can have my horses on full pasture board (even if their pasture is overstocked) within a 25-minute drive of my house in the middle of the city. I pay $450 a month for the privilege. Hay is included but not feed, which is fine since my guys are mostly fatties and don't need extra feed. The place also has three arenas (one covered) and stalls that I can use if I want. Aside from the poop-covered pasture, it's a nice set up. There are other places nearby that charge $350 - $500 for pasture board.

One thing I would want to know, coming in, is how many boarders you plan on having. 80 acres is a GREAT piece of land, but you could still end up with it overstocked if you weren't careful.

I would also want to know how you are going to divide the herd, if you do divide. I have two geldings and a mare, and some places would not let them be in the same pasture together. I get that, but I need them to be in the same pasture, so it would be a deal breaker if they couldn't be. On the other hand, if I had a horse that was really submissive, I might want to know that you would separate them into smaller herds if necessary, so he wouldn't get picked on. I would want to know your thoughts about integrating new horses into the herd.

I like my horses being on pasture 24/7, and some shelters and/or trees are good enough for me. BUT it's really nice to know, where I am now, that if one of them DID have to be stalled, that stall is already there. If I boarded at your place, would one of those stalls always be free as a "just in case" / medical stall?

What services would you provide? Blankets on/off? Medicine administered?

ETA: the last place we boarded, the owner lived on site. It was nice to know someone was always there, but on the other hand every time we wanted to see them we'd have to call her first, because she kept the front gate locked (and never offered to give us a key, which in retrospect seems weird). Her house was right in front of the property and sometimes we felt like we were intruding, even though we were just there to see our own horses.

Oh right, and another question I'd have is about feeding. I would assume you would supplement hay as necessary, but more important to me would be what grain you give them. Some places I talked to when I was looking around give the same type and amount of grain to every horse that boards with them, at the same time every day. You couldn't even opt out at some places! Did I mention my guys are fatties? I don't want them fed grain every day. So I'd definitely want to know what your policy about that was.

Having said all of that, your place sounds beautiful. If I were in Colorado I would at least be interested, once you got that arena all set up.
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Last edited by ACinATX; 12-11-2019 at 03:54 PM.
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post #3 of 11 Old 12-11-2019, 04:37 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ACinATX View Post
Well, I'm a boarder, so I feel qualified to answer!

It has to have an arena. And, this is just my experience, having boarded multiple places now, barn owners talk about how they are going to do something (e.g. set up an arena), but for some reason that thing never seems to get done. Is the barn owner too busy? Does she forget? Did she never mean to do it? Did it turn out to be too expensive? I don't know, but as a boarder I will never believe another barn owner about what they are GOING to do. If that place doesn't have a functioning arena right now, I don't expect it to ever have one. So I would pass.

What would I pay? How about what DO I pay? I am in central Texas, and I am fortunate that I can have my horses on full pasture board (even if their pasture is overstocked) within a 25-minute drive of my house in the middle of the city. I pay $450 a month for the privilege. Hay is included but not feed, which is fine since my guys are mostly fatties and don't need extra feed. The place also has three arenas (one covered) and stalls that I can use if I want. Aside from the poop-covered pasture, it's a nice set up. There are other places nearby that charge $350 - $500 for pasture board.

One thing I would want to know, coming in, is how many boarders you plan on having. 80 acres is a GREAT piece of land, but you could still end up with it overstocked if you weren't careful.

I would also want to know how you are going to divide the herd, if you do divide. I have two geldings and a mare, and some places would not let them be in the same pasture together. I get that, but I need them to be in the same pasture, so it would be a deal breaker if they couldn't be. On the other hand, if I had a horse that was really submissive, I might want to know that you would separate them into smaller herds if necessary, so he wouldn't get picked on. I would want to know your thoughts about integrating new horses into the herd.

I like my horses being on pasture 24/7, and some shelters and/or trees are good enough for me. BUT it's really nice to know, where I am now, that if one of them DID have to be stalled, that stall is already there. If I boarded at your place, would one of those stalls always be free as a "just in case" / medical stall?

What services would you provide? Blankets on/off? Medicine administered?

ETA: the last place we boarded, the owner lived on site. It was nice to know someone was always there, but on the other hand every time we wanted to see them we'd have to call her first, because she kept the front gate locked (and never offered to give us a key, which in retrospect seems weird). Her house was right in front of the property and sometimes we felt like we were intruding, even though we were just there to see our own horses.

Oh right, and another question I'd have is about feeding. I would assume you would supplement hay as necessary, but more important to me would be what grain you give them. Some places I talked to when I was looking around give the same type and amount of grain to every horse that boards with them, at the same time every day. You couldn't even opt out at some places! Did I mention my guys are fatties? I don't want them fed grain every day. So I'd definitely want to know what your policy about that was.

Having said all of that, your place sounds beautiful. If I were in Colorado I would at least be interested, once you got that arena all set up.
Thank you so much for your thoughts! Oh my goodness yes... I feel you on the "we are going to" and it NEVER happens. The place I board temporarily is JUST like that. "We're going to get the indoor arena ready" or "we're going to get that cleaned up."

Texas sounds very similar in pricing as Colorado does.

Overstocked pasture is definitely something on my mind, I have not worked out how many I can do yet. But that is for sure something I will need to figure out before opening. An overrun pasture filled with poop looks very tacky.

An extra stall is not something I thought of, thank you for mentioning that because that's very smart!

Services would include: Feeding, turnout, mucking out, blanketing, ect. Administering medicine is definitely something I need to think about, thank you for bringing that up.

I would hate having to be let in every time I came to see my horse, that sounds very uncomfortable.

I would supplement hay in the summer time as needed, and feed hay 2x a day in the dry seasons. Graining would be tailored to each individual horse. And as long as owners supplied it, I would feed additional supplements. However I would not buy it or get it for them.

Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my post!
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post #4 of 11 Old 12-11-2019, 05:45 PM
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I am in Lancaster Ca and pay $275 a month for full board which includes hay and my horse is kept in a paddock. I love where I board because the BO
lives on site and she is so knowledgeable. I do not worry that my boy will not have the best care. I take lessons from the BO which is wonderful as she knows my horse (she helped me find him) She is teaching me horsemanship and not just how to ride.

An arena is a definite must have as is a working bathroom (I drive almost an hour to get to the barn. I love the fact that if I cannot make it out due to weather I can have my BO ride my horse for me (she charges me a lesson fee) it is great for him and she is a wonderful trainer. I also find it helpful that the BO will haul for a fee as I do not have a trailer.

The farrier comes on a fairly regular basis and I just add my horse to the list and pay the barn owner and she will pay him. She also has an equine chiropractor out on a regular basis and an holds dental clinics (done by a veterinary dentist who is terrific) several times a year.
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post #5 of 11 Old 12-11-2019, 06:02 PM
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Yes, I can't believe I forgot! A decent bathroom is essential!
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post #6 of 11 Old 12-17-2019, 02:23 PM
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so here in arizona i pay 175 and i supply my own feed. i used to pay 280 for feed and shavings included. for pasture i have 3 oldies who need to be together. 2 older mares and a gelding but they need stalled to eat (old guy can take 2 or 3 hours to finish his mush). i have 1 gelding who cant be out with mares. with 80 acres you can have multiple arenas and a couple round pens. also a few smaller turnouts. so like 5 horses kind of thing for boarders who have mixed horses or who have bonded horses. or areas for horses who are gumps can be alone or with only one other horse. you can have larger pastures for horses by gender as well. but def multiple arenas. its hard to do alot of riding in a crowded arena. maybe have some jumps in one, barrels in another. if you can get a coverd one that would be amazing for winter (i used to live in colorado). id easily pay 400 for a place that could do pasture board or the small pastures for my 3 oldies. if you can cater to both the western and english riders for barns and arenas you will never be enpty. also the pasture boarders for oldies, retired or just trail riders would also be good. IF you find you still have space you could even find a trainer who works with the blm mustangs and set up some blm aproved stalls and draw in people adopting mustangs. not alot of places have that.

but for me my thing is are my horses fed? am i alerted if they are injured in any way? do they have water? do they have a dry place to stand? other than that im not picky.

Edit yes a bathroom! also maybe a dry lot may be needed for horses who have IR issues or what not. and then you dont have to worry about the horses destroying the grass since there is not ment to be any in there anyway.
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post #7 of 11 Old 12-20-2019, 12:56 AM
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First off I’d like to say good luck! It has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, and I hope I can be there one day too. 😊

I have experience with many types of barns from show barns to little backwoods barns with six stalls. I would also like to mention that this is a pretty hot take, but I learned it from one of the most successful barns I have and continue to work at. The short answer is mandated turn out and/or pasture. It is so sad to see horses cooped up all day only to get out for a few hours of intense exercise. I have known many barns that have horses that crib and a few that have had horses go stir crazy, all of these incidences could have been avoided if they were just able to be horses.
I would also suggest putting systems in place to prevent customers from treating staff like garbage just because “their horse is expensive” or because they’re entitled to it. I can not count on all my fingers and toes the number of times I have been reported to the barn managers for “mistreating a horse” (more often than not, it was me walking a horse in a circle or two because they were pushy). Another point I would like to make is don’t force your staff into situations they aren’t comfortable with (a food aggressive horse etc.), and perhaps the most important is don’t treat your staff the same, some work a little slower and shouldn’t be expected to keep up with someone who has been there for a few years! At my first ever job (stable staff) having no previous barn experience ( I had only owned pasture horses) I was expected to keep up with staff that has been there for a number of years, on multiple occasions I had almost passed out but my boss did not care and told me to “stop making excuses”. The last thing I'll say is if you get a little angry at a member of your staff, please be professional and talk to them in private, don't yell at them in front of other members, and especially customers!

TL;DR: Mandated turn out or pasture should really be a thing. Just let the horses be horses. Don't undermind and allow you or your customers to treat staff like garbage.
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post #8 of 11 Old 12-20-2019, 01:24 AM
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Something that I personally love but I don't see too often is a co-op program. It works best with a small group of boarders rather than a whole barn full. I'm currently part of one and I love it. I pay $200 per month in Southeast PA.

The BO has her own horse, and there are three other horses in addition to hers, so four horses total. Twice a week, each boarder feeds grain, fills hay racks, and mucks, and the BO only has to once a week. Horses are turned out 24/7 with access to four run-ins and the BO supplies free grass hay from her own hay field, accessible 24/7 (in the summer when there is enough grass, hay is fed less or not fed at all). Boarders supply grain. She does not offer blanket services to her boarders, but boarders can blanket if they wish. There is a small fenced arena with maintained footing and multiple trails nearby. We all have access to a locked tack room. The BO requires a minimum of two yearly dewormings - we pay for the tubes but the BO administers them all at the same time to 100% make sure it's given - and highly recommends we deworm our horses ourselves other times throughout the year per vet advice. You should also consider what your deworming protocol will be.

This system is AMAZING because there are no middle-men staff that get caught between boarders and the BO, there is no drama, and we are a small enough group that we communicate very well. It also lowers the cost for the BO since she doesn't pay staff and lowers our cost because we work part of it off. It's not self-care board because five days of the week we have nothing to worry about, but it's also not expensive full care board because we all do pitch in with the work. It's a great in-between.

We have a notebook in the main barn that we all write down daily notes in about what chores we did and if anyone noticed anything about the horses or something needs to be fixed on the property (like "broken fence board in far pasture, please fix" and the BO will be on top of it as soon as she reads it). There is no question about who did what in case someone messed something up. We also have a group chat when we need to communicate more directly. Everyone is so friendly, and I have been given permission by the others to exercise their horses or borrow them for group trail rides with my friends. It's a great environment.

The ONLY complaint I have about boarding here is so small, and that's just that all horses are required to wear a halter 24/7. Given, she also requires them all to have breakaway halters, but it still bugs me because I'd feel they were safer without one on and wouldn't rub my horse's face. But seriously, I don't have a single other complaint about this place.
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post #9 of 11 Old 12-20-2019, 02:07 AM
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I am on the other side of the world so prices are irrelevant but here are my must-haves:

Turnout and daily turnout service - I don’t mind if it’s limited in winter as my horse, and most local horses are used to it
Dedicated stall
Arena, indoor is a big plus
Lessons available, or if not, permission to bring my instructor
Toilet
Tack room
Someone to take my horse out if I cannot come that day and turnout isn’t available. Either lunging or riding.
Someone to hold my horse for the vet/farrier if I’m away
Mandatory worming and vaccinations for all horses (health permitting)
For me personally, NOT a show barn - I don’t enjoy that atmosphere

Nice to have:

Heated club “house” in winter, even if it’s just one rickety room - I get cold easily and I need to be able to warm up a bit
Webcams - this is relatively cheap to set up but means a lot
Trails
Washing machine for saddle pads
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post #10 of 11 Old 12-20-2019, 10:51 AM
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I'm in northish Canada. I pay ~$450 a month ($380 base, + $45 hay surcharge, + extras) for full care outdoor board. 10 minute drive from my place (and I live in the city).


Must:
- 24/7 turnout
- 24/7 grazing or 24/7 hay depending on the season. 2x a day feed would be an absolute deal breaker for me. I couldn't maintain my horse's weight when he was getting 4x a day
- Hay included and not rationed (ie, each horse gets X lbs a day and extra gets charged more)

- Heated indoor facilities, barn and arena
- Large arena. I have a big horse. I don't want an arena where I can only canter 5 strides down the long side
- Good footing in the arena. Not too deep or clumping and drag it regularly
- Heated waterers outside
- Shelter. Trees or 3-sided

- Bathroom
- Not controlling. I've had barn owners tell me I can't blanket, can't feed certain things, can't use certain equipment, ect.
- Biosecurity/vaccines. This drives me a little crazy about my current barn. I've never been told I'm required to vaccinate or given a list of things I need to have done. They require a negative coggins, but that's all. They also don't quarantine before introducing new horses AND they like to use my horse as a buddy for new horses because he's so chill.
- Up to date with modern veterinary recommendations. Ie, rotational deworming. I'm not going to deworm my low shedder 4-5 times a year with random products. Nor will I use natural dewormers
- Safe fencing. Board/pipe for paddocks and pens. Smooth wire is fine for large pasture. Hotwire is fine for large areas. Barb wire only for perimeter fences and in large areas. If it's a small space, it should be double fenced with board or smooth wire inside.


Nice to have
- Outdoor arena
- Trails and fields to ride in. Current place doesn't have anywhere to ride outside other than the outdoor arena which has questionable foot based on the weather. If the horse's are off the pasture, you can ride out there, and there are some nearby fields if the crop is off. I end up riding down the ditch and between paddocks
- Available stall. I don't need one designated for me, but it's nice to know one is available for a night or two if I needed without kicking another horse out. I was at one barn that had every single stall full (12) from October to May with a wait list.
- Holding for farrier (I'm always there for vet visits and hold myself)
- Feeding supplements/medication to outdoor horses. Current place has a good system in place for feeding extras to the outside horses for extra cost ($30/mo for everyday). They have some rules like no soaking feed which is reasonable. I've been elsewhere that doesn't offer this at all, it's really annoying when you are in the middle of doing a 30day ulcer treatment and suddenly the roads are impassible due to a storm and now your horse is cold-turkey off the meds...
- Varied terrain. I love when my horse's pasture includes hills and woods
- Lessons/trainer on site, or ability to bring them in
- Variety of turnout options (paddock, dry lot, grass, separated herd, individual, medical rest, ect) Mixed herds aren't a concern of mine. If I had to choose mixed or separated, I'd choose separated.
- Working off board. I work full time now so this isn't as feasible, but it's nice to have the option to do chores for a set reduction in board or in exchange for lessons, ect. One point about this, don't discount the board below what it costs in upkeep (property taxes, bills, materials, ect). Discount your labour charge. Must be consistent people, no doing chores once and a while. All 'staff' need to be reliable and used to the routine
- Lots of turnout for stalled horses. I don't stall currently, but have in the past. I want my horse outside for as long as possible in pretty much any weather (dressed accordingly)




For you
- Have clear, written rules. This is the first barn I've been at that actually has written rules.
- Follow and enforce aforementioned rules
- If possible, have designated 'days off' where other people do chores and you are not available. My BO takes Sunday and Monday off where they are not at the barn and we know not to text unless it's urgent
- Handle drama. Don't feed or indulge it
- Stay neutral. Most of my previous barns have been pretty bad about this, but my current one is pretty good. I know they have strong opinions about stuff, but they will tell you what they do, what they suggest, and it's up to you to take it or leave it. If you don't take their advice, for the most part they won't mention it again and will continue to treat you like a client. It's really quite nice


One cool thing my current barn has is the barn setup with pipes going into each stall. Water is in buckets rather than auto waterers which makes cleaning easy. There is a valve on the outside of each stall that you turn to fill up the buckets. No carrying water, no going into stalls. You can turn on several at once to fill. Nice system.
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