What is the cost of board and what is included? Are you making assumptions?

When I was new to boarding, and new to horse ownership, I didn’t know to pay attention to things like blanketing, type of feed, fly masks on and off. Actually, I paid attention to it, but was pretty clueless when it came to knowing what to look for or what were reasonable expectations to have. Wasn’t that automatically part of the package anyway and the boarding facility’s responsibility?

You know what – it isn’t. It’s like the old adage “buyer beware”.

I do need to share a story with you though… I have come across stables that have separate charges for just about everything. When I was looking at a pricing structure for my boarding stable, I initially thought it was perhaps a good idea since some horses are such easy keepers and others are not.

Then one day a friend of mine came to me for help to get her horses moved. Where she boarded, boarders were charged for every single blanket change, fly mask on and off, bandaging, basic medical attention, turn in/turn out, etc. The problem was that for each service provided they would need the okay from the owner since it would incur a charge.

One of her horses ended up with an ugly cut and was put in a stall while having her fly mask on. She was just left like that until the barn finally contacted my friend. After all, it would cost her extra money to have the fly mask taken off and the horse looked at. The question that immediately came to my mind was “how long did it take for the barn to make contact with the owner and how long was this horse left unattended?”

What I learned from this is that by having separate charges for everything, a boarding stable paralyzes itself and therefore compromises the well being of your horse. Not cool.

My solution has been to provide a few different packages so that boarders can choose which they believe to be better suited for their horse. Plus, it puts me in a position where I can simply do what’s right for the horse, especially when I can’t get a hold of the owner.

So, full board, but also self and semi board, have many different definitions and what is included varies from stable to stable. You really need to be aware of where the boundaries lie because not only your available budget will be affected but more importantly your horse ends up taking the brunt of it all. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid.

Another note of caution here: DO NOT go for the cheapest price! The extra charges may well put you over budget.

Secondly, a horse with an injury due to improper care or unsafe surroundings can become more costly than paying a higher price for board where you know your horse is safe and properly looked after.

Also, don’t settle for a place that’s too expensive for you regardless of how much you like it. It catches up with you in a hurry forcing you to move again to something more affordable. This is really not fair to your horse. Moving is very hard on them.

Lastly, property maintenance is expensive. I know board will seem expensive to you, but if the facility doesn’t charge enough they won’t be able to keep up with the repairs and ensure a safe place. We’ll be covering more on this when we look at the different things to look for in and around the barn.

A quick note about extra charges for feed and bedding … as a boarder I was always of the mindset that these should simply be part of the board regardless of how much the horse uses. In fact, I never knew what my horse really needed when I boarded him.

But the reality is that all horses are individuals. Some get fat just looking at food whereas others just burn calories breathing. If you have a hard keeper you have to expect extra charges for feed, and quite frankly, I would want to see the extra charges because at least I’ll know that my horse is fed what it needs and that the facility won’t be skimping to save costs.

Bedding is another one that could incur extra charges. Some horses simply are pigs and go through bedding like there is no tomorrow, especially youngsters; or perhaps you’d like your horse’s bedding to be nice and deep. Bedding is very expensive and the boarding stable has to stay on budget, so if you want more than what is budgeted for, expect to pay the difference. And it’s not only about the cost of bedding … more bedding also means more waste and bigger manure piles that must be managed or hauled away.

– 30 –

Taken from: How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding

Reader's Comments

4 Responses to “What is the cost of board and what is included? Are you making assumptions?”

  • I and my family have operated boarding, training, and breeding stables for the better part of 50 years. From small boarding facilities (<10 horses) to large facilities with over 100 boarded horses.

    It is interesting that all barns, ours included, suffer most when caregivers lack, what we call, a sense of urgency and or proper knowledge base to recognize problems before they become an injury or illness.

    Establishing performance standards for barn help is essential for optimum care. This generally consists a well-written Job Description that establishes standards that can be "met, exceeded or failed". Do not assume barn help or boarders brought any knowledge with them.

    Students and borders must be held to the same standards as barn help. Careless acts by this group should result in a mandatory counseling by the barn manager. Like barn help, if the performance of students or boarders is not corrected they should be asked to move to another facility.

    Just my thoughts on the subject. Great article for all to read.


    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your input. Those are excellent points you make. Fifty years in the business … that’s quite a track record too :)

      In addition to the story I wrote above, I have another interesting one of what can happen when upper management chooses not to be present, and why what you say is so important as well.

      As I wanted to gain more experience from the barn management side of things so I could develop a broader view of this business, I decided to work as a barn help for an upscale equestrian center. Unfortunately, behind the scenes it was a horror story, and not one that anyone was interested in correcting either.

      A select group of boarders pretty well ran the barn and they quite liked it that way … good or bad. Unfortunately mostly bad because the boarders (and their trainers) thought they knew it all, and the reality was that they created a very negative and volatile environment with zero respect for management. Making it near impossible for barn help or management to do their work properly, or have any kind of authority in correcting the behavior of the boarders’ and trainers’. There was no way of knowing exactly what was going on for each horse either. It was a terrible environment.

      Ultimately the barn owner is the one responsible for creating a community, setting standards, enforcing the rules and making sure that barn help and boarders alike are all on the same page. For new people coming in, the stage is set during the intake process. Once they’re in and they choose to ignore the rules and refuse to be counselled, then it’s definitely time for them to leave. I agree. People like that put people and animals at risk, unnecessarily. Not to mention how destructive they can be to the atmosphere.

      It’s surprising to me how few barn owners really operate their boarding business as a “business”.

      Creating a “culture” or “community” that people enjoy to be a part of and conform to naturally isn’t something new in the corporate world. Neither are job descriptions and job reviews to make sure that people are up to date on their skills and knowledge required for the job. This should be standard practice for every business.

      When looking for a good place for your horse it can be quite a challenge to suss out the kind of practice I experienced at the equestrian center.

  • Hey so I am currently in the process of creating a boarding program at my barn (that I own).

    I have had terrible experiences at 90% of the places I used to board my horses. I always expected the best care for my horses from the places I boarded them. Unfortunately that was never the case.

    After a certain amount of time I gave up trying to find a good place to board, since it was making my horses very unhappy having to move all the time. But it just wasn’t safe for them. I have an OTTB mare who absolutely can’t sleep out in a pasture or in a stall with thin bedding so when I asked for her stall to be bedded heavily they told me they could do that but I would have to come out early in the morning and clean her stall myself. I was completely blown away by this and actually really upset.

    Of course I went out there and did it anyways because I wasn’t about to not let her sleep. For heavens sake she was falling down cause she didn’t know she was falling asleep cause she was so tired. But I couldn’t believe they wanted ME to clean the stall. I pay a good amount to have her stay there, if anything I would be glad to pay the extra amount for the bedding and the work to clean it. But I was blown away from this request.

    On another occasion my OTTB gelding got kicked in his fetlock joint and the other horse’s shoe dug into his skin causing an infection. Unfortunately my vet wasn’t able to make it out that night cause she was already on another call so she was going to come out early the next morning. So I followed the procedure to keep my horse in his stall so he wouldn’t get turned out so that he would be ready when she came. When I arrived at the barn my horse wasn’t in his stall; the barn staff let him out to the pasture which in order to get to he has to walk through a muddy area (it had been raining bad that week). so I had to go out there myself and get him, and then clean up his leg again before the vet got there so she could see what was going on. It was a major inconvenience to me, but also my horse. he was hurt and shouldn’t have been walking through soupy mud which in return made it worse.

    After that he needed medicine and my mare gets a weight supplement which they both had missed days because the staff “forgot”. Keep in mind that this is a completely different boarding place from the one where they asked me to clean my horses stalls.

    What all barns have in common is that they try to ensure that the horses will get the care they need. Also trying to make sure the owners are happy. At the end of the day I am well aware that people make mistakes. But I am also aware that these animals are a part of my family and I want what’s best for them and what makes them happy. So my hope is to open a barn where I can do just that for other people as well and not just myself.

    My wants and needs as well as my horses aren’t going to be the same as others. So I just want to know how to adjust to other people and their horses.

    Also what are key things to have at a barn to keep it running smoothly, what does everyone look for in a barn? Right now I am working with a great team of vets and trainers to ensure that I am creating a safe environment for the horses and also the riders. I believe that this will really help me make a great place for horses to just be horses and live a good comfortable life.

    • First of all, horses do not need accommodations to sleep and will do so regardless of being out or in. The amount of bedding in a stall has nothing to do with sleep, but does keep stall dry and prevent sores on legs if the horse happens to lay down.

      When a horse has a wound and needs to stay in, simply a note on the door stating to keep the horse in would have been sufficient to let everyone know, including the staff, to keep the horse in (saving you all that grief!).

      The same goes for supplements and feed changes. Place a note on the horse’s door of a change and keep it there for a week so all can see. I fell special provisions or instructions are the horse owner’s responsibility and not the barns.

      Barn ownership brings on many challenges and the services offered may not always be in line with the customer’s ideals. Requests can get very complicated… but is really quite simple…you get what you pay for!

      In other words, the barn can only offer services up to an amount that contains a profit margin. If the barn does not make profit, then it will eventually close up.

      Each service is calculated into the board price or the barn chooses to price separately. You will find when running your barn that your budget can only allow for so much, even though you’d like to “do it all” for your customers.

      This is where the harsh reality comes to mind that horse boarding is a business. But, it is possible to mix good care in with reasonable pricing, but there is a cutoff point too.

      As for your old barn requesting you to clean is a bit odd, but it is the barn’s right to request what they want. But, then they take the chance that if you do not agree, you could leave and board elsewhere.

      Part of managing your own barn means that you may have to make those rules and provisions that some of your boarders may not like. But always remember, even when being fair, it is nearly impossible to please everyone all the time.

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  • Do you have that nagging feeling that you may be paying too much for board and are worried that your horse may not be happy? Finding the right horse boarding stable doesn't have to be that overwhelming ... When you have the RIGHT information at your finger tips! Pick up a copy of my book How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding, Even if You are New to Horses.

    Do you have that nagging feeling that you may be paying too much for board and are worried that your horse may not be happy? Finding the right horse boarding stable doesn't have to be that overwhelming ... When you have the RIGHT information at your finger tips! Pick up a copy of my book How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding, Even if You are New to Horses.

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