Questions & Answers
Helping you be successful in your barn and business!
Boarder/Client asks: I have been boarding at my current facility two years with no issues until now. The barn owner left randomly not telling anyone and put a girl who is not qualified in charge of feeding and watering. I have come out to horses with absolutely no water and it is late and the horses still have not been fed. This girl can't tell which type of hay is what so i have been picking up her slack and trying to keep the current boarders happy in the chaos. I want to move my horse but I am nervous that if I give a thirty day notice that my horse won't be taken care of during that thirty day time frame. How should I go about this? Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Frustrated barn owner asks: How do you deal with people that never come see their horses? I charge a hundred dollars a month for pasture board-hay and water. This one particular boarder is supposed to provide grain but I will give it since I do my own. I have it in our contract that she is responsible for her horse's feed- I do not feel it is my responsibility to tell them
when to buy it.
I also have that they are responsible for blanketing on/off according to the weather and temperatures. I have a boarder that put a blanket on in January when it was below zero but never came to check on him or take it off when the weather got warm- he was sweating. The board is always late and they've finally started paying board on time after almost two years of being late. I don't even care so much if the boarder doesn't come out and see him but she is not properly taking care of her horse especially when it comes to blanketing. Do you make boarders come see their horses? I'm wondering if I should ask her if she wants to do full board for 350.00 a month and buy feed and do blanketing/ fly masks/ deworming?
Can you help with some insight?
Casy from Illinois asks: Is it a common practice at boarding barns to move a boarders horse into a new herd without contacting the owner of the horse? I came out to see my horse today and he had been moved to a new herd and I was the last to find out. What are your thoughts and how do you handle this at your barn?
I have talked to a few potential clients over the years that were looking for a new place to board their horses. One of their complaints was the fact that their horse had been moved to another herd without any notification from the barn owner or manager.
When a horse is moved to a new herd the herd dynamics always changes a little and the pecking order is up for grab all over again. I do not like to move any horses if I don't need to because there is always going to be a couple days of reestablishing the herd and with that comes the possibility of a few bumps and bruises.
As a barn owner I know there are going to be times when a horse needs to be moved and at my barn I always make it a priority to let the owner of the horse know ahead of time why I am moving their horse and when. I want to make sure that they understand that I have the best interest of their horse at hand along with the entire herd.
I personally believe it is bad business and practice to move a horse without the owner having prior knowledge of the move. The owner of the horse might not like the decision but they will know that the barn owner respects them enough to talk with them about it ahead of time.
If you are looking for a place to board your horse, then this is a question that I would always asks the barn owner or manager. Find out how they run their operation and talk to other boarders at the barn also.
Horses do need to be moved once in a while but the owner of the horse should always be the first to know, not the last!
Thank you for the great question,
Cindy from Florida asks: I have a trainer at my barn that tells his clients that he is working with their horses five days a week but in reality he is only working with them about two days a week. He is getting paid for five days a week and I feel he is being completely dishonest with his clients which also happen to be my boarders. How do I fix this without upsetting everyone?
This is a great question and it happens more than you could imagine. I dealt with this same issue many years ago and it was truly a learning experience for me and my husband. I had a trainer that was coming to my barn and she was supposed to be riding two horses several days a week. My boarders finally came up to me after about three months and asked me if the trainer had been out to work their horses and how much we saw her at our barn. I knew they were going to be upset but I needed to tell them the truth. They requested a meeting with the trainer, myself, my husband and them. Needless to say after David and I told them what we saw in front of the trainer, she became extremely upset with us. It didn't end very well for the trainer and she stormed out. We never did see her again. My two boarders were very grateful that I was honest with them and they stayed at our barn. It could have easily gone the other way and they could have decided to move their horses also. I believe because we were honest with my clients it showed them that I has respect for them and that no one should be taken advantage of.
I now believe that you need to be direct with trainers about what you expect at your facility if they are going to work there. As the barn owner, everything that happens at your barn is a reflection of your business and that includes what trainers do. How they run their business will affect your business in either a positive way or negative way.
If a trainer is not doing their job or doing things that you don't approve of than it becomes your business as the barn owner. I have had a few times early on in our business where I needed to talk to a trainer about the practices they were doing at the barn with the horses and even a couple of times when I knew they were being dishonest. The truth is in most cases the trainer will probably leave if it gets to the point where you need to talk with them.
I have found that if you refuse to except dishonesty from your trainers than you will attract trainers that have the same standards as you. They will want to work at a barn that is run with integrity and honesty and when you find a trainer like that, don't let them go. They will be a huge asset to your barn.
Thank you for the question!
Chelsea from Texas wants to know:
How many years did it take until we started making a profit boarding horses?
If you are setting up your barn and business and have a good accountant, there is a good chance he will tell you it takes about five years before most businesses start making a profit of any kind. Now I know there are those that have made a profit much sooner but the statistics show that five years seems to be the magic number for many.
David and I probably would have started making some kind of profit around the fourth year but it took us about eight years only because of some huge mistakes we made early on in our business venture. We had to fire our first builder and then we also had problems with our second contractor and those mistakes ended costing us tens of thousands of dollars more to get our barn up and going. That extra money that we had to borrow set us way back in our finances so our profit margin disappeared completely.
David and I both truly believe that if we didn't have to borrow the extra money during the construction of our barn we would have been making a profit around the fourth year of business. We both worked outside the barn for many years. I worked full-time for seven more years while still running the barn and was finally able to quit. David still works during the summer and fall.
I do believe you can make a profit boarding horses but you need to be very smart and conservative right from the beginning. It might mean working seven days a week for much longer than you intended to. If you talk to any successful business owner they will tell you that to get their business to where it is today they had to put in extremely long hours and sacrifice.
I am going to be the first to tell you that you can make a good living boarding horses! If you are ready to work harder than you ever have before and have a good foundation for your barn and business than anything is possible. Don't give up on your dreams but just be smart when it comes to making them a reality.
Thank you Chelsea for the question,
Donna wants to know: How did we figure out what rate to charge for stalls and outside board when we first opened our boarding facility?
When we first were building our barn back in 2005 I didn't have a real clear view of what to charge or how it would affect my business. I checked with all the boarding barns in our area and to be honest I basically charged what they charged. Huge mistake!!
I had put together a business plan but at that point much of it was just numbers to me and I didn't see long tern down the road with our business and finances. I basically grabbed a number that sounded good and that became our monthly fee. I was insecure and didn't see the value in my job or what we offered and my rates were way too low to start and it turned out to be one of the worst business decisions I could ever make.
I added up on paper the monthly board fee times all of our horses and that is how I came up with the total income for the month. What I failed to see were all the hidden expenses and costs that I would have each month to keep our barn going on top of our business mortgage.
Finding a boarding rate that will cover your bills and your clients are willing to pay is definitely a balancing act in the beginning. Many new barn owners make the same mistake I made and they start off with too low of rates. When you do this it is extremely hard to catch up and it is bad for business if you find yourself raising the rates too fast and too much early on.
If I can give any words of advice - Don't let fear keep you from charging a rate that is fair and honest for what you offer at your barn. Your job is extremely valuable and very difficult. Don't cut yourself short on what you do each and every day to care for the horses at your barn.
Once your boarders see the great care and attention you give to each of their horses, they will not leave and they will be happy to pay a higher rate for peace of mind. Remember that most of them have already been to other boarding barns and most of them probably have had some bad experiences to go with it.
When setting your boarding rates take some time and talk with others. Don't get one number stuck in your head and don't be afraid to be a little higher than your competitors. Great care - is worth it's weight in gold!
Thank you for the great question!
Amber asks: "Is it possible to operate a small scale facility (ideally around 5 boarders, with a maximum of 10 boarders) and make enough for a small salary?"
I do believe you can make money running a smaller facility. Whether or not you can make enough to quit your day job will depend of many factors. The foundation for setting up your business is still the same whether small or large and of course with only a handful of horses there is a very good chance you will need to find a second source of income. You will also need to have a good understanding of the cost to feed and care for five to ten horses and the upkeep of your farm year round. The cost to run a barn will change according to the seasons and weather and I believe it takes a good two years to get a real feel for what your cost are going to be.
I truly believe that writing up a business plan for a small facility is just as important as with a large one. It will give you a very clear view of expenses going out and income coming in for a projected period of time. Another huge part of the equation is your personal debt and business debt. What you owe on your farm, house or equipment is extremely important to your finances and profit.
I do know of small scale farms that make a nice income but they are able to charge a higher price for board because of the amenities and the many special services they offer. There are clients that are willing to pay a higher price for the extra attention that many bigger facilities can not offer.
The great thing about starting your own horse business is that you can design it any way you want and that is an exciting part of it!
Amy in Colorado asks:
"Do most boarding barns allow dogs?"
There are many opinions about allowing dogs at horse boarding barns and it can really be the deciding factor if someone comes to board at your barn or not. I never knew how many problems a “No Dog policy” would cause when we opened our barn.
When we opened our facility years ago I had already had a couple of boarders at our house and they had dogs. Their dogs came out all the time and it was no big deal. After we built our new barn and I had to get liability insurance for our facility and business things started to change overnight. Per our insurance carrier dogs would be a risk to have at our barn and I needed to be very careful how I wanted to handle the dog issue. All it would take is one bite from a boarders dog and we were at risk at losing a lot. The other even bigger factor was if a dog spooked a horse and a person was hurt as a result. Even though I didn’t own the dog the risk would be all mine. I needed to make a decision.