We hear it all of the time: “I don’t make any money off of boarding, its a business of love.”
And we as the boarders shake our heads in frustration, wondering how our hard earned money could be useless to the farm owner or manager. How is it not enough? This is insane. This is ludicrous. I pay A TON in board, amiright?
I was one of you. With one horse in active competition status, one horse always for sale, and two retirees (one for physical issues, one for mental), I was writing a fairly hefty check every month to my barn owner. So when a water trough was found dirty, or the wrong blanket was put on a horse, I got frustrated. And in true Carleigh fashion, when I got frustrated, I made it clear.
What was I even paying for? Why was I even paying it? Where was all of this money going? He was getting rich, and I wasn’t getting what I wanted or thought I needed!
And then, I opened my own farm…
And what I learned was truly eye-opening, alarming, and possibly even horrifying. Well, horrifying enough to make me consider why I even did it. Often.
Because as an equine scientist, a skill set of mine is writing a budget for a grant. And as an equine enthusiast, I have now utilized this budgeting to explain the business of boarding. I have shared this wisdom with many to alert them to the costs associated with their horse, and after a quite long hiatus from blogging, I felt motivated to share it with you as well.
So, here goes.
Lets start simple. Our horses have to eat, right? And if they’re anything like my barn full of thoroughbreds, they’re not only going to eat a lot, but they’re going to eat it often. I am lucky to live in Lexington Kentucky where two of the premier feed mills in the world exist right here in town, and therefore the cost of excellent grain is quite cheap due to the lack of additional shipping. The average horse in my barn eats between 4-6 lbs. of grain twice a day, and I won’t even add on their supplements, as that will complicated matters, and usually paid for in addition to standard board.
$16/50 lb. bag = $0.32/lb x 8lb/day = $2.56/day = $76.80/month/horse
Now lets not forget. While grain is important, its the hay that our prized possessions acquire which keeps them health, happy, ulcer-free, and content. Right? Now, this aspect of budgeting is going to vary tremendously depending on the state you live in, access to a flatbed (ie, delivery vs. non delivery), and what content of hay that you are feeding. But, I will utilize our method as an example, and acknowledge that this will be MUCH more expensive if you live in Wellington, FL, and far cheaper if you’re feeding a straight grass hay out in Buffalo, WY. My rule of thumb is 1/4 bale of hay per feeding, two feedings per day. We feed a orchard grass/alfalfa mix, and I am lucky to not only own a flatbed trailer to transport it, but also own a husband who seemingly likes bucking hay. Win/Win.
$8/square bale x 1/2 bale/day = $4/day = $120/month/horse
But lets not forget that we also require hay outside during these winter months, and storage of these bales is an additional cost. It also requires the ability to transport/move/unload/place these heavier bales, leading to additional costs for tractors, but we’ll leave that alone for now!
$30/round bale x 1bale/week/4 horses = $30/horse
The majority of horses within my care are competition horses, and therefore we tend to stable them for extended periods of time. This means that I need quality bedding to let them lay their belly-filled heads down on. Bedding is an interesting thing to budget, because it depends on facility access, equine allergies, nearness to sawmill, and ability to receive large quantities of bedding at a time. I have utilized pelleted bedding when I didn’t have a sawdust shed ($$$$), but am currently lucky enough to have a storage facility to stock large quantities of beautiful pine sawdust from a mill located just a few miles away, which is delivered to the farm whenever I need it. Because of this, bedding is fairly cheap for me, but still an amount that needs considered.
$400/load / 1 load/month / 10 stalls = $40/month/horse
Now let us not forget that Fluffy needs to wash that hay and grain down with big gulps of clean water, leaving us with utility bills. Additionally, I need light to be able to see the stalls that I am cleaning. Therefore, we need electric and water at the bare minimum of our utilities, while many will add such facility fees like dumpster removal, plowing during snowstorms, and even gas if necessary. But, lets stick to the clean and easy:
$250/month/10 stalls = $25/month/horse
These stalls need to exist, and lets be honest – few of us are inheriting the pillared farms here in Central Kentucky. This leaves us with few options: win the lottery, rob a bank, or lease a farm. Trust me, I weighed each of these options carefully, but decided that I do not look good in pinstripes (fattening), and therefore signed the dotted line while buying my lottery ticket daily. Now, just like everything else, a lease will vary depending on the facilities, amenities, and size of farm. And if we’re lucky enough to buy, its safe to assume that a mortgage is going to be considerable for a farm that is large enough to support boarding. For simplicity sake, we will stick to an “easy” number to break down, and realize that this could increase tremendously for the bigger operations!
$2500/month/10 stalls = $250/month/horse
I started this business thinking that I could do it all. I mucked the stalls, I shoveled the bedding. I fixed the fence, and I scrubbed the troughs. I then went to my actual job, researched equine infertility, wrote manuscripts, attended conferences, and taught undergraduates about breeding. And the I went back to my farm and saddled up 1, 2, 3, 4, and even 5 horses. It was too much, and after a year of “free labor” I hired on some help. Now, because it is just 10 stalls, I was able to keep this part-time, and therefore save considerably. But labor is labor, and comes with a whole other set of worms.
$40/day/10 stalls = $4/day/horse = $120/month/horse
Now, this list could go on and on and on. Insurance is approximately $1000/year. Fence boards need replaced. The tractor needs diesel. The arena needs footing. Gravel needs laid, and we need shovels and rakes to do so. Pitchforks break, and buckets need snaps. I could go on and on about the nickel and dime replacements that my farm has required, and then could add the $300 tractor tire and the $2,000 worth of electric fencing that I utilized while we fixed the 4 plank.
$500/month/10 stalls = $50/month/horse
So, lets put a price on the basics…
The cost of one horse for one month:
- Grain: $76.80
- Hay: $150
- Bedding: $40
- Utilities: $25
- Lease/Mortgage: $250
- Staff: $120
- Miscellaneous: $50
- OVERALL: $710.80
When I wrote down this budget, I sent my previous barn owner a text message of apology, realizing that he had been boarding my horses at a loss. I also realized just how much he must have abhorred my incessant text messages about broken boards and lack of bedding, realizing that I was nowhere close to paying him enough.
As the owner/manager of my own farm, I am now “one of those” people who read the ISO posts for cheap board with a shake of the head. And trust me, I get it. I was one of you. I owned a horse while in graduate school, and could never have afforded to board at a facility that charged me $750/month. I also acknowledge that there are some ways to decrease this cost. Do self care (less staff), do pasture board (no bedding), own a quarter horse (less feed), or offer to work off some of the cost of the farm.
But at the end of the day, the mortgage will still need to be paid, the water will still need to run, and the horse will still need to be fed. With hopefully an additional $20 to pay for that bottle of wine that will need to be opened when the texts messages start to roll in from the owners in their care.
So the next time that you write that board check, or post that ISO ad, ask yourself what exactly your horse costs. Utilize some simple math and demand of yourself the tough questions. Understanding the business of boarding will not only improve your decision making into where you want your horse to live, but what is considered reasonable to ask. And at the end of that day, realize that minimal profit is being made on this laborous lifestyle, indicating that the majority of us are doing it for the love of the horse.
And for additional questions, please feel free to visit http://www.sewickleystables.com for more information on what we do, who we board, and what we offer to you!