Updated and Revised 10/30/2000
Beginning a Boarding Facility Business

The business of boarding horses is often "stumbled into" by the individual who starts keeping a horses for someone then ends up with several boarders. Many people who have horses end up with more facility than they can use for their personal mounts and the time inevitably comes when they think it would be nice to fill it with boarders and make a living or an income to offset the cost of keeping their own animals. If you are considering developing a boarding stable you need a high level of knowledge and experience with horses, as well as the ability to get along with people. To be successful boarding stable requires a good location, the correct facilities and services for the market, and strong financial resources.  The fact is that a well run, clean establishment in a good location can and will make a good income for the proprietors, but you need to run your boarding stable like a business, and their are "rules" to running any business.

Know your Market
The first question you need to ask yourself is "Why would someone want to board their horse with me?" The answer to this question may be obvious to you, but the answer will help you to find the niche you fill in your local market.

  • Is your facility located in a suburban area where horse owners are unable to keep their horses on their own land?
  • Are you within 20 miles of a major population center with a high population of horse owners needing board and related services?
  • If you are located in a rural area, do you have a facility that has features that will attract boarders year round?
  • Do you have a trainer or instructor on premises that will attract clientele?
  • Are you located near good trail riding areas?
  • What are the services and prices already available in the market area being served?
If you are located in an area where the community is building up and homeowners cannot keep their horses on their own property you have an opportunity to supply a service that is needed. A well managed boarding stable will have no trouble keeping the barn full of boarders. If you are in a more rural area, you have to find a need that you supply to keep boarders year round. A facility with an indoor arena will often be filled for the winter, but you need year round boarders to make your business thrive. A good riding instructor on site is often a great way to bring in business. It is  wise to find an instructor versatile enough to teach several styles of riding. A good Dressage instructor can often bring people in who want to learn and the dedicated riders may stay with the same instructor for many years but don't discount western styles and hunter style of riding.  And of course don't forget that an instructor who has a fair amount of knowledge on the riding of gaited horses can fill a need in most communities.

For many horse owners boarding a horse and buying related services is a luxury, their ability to pay for your services will be driven by factors of their  income levels along with their desire and ability to participate in horse related activities or competitions.  The more you have to offer in horse related activities, the more likely that your boarding business will weather the reduced demand the market for these services may experience during periods of economic decline.

Have a Business Plan
It's important to understand approximate initial and monthly expenses so boarding fees can be set that will cover these. You will often have to make changes in your facility to accommodate boarders, it is important to consider the cost of these changes when assessing the expenses of setting up your business. 
 

  • How many boarders do you need to "break even" on the time and dollar investment required?
  • Factor in the increase in cost to your insurance/liability  premiums.
  • What dollar amount do you need to invest in advertisement?
  • What additional equipment will you need to service the new animals added?
  • Don't forget to put in a cost for upkeep, additional animals and people using your facility will cause additional labor and materials for repair.
  • Will you be able to do all the work yourself or will you have to hire laborers, both for improvements, repairs and daily chores?
  • Don't forget to project a realistic point where you hope to see a profit!
Know your  Local and State Laws
You should not even consider housing someone else's animals until you understand the laws that govern such operations in your area.
What are the liability laws when it comes to livestock in your area? How about the Service lien laws, the law that covers you ability to recover in arrears board in the event of non payment? There are MANY laws that will help you to secure your rights, BUT you need a well written boarding contract to allow you to enforce them! Written boarding contracts for enforcement are defined by the Statute of Frauds, that has been adopted in most states and incorporated in the Uniform Commercial Code. 
These are a few links that will help you to find the laws in your state, please book mark this page so you can get back!


Your Abilities

In order to develop and operate a successful boarding stable you will need to invest a considerable amount of time devoted to planning, developing and marketing the operation. If you already have the facilities, then the financial investment will not be as heavy to add additional horses to the existing care load, but any revisions or additions to the buildings or fencing can require considerable financial resources to complete. You or someone in the operation needs to have the ability to sell services and ensure customers are satisfied, this takes a certain type of personality. A boarding stable can reach financial success only through developing and maintaining a clientele for their services and facilities. You have to be able to:

  • train and manage labor efficiently
  • keep control of the financial affairs of the business
  • be prepared to develop and implement feeding guidelines, routine vaccination programs and parasite control programs.
  • have the patience to deal with people every day, at all hours 
  • be prepared to work long hours, seven days a week.
And a boarding operation cannot be successful unless you have a working knowledge of equine nutrition requirements and the ability to recognize illness and distress in horses.

Your Facility
Before you hang out the "Stall Available" sign take a good objective look at your facility.  When boarding horses, the obvious issues with all facilities are the care and safety of horses boarded and the safety of the owners. There are five factors to consider in building or renovating horse facilities: safety, efficiency, cost,  flexibility, and aesthetics. In your initial planning, you need to take into consideration the  increase in numbers of boarders over time. Aesthetics should not overrule safe, functional facilities. One good example to avoid is putting the boards on the outside of a fence, just because it looks better. Fencing should be on the same side as the horse, it may not look as good, but it is considerably safer! You can contact your county Extension office for information on horse housing and fencing, they should also know the requirements for local ordinances. Efficiently designed and built lanes, pastures and barns can ease the ability for one person to handle several horses. 

  • Are there any zoning restrictions you need to address?
  • Is your entrance is highly visible and provides easy access?
  • Do you have equipment for handling feed, bedding and removing manure?
  • Are all aisle ways clear of clutter? 
  • Are the stalls sturdy and of good enough dimensions?
  • Is the barn well lite and ventilated?
  • Do you have sufficient, safe storage for a boarders tack?
  • Do you have adequate pasture, with safe fencing? Fence secure, safe and high enough? Are the paddocks and pastures in good shape and well drained?  Are the gates located so as to assure ease of access and safety both for horses and people? Are the gates large enough to allow tractor and fertilizer spreaders access? Are the feeders/ water troughs in the turn out areas durable and safe?
  • Is there sufficient parking for the boarders vehicle? Their horse trailer?
  • Do you have arrangements available to isolate an incoming boarder through the first couple of weeks they are on property? What about isolation for ill horses? Are you able to disinfect your facilities properly? 
  • Do you have the necessary room for expansion?
  • Can you handle environmental requirements such as manure handling, any need for snow and wind control?
The services and your facilities should project an image that attracts and keeps clients. Factors that contribute to this image are:
  • Providing top quality horse care, all animals on the facility should exhibit the obvious signs of good health.

  • - Quality of care may be more important than price for many horse owners.
  • Providing quality grain and hay and enough of it.

  • Being able and willing to to tailor feeding programs to individual horses, to feed whatever it takes to keep boarders'  horse(s) looking good (at an increased rate for hard keepers). Operators must monitor the horses they are feeding, particularly the aged, growing or gestating horses and during cold weather when feed rations will most likely have to be increased.
  • Providing safe, attractive, well lit facilities that are maintained in good repair.
  • Operating a clean, well run facility with friendly capable personnel. Having activities or competitions for boarder participation as often as possible.
  • It is a MUST that you have ready access to veterinary and farrier services for both routine and emergency care.
  • Providing easy access, room for parking and an area for clients to leave their horse trailers, if needed. 
  • A facility providing areas for: 
    • Clients to ride such as indoor arenas, outdoor rings and trails.
    • Clean their horses, such as a tie stall and/or was rack.
    • Isolation areas for incoming or ill horses.
  • Requiring negative Coggins and a health check by a Veterinarian prior to the new  horse(s) arrival on the premises.
Some vital management issues in operating a horse boarding stable are:
  • Pasture Management - Good pasture is a bonus to any boarding operation. Each stables requirements will vary according to the type of operation and location. The persistence of a productive pasture is dependent on selecting the right seed mixture; establishing a good stand; proper fertilization and grazing management. Operations with limited pasture areas will  have to feed more hay year round. Pasture management practices need to include:

  • - Select and encourage plant species that are well suited  for horse pastures and for the growing conditions. It is important to be able to recognize weeds or toxic plants when they are quite small to enable control to take place before they cause a problem.
    - Weed Management. Many weeds require bare ground and light to germinate, therefore you can discouraged weeds by encouraging the grass to grow and keeping pastures mowed. In general, annual weeds are best controlled when small, and perennial weeds just before flowering
    - identifying and removing poisonous plants
    - Avoid over grazing through pasture rotation and strip grazing. ( Link will open in new window, close when finished to be able to return here )
    - harrowing pastures to spread manure. Mow the tall grass in the rough areas and harrow the manure to spread it out. Do this when the weather is hot and dry to ensure that parasite larvae contained in the manure are killed by the sun. Harrowing on cool, wet days only spreads out the infestation. 
    - Fertilize the paddocks according to the recommendations from a soil sample.
    - If the equipment is available, direct seed, with no-till equipment, a good pasture mix into the broken sod. If you do not have the equipment, disc the paddock(s) so that the sod is 50% open. Use the hand cyclone spreader to distribute the pasture seed mix evenly over the pasture, then harrow the land to cover the seed. 
  • Manure removal - Operators need to develop a manure management program that provides for cleaning stalls and pens, removing manure to a temporary storage area and disposing of the manure. This is also important as a means of fly control.
  • Feed and Nutrition A subject all in itself, but you should be able to provide convenient means to:

  • - feed at least twice a day, at regular times
    - be consistent in the amount and type of feed
    - provide access to clean fresh water
    - provide salt and minerals
    - regularly monitor the condition of each horse
Contracts
Contracts must clearly state the expectations of the owner of the facility as to the terms agreed upon. Without written agreements between you and your boarders, you may end up responsible for a hefty veterinary bill that a boarder to pay, absorbing  unpaid board bills with no legal recourse, or you might face lawsuits arising from a variety of situations. A valid contract creates legal obligations between the parties,
and allows for enforcement in court if the contract is broken. PUT IT IN WRITING, and oral contract leaves much up to memory which fades with time, the advantage of a written contract is that neither the existence of the contract nor its terms are in doubt.

Every Contract Should:

  • Identify The Parties  by name, address, and contact number.
  • Identify The Horse a description of the horse, its name and even a photograph attached to the contract and initialed by both parties is a good idea. Be sure to to include a detailed physical condition of the animal, as well as indications of previous injury. Tack and equipment left on site for use of  the horse also should be listed and identified to avoid later disputes about ownership of those           items. 
  • Who is Responsible for what Expenses? Detail any foreseen expense and whether it is included in the board payment of it the owner is expected to cover it, and when they are expected to reimburse you for expenses you pay out on their behalf. Whether out-of-pocket expenses will be paid by the farm and billed to the owner, or billed directly to the owner by the person providing the service, also should be stated in the contract. The contract should include a provision allowing the farm to charge interest on overdue bills.
  • What do you provide in exchange for the board? Spell out in detail the services and facilities that the farm is agreeing to provide as part of the board.
  • A waiver of  liability clause in which the boarder agrees to a waiver of the farm's liability for personal injuries or injuries to the horse.
  • Provision for recovery of attorney fees, allowing the farm to recover attorney fees in the event legal assistance is required to recover a delinquent bill. 
Lien on animals and effects in the event of non payment of fees. *

Boarder agrees that;

  • Boarding stable owner has a lien on the animals and things hereinafter mentioned for the value of any unpaid fees for food, care, attendance or accommodation furnished for the horse, and in addition to all other remedies provided by law may detain the horse in his custody and possession until payment in full had been rendered in good funds. 
  • The right of detention by  boarding stable owner of the animal or thing (harness, furnishings or other gear appertaining thereto, including carriage, sleigh or other vehicle) until full payment has been received, has priority over and is not subject to any existing lien, security interest or other charge or encumbrance of whatever nature or kind affecting that animal or thing.
  • If the boarder/owner does not reclaim the animal(s) or things by discharging his indebtedness within one month from the time it was incurred, the boarding stable owner may by private sale or public auction sell the animal(s) or things on giving 2 weeks' notice of sale. Such notice to be sent to the address the boarder/owner has provided to the boarding stable owner, it is the responsibility of the boarder/owner to notify the boarding stable owner of a change in current address. Boarding stable owner shall also post notice of intention to sell the  animal(s) or things:
    • (a) by advertisement in the newspaper published nearest to the stable or if more than one newspaper is published in the same locality, then in either of them, and 
    • (b) by posting up notices of the intended sale in the stable. 
  • In the event that the proceeds derived from the sale by public auction result in a surplus, after paying the expenses incurred by the detention, advertising and sale and satisfying the lien of the boarding stable owner; boarder/owner has thirty days to apply in writing for the surplus, if he fails to do so it shall be forfeited to the boarding stable owner.
* This is ONLY a suggestion, have any document you are depending on to secure your rights reviewed by an attorney

Between you and the Boarder.

  • The date and amount board is due must be clearly stated in the contract, along with any penalties that ensue in the event of late payment. Sometimes selling the horse to recover a bill, in the event of unpaid board or out of pocket expenses, is the only option you will have. In this event the legalities are much easier if  the farm has a lien on  the horse in the boarding contract, to secure payment for services provided by the farm and for  unpaid out-of-pocket expenses, and that the farm can sell the horse at public auction or privately to recover the unpaid balance. 
  • Veterinary care and routine health maintenance, farrier usage, and so forth must be spelled out. Are you going to provide these services, billing the owner or is the owner expected to handle these things themselves.
  • Emergency Veterinary care authorization should also be included, along with a clause to euthanize the horse with the terms clearly spelled out as to how that decision is to be handled in the event the owner is unable to be reached. One such solution is to have the opinions of two licensed Veterinarians to allow the horse to be put down in the event of need. There should also be a statement that the owner will be responsible for the bills incurred for theses services.
  • If an animal is covered by mortality or loss of use insurance, that fact should be noted by the owner in the boarding contract.
  • Clearly state the level of care, treatment and facility usage the boarder can expect in exchange for their boarding fees.
  • The hours your facility is open for people to come and ride or care for their animals should be stated in the contract.
  • How much feed, how often fed, and if supplements will be supplied needs to be included.
  • If and how often the horse is to be turned out, and if it is to be in a group or individually should be  decided and written in.
Between you and the Trainer and/or Instructor

Often to have a trainer or instructor or both associated with your facility means allowing a financial break on boarding costs for their own horses. Any "perks" or advantages used to attract a professional must be contractual in nature. Describe what you expect from that individual in return. This may be as simple as making sure the lights are turned off when they leave or as complex to involve the trainer pay a small fee on each horse to help cover liability insurance. All this is negotiable, but it all must be agreed upon first! 

  • What you will do to make your facility advantageous for a trainer or instructor to be associated with it?
  • Is there a limit as to the number of horses that a trainer or instructor can have in your facility at any given time?
  • Are they to carry their own liability insurance?
  • By what method are they to "share" the facility with the other boarders and your need to use the arena, round pen, etc..
  • What hours is the facility closed to their use?
ALL contracts should be either written or reviewed by your attorney to make certain that they comply with your needs and protect your interests.

Barn Rules

Every boarding stable owner should hang or post a copy of their barn rules and their Lien on animals and effects, in a conspicuous place in the stables.  In  in case of non-compliance with with either the rules or payment arrangements, the boarder cannot claim ignorance of the existence of these policies or the ramifications of violation. In addition have the boarders sign and give them a copy of the barn rules when they move in, the Lien on animals and effects should be clearly stated in the boarding contract, which they should also sign.

Suggestions to include:

  1. Stable is open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm only. Boarders are permitted to ride only in the stated hours unless otherwise arranged.
  2. Boarders must make appointments to visit their horses after hours.
  3. If you turned on a light, turn it off when you are finished using that area. 
  4. No smoking in the barn. All cigarettes will be fully extinguished in the can outside.
  5. No drinking of alcoholic beverages allowed on the property associated with stables. 
  6. Keep the aisle clean of tack, brushes, halters, hoof pickings or manure if you or your horse put it there, pick it up! 
  7. All vehicles must be parked in the parking designated areas.
  8. No visitors are allowed in the stalls. Boarders may retrieve their horses from the stalls and properly tie them for visitors to view.
  9. No visitors are allowed in the pasture. Boarders may enter the pasture to retrieve ONLY the owners equine. No boarder may enter the pasture where a stallion is turned out. 
  10. Owners may not handle any equine other than their own or an animal they have leased.
  11. Do not feed your equine. If you believe your equine needs its rations increased, please notify the stable. Feeding your equine outside of the habitual feeding period can cause colic on your equine as well as in those equines around yours which are not being fed at the same time.
  12. Do not give treats to any equine other than your own unless written permission is on file with the stable. Some equines may have stomach problems associated with some treats.
  13. Do not ride without safety equipment. The stable will not be held responsible for any injury, accident and/or death occurring because you failed to use the proper safety equipment.
  14. Do not ride on properties not designated as allowed riding areas. The stable will not be held responsible for any injury, accident and/or death occurring because you failed to stay on proper trails, fields or roads. The stable will not be responsible for any fines and/or jail terms for trespassing on posted or non-posted properties.
  15. Always mount and dismount outside, unless you are riding in the indoor arena. 
  16. No running or yelling in the barn or courtyard, especially when horses are present. The stable cannot be responsible for any injury, accident and/or death associated with scaring or spooking an equine due to inappropriate behavior or misbehavior.
  17. No bicycles or motorized vehicles in the barn. 
  18. Do not tie your horse with your reins. All horses are to be tied in the aisles with a lead rope or in the grooming stall with the cross ties while wearing a serviceable halter. The stable will not be responsible for any injury, accident and/or death associated with tying your horse with the reins, or bailing twine or any other inappropriate equipment.
  19. Always check your tack before riding. The stable will not be responsible for the quality of repair of your tack and will not be held responsible for any injury, accident and/or death associated with using tack in ill repair.
  20. All injuries, accidents and damages must be immediately brought to our attention. Any unreported incidents will be the responsibility of the boarder or leasor.


 

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