Question of the week: starting a horse boarding business

Question: My wife and I would like to start a breeding and boarding operation. What do we need to know before we start our farm?

A:Combining the love of horses with a family business seems like an attractive proposition. But before you quit your daily job and start designing a farm logo, here are a few things to consider.

First of all, know that boarding is not limited to feeding the horses and collecting manure. When calculating what you need to charge each month to make a reasonable profit, factor in the cost of maintenance, repairs, and utilities. Otherwise, you’ll end up dipping into your personal bank account for unforeseen emergencies like a broken fence or a flooded arena. Liability insurance, an absolute must in today’s litigious society, will also increase your overhead costs. You should also include some leeway in your boarding rates to accommodate fluctuations in feed prices. These daily budget challenges are why my friend Susan, who has run a successful stable for decades, warns that boarding school can become “the slow road to bankruptcy” without careful planning.

Second, you mentioned the desire to add a livestock farm to your pension. Really, it can be even riskier than just getting on board. Not only will you need to acquire, promote and manage high quality stocks, but you will also face ethical challenges. For example, what are your plans for foals that do not quite meet expectations and are therefore difficult to sell? Also, what do you think of adding more foals to an already flooded market with affordable horses? Rather than raising horses, consider alternatives that could supplement your boarding as well. Developing gentle but neglected horses and turning them into reliable and safe riding horses for the family is an idea. Another is the establishment of a therapeutic riding program. Or you can find a talented aspiring professional, hire them as a resident instructor, and start a riding school, with a seasonal pony camp for local kids.

Finally, get legal advice on drafting an appropriate boarding agreement and dealing with non-paying customers. So be prepared to deal with the public. While the majority of riders are honest, trustworthy, and kind, you’re bound to come across some of the troublemakers who move from stable to stable, creating drama and havoc wherever they go. If you can look past the humans causing the headaches, focus on the long-standing friendships you are sure to forge, and embrace the pleasures of a riding lifestyle, then your dream of a thriving stable may well become a reality.

Clyde P. Johnson