The True Cost of Horse Boarding

Tire kickers, if you sell horses or run a boarding facility you are gonna meet “Tire Kickers.” If you’re not familiar with this term these are the folks who come out just to look and have no intention to move (or even own a horse). I don’t mind too much the Tire Kickers because I’m proud of my barn and what we do here. However, many tire kickers like to end their complimentary barn tour by telling me that I charge far too much for board. Now, to be frank our barn, and most all barns in America (probably worldwide) likely do not charge enough for board. Most of the time “tire kickers” have done a calculation of the cost of a bag of feed, a bag of shavings and a bale of hay multiplied it by a minimal number and call that “board.” If only…”Boarding” is so much more than just flinging food into the stalls and road apples out.

“Board” is kind of a misnomer for what professional barn owners do for a living. It’s a word that harkens back to the 19th Century job postings for a Governess. But yes, we do house your horses. We feed them. We clean up after them, just like the boarding house Jo inhabited in Little Women. Barn owners are more like the full-service staff at an all inclusive retirement community.

Most horse barns are far from places where horses simply eat and poo. Boarding facilities also house (safely) your equipment, from curry combs to horse trailers. I remember talking to our insurance company when we first bought LEC. We had to estimate a dollar amount of “assorted equipment” that we’re “responsible for.” Its a dazzlingly high number because you have to multiply in your mind the average cost of saddle, bridle, headstall, all grooming equipment and whatever else people keep in those lockers. If we’re robbed blind I need to make sure my policy covers that. (Also: never do the math on how much money you’ve spent on your tack…I could have been to Nepal by now, instead I have 80 Saddle pads)

I’m not cleaning your saddle, I am however providing a safe place in which you can keep your stuff as well as keeping an eye on people enough to know that no one is walking away with your tack or your trailer. I don’t think on a day to day basis a lot about “managing” everyone’s equipment, I have security cameras for that and a barn full of great people. We know how many horses, saddles, trailers, bridles and expensive things are in this place, and when we need or if we have to we certainly know that everything is where it is supposed to be. Nevertheless, you would not want to be at a barn where you were afraid to leave your tack in the spot provided for you. Nor would you be excited to be a “boarding facility” that did not have room for your equipment.

Since I mentioned it, everyone’s favorite thing, Insurance. We’re paying for something we never want to use, and thinking annually a whole bunch about situations we hope never come to pass. Fires, accidents of all kinds. We are lucky to have a great Insurance Agent who even once helped me move hay into the barn while we discussed more of these great figures about the total value of X, Y and Z in the barn. They have been so helpful navigating the 400 different types of insurance we need to carry because: people, dangerous animals, vehicles, natural disasters, fire, thieves. Sadly, insurance is not free. And if you found out your boarding facility didn’t have insurance well, you probably wouldn’t want to be there too long you know…just in case of some horrible thing.

At LEC we have staff. Paid staff, who make not a horrible wage because the work they do every day year round is hard. My staff works when its 104 degrees, they work when it’s -9 with winds blowing 40mph in the North doors. Each of our stalls is cleaned to the same standard every day (even the 5th of July and Christmas). They are often the ones who notice something is off with a resident horse. We hire “horse people” to work for us, having found that non-horse people can do the work, but people who get it are better. I think an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s wage. Our staffers get a real paycheck with taxes pulled out and everything. I wish I could pay them more because they are so worth it to myself and to the horses they care about. And in the case of holidays, illnesses, family events, music festivals, car troubles, doctor’s appointments we, the owners clean the stalls. We’ve never had 1 day at Lincoln Equestrian Center when all the stalls were not cleaned. Not ever, not even when I was in the hospital, or if we’ve been sick, tired or suffering greatly from mechanical problems.

Inherent in this whole conversation, but most often overlooked: we’re here. We made the financial, physical, emotional, whole life commitment to buying and running a place where “townsfolk” can drive 10 minutes into the country and go ride a horse in a field. We have an investment here, and like all businesses that investment and all of its associated tax burdens (for those not located in Nebraska, our property tax rates are famously high) are something we take seriously. Forget improving or even maintaining a nearly 30 acre property, that there are 30 acres of horse property West of town is something. In so many areas “Equestrian Spaces” are shriveling up and people have to travel longer and longer distances to ride their horses, or ride in places where the space is limited. When you board, in particular here you’ve got room to roam a bit both indoor and outdoor. It’s not likely many people would be interested in “boarding” at a facility where there was no place to ride.

There are other hard to calculate costs that go along with a professionally managed boarding facility. Like that my life, and my husband’s life is 100% devoted to this business and the care for the horses who live here 365 days a year. Our whole life is literally punctuated by the needs of the horses, and rises and falls on a weekly basis depending on whats going on down there. What’s the dollar amount you ascribe to missing your brother’s birthday because there was an urgent problem at the barn? What is the value of our combined 50 years of horse experience? Can you put a dollar amount on having people in the barn that can answer your questions every day? Forget questions, what is the dollar amount you put on having someone around while you are riding?

“Board” is so much more than covering the cost of our inputs. it’s services, and the peace of mind that your big investment/passion has their home with people who are not only qualified but committed to making sure they are better than okay all the time. So to my “tire kickers” I’m glad to show you around, but at least add in electricity, diesel fuel, machine maintenance costs to those low ball estimates.

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