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.
The horse industry is worth around $122 billion in the United States. Around 31% of US households have a horse enthusiast, and with about 7.2 million horses, there’s a strong demand for riding, training, and boarding facilities, breeding operations, and other types of horse farms.
If you love being around horses, you may be interested in learning how to start a horse farm, what business opportunities are available, and what you need to know to get started. These businesses can be profitable if they’re properly planned and managed, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
The horse industry is diverse, as are the business opportunities. Generally, a “horse farm” may include different types of operations, such as a riding stable, boarding stable, livery yard, riding school, horse ranch, or stud farm.
Before you can begin planning your horse farm, it’s important to know what you’re aiming to provide.
Will you offer riding lessons for different equestrian sports? If so, which disciplines?
Will you provide training and instruction for horses, clients, or both?
Would you prefer to strictly board horses at your facility, essentially “renting out” your stalls, arena, and grounds and taking on the day-to-day care?
Do you want to breed horses? Will you offer stud fees for your stallion or keep broodmares? Will you handle all aspects of breeding at your own facility?
Do you want to open a tourist operation, such as a guest ranch (dude ranch) or trail riding barn?
Do you know how to run a horse farm? Will you need to hire support staff, such as trainers and instructors, to help?
While you have options to diversify once you’re up and running, it’s important to decide what type of horse farm you plan to operate in advance. The property, facilities, and expenses can vary widely.
Horse businesses are notoriously challenging to turn a profit. These hobbies are expensive, so you may be wondering if horse farms and riding stables can actually be profitable. Fortunately, with good business management and creativity, a horse farm can be lucrative.
Riding stables are one of the most common types of horse farms. They provide equestrian services to clients in the form of horseback riding lessons. Some of these stables also offer boarding for horses, as well as training.
A riding stable makes money by charging for horseback riding lessons, though some offer “working student” arrangements that allow students to work off the cost of their lessons by doing barn chores (i.e., mucking stalls) in exchange for lessons.
They may also make money by charging for boarding. This can be a flat fee per month that includes the stall, hay, grain, and pasture turnout, though some stables offer tiered boarding fees that include a certain number of lessons or training sessions, as well as add-ons like grooming or extra turnout. Others may offer short-term boarding for travelers or partial boarding, in which the owner takes over some of the care of their own horse.
If you want to open a riding stable, you need to prepare to purchase the barn or stable to house horses. Even if you don’t plan to board, you will need “school” horses, or horses that are docile enough for beginner riders. You’ll also need an arena – indoor or outdoor – to conduct lessons and training.
Riding stables need liability insurance to protect themselves if a rider is injured. If you plan to employ a riding instructor or horse trainer and support staff, you will need liability insurance for them as well.
Other expenses include grain, hay, bedding, and facility and grounds maintenance. If you plan to board, some of these costs will be included in your fees. You will also need to feed and house your school horses and provide farrier and veterinary care for them.
Horse farms that breed horses operate differently than riding and boarding stables. The intent behind this operation is to breed horses successfully and sell them, much like breeding dogs.
Most of the profit comes from the sale of foals and weanlings (young horses), but some breeding operations offer additional services like studding stallions and mare surrogacy.
Generally, these businesses can be lucrative if you’re breeding high-quality horse breeds with exceptional bloodlines. It’s important to remember that there’s no guarantee, however – a champion stallion or mare can produce foals that command thousands or tens of thousands of dollars as soon as they’re born, but others may be a dud.
The income produced in horse breeding is correlated to the money and time that’s invested in the breeding stock, and possibly, competing with them in races or horse shows to demonstrate their talent.
The largest expenses for a breeding operation include the care and feeding of the breeding stock. Naturally, these horses need a lot of veterinary care – which can be expensive – and you’ll need to invest in breeding equipment to keep the horses and the support staff safe during breeding.
You’ll also need a lot of stalls and separate pastures to accommodate your breeding stock and the foal crops for each season. If you’re unable to sell some of the foals, or you plan to transition them into the breeding program when they reach maturity, you will need to house them as well.
You will also need liability insurance for your support staff in the event of injuries. You should also insure your breeding stock against accidental death or loss of use. Some injuries or medical conditions can impact their ability to breed successfully.
If you plan to offer stud services or breed use artificial insemination, you will need additional equipment to collect, store, and ship frozen semen.
A guest ranch or dude ranch is a type of ranch that’s designed for tourism. These ranches arose with the romanticism of the Wild West, but they’re still a popular form of tourism and can be found all over the country.
Guest ranches can vary widely in the setting, accommodation, and experience. Some are essentially a working ranch with cattle and other farm animals, camping, and farm chores, providing guests with the full “rancher” experience. Others are more like luxury resorts with elegant accommodation and upscale amenities like golf courses and swimming pools.
With either one, you will need to provide accommodation for guests (usually cabins or lodges), a stable and care for the ranch horses, and pasture. If you plan to keep other livestock on the property, such as cattle, goats, sheep, or chickens, you will also need to feed and house them.
The more you can provide the guests in terms of memorable experiences, the more successful you can be. Guest ranches typically offer horseback riding, trail rides, cattle drives, petting zoos with livestock, and simple barn chores for children, but they may also offer adventures like target shooting, hayrides, frontier camping, hiking, fishing, archery, and hunting.
Because the structure and offerings of a guest ranch can vary so widely, the expenses can as well.
Horse farms may fall under these business models, or they may be a combination of different business models.
What you need to build your horse farm depends on the business model you choose. The layout for a hunter/jumper riding stable will be considerably different than that of a breeding operation or a dude ranch, so it’s important to have a concrete idea before you start.
Planning for a sizable horse facility can take as long as a year and a half, then you must find the property. Depending on how elaborate your design is, you could be looking at another year or two before it’s complete.
Some barn owners prefer to build in phases. This not only reduces the time to opening, but it helps with managing the costs of building. You then expand as the demand increases. You could also look for existing horse properties in your desired area, which may cut down some of the time and cost.
If you do wish to build, the first step is designing the plan and allocating space. Remember to check local laws regarding how much space you have to provide per horse. The general rule is one acre of pasture per horse, but local laws may require more.
You should also consider how big your facility should be. If you’re offering board, including more stalls in the design gives you more potential for income, but that’s also unused space while you build your clientele. For a breeding operation, you need to ensure enough space for your breeding stock and offspring.
The stable itself should have amenities that will enhance your operation, such as a wash stall, a tack room, and a feed room. In the case of a breeding operation, designated areas for hand breeding and collecting stud samples.
Ideally, plan a stable that serves your needs now, but one that will be easy to add onto if you expand in the future.
You also need to design the rest of your grounds, such as your arena, pasture or paddocks, and parking area. If you intend to keep short-term boarders, transport horses to shows, or offer fee parking for clients’ trailers, you should include that space in your design.
If you have the budget and space, build an attached indoor arena and an outdoor arena. This may be more appealing for potential clients, especially in areas with harsh climates, and allows them to ride at any time of the day or year.
For a dude ranch, you need to design your horse stable, accommodation for other livestock, and accommodation for support staff and guests.
Once you have your design, you can start looking for land. If you already own the land, analyze the site’s natural conditions, such as geography, soil, noise, water, and climate. You should also look into zoning or planning restrictions and building codes to ensure that you’re permitted to operate a horse business on the site.
Financing and land purchase are the next steps. You have the cost for the property, so you can then set your budget for your barn and amenities builds. Remember to consider additional costs, such as clearing the site, adding fencing, and providing a reliable water supply for livestock.
You have your draft of your design, so development comes next. At this point, you may need to make changes or adjustments depending on the details of the property, such as the exposure to sun and wind, the utilities, drainage, grading, and the access for large vehicles.
Depending on your budget for the build, you may need to adjust your style. There’s a wide range of material costs that can dramatically alter the cost of your final build. That said, don’t skimp – safety is paramount.
It’s also important for your facility’s style to align with your audience. For example, the guests at a dude ranch are likely expecting romantic Wild West touches, while hunter/jumper clients seeking an upscale facility may expect upscale wrought iron and timber accents.
You should also think of the needs of the horses. For example, the height of walls in stallion stalls should be a bit taller, at least 10 feet, and a foaling stall for your broodmare should be at least 12 feet by 15 feet. If you will offer a respite-style boarding facility for pleasure horses or retired horses, you may want to offer run-in stalls that allow them to go in and out as they please.
Fencing is an important consideration as well. Turning out horses together reduces your fencing costs, but that may not be appealing to boarders and it’s not an option for breeding stock. If you split the turnout into individual paddocks, consider how many you will need. Fewer gives the horses more space, but you may need to rotate them to ensure every horse gets adequate turnout.
Then there’s the fencing itself. It needs to be high enough to keep the horses from jumping it (not easy with a barn full of jumpers!) and aesthetically pleasing. Do you want an attractive white fence that stands out against green pasture, or a fence that blends better into the landscape?
You need to consider how you will keep the horses contained as well. You have plenty of options for materials, including wood rail, pipe, and Flex-Rail. Along with jumping, some horses will try to break through fences, so you may need additional security measures like electric tape or coated high-tensile wire, but there are pros and cons to these for you and your clients.
With all these details planned out, you can bid on contractors, get your permits, and get the build started!
The start-up costs for a horse farm vary depending on the location, the type of facility, the size of the property and the facility, and the amenities. Once you have your business model for your horse farm, you can plan out your budget to get a concrete idea of your start-up costs and financing options.
According to federal law, horses are livestock and activities related to horses, including breeding, raising, and training, fall within the agricultural industry for tax purposes. The general public tends to differentiate between farming crops or keeping other types of livestock and equestrian activities, however.
As mentioned, different types of horse businesses have different business models and sources of income. Like any other business, it takes planning and research to determine demand and build a profitable horse business.
There are plenty of grants and loans available for aspiring horse farm owners. The USDA offers grants and loans for agricultural purposes, and general small business grants may apply to horse businesses. You can find other programs with grants that may apply, such as the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Foundation for equine businesses as part of a sustainable agriculture program.
Like any business, starting a horse farm can be an intimidating endeavor. If you’re passionate about horses and have experience in this industry, however, owning your own horse business gives you an opportunity to live out your passion – and make a living doing it!
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