Should you buy an existing horse boarding facility or start from scratch?

Here’s another question I get asked often, and, Ducky, thank you for prompting me to create a post on the topic!

Ducky’s question: “I have been considering this venture. My biggest question is whether it is better to find a facility with buildings already in place or is it better to start from scratch? I found a facility that seems like a good investment, but it’s expensive. At the same time, I feel like I could spend 3 times that to build a comparable facility.

What is involved if you start with empty land and build all buildings? What is required and what is optional and / or recommended?”

An excellent question!

Now, where to start, because I could easily write another book on this topic.

I think the most important question you need to ask yourself is “How soon do I need to be collecting my first board check?” Because in the end it all comes down to time and money!

So, let’s have a look first at buying an established horse boarding stable …

When you buy an already established horse boarding stable, you could well be making money the moment you move in. After all you’re not dealing with the pre-business phase of setting it all up, which can potentially take you a couple of years before even seeing your first boarder.

And while you collect board right from the beginning, you can put some capital toward improvements and repairs, or perhaps you prefer to work on expanding the services offered by the horse boarding stable to increase your revenue stream.

But understand, that when buying a horse boarding stable, the shorter that time frame is between purchase and your first board check, the higher the purchase price of the horse boarding stable is going to be. If a facility requires a lot of TLC, obviously the purchase price will be lower, but you’ll be investing more time and money to get it to where you can actually open up for business.

Also, when buying an existing set up you have to remember that you have to work with the layout that is already there. The way another person may have designed the facility may not be your cup of tea. So you need to make sure that it works for you because you certainly won’t be moving any buildings around!

When looking at an existing horse boarding stable, easy access into the property is very important. Can service vehicles and trucks with horse trailers easily get in and out or turn around? What about emergency vehicles? Is there a proper parking area for the boarders? If the current setup is not ideal, would it require a lot of work to have it become what you want?

Another key thing to look for is the overall efficiency of the facility. For instance: Are pastures and/or paddocks close to the barn so not too much time is wasted walking back and forth? What about water sources, hay storage, manure piles … are each of these strategically positioned so it keeps work to a minimum? See, the more efficient a horse boarding stable is set up, the easier it is to keep up with the demands.

It’s also very important that the buildings are structurally sound. Sometimes renovating an existing building can become more costly than starting from scratch. If you’ve done any renovation projects I’m sure you remember the times when you’ve run into some nasty surprises after opening up the walls. These kind of things can put you over budget and behind schedule very quickly.

If you’re looking at converting a dairy farm, remember that cow barns are build for cows, not horses. And there is a big difference in requirements when it comes to suitable living environments for either of these creatures.

One of the things I always found attractive with dairy barns is that they often have a large covered area that could be easily converted into a covered arena. I mean, a covered arena in our rainy climate is a very desirable building to have.

But, here is something I never thought of until recently … make sure you check the ceiling height in these buildings! For an indoor arena to be functional for equestrian activities the ceiling needs to be at least 16 feet. Cows don’t require that much height. And you certainly don’t want to find out that you have to raise the roof after having made your purchase.

Now let’s look at starting from scratch…

One of the very nice things about starting from scratch is that you start with a blank piece of paper and you can create anything you want.

You get to place the driveways where you want them; you get to design the barn exactly the way you’ve always dreamed of; you get to correct the things that have always bugged you so much about other horse boarding stables; and the list goes on. Oh, and lets not forget, you get to make your own mistakes too! ;)

If you can afford this route, and that means in terms of your available time and money, it can be a really nice way to start.

I feel blessed that I’ve had this opportunity because it’s taught me so much, but, before you jump in with both feet, you really have to think about a few things before you take this route.

You were wondering what is optional or required/recommended. This all depends on the kind of services you want to offer, really. Once you know that, then you can make a list of requirements and set your priorities accordingly. That will then become your input for budget and your plan of action.

When you start from scratch you have the option to hire a project manager who would deal with the design and construction of the facility. They would take care of the permits, budget, costing and ordering of materials, hiring and overseeing the trades. This is the easiest route but can be costly. And you will still have to keep a very close eye on what is being done to make sure things are done right.

The other option is that you take on the role of project manager, which is what I ended up doing. But if you’re new to this you will want someone at your side who is knowledgeable in the construction field to whom you can turn with questions when you get stuck. Thankfully I had the support of a good friend who had a lot of experience in this field. He taught me a lot and helped me get to a point where I could take over. From there it became common sense and a lot of hard work.

When I first moved onto the property, the only thing here was the arena. To give you an idea of what I created, check out www.JaquimaRanch.ca.

You asked me what is involved… well, let’s see, here’s a quick run down of what I had to do.

  • Create the design of the facilities, get it engineered, and then approved by the city. Once approved I would get the necessary permits for the construction of the stables
  • Bring in a new road, power, and water
  • Identify and cost out materials and choose appropriate suppliers
  • Organize the trades and figure out exactly what each group needed to do (plumbers, electricians, framers, roofers, excavators, concrete levelers, etc.)
  • Make sure that all city inspections took place. Without approval you can’t continue on to the next phase.
  • Build the paddocks and install proper drainage
  • Set up all the fencing and entry gates for the pastures
  • Build the round pen
  • Build the shelters

That’s it in a nut shell … but to keep things in perspective, I thought this was a project that was going to be completed in 2 to 4 MONTHS.

I’m not sure what I was thinking but what is clear is that I had NO CONCEPT of how much work it really was. It took 2.5 years before I could open up for business. Of course the amount of time it will take you to build your horse boarding stable will be dependent on many factors.

Now, I worked a full-time job for the first 2 years as well. Probably 85% of my remaining available time was spent either working in the barn alongside with the trades or organizing and fetching materials. My husband at the time and I both had descent jobs and a rental suite which helped pay the bills plus we had a reasonable amount of cash available to us at the start. Though part way into the project we did have to get a line of credit going. The last half year I went on an unpaid leave and worked on the barn and the property full-time. I also had a carpenter working for me on a full-time basis for probably a year, perhaps even longer?

Doing it this way I did save a considerable amount in construction costs. Probably as much as 50%. I also spent a lot of time up front working on the design, doing the necessary research and creating 3D models of the barn, which was time very well spent.

I have ended up with a horse boarding stable that is very horse friendly and the envy of many horse owners. There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction when it all finally comes together. And every day I walk into my barn, I absolutely love it.

There is definitely something very special about your facility when you start from scratch.

So, which of the two routes is the most practical one to choose?

If it were me today… unless I had the funds and could have someone else build everything for me, I’d buy the already existing facility and pay the higher price.

And I’ll tell you why …

  • You’ll start to earn money much sooner, if not right away;
  • You can put your energy into marketing your business and the programs you’d like to offer;
  • You’re not exhausted from the construction stage, and trust me, you won’t be maintenance free for long so you’ll need the energy;

But, the prerequisite for buying an existing facility is that you absolutely MUST choose wisely and way all your options. Otherwise you risk ending up in a long drawn out process of repairs, improvements, correcting problems, frustrations and possible budget overruns.

And another thing to be aware of: buildings are depreciating items and only marginally increase the value of your property. Certainly not equal to the monetary investment you’ve had to make.

In the end I learned that it is less expensive to buy a property with existing buildings than it is starting from scratch, and especially now in today’s economic climate.

Ronaye Ireland

P.S. if you have a story to share about your experience with buying an existing facility or building from scratch, I would love to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to post your comments below or send me an email!

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One Response to “Should you buy an existing horse boarding facility or start from scratch?”

  • I am looking at purchasing a facility. I am torn between facilities that are running but are worn and need some TLC. And facilities that are vacant but have been fixed but need to have pastures fenced and are empty! Meaning nothing comes with. My thoughts with the running, less expensive but a little run down ones are you usually can work into the purchase the essentials ie tractor buckets fencing daily things you need. Where as the more expensive, empty facility will need those. What are your insights??

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