How can I own a horse stable without being overly wealthy? Creative ids
February 19, 2013 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I LOVE horses. When I am around a stable I am my true self- calm, peaceful, happy- it is what I day dream about. When my life is crazy, I close my eyes and imagine being in a stable or riding. I know that I want to have a stable. I am by no means a wealthy person. I am still in grad school so ....and I am not planning to be a Dr or lawyer. I am wondering how can I own my own stable. I don't want to just own a horse and board it, or just take lessons on the weekends. How much would it cost to own a stable? I guess that I could board other's horses to defray cost. What else could I do to make the horses earn their keep? I'm thinking I want to own 3 of my own horses- for myself and my family. Is there any $ in selling horse manure? What about running a lesson program or an equine therapy program with PTSD vets, youth? Could I own the stable but NOT run the programs? What are the start up and yearly costs of owning horses and a stable?
posted by TRUELOTUS to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A lot is going to depend on your location.

Yes, there are people who want to own horses but also want/need to board them. I live in an area like that. Are your graduate studies remotely related to caring for horses and/or setting up a business? Or are you in a field that will earn you enough income to be able to own some acreage? Do you want to be able to ride year-round? Obviously any start-up costs are going to be tied to the cost of building stables, buying land, buying horses. All of these are highly variable.

Can you get work or volunteer at a local stable for a while?
posted by mareli at 11:12 AM on February 19, 2013

You need to start hanging out with the people who run the stable you currently go to. See if they've got a part-time job for you, or even volunteer opportunities, if your financial situation allows. Could you maybe start an equine therapy program at the stable? There's one near me that helps at-risk girls. Networking is going to do a much better job of answering these questions than the Internet can.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:14 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you're confused. It's easy to own a stable but spend no time there (in general you can own any kind of business and just throw money at it rather than running it yourself). You want the opposite, to spend all your time around horses and a stable. What about getting a job working in a stable? You'll learn if you truly do love spending all your time in that environment, you'll make connections who can teach you about the business, and you'll find out if you truly need to take the next step of owning a stable in order to be happy, or if you could in fact be satisfied just working around horses, regardless of who owns the stable.
posted by telegraph at 11:23 AM on February 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

My aunt lives way out in the country in Illinois, and keeps horses on her land- her own horses, but I think she occasionally looks after other peoples' too. Her husband bought the land before they were married but neither one of them is wealthy- the land out there is just cheap.

You can probably make this work IF you and your family are able to up and move to wherever the land is cheap.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:23 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worked at a stable all through high school as a assistant for a horse therapy program.
The therapy program was run by someone with a master's or doctorate in occupational therapy (not horse specific). There were occasional other instructors who could take over for a day, but I think the combination of physical therapist and qualified horse instructor is fairly rare. You also need to have horses with the right personality for this kind of work. Consider that if you buy land somewhere cheap, there's a good chance there are less people around who would be interested in this. Last I heard, the program was being turned into a non-profit because it wasn't really profitable enough to be worth it. Also, if you want to have lessons, therapeutic or otherwise, then you might be into building a indoor or outdoor arena to hold them.

I think it's possible, if you've willing to do a lot of the work. The stable I worked at was owned by a family that was not particularly wealthy but by living in the middle of nowhere, in a house that already had a stable when they bought it and being smart about having large grazing areas to supplement hay and grain, boarding or leasing horses, they did okay. They also did ALL the upkeep. The husband built and repaired all the fences, spent a lot of time with a tractor clearing fields and stuff. The wife spent a few hours every day in the morning and evening feeding, picking up horse poop, etc. If you want to be able to leave for more than 24 hours, you need to know someone to take care of stuff. Vacations were really hard to plan.

If you haven't already, I would try to find a job at a nearby stable and get an idea of the practical aspects and regular costs and surprise costs. Someone who already owns or manages a stable will have an idea of actual costs.
posted by raeka at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2013

If you go the "cheap land + decent job = horses" route, you should keep in mind that equine veterinary care is very expensive, so you need to have a plan for dealing with non-routine medical care. I work at the veterinary school in my state, and we see some tragic cases of people who can't afford care for their beloved horses. Be careful of that.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:55 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

The biggest expense for boarding other people's ponies, as well as for owning your own, will be the insurance.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:59 AM on February 19, 2013

My sister-in-law owns her own stable - she and her business partner started it in the mid-90s. Their facility is rented, and is part of a larger complex that has other stables as well as rings and courses. They have three or four of their own horses, which they use for lessons, and also (I think) board horses for clients. They act as buyers and sellers for their clients as well. They are in a wealthy area that has a long history of horsemanship and shows - and when I say wealthy, I mean people who can and will pay a quarter of a million dollars for a pony for their kid. The cost of living is not low by any stretch, but because it's been such a horsey area for so long, there is (for instance) more than one equine vet; more than one farrier; more than one feed store; more than one insurance broker that understands their specific needs. Etc.

She's not wealthy. She's not living hand-to-mouth, but since it's her business and she's not dumb, most "profit" gets rolled right back in to the business. She works hard and a lot; because her stable basically trains the children of the wealthy in horsemanship, this includes shows, and she travels a lot throughout the state for horse shows.

She worked and showed for years at other stables, including while she was in college; she learned the business from the inside out and the ground up. I shoveled a lot of horseshit and polished a ton of tack when I was in high school, and I totally understand the feeling you describe. But don't get lost in that fantasy. Running a business is a lot of work and a lot of risk and doesn't leave much room for that kind of dreamy peace.
posted by rtha at 12:01 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

To second or third: yes, it can be done. I have a friend whose parents own horses on about 25 acres in rural Ohio, about an hour from Columbus. The land's cheap because it's too hilly for corn or soybeans, but they can grow hay on it. They both have jobs as union pipefitters (I believe) - a decent job but certainly not extravagant. My understanding is that the wife occasionally offers horse-riding lessons, and they earn a few thousand dollars every year by selling the excess hay.
posted by dd42 at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2013

Is this my daughter?

We have a horse. People that own horse stables are not wealthy. They often were wealthy though, before they bought the horse stable. The old joke is how do you end up a millionaire by raising horses? You start with 2 million dollars.

People that own small family horse farms (that aren't retired) typically have at least person in the house with a upper middle class kind of career. It's common that one spouse has a professional job and the other that grew up with horses runs the farm, maybe boards a few horses to help offset costs, gives lessons, etc. Then on the weekend both of them are pretty much full time horse people, mending fences, tending to the pasture, running errands, etc. People that make a living from the farm typically have 100+ acres, a bunch of horses, a breeding program with a desirable stallion on the farm, lots of lessons, maybe a dozen borders or more, run shows in season, and all that.

So if you really want to have a small family horse farm the first thing you will need is an income that will allow you to buy the farm in the first place, and then have a "hobby" that likely costs $1000+ a month.

Or you could marry a doctor ;)
posted by COD at 12:06 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Running a business is a lot of work and a lot of risk and doesn't leave much room for that kind of dreamy peace-
I know, that is why I would not want to run the biz. I just want to be able to walk out of my house and see my stable with horses and ride when I want to. Of course my family and I would take care of the horses -all the day to day stuff. But I have gotten some great advice from the posters- thanks! I think volunteering at a stable is just what I need to do right now to test this out ;)
posted by TRUELOTUS at 12:08 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Glad this was helpful--I don't want to scare you away, just make it clear that it is a huge amount of work.

Also, based on my experience, if you volunteer/work at a stable doing the basic, maintenance jobs (cleaning stalls, feeding and moving horses, etc), you can get known as someone who's responsible and capable of taking care of a stable. After a year or two of working at the therapy horse program, I ended up being the go-to person to take care of the place when the owners went on vacation. So I got the experience of being responsible for 3-4 horses, 2 goats, assorted chickens, 2 cats and a dog for two weeks and did everything from give one horse medicine three times a day to cleaning water troughs. I did similar 'stable-sitting' at a couple farms in the area and got an idea of what is standard and what is quirky to stables.

This might not be a replacement for owning a stable, but it gives you a very, very good idea about what's involved at a bare minimum maintenance level as well as you get lots of time to spend around horses and stables. (I couldn't do it all the time--too hard to plan everything around being there at about 6AM and 6PM every single day--but I'd take it over a lot of other part-time student jobs.)
posted by raeka at 12:24 PM on February 19, 2013

I would start thinking about the kinds of places a stable could be located (distance from town, geographic features), and consider how to make a decent living from that location without having to drive two hours per day -- and how to make sure I could still make a decent living 40 years from now even if technology and the economy have changed drastically in unpredictable ways.
posted by amtho at 1:59 PM on February 19, 2013

You could see if there is a nearby horse rescue that could use some help.
posted by 445supermag at 7:57 PM on February 19, 2013

You're a grad student. Where are you going to school? Is it somewhere that is horse-friendly -- aka rural -- or is it somewhere where land is very expensive?

The main expense of horses is the land to keep them on and the hay and supplemental feed that you give them. In Texas, where I live, and specifically, Texas A&M University, who I used to work for and whose town (College Station, TX) I still live in, land is exceptionally cheap, and it is easy to come by hay, feed, and other materials. My ex-girlfriend rented 5 acres of pasture and a trailer with utilities for $550/mo, about 20 miles outside of town. While 20 miles seems like a lot of distance, it's actually about a 10 minute drive to campus. It'll take you longer to park in one of the garages or walk to class from one of the outer lots than it will to drive in. To supplement her income, she had two horses that were boarded there, and a sometimes roommate who paid a small share of the rent. Essentially, she had her rent guaranteed, the horses lived off the land for roughage most of the year, and she paid the farmer's co-op for few (? Don't remember quantity exactly) bags of sweet feed a month to supplement the roughage for the five horses on the property.

That only works in a rural area. If you're going to grad school in New England or California, forget about it. There isn't a way to make it pay. Everything is astronomically more expensive -- hay, feed, land, housing for yourself. So, if you want horses, go rural.
posted by SpecialK at 8:22 PM on February 19, 2013

I'm going to give you my qualifications for addressing your question.

I have owned three breeding stallions, boarded horses, trained for other people, bought, trained and sold horses, and never made enough profit to guarantee a living with it. I'm a loooong time horse owner, nearly forty years. I did endurance riding, and while I haven't done as many miles as a lot of other riders, we're still talking several thousand miles of competition. After two back surgeries and a knee replacement, I didn't compete for several years--now the costs of competition are such that I can't afford to do endurance, so I do long distance mountain riding and other fun events. I have four horses--mine, my husband's, and two oldsters that the grandkids use. Cost is nothing compared to upkeep, but three out of the four were given to me, because of problems. Two are registered quality horses, and one is just an old ranch horse. I paid $200 for the other old horse because he was lame, and I guessed right in thinking it was a shoeing issue. My Fox Trotter was given away because he bucked--I re-started him, but the turning point was to have his teeth floated and painful wolf-teeth removed. He was supposed to be an international horse on the way to Canada--they took care of all the paperwork but didn't do teeth--not smart. Husband's Arab was bought by an impulsive woman with more money than experience. Too hot for her, so we got him (and I re-started him.) Mr. Ranch horse was gotten because he was old, starved down, and covered in ticks and rain-rot. Not a pretty sight. Teeth floating and vetting took care of most of it, but it took 3 years to get him over prior long term hoof problems.

When I was younger, I started colts to pay for my own horses. I didn't make much (except a decent local reputation) and even though I took a horse for 30 days, it might take me 45 days to get him to the point I wanted, so that's half the training time of another horse, and I wasn't charging the owner, since it was my decision that the horse wasn't far enough along that I would be happy to turn him back as a "30 day" horse. Now anyone who knows horses knows that there are no "30 day miracles" so I would sometimes get a horse back, and sometimes the horse went to a 'finish trainer' something that I never claimed to be. Most of the horses I started went as endurance horses, so I did lots of long slow distance rides on them, one horse per day, rather than doing 7-8/day like the pros do. All in all, I did it for fun, and to pay the keep on my own horses, rather than for money. Actually, when things got tight, for eight years I didn't own horses, but still rode every day, till I got tired of competing on other people's horses and not one of my own.

How much would it cost to own a stable?

Owning a barn and some horses, doing your own clean out and grooming, learning to give shots, etc to save on vet bills, will probably be within your budget if you have a good job and settle in the rural area around a small city.

I know, that is why I would not want to run the biz. I just want to be able to walk out of my house and see my stable with horses and ride when I want to.

I'll address this part of your question.

Owning a barn with a barn manager and stable help that do all the work for your boarders or clientele, as well as for your personal horses, is most likely out of the question unless you inherit plenty of money, win the lottery, or get a hella good job, work god-awful hours and save like crazy. Do the math--even hiring one person at minimum wage with no benefits, is going to be outrageous. Paying for a good live-in barn manager to be available 24-7, which you will need if you do boarding, or have a high-powered stud and mares in for breeding, will cost you TONS of money.

Boarding and breeding are two of the most lucrative means of making a stable pay. You're not going to get very far in boarding unless you can attract the type of people that are willing to pay $300-$1000/month for stalls, in which case you will have to have a knowledgeable barn manager on premises, as well as a trainer and/or an instructor and a few stall cleaners/handlers. Sure you can hire horse-crazy kids, but you get what you pay for, and wooo, the liability! Your layout must be such that you have plenty of large stalls in your barn, exterior paddocks with run-in sheds, exterior and indoor arenas, equipment such as jumps/cones/barrels/poles, storage for hay, grain, bedding, secure tack rooms, places for trailer parking, etc. etc. etc. Your equipment will at least have a tractor, a hay hauler (or $$ goes for delivery) and a trailer and vehicle to haul with.) Set aside a big chunk of cash for maintenance to keep your place up. Horses are some of the most destructive animals you can own. Are you getting my drift?

Then you add on the insurance, taxes for that type of property (which includes two houses--you and your manager.) Believe me, you're not going to support all this by selling manure--which, to be quality, will have to be stored, sterilized, bagged, and advertised. Most larger stables offer manure free for the hauling, or pay to have it removed. There's an issue with pollution that needs to be addressed in near the type of urban setting that you will be pulling your customer base from.

Breeding requires all the above, although you may not need an instructor. But you have to add the cost of a quality stallion(s) (anywhere from $25,000 to $150,000 depending on breed) plus the cost of insurance on your animals(s.)) You can't just get the stud and brag about him downtown, you have to have extensive advertising, and doing that requires paying show entry fees, hauling fees, equipment fees, and money out to a professional showman. You'll need a trainer for the stud, and you probably want to start one of his sons as a replacement, so they need trained. Some studs last 15 years beyond their show career, some last five. What do you do with your old horse then? Keep a useless old boy that has done a fine job for you, but keeps on eating, or dump him? The quality mares--you can't breed to just any mare because a stallion's get will be his best advertisement--will need quality quarters and care. You'll need a breeding shed and small test lab for viability, culturing on mares, etc. etc. Many good stud farms have a vet on staff, if not on speed-dial. Don't forget your farrier/trimmer for 6 week shoes/trims, and all the costs of your yearly vet maintenance: worming every 3/4 months, yearly or twice yearly shots, and yearly teeth floating.

As rtha mentioned above with the sister-in-law's stable, you have to be willing to put everything you have and center your life around a stable to make it viable. No or few vacations--forget other activities--you live for the horses.

One thing rtha didn't mention, you have to be able to put up with the foibles of the wealthy if you cater to that clientele. I boarded on the cheap. These were just 'folks' that wanted to pleasure ride on the open range behind my place, and had fewer expectations. Quite often it wasn't the horses that gave me headaches, it was the miserable owners that wouldn't pay their vet/board/shoeing bills, or refused abide by a program of worming/farrier care as originally agreed on, or that rode their horse and then didn't take care of it, or rode so poorly as to constitute abuse--and refused to learn from anyone. A couple times I either had horses dumped on me or took horses in lieu of a past due board bill. That's a real pain.

Selling horses is similarly fraught. If you care about your horses you want them to go into good circumstances, be used but not abused, and act as advertisement for your breeding/training. That means choosing the right buyer--which generally means you're always turning down a customer, who may or may not understand why and be resentful and turn off other customers. It's very hard to be diplomatic with someone who doesn't have the skills to ride the horse they would like to buy, and who is tone deaf as to why you are suggesting another horse. Or trying to explain to mamas of a 6-10 year-olds who has never ridden why your four year old endurance prospect is not the horse the kid needs. What happens to a horse that you've raised, trained, and then can't sell because he boogered up a leg kicking the fence? No profit there.

I'm going to give you a breakdown on some costs. My area is very inexpensive to keep a horse. You can figure on doubling things like hay, shoeing, and vetting. I pay $200/ton per hay. A thousand pound horse in light work typically eats 20-25 pounds per day. I'm fortunate to have 45 acres of range land available to me that they graze for about 5-8 months out of the year, and provides roughage with supplements for another 2-3. The old horses need beet pulp, for which I pay approx. $250 a ton, and it lasts the winter. If I buy it bagged, it's $12/40lbs. Grain is about $12/40lbs, and I don't grain unless I'm working hard or trying to keep weight on. Selenium supplement runs $32/bag divided by 4=2 months. (necessary here.) Then there's oil or coat conditioners, vitamins, biotin for the old horses' hooves, etc. I don't use Senior supplements, which costs 1/2 to 3/4 again as more, but are more convenient if you don't have storage.

I work with the equine dentist to pay for my teeth floating--$150/ yr maintenance work. I do all my own worming 3 times a year for about $30/horse. Shots are yearly 5-way and flu (no rabies, Potomic Fever, etc.) for $35-$40/horse--which I give. My farrier does $35 trims and charges $75 for shoeing--try to find a deal like that anywhere else. He calls himself a "shade tree horseshoer" but he does 1000s of horses yearly, and did all my endurance horses with no problems. I took a course on horseshoing at from a certified farrier and keep up with what's going on. I won't shoe my own, but I have all the equipment and trim several times a year under my farrier's supervision, which cuts costs. Because I've been in this so long, I have most of what I need, but ever so often I need a new winter blanket ($175), and the fence in the dry lot will need redone--$600 for Keystone 5' fence and posts, and that's Mr. BlueHorse and I doing it using many of the same posts and corners. I dragged hoses for years till I got the freeze faucets done, and finally have all the run-in sheds and hay storage I want/need.

I've been very fortunate that good maintenance and care have precluded major vet bills. All you need is one big colic, and you're looking at a $10000 colic surgery, which is something I couldn't justify paying. It would really hurt to put one of my horses down, but there's always a chance they could die on the table (as a friend's just did) and I wouldn't put myself in that debt. I don't carry insurance, as these are pleasure horses not high-class performers.

Pretty long-winded, but I hope this gives you a sense of what it's like in the horse industry and what it's like to be a back-yard horse owner. Right now I wouldn't give my critters up for the world, but shoveling crap when it's 9 degrees, feeding in the dark of winter in freezing rain, and putting blankets on horses covered in muck isn't all it used to be. I can foresee the time when I don't own horses and am content to go brush a lesson horse and ride at a stable. (Of course I said I'm way too old to train horses, and already this spring a friend's talked me into starting her gelding on the cart, so that may be a looong time before I'm ready for that lesson stable.)
posted by BlueHorse at 8:25 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

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