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Starting Your Own Boarding Barn

Lots of horse owners eventually get the itch to start or purchase their own boarding barn. And what's not to like? You get to spend your day with the animals we're already crazy about, and it's got to be better than dealing with some of the problems humans give us on some days, right? Well, maybe, maybe not.

You need to really think through what you're about to get involved with. For starters, you're likely asking for a "baptism by fire". Clearly, you know something about horses because of your riding experience. And even if you board your own horse or three at home, it's a lot different when you take on responsibility for other people's horses.

For one thing, unlike with your own horse, you have to deal with the problems of other people's horses. When it's your horse, you always have the option of getting the horse better trained, getting yourself trained for some additional knowledge and skills, or selling the horse and getting one more suitable for you. When you accept other people's horses at your barn, you have to know enough and have enough experience to deal with all the problems those horse owners allow or even may cause through their own bad habits and lack of knowledge. Are you capable of dealing with those kinds of problems?

For example, let's say a new boarder brings a young stallion to your barn and wants you to train him in manners — can you do that? Can you even handle a young stallion? Think about this:

  1. You'll have a young horse with no manners or training;
  2. This horse will be unpredictable just because he doesn't know any limits;
  3. He'll grow quickly and be bigger and stronger in no time;
  4. He'll be testing you often;
  5. If he was separated too soon from his mother, his training will be even more involved. His mother would have the size, strength, speed, and agility to more easily correct him — you're a weak, puny, human by comparison (no offense); and
  6. As a stallion, he'll be susceptible to some pretty powerful hormone swings as he goes through puberty and starts to sense mares in heat. And this will be around the same time he becomes a teenager with similar problems to human teenagers. (Yes, he's going to want to stay out later also, and will expect the keys to the station wagon...errrr...just wagon).

The foregoing is a recipe for someone to get hurt, perhaps even a full-fledged disaster if they don't know how to handle the situation. Can you handle thiese kinds of problems? If not, would you have an experienced barn owner or horse trainer available to help you out, train you, and keep you and the horses safe until you can do these things yourself?

What about horse diseases and injuries? Could you identify something brewing and act in time, such as colic or a horse tying up? Could you treat common injuries, such as bites, kicks, bad scrapes and cuts? You're also going to be responsible for the care and feeding of all the other horses at your barn, their different dietary requirements, and for adjusting feed as they gain and lose weight. But it's not only about adjusting feed, you'll sometimes also need to suggest alternate feeds for aging horses and those having certain problems — there's lots to know!

Are you willing to work 7 days a week and every week of the year? If not, do you have the money to hire someone competent that you can trust while you're away. They will need to be depended upon to muck stalls and feed every horse every day. And they, too, will need to address the individual dietary requirements of each horse, recognize illnesses and injuries, and know what to do and when to call the vet. Do you have someone like this available? And even if you do, will they come at a cost you can afford and when you need them? It's no good if they're available when you don't need them and unavailable when you do.

And now we come to another issue you don't need to deal with when you board or have your horses at home: the boarders. Most horse owners either board or have boarded in the past. Think about all those boarders. Some were pretty nice, but what about the others? There is usually at least one, but perhaps several, that can be most irritating. They "borrow" grooming tools or tack without asking — some steal. Others borrow items that aren't really returnable, such as treats, fly spray, or grooming formulations.

These people are inconsiderate and annoy the other boarders as well as you. Can you persuade them to change their evil ways? Can you feel comfortable throwing them out of your barn? We both know that every barn deals with these kinds of problems from time to time. And even reasonable boarders may sometimes have issues with other reasonable boarders and they're going to bring their problems to you for resolution. How do you feel about taking on the role of mediator, arbitrator, and social worker all in one? (And without any professional training no less).

Finally, there are legal issues. You'll need to learn the laws of your state regarding boarding barn liability. You'll also need to engage an equine attorney to prepare a solid boarding contract necessary to protect you in the event of problems with a horse or owner as well as visitors that could get hurt and sue. There is also the issue of insurance. Multiple kinds of insurance are necessary when you own a boarding barn. And if your barn provides horse training or riding instruction to supplement income, you'll need at least a couple of more types of insurance.

We have related articles you need to read as a starting point:

  1. Buying A Horse Farm – Part 1
  2. Buying A Horse Farm – Part 2
  3. Building Your Dream Barn
  4. Six Horse Business Myths
  5. Equine Liability Statutes that DO NOT Protect Stables
  6. Buying Horse Insurance
  7. Liability Traps for Stable Owners & Lessors
  8. Gaps in Liability Protection for Equine Professionals
  9. Securing Timely Board Payments
  10. Evicting Boarders (4 or 2 Legged)
  11. The Dangers of Oral Agreements in the Horse Industry
  12. Vetting and Working with Boarders

The best way to get into running a boarding barn is to work at one for at least a few years. That way, you'll learn under some more expert supervision how to stay safe and deal with these kinds of problems. We have an article for the person considering bringing their own horse home and caring for it themselves. You should read it because it's a first step and you'll have to do far more than just that if you'll also be caring for horses owned by others. The article is entitled: Can You Care For Your Own Horse?. You can ignore concerns raised in the article about having a companion for your own horse at home and replace that with asking yourself if you can deal with the responsibilities and problems related to multiple horses under your care and the herd mentality

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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