Saturday, January 12, 2013


 By Catherine Sampson

Most articles on boarding focus on how to choose a stable for your horse.  Very little education of the behind-the-scenes of stable owners is brought into the public arena for scrutiny.  Stable operators are often perceived as greedy, lazy, not trustworthy and insensitive when it comes to the needs and demands of the client.  In reality, it is most often the opposite.  For the horse owner who has never kept a horse, or may have had their own little barn at one time and pampered their horse, often do not realize the immense responsibility and financial commitment that goes into running a horse establishment. 

The facts:

Every business has to at least break even and preferably make a profit and hence earn a living for their efforts.  You have rented a stall that includes feed, bedding and turnout.  Very basic requirements you would agree.  Do you know what dollars go into maintaining that stall, field, work area and general care of your horse?

In order to operate a boarding facility the stable owner requires specialized insurance for caring for livestock, especially horses.  The owner must recover a portion of their property taxes from that stall rental.  Hydro that lights the barn, runs the water pump, provides heat and other essential electrical needs comes at a higher cost for rural areas than most city dweller consumers realize.  Arena lights alone can swallow a lot of energy not to mention the wattage required for a light in each and every stall and access areas of the stable.  These are all operating expenses.

Unless the operator can grow their own hay crop for the year, they are at the mercy of what the market price is.  A bad season can substantially affected the bottom line when it comes to paying the bill.  The stable owner must calculate how much hay their barn will need to carry them through to the next season.  If a boarder leaves after hay season, then the stable owner has to try and fill that stall, or absorb the cost of that hay while the stall remains vacant. 

The same goes for grain crops.  If the farmer (and that is what a horse stable operator is or should be) can harvest his own crop, then the cost is reduced.  Still that bale of hay is expensive when you factor in the cost of cutting, baling, equipment maintenance and that all important labour fee. 

Fences are in constant need of repair or replacement and horses are notorious for damaging fences, especially those who like to lean over to get the proverbial “greener grass”.   The cost to fence one small turnout area will be in the thousand dollar range.  The life of your fence will depend on the product used, the care given to its repair and the soil conditions. 

Stall repair is another financial consideration.  Feeders, buckets, flooring, walls etc. require upgrading and repair on a yearly basis.  A horse that cribs for instance, will damage feeders and buckets at an alarming rate. 

Thinking Green – Think Land Management

Unless you can provide 1 acre of land for every horse on your property, then 24 hour turnout is not possible or responsible according to published research.  What horse owners do not understand is that farmers owe a debt of responsibility to land stewardship and that means limiting turnout and taking horses off pastures in the fall and spring transitional periods.   Beginning in September, horses should be restricted to a “sacrifice” field so that the nutrients in the soil of the pastures can return and rejuvenate the root system for next season’s onslaught of tearing hooves.  Horse hooves play havoc with the grasses and legumes ripping them from their soil beds, especially in wet weather when the soil is most fragile.    Pastures also require re-seeding as well in order to maintain optimum re-growth.    Horses seem to be particularly hard on pastures.  The extra cost in seeding adds to the overall expense.

Clipping pastures with a ‘bush hog’ also helps to stabilized and control weed populations in the pasture.  Again, this is a hidden expense from the horse boarder who only sees their horse grazing in a pasture uninhibited by weeds.

In order to provide the best footing for your horse, arenas need periodic grooming and that equipment, fuel and time, costs as well.  Well manicured arenas are a bonus.

The stable owner’s job is not limited to the barn.  Collecting and submitting GST to the government is a legal requirement that stable owners must adhere to.  It’s the law.  Keeping books up-to-date is essential.  Besides the financial requirements, health records on horses in their care should also be maintained and recorded.  Being on top of market conditions; finding good and more importantly reliable suppliers of bedding, grain and hay, combined with fair prices is always challenging.   

Arranging for veterinary and farrier services, assisting those professionals and ensuring these essential services are paid for at the time of service is essential in order to keep these key players in your horse’s well being coming back, especially in emergencies.   Tardy paying clients run the risk of being refused service. 

Let the stable owner do their job. 

Interfering with feed, bedding and turnout schedules creates discord in the flow of a daily process that horses are use to.  Most owners are guilt-driven and want and expect more for their horse.  They may steal an extra flake of hay or put in extra bedding.  Everyone must be treated equally in a stable – no ‘if’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’.  You are paying for maintenance care of your horse.  That’s all. 

Blanketing, putting on fly masks adds an extra hour per month per horse to the stable owner’s already full timetable.  If that owner has to hire a stable hand to cover that extra time, then that fee should be recoverable.

Simple turnout of your horse won’t solve the real need.  That real need is commitment from its owner

Extra turnout in a field where the horse eats continually is not exercise.  In fact, it could be adding to an obesity issue which is a growing epidemic among most modern day horses.  There is a large number of laminitis cases arising from inactivity and over-feeding today.  Simple turnout of your horse won’t solve the real need.  That real need is commitment from its owner, to groom, exercise, look after its medical and psychological needs and love its horse.   If you are a horse owner, or soon to be one, please stop and consider your role in providing for your horse.  The financial one is small compared to the emotional one.  Horses are not pets; they are nobler than that.  They are athletes and best friends and yes, are considered livestock.  Treat them with respect and give them a job to do.  Their past history is one of hard work, loyalty and devotion to their owners.  I think all owners need to return to those ideals for the health and sake of their horse.

Horses are indeed an emotional business, unlike most other professions.  Still the hard reality is that if your horse was human, which it isn’t, and you wanted its home to be as perfect in a humanistic way, you would be paying apartment rental rates.  You wouldn’t have the benefit of a knowledgeable stable owner who prepares the meals and tucks your horse in a night, arranges for a manicure or calls the doctor in the middle of the night.  In fact, most boarding facilities go above and beyond their financial commitment to the horse owner.   By any logic in the economic times today, the horse boarder is getting a real bargain with the majority of well established boarding facilities. 

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