Do you charge your boarders for all-inclusive care or for a la carte services? Or perhaps a combination of the two?
Either way, when you develop your policy and rates, determine what is most agreeable to you and your clients. Charging a flat fee for set services—stall, feed, water, stall cleaning, turnout, blanketing (on a specific schedule)—makes it clear what owners get for their horses, and that all are treated the same. They also recognize that additional services would be each owner’s responsibility.
Or you can add a profit center by setting rates for extras supplied by you or your staff. These charges are for tasks that require time, expertise or specialized equipment. In your cafeteria plan, you set a profit margin for each task, then charge a fee as a revenue producer on top of basic board.
Negotiate the Partnership
Make sure each boarder has a written copy of your service rates; you should also post rates at the barn and on your website so everyone knows the standard charges. Boarders can see that the boarding partnership is a tradeoff, where each one makes a choice about which tasks he or she can handle and which services he or she will pay for.
You probably have some dedicated owners who are at your barn every day taking care of their horses. Others must juggle life commitments and can’t devote so much time to horses, so they need help performing daily care.
Janet Hischer of Twisted Tree Farm in Scottsdale, Arizona, said, “I think the reason people have horses is that they want to wash them, groom them, graze them. I have two patches of grass as my grazing patches. I like them (the owners) to do that.”
Her boarders are amateurs and young riders, which means that their free time is minimal during the school week. “I have a part-time groom service for them,” she said. “If the kids get here after school, the horse is saddled before the lesson. But that is not allowed on Saturday or Sunday.” Your boarding policy should address negotiation points like these:
• Who provides and feed, supplements and sand-clear products (if needed)?
• Who provides and administers paste dewormers?
• Who holds the horse for the vet or farrier?
While providing feed and hay and charging for them can be a profit center (buying feed in bulk, so your price is less), boarders might want a different product. These are things that need to be clear in your pricing and management policies.
You might also decide to rent dry stalls. With that method, the client pays only the stall rent, which includes utilities. He or she is responsible for feed, bedding, cleaning and all other aspects of caring for his or her horse(s). This setup is often seen in show barns, such as those near winter show circuits.
Time is Money
Whether you do it yourself or pay employees to help you, boarding horses is laborintensive. You already know the time it takes for the daily basics of feeding and stall cleaning. Maintenance tasks like repairs, cleaning, sweeping, mowing and gardening add hours to the workload. Every business activity costs you time; some cost you more in equipment or support services.
Hischer described how her husband, Larry, manages her two barns of 47 horses: “He takes care of maintaining the farm as far as things that break. He keeps trucks and trailers running, and he manages the boys who clean the stalls and feed.”
The staff includes three young men, who are also grooms, and three young women. “It is a group effort,” said Hischer. “One man is a carpenter and another is a gardener. The girls also groom and teach lessons.”
Keep in mind that accounting is part of your overhead. To bill accurately, you need to jot down the jobs you do as you finish them each day. You can jot the jobs on the barn’s whiteboard or chalkboard daily, then transfer information to your billing system. Or you can use a notebook or your smart phone to keep the information up-to-date.
“You are only as good as the head of the snake, and he (Larry) is the head of the snake,” said Hischer. “He marks all bills on a chart; then he sends it to a girl who writes it up. He tells her what to charge, and he takes care of collections. He’s a good old cowboy—but he is on top of it.”
You might consider a new option for the iPhone and iPad: Horse Manager. This app lets you maintain current records for the horses on your property. Using a mobile app helps you record requests, schedule the jobs and track the costs while you are in the barn.
There are specific costs associated with specific types of horsekeeping. For example, breeding farms have traditionally charged extra for a wet mare—one with a foal at side. You feed the nursing mare more, and there are two horses instead of one in a stall and on your pasture. And there is the need to have two handlers for a time if you are training the foal to lead at an early age.
Your Profit Center
You need to sit down and calculate your labor costs for typical services. Remember to include all the ancillary time you must spend. The first item is written out to help you see how you can determine your time and resources.
• Blanketing and unblanketing: Figure out how long it takes you to catch and tie the horse, place or remove the blanket, and release the horse to where he is supposed to be. Don’t forget that there is time and space involved in hanging out wet blankets to dry, or folding and hanging clean blankets. Do you hose off or send dirty blankets out to get cleaned?
• Fitting and removing horse boots before and after turnout
• Show trim
• Body clip
• Soaking a hoof or cold hosing legs
• Holding the horse for the veterinarian or farrier
• Administering medications
For each amount of time, you can use the employee’s hourly wage and mark up your profit by 20-40%. And don’t forget the extra effort and resources spent for jobs such as clipping and vacuuming that would include preparation, cleanup and equipment maintenance.
Your markup covers overhead, too. Services that have short labor time, but include the use of amenities, would include turnout and time on the horse walker or treadmill.
Here are other occasional services to offer onsite (or contract out while still profiting):
• Halter training a foal
• Repair of saddlery, blankets, saddle pads and horse boots
• Alterations of riding clothes
• Tack cleaning
• Cold compression therapy
• Leg wrapping
Display Good Will
You can spend time educating horse owners to perform grooming chores themselves. They can watch you body clip to learn techniques and care of the machine. Some will be inspired to try the job, while others will see the amount of preparation, skill and cleanup, and decide it’s worth the cost to pay you.
“I encourage owners to get clippers and to do it themselves,” said Hischer.
You might choose to rent your clipper, with the customer bringing his or her own blades. That strategy saves your blades and turns your clippers into a moneymaker.
Similar tasks that horse owners can learn include wrapping legs, giving injections or administering paste dewormers. If you know a client prefers hands-on horse care, it’s better for the horses if you to teach correct procedures.
“I am sensitive to people in today’s financial world,” explained Hischer. “I want to have a barn that allows someone who loves horses to ride here. I believe what goes around comes around.”
Pricing Your Services
Extra services increase your overhead, so offset the costs with fair pricing. Survey local barns for ideas about going rates.
“I would like to encourage other farm owners to not price yourself out of the normal, everyday people, for the good of the industry,” said Hischer. We as horse professionals need to be aware of where the industry is going.”
What you charge depends on your area, the type of horse and time involved. Keep in mind that body clipping a horse that hates clippers might mean the cost of sedation has to be added into your fee. (Dormosedan Gel can be prescribed by the horse’s veterinarian and administered by the owner or barn manager as needed for sedation at the farm.) Here are some example fees:
Body clipping: $100-150
Show trimming: “I charge $15 to clip, which covers the cost of the time and the clipper blades going dull,” Hischer said.
Blanketing and unblanketing: $40 a month