Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Real Cost of Boarding Horses in 2010

As the new year beckons us to consider all aspects of our lives, the issue of finances comes up for many people, and horse-owners are no exception. For those of you who board your horses, do you really know exactly what you are paying for? Not every stable offers a breakdown of the expenses covered by your monthly check, and while day-to-day necessities are typically priced the same regionally, board costs from stable to stable certainly are not -- nor should they be.

To better understand what your money goes to, first consider the most obvious costs: grain, hay, bedding, and labor. The average price of a 50-pound bag of quality grain is $15, and an average size horse, around 1200 pounds, eats between 12 to 24lbs per day, depending on activity level. Horses in training and pregnant, lactating mares consume the most grain. The typical price of a bale of hay is $5, a horse will eat between 1/2 to 3/4 of a bale in 24 hours. Shavings average approximately $6 per bag, and a horse will require 5 bags per week for maintaining a clean stall. An increased bedding cost will be incurred for mares and foals, who need to bedded on both straw and shavings. While they need the comfort and cushion of a shavings-base, the direct inhalation of shaving dust is a serious, potentially fatal risk for babies while lying down. Given that consideration, straw needs to cover the area of the stall over the shavings, protecting foals from dust. A mare and foal will go through 4 bags of shavings and 2 bales of straw per week; straw is generally priced at $5 per bale. The cost of labor, which can be estimated at $10 per hour for an experienced, knowledgeable farmhand, will vary according to how much time is spent care-taking for the horses, the barn, and the land, but for proper supervision of all elements, at least 8 hours per day can be expected. Other, more hidden costs are often related to the facility itself, and to as-needed aspects of equine care. For the barn, items such as camera systems ($500+), stall guards ($50 each), feed tubs ($30 each), water buckets ($10) each, and other necessities such as fans, heat lamps, tools and hardware, etc, can go unnoticed by the boarder, but certainly not to the property owner! The same goes for the miscellaneous use of medications, topical treatments, tack items, halters and blankets, etc. Tractors to seed, mow and maintain the pastures, repairs to the facility and fencing, snow plowing, as well as manure management and removal all require supplies and labor, and all of these can be also considered safety costs for your horse. The cost of electricity and heating, even used conservatively, has a significant impact, in addition. Yet, even beyond those sometimes forgotten expenses, one of the largest unseen costs is for insurance--a liability policy for care, custody, and control of horses can be quoted over $6-7,000 per year.

With those figures in mind, you will generally find that for a single horse, you are vastly underpaying the expense of boarding! This is only more true when you factor in the priceless expertise of a good caretaker, whose value is considerable. The cost of experience is ultimately the cost of prevention from illness, injury, or other trauma. So while the daily expenses stay the same, analyze what are you truly paying for with labor--a famous name, an attitude, or a facility that truly cares for your horse? If you are not already confident in and happy with your situation, reviewing these costs and factors can empower you to make a better choice.

If you have a moment please share your comments, thoughts and experiences boarding horses ~ I'd greatly value your feedback. With thanks ~ Susan.


Terry Karlewicz said...

As a horse farm owner in NY (55 miles north of NYC) I commend you on your accuracy of this article. With the exception of Insurance (prices I believe are higher in some areas than others and the amount of insurance per horse that a barn carries is also a large factor) Horses stabled here are covered up to $75,000 while a barn down the road may only insure up to $25,000. This is something a horse owner may want to ask prior to boarding.

No matter if you have a show horse, a race horse, a pleasure horse or just a senior friend etc... I always tell owners, at the end of the day if you can't go home and feel confident in the care of your horse then you are at the wrong barn and it's time to move. They deserve peace of mind and so do you. Again thank you for a great article and explanation to horse owners.

Terry Karlewicz
The Stables At MiraBella
Florida, NY

XLdonkeys said...

Dear Susan, Thank you, thank you, thank you! We are a breeding farm, however, as such we have outside mares that come to our farm for breeding with our American Mammoth Jackstock stud - AMJR PCF Genesis. We also sell foals prior to weaning and must board these babies until they are weaned. Both of these ventures require charging board for these animals until they either return home after breeding or go to their new forever home after weaning. We try to keep our boarding costs low for these owners, however, with the price of fuel, corn, soybeans and everything else under the sun going up, we are going to have to raise our boarding rates this year. One other thing: I don't know if I read it in your blog...time taken out of our schedule to have the boarded animal see the farrier or Veterinarian. These visits take time and even if the owner is paying the costs, they are usually not paying for our time spent taking care of their animal. Thanks for giving a realistic point of view on what a caring provider's actual costs are! All the best to you and yours in 2010. Sincerely, Deb Kidwell, Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm

Pat R. said...

Excellent! With your permission, I'd like to copy and share with my clients!

Jacquelin Twiss said...

Not a truer article could be written. I own and operate a stables and I try to keep board as low as possible. When I finally had to make the decision to raise board, I actually broke cost down per stall / horse and send that with the rate increase notice. I didn't have a single compliant. I look to cut expenses in ways I can that DON"T affect the level of care the horses receive (eat alot of mac & cheese some months). While my boarders appreciate this, I don't think they realized the cost until they were given the break down for their horse / stall.

Thanks for the article. said...

As a farm owner I thank you for pointing out the costs of keeping a horse and running a farm. So many times I hear "they own the farm they must be making a fortune". Boarders just don't realize what it costs to maintain the tractor, bobcat, hay trailer, dump truck, horse trailer and pickup. Then the buildings, roofing, fencing, insurance and the list goes on. Taxes are also a big factor because my farm is commercial zoned. Advertising and website costs. My feed costs are a little higher, you really can not get a good bale of hay for $5.00, it's averaging $6.00 and up here. And I could never get by using 5 bags of shavings a week so if we do buy them we buy the trailer load at a wholesale price or use sawdust from the local mill. Labor is all done in house, we are a family farm. I would be ashamed to tell you what we make per hour. We also offer rough boarding and although it is very hard to manage rough boarders we actually do a little better with them than full boarders. Dee from

Anonymous said...

I have a Standardbred nursery in NY. The prices in your article were very accurate. The content was also acurate except I pay less for feed because I buy in bulk. I'm sending this to my owners to help them realize what a deal they have.
Thanks for putting the article together.

Linda V said...

I miss the days of rough board where you paid for the stall and turn out alone but were responsible for the rest. Most horse lovers cannot afford an expensive car payment for their horse. I have had mine for many years but now can't afford. There should be more options!!!!!!
Only the "well to do" seem to be able to have a horse.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Susan for spelling this out for everyone, I'm going to send this blog to my clients. I have some great boarders who appreciate the quality of care that their horse receives, but there are those who think that we are racking in the cash, because they don't understand the overhead cost. Most month's, mainly winter, we operate in the red, but never sacrifice the care of the animals. That's why my husband continues to hold an outside job to help with expenses. We do this because we love it, not to get rich, but a vacation would be nice!

Equine Soundness said...

Great article! One big item you forgot: Mortgage. Even if the mortgage is paid off, the property I need to have in order to offer board has a certain value. If I had the value of that extra money in the bank, I would be earning interest...And I did the math on your article: Cost is in far excess of $ 500.00/month without mortage and insurance consideration. And that spells no profit.

A horse reamins a large luxury item. BTW, it is not any cheaper if you keep the horse at home. Unless you forgo the luxury of a well groomed arena, a trailer to see a trainer for lessons, the truck it takes to pull, the tractor to mow your pastures and drag them. And you have to do all the work yourself. 7 days a week...

Claudia Garner
Horrell Hill Equine Wellness Center

Anonymous said...

I also own a horse farm and I think depending on where you are located in the USA has alot to do with cost. I'm from Ohio, feed here is roughly $12.00/50lb bag (Strategy by Purina)the average horse eats 4-8lbs per day, and hay runs about $3.50 (a good second cutting), bedding (sawdust) and insurance is probably our biggest expense and good help is always hard to find. It is interesting to see the different costs in the US. Board here runs from $250-$400 depending on what type of services you desire. Thanks for the article!

Anonymous said...

In my eyes, there were some differences you provided that I as the horse owner had to pay myself. Heated water buckets, feed bins, apple-picker, broom, scrubber wand to clean buckets & feed bins, stall guard, blanket rod, etc... My two horses are smaller & don't eat what you mentioned in amounts. I hold my horse for all vet & farrier appointments. It's my responsability or I have to pay extra. I also buy additional bedding (sawdust), due to the amount they use & the lack that they add. Hmmm... I love my barn & location. I love the fact I go every night to make sure they are taken care of, and the people are beyond fabulous... but the cost... I still don't see it.
I will look into it a little more thanks to your article though. Very informative.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an excellent article Susan. This is why I only have one boarder who is worth her weight in gold. She does farm sitting, stall cleaning, etc. and has no illusions about the exceptional value of the boarding situation she has at my private barn. I will save your article to share with folks who either stop by to ask me about boarding their horses and/or the idea of getting their own place to save money from boarding one horse--lol!

Union Square said...

Boarding is certainly a sure way to go bust... it is only with many clever add-ons and training that you can make ends meet and live well.

Double the price of nearly everything consumable in your article, and you have Florida. You can't even buy empty calories in the form of coastal hay for less than seven dollars here. And if you are feeding your Thoroughbreds coastal hay without colic, than you're lucky! The rest of us are feeding T&A and Alfalfa @ at least $14.00/bale.

If anyone remembers Grand Cypress Equestrian Center in Orlando, board there right before they closed their doors was $900. This covered the basics and included a staff that only worked 40 hours per week and received medical benefits (When's the last time you received benefits as a groom - or a 40 hour work week?). Naturally, even at this rate, boarding wasn't the money-maker. Riding lessons were. And not even that could keep this British Horse Society facility open.

When I ran the numbers to try boarding here at my farm, I had to laugh. There is simply no way to make it profitable or even to break even.

Horsemen in America are lucky that there are so many people willing to work their fingers to the bone to keep their horses happy and healthy, otherwise, horses really would be limited to the very rich. (And, oddly, to the very poor, but that's a whole other article.)

Natalie Reinert

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Susan, for this. I'd like to add one other major cost, and that is taxes (and/or mortgage payments)on the farm. When I bought my DC area farm 3.5 years ago, the taxes were about $2200 annually. By '09 the tax bill had been raised to $5300.
Also, improvements/maintenance of fencing, footing, etc. It's enormous. Bonnie E.

letcinc said...

Thank-You for the very accurate article. I have been in this business for 33 years so these numbers dance through my head continually. I hope some of the newer facilities read your article. It seems they don't charge for their time, incorporate their electric bill, taxes or mortgage and state that "if they grow their own hay it doesn't cost much", hence the care for the horses starts to decline and the next thing you know people get concerned about trusting anyone to care for their horses. People need to consider this when shopping around.
To the person who can't afford board- A lot of stables will barter board for help if you have some horse knowledge. However then you do have to remember why "you're doing what you do."
Thank-You again for this article.
Gail Kelln
Liberty Equestrian Training Center
Madison, Wisconsin

Anonymous said...

I own a farm in Western Maine, and had to cease all boarding ops. due to this very thing. Other barns in the area are charging $280 - $300 per month...and I was at $450...and that wasn't enough.

Your article broke down the expenses very realistically, and for the farm owner, it is usually 'up front' cost. I included deworming in the board because I didn't want to leave it to the individual owners, getting to it within a small window of time.

Others have posted the hidden costs of farm maintenance, taxes, transportation, vet, farrier, and insurance costs.

I also had to contend with turn out issues: this horse could go with that one, and this one had to be alone, this one had three different blankets and this one was an 1800 lb. maladjusted monster.

Inconsistent and inexperienced stable help combined with chasing down money owed prompted me to get out of the boarding biz.

It is my opinion that the boarding op has to supplement with value added activities such as a quality lesson program, clinics, therapeutic riding, etc.

Thanks for a great article.

Anonymous said...

$5.00 for a bale of hay? Did I honestly read that correctly? Here in the Pacific NorthWest we are lucky to get good hay for $13.00 to $14.00 a bale.

When my horse was in training I boarded her at the facility where the trainer worked. I provided supplements "bagged up" and labeled for my horse. These bags included a 'daily wormer'. I frequently checked on the progress of my horse with the trainer but since I was initially told my supplements would be fed on a dail basis, I didn't check them.

At the end of one month, I "bagged up" another months worth and took them to the facility. There, low & behold I found 18 of my "bagged up" supplements un-fed to my horse. Needless to say, I was extremely unhappy. Quality care is essential.

kdlorenc said...

Hi Susan:

I am with a small boarding barn in Hunterdon County, NJ. We are at the lowest cost for the quality boarding we provide and still people complain about prices. We don't even charge many people who board what others are charging a mint for, like the fans in the summer time, since we realize that taxes here are so high and people are struggling now. It is a shame, but your article is very accurate.

I am going to save the article as well and give to people who tell us when they ask the price and we tell them, that 475 dollars a month for all we offer is "too much" . They don't understand that with board and barns, if you are paying cheaper board, then they are probably cutting corners somewhere and unfortunately, that is usually in the stall care, turnout, or even food your horse gets.

People really need to ask questions before they board. We have gotten in so many that are very neglected lately when we get them in. Like Terry said, if you can't go home confident in your horse care at the end of the day, or you are up worrying at night, then you are at the wrong barn and it is time to move. Thanks for the breakdown, it may help us explain to our boarders should we have to raise prices since grain is going up again.

Thanks for a great article.


Beth B said...

Thanks, although you did forget the mortgage/property tax expense and in NJ that is a biggie.
I had one potential boarder call for a quote and when I told her, she said that is more then I pay in rent a month. She failed to realize that horses take up space her apartment was 560 square feet! Land is not cheap nor is labor and care. Also there are ways to cut costs, I could buy 3.50 a bale hay vs the 6.50 beautiful Timothy mix I do but the horses condition suffers. I could feed TSS All Stock feed for 8.00 a bag, but I feed premium feeds that cost double boarding you get what you pay for........

Beth B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hay ( Orchard Mix or Timothy) in Western Washington State is 3 times the price you quote! Alfalfa is $11.00 to $13.00 a bale. Purina Senior is 18.25 a bag and other designer grains are about $22-$25. Triple Crown, Strategy, LMF, etc. Cob runs about $14 a bag. Last time I checked straw was $10 a bale.

CamdenStables said...

It is so difficult to put a price on the risk someone is taking to house others beloved animals. Feed must always be there despite weather conditions and scarcity. I constantly have the worry in the back of my head that a dozen horses will not get enough food. A load of hay that would supply one horse for a year will last a month with a boarding barn. Even if food and bedding are easy to obtain- who can afford to buy enough for a year? I need to find a supplier who will store and deliver as I need it and can pay for it. That adds to the stress of being responsible 24 hours a day for the safety and well being of someone else's creature. Who do you know that will invest a quarter million dollars into a facility and not expect to get a return?

hairboy said...

Of course, it's possible to board your horses for free.....virtual horses, at

Track King was recently voted the best simulation game of 2009, so why not come and try your hand ;-) It is totally FREE to play!

Anonymous said...

It would have been nice to see a follow up to the initial blog with the missing expenses. Boarders need to see where their monies go and it isn't just hay, bedding and feed.