This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.
No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.
Everyone wants to make a living doing what they love. And for equestrians, that often means operating a business caring for horses.
Starting a boarding facility is a big undertaking that requires a lot of planning, however. Whether you’ll be starting from scratch or making use of extra space on your private property, there’s a lot to consider.
With the right location and market, boarding horses can be a lucrative small business.
According to data from the National Agriculture Statistic Service (NASS), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and The American Horse Council (AHC), the US has over 7.2 million horses – including recreational and commercial horses.
Of this number, 3.1 million horses are used for recreation, while the racing industry accounts for 1.2 million. Show horses are another 1.2 million. These three categories represent horses that are likely to reside in a boarding facility.
Many successful boarding facilities are located near affluent urban areas, providing a place for these equestrians to board their horses within range of city limits. If you are more rural, you may not have the clientele to make a full-scale facility profitable, but not all hope is lost.
There are plenty of opportunities for small operations to make a profit, especially if you have value-added options like an indoor arena, private riding trails on the property, or proximity to public horse camping facilities or public bridle paths.
Here are your options for types of boarding facilities:
Full board is usually set up with a monthly fee that covers all of a horse’s care, including renting a stall, hay, grain, and water, bedding, turnout or pasture, and chores like stall cleaning. It’s essentially full-service for horse owners, so they can focus entirely on grooming and riding their horses.
Professional services like veterinary care, farrier care, and equine dentistry are in addition to the cost of board. The providers may be selected by the stable owner or the horse owner, depending on the terms of the boarding agreement.
It’s common for full-board facilities catering to competition horses to have tiered options for full board. At the basic level, the horse’s supplies and care are included, but owners have the option to pay more for board with professional training, board and riding lessons, or other value additions.
Partial board is a step down from full board, but it has different meanings in different areas. Some partial board facilities require the owner to provide everything besides stall space or pasture, including labor (often called self-care).
In some cases, partial board includes basic stable chores, but the owner must provide their own feed, hay, and bedding.
Pasture board provides the bare minimum of a pasture for a horse with a rudimentary shelter that allows the horse to get out of the elements. Typically, hay and grain are used to supplement the pasture, but who provides it must be outlined in the boarding agreement.
These are common arrangements for larger facilities, but if you have limited space or a smaller market, you can focus more on specialty services instead of a full-scale operation. These may include:
Rehabilitation boarding, also known as boarding lay-ups or convalescence boarding, focuses on caring for horses that are chronic ill or recovering from an injury. If an owner doesn’t have the space or time to devote to their horse’s specialized care – or they have multiple horses and don’t need to board an ill or injured horse in a competition stable, this is an attractive option.
Most of these operations cater to racehorses, but it can apply to virtually any horse that needs extra TLC. Owners who run these types of facilities take on the responsibilities of regular horse care as well as additional chores, such as:
There may be demand for this type of facility anywhere, but you’ll often see them near large animal hospitals and areas that have a lot of competition grounds or racetracks.
Keep in mind that taking on horses with special veterinary needs requires more hands-on care and experience, either from yourself or in the employees you hire for your facility.
Horses can live a long time – roughly 20 or 30 years – and some of that time is not spent under saddle. When horses become too old or infirm to ride or breed, many owners elect to turn them out to pasture.
For owners that don’t have the space to keep a retired horse, this can be challenging. It’s cost-prohibitive to board a retired horse in a high-end competition facility with value-added features that won’t be used, such as indoor arenas and groomed riding trails.
Devoting these resources to a retired horse can also prevent an owner from keeping a second, healthy horse for pleasure or competition. In some cases, this leads to older horses being sent to rescues.
Retirement boarding solves these issues for both owners and horses. If you have the right facility, this can be a lucrative option that requires fewer high-end features.
Retired horses need comfortable stalls or field shelters, high-quality pasture, and plenty of soft bedding. Depending on the horse, they may need specialized farrier, vet, or dental care. Otherwise, the needs of retired horses are similar to any other.
If you have spacious pastures in a quiet country setting, limited amenities, and a love for older horses, this may be the best option.
Often, standard boarding facilities won’t accommodate stallion board because of the risks involved – to themselves, their staff, and the horses in their care. Stallions may be aggressive and difficult to manage, not to mention the risk if one escapes, injuring other horses or breeding with boarder mares.
If you’re an experienced horse person in an area with plenty of breeding operations, boarding stallions can be a profitable venture. This does take more work, however, not just in the day-to-day but the way you set up a safe and secure facility. You may need to provide or access services for artificial insemination as well.
Similar to stallions, broodmares and foals have special needs that can’t always be accommodated in a conventional boarding facility. Mares with foals require larger stalls and plenty of turnout, as well as caretakers who understand the unique needs of young stock.
In addition, once the foals are weaned, they need space to be completely separated from the mares to adjust – including turnout and stalls. For some facilities, offering larger stalls and holding stalls or pasture in anticipation of weanlings isn’t practical.
Facilities that offer full board for broodmares all year are in demand, but there’s also demand for seasonal foaling that accommodates broodmares a few months before birth through to weaning. Running this type of facility requires knowledge of horse breeding, as you may need to monitor the pregnancy and foaling.
Short-term boarding offers accommodation for horses overnight or for short periods, such as a few days or a few weeks. They charge by the day or week, rather than the month.
It’s not common to find boarding facilities that operate exclusively for short-term boarding, but it may be an option in an area that has a lot of horse travelers. Otherwise, offering short-term boarding can augment your boarding operation and supplement your income.
Accommodating traveling horses comes with some additional risk, however. If you want to offer short-term board, you must have a separate facility with separate turnout to ensure that your boarded horses – or your own horses – are not exposed to disease risk.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to start your boarding facility:
While your expertise will inform what you offer at your boarding facility, it’s important to research your local market. Find out what’s available in your area, what your potential client base is, and what gaps exist.
For example, are you surrounded by competition facilities that are cost-prohibitive and more indulgent for the average pleasure rider? Or conversely, are you close to show grounds with competitors who would pay for high-end amenities like regular training or luxury services?
Once you know what best suits your market, you can find out what the competitive rate is in the area. Clients are willing to pay for facilities that suit their needs, whether they’re looking for upscale boarding in state-of-the-art stables or spacious turnout with a lean-to in the quiet country for a retired horse.
Speak to horse owners as much as possible and ask them what they’re looking for, what their current facility does well (and not so well), and what they need most. You should also speak to local vets, farriers, tack shop owners, and other people who regularly deal with horse owners. They may have some insights.
Your budget is one of the most important aspects of planning your boarding business. There are plenty of obvious expenses, such as purchasing, leasing, or buying a stable and land, as well as unexpected expenses to run your business and care for your client’s horses.
For example, what number of horses can you accommodate without needing to hire employees? Are you considering the maintenance costs for your facility, such as stable and arena upkeep, manure storage and removal, and landscaping?
It’s best to work with a budget expert to plan for expenses and come up with a financial plan to start your business off right.
Now that your research is complete, you can formalize it all in your business plan. This ensures that you understand your market and your business strategy, and if necessary, provides a roadmap to follow to seek funding.
Your business plan should include:
This section summarizes your boarding business plan with all the key details of your business. Executive summaries offer an overview for those who may not have time to read the entire report.
Your company overview includes all the details about your business, such as the type of boarding facility you plan to offer, any value-added services, your client base, and the industry problems it solves. It should also include the competitive advantage you have in your market.
Your market analysis offers an outlook of the industry and your target market, the competitive research in your area, and more details about the advantage your business has. Include information about your target clientele and their demographics, any relevant trends, and opportunities.
This section includes information about your business’s legal structure and who will run it. Here are the five common legal structures:
This is the simplest business structure and requires no setup. It’s not a separate business entity, so your business assets and liabilities are not separate from your personal assets and liabilities. You can be held liable for debts and obligations of your business.
Partnerships are a simple structure if you’re going into business with someone else. There are limited partnerships (LP) and limited liability partnerships (LLP).
LPs have only one general partner with unlimited liability, while all other partners have limited liability and limited control over the company. Profits pass through to personal tax returns for the limited partner, while the general partner pays self-employment taxes.
LLPs are similar, except each owner has limited liability. An LLP protects both partners from debts against the partnership and the ramifications of the actions of the other partners.
Limited Liability Company
A limited liability company (LLC) offers advantages of both corporations and partnership structures. LLCs offer protection for your personal assets from business liability. This means that if your business faces bankruptcy or lawsuits, your home and savings may not be at risk.
Profits and losses pass through to your personal income without corporate taxes, but you are still considered self-employed and must pay into Medicare and Social Security.
A corporation is a legal entity that’s separate from its owners. The corporation itself can make a profit, be taxed, and held legally liable. This offers the highest degree of protection for owners from personal liability, but it often comes at a higher cost and more extensive processes and reporting.
There are several types of corporations, including S corps, B corps, and nonprofits, all with different requirements, benefits, and drawbacks.
Marketing and sales are often evolving as your business and market change, but this section should include a marketing and sales strategy to launch and grow your business. Outline the product, pricing, location, and promotional methods you’ll use to attract clients to your boarding facility.
If you’re planning to seek funding, this section should include an outline for your funding requirements and how you’ll use the funds.
For example, do you want debt or equity funding? What length of time and terms are you seeking? You should have detailed information about what you’ll use the capital for, such as paying salaries, purchasing a stable and land, and buying equipment and materials.
Your funding request should have financial projections for the next five years, including forecasted income statements, cash flow statements, balance sheets, and budgets. This is prospective, but try to be as detailed as possible for the first year with quarterly or monthly projections.
The appendix includes supporting documents for your business, such as your credit history and any legal documents, licenses, or permits necessary for your business.
Whether you’re taking in a few boarders or running a full-scale boarding facility, there are several legal aspects of your business that need to be in order before you can start:
Though many states have equine activity statutes, it’s important for any business working with horses to have a liability release that owners, riders, families, and visitors sign. This is necessary to allocate the risk of each party – in this case, you as the stable owner and the party interacting with horses.
If an accident occurs, a strong, properly written liability release is a solid defense in court and discourages frivolous lawsuits.
If you’re planning to have a website for your business (and you should!) is must have these three things to be legal:
Your business will need several types of insurance. Aside from your property insurance, you need commercial liability insurance and care, custody, and control insurance for your boarding facility.
When choosing insurance, it’s important that your per-claim limit is sufficient to cover the most expensive aspects of your stable and the aggregate limit is equal to, or above, the total value of the horses you’re responsible for.
A quality boarding contract sets expectations for your boarders and protects you from issues if your clients don’t pay or create other issues for your business. Be sure to have an experienced equine attorney look over your contract, which should include:
The more detailed your boarding contract is, the better protected you are if legal issues arise. You can find equine boarding contracts for both long-term and short-term facilities here.
Running a profitable horse boarding business is a rewarding way to make money with horses, but it takes some upfront work. The more you plan at the beginning, the better off you’ll be in positioning your business for success in the future.
Still have questions? Find out more about starting a boarding facility.
When done correctly, boarding horses can be a profitable business. There’s a small profit margin, however, so you need to plan appropriately. Fortunately, your boarding facility can act as a means to bring in additional income streams.
What you need for your horse boarding stable depends on the type of facility you plan to run. Generally, you will need a stable with stalls or other types of shelter, storage for farm equipment, feed, and hay, manure storage areas, pasture, and access to water. Many boarding facilities have amenities for boarders, including a wash stall, a tack room, indoor or outdoor arenas (or both), and multiple turnout areas.
Full board, partial board, and self-care board are the most common types of boarding options, but there are also specialty boarding services for retired horses, convalescence, short-term boarding, and breeding.
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