Q: My wife and I would like to start up a breeding and boarding operation. What do we need to know before starting our farm?
First, realize that there’s more to the boarding business than just feeding horses and picking up the manure. As you calculate what you need to charge each month to make a reasonable profit, factor in the cost of upkeep, repairs and utilities. Otherwise you’ll end up dipping into your personal bank account for unexpected emergencies like a broken fence or a flooded arena. Liability insurance—an absolute must in today’s litigious society—will also add to your overhead. You also have to include some wiggle room in your boarding rates to allow for fluctuations in feed prices. These day-to-day budget challenges are why my friend Susan, who has run a successful stable for several decades, warns that the boarding business can become “the slow road to bankruptcy” without careful planning.
Second, you mentioned a desire to add a breeding farm to your boarding operation. Truly, that can be even more risky than merely boarding. Not only will you have to acquire, promote and manage high-quality stock, but you’ll also face some ethical challenges. For example, what are your plans for foals that don’t quite meet expectations, and therefore prove hard to sell? Also, how do you feel about adding more foals to a market already flooded with affordable horses? Rather than breeding horses, consider alternatives that could also complement your boarding stable. Tuning up sweet but neglected horses, and turning them into dependable, family-safe riding horses, is one idea. Establishing a therapeutic riding program is another. Or you could search for a talented, aspiring professional, hire them as your resident instructor, and start a riding school, with a seasonal pony camp for local kids.
Finally, get legal advice on composing a proper boarding agreement and dealing with non-paying clients. Then be prepared to deal with the public. While the majority of horse people are honest, trustworthy and kind, you’re bound to encounter some of the troublemakers who move from stable to stable, creating drama and havoc wherever they go. If you can look past the humans who cause the headaches, focus on the lifelong friendships you’re sure to forge, and embrace the pleasures of a horsekeeping lifestyle, then your dream of a successful stable might well become a reality.