I always knew that I wanted to own a stable, and I was finally able to open my Tucson horse boarding facility in May 2018.
I did not go into this business inexperienced. I started cleaning stalls in exchange for riding lessons when I was 11, and the stable owner took me under her wing and gave me the opportunity to understand how to really run a business. After college, I helped a colleague build and open a brand-new, high-end horse boarding facility and managed her property for a year. After a 10-year life detour I found my perfect property and knew I was ready to open my own stable.
Is horse boarding right for your small-acreage property? While horse boarding is a great tax write off and can provide you with additional income, whether it is right for you depends on several factors. This is what you should consider before you accept boarders on your property.
Before you delve too deeply into boarding horses at your property, you need to know your county and subdivision regulations. Many subdivisions do not allow commercial businesses. Counties have regulations about where businesses can be located, how they can be operated, and what types of permits or licenses you need. Make sure you comply with all county and subdivision regulations.
You may have to apply for a variance from your county to legally operate your horse boarding facility. Your county will have a public hearing, and this gives your neighbors the opportunity to oppose or support you. Be a good neighbor and talk to your neighbors beforehand.
Realistically, how many horses can you board? Pima County, Arizona, where I live, allows me to board four horses per acre, so I can keep up to 28 horses on my seven-acre property. Pasture is not a consideration here in the desert, but if you plan on offering pasture board or grass turnout, you need to contact your county extension office to find the carrying capacity of your land. In the dry areas of Eastern Montana, each horse required 30 acres of pasture, but in grassier areas this can be significantly lower. Your county extension agent is your best resource.
What amenities can you offer? Will boarded horses live in stalls, or will they be on 24/7 pasture? Do you have a wash rack? Trail access? Arena or round pen? Different amenities attract different types of boarders.
Will you offer self-care, or only full-care boarding? At my Tucson horse boarding facility, I mostly offer full-care boarding, but have self-care options for owners who will live on-site at one of my RV hookups. I do not offer self-care for anyone not living on-site. Too many boarders do not show up when required, do not provide adequate feed, do not care for their horses at the level I expect. I decided I did not want this headache, so most of my boarders are full-care.
How much time do you have to dedicate to your horse boarding business? Some days your business will be all-consuming, while on other days you will have extra time on your hands.
Juggling a horse boarding business and a full-time job can be difficult. If a horse is sick or injured, you will likely have to meet the vet until the owner arrives, and in emergency situations, you may have to load the horse in your own trailer and transport. If the farrier is scheduled for the day, you may have to hold boarder’s horses for him. You will be responsible for daily chores or supervising staff. Only you can determine if all this fits into your lifestyle.
Although you can board horses under your own name, I recommend forming an LLC for liability protection. I chose to do this with my business. This protects my assets (including my property) as well as my husband’s pension.
My horse boarding business is a BUSINESS. I have a legal business name and an EIN. I keep my business bank accounts separate from my personal accounts.
Along with forming a business, you will have to become a bookkeeping expert, unless you plan on hiring someone to do books daily for you. You need to keep meticulous financial records to show that your business is a business and not a hobby.
If you plan on hiring staff, you will have to understand the difference between hiring someone W-2 or 1099, Worker’s Compensation insurance, and paying quarterly employer taxes.
Proper liability insurance is incredibly important. To protect yourself and your assets, you need to have enough insurance coverage. I have commercial farm insurance that covers the structures on my property as well as the horses in case my negligence causes injury or death. Find an insurance agent who understands the horse business.
I have a commercial farm insurance policy and it is not cheap. It costs twice as much as my previous homeowner’s insurance, but it gives me the coverage I need.
The days of making a deal with a handshake are long gone. You need strong contracts if you are going to board horses at your property. I have three that I use – one for boarding, one for arena rentals, and a liability release that I require everyone to sign. You need clear barn rules that every boarder must follow, and you will have to be the one to enforce them.
You can have an attorney write the contracts for you, or you can find contracts online. Make sure your contracts are strong. If you choose to board horses, you will eventually come across a boarder who does not follow the terms of the contract. You may end up in court. You need contracts that stand up to legal scrutiny. This means you need to have a basic understanding of the legal system.
Everything your horses use will increase exponentially when you take boarders on your property. Do you have enough space to store a year’s supply of hay on your property for all the horses, or can your supplier make regular smaller deliveries? Can you get enough shavings for your stalls? Grain for the horses? Can your pickup haul all this? The responsibility falls on you.
Pricing is tricky territory. You need to make enough to cover your supplies and labor costs, but not so much that you drive boarders away. Tucson is a tough place to make a living boarding horses. Hay is expensive, and the area is saturated with boarding facilities, so prices are low. I make most of my money on arena rentals. In other areas of the country, hay is cheap and boarding prices are higher. Do your market research before you open your horse boarding facility to make sure that you will make enough money to make it worth your time.
If you own a boarding facility, barn drama becomes your problem. You must be the one to negotiate truces between boarders, enforce rules, and sometimes be the bad guy. This requires excellent people skills and a tough exterior. You cannot get sucked into the drama. If you are prone to emotional outbursts and hurt feelings, boarding horses may not be right for you.
Passion is the most important requirement for opening a horse boarding facility. You must love this lifestyle because it will consume you. From the time you open your eyes in the morning until you close them at night, this is your life. Every problem is your problem, but every success is yours as well. If you do not have passion, you will burn out. I love this lifestyle and boarding horses was the right choice for me.
Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.