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.