Editor’s Note: The following article lists board rates from around the country. Rates, for the same services, vary from region to region.
All-inclusive, or à la carte—when you set your boarding rate, you determine what scale fits your stable.
Every business that contracts for services must decide whether to balance the convenience of a flat rate against the realities of extra add-ons. Your choice must consider fair compensation for services rendered and fair treatment to all clients. Every amenity costs you effort.
“Time is money,” said Jane Dow of Westbrook Hunt Club, Westbrook, Conn. “You have to cover your costs. You can’t just include them for free.”
Determine Your Policy
At the most basic, a no-frills barn limits services to room and board, or “one size fits all.” This regular board service usually includes feed, hay fed twice daily and stall cleaning six or seven days a week. As a step up in complexity, another barn may offer a two-level scale of regular board and full board. For the most part, full board raises the level of service to include grooming, turnout, exercising and blanketing.
“We have two tiers of service,” said Cara Chapel of Folly Farm in Simsbury, Conn. “Our basic board, which is $600, includes feed, mucking, turn-out, blanketing, feeding out supplements and daily Strongid C. Our full board at $875 includes daily grooming, pre-lesson tack-up, tack cleaning after each ride and mane pulling and trimming. Other than training, we set up our board fees to absorb most of the costs.”
At a training barn, a horse in training usually receives full board as part of training for horse and/or rider. An example is Old Salem Farm in North Salem, N.Y. This full-service training barn’s all-inclusive, full-board fee covers just about everything under the sun, including unlimited lessons, training of the horse, grooming, tack cleaning and pre-lesson tack up. The only extra charge is for body clipping and coaching and shipping fees for shows off premises. “Our clientele pays one all-inclusive price, and that’s the way they like it,” said Danny Fitzsimmons, a manager at Old Salem. “To start adding up separate costs would only frustrate them, so we built everything into one price and that’s what everyone pays.”
The most complex services model involves a menu of extras. Horse owners may choose none, some or all, depending on their circumstances. Owners with limited time or expertise can take advantage of extras and tailor a package to fit their individual needs and budgets.
In determining rates, it is important to first identify the types of clients you already target, or want to, and what their needs will be. Consider next how much you want to control the care of the horses. Do you prefer owners who assume greater responsibility for their horses? Or, do you cater more toward those who have come to trust you to make all decisions?
Jane Shaw manages Thumbs Up Riding Club in Lake View Terrace, Calif. She offers both a basic “budget” rate and a full-service rate. “I have set it up so the more you do, the less you pay—and it’s your choice. At my barn, most like to do it themselves. That’s the clientele I have acquired. They like to be involved with the basic horsemanship.”
She noted that some do-it-yourself owners still pay for certain grooming extras. “For example, if a horse has a hard mane to pull, like a really thick mane, or he has a behavior problem, I or my groom will do it. I have one person who does all her grooming, except she pays me to clip the horse’s ears.”
Your clients might prefer the fixed price. They know exactly what to budget, and everyone pays the same across-the-barn fee. The flat rate can include only the basics or reach a middle ground between basics and deluxe.
The Westbrook Hunt Club rate “includes a lot,” said Dow. “We have a basic board and a training board. The basic board covers daily care and feeding, plus turnout, blanketing, etc. The extras are things like longeing and clipping.”
In Huntington Beach, Calif., the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center charges a standard rate for either a corral (12 by 24 feet at $290 a month) or barn stall ($400). Boarder Kim Miller has her horse in training at the center, which houses 420 horses. She said, “There is no scale for extras. If you want more, you’re responsible for it.” For example, boarders who choose the corral housing supply their own shavings as bedding. Shavings are included with the stall fee.
Whatever you consider inclusive, your policy can set limits on services. For example, the training barn Denville-Kanini Farms, Danville, Calif., supplies blanketing and an extra noontime feeding of owner-supplied grain. Kris Kalstrom explained how she controls these services through uniform rules. “Blanketing and unblanketing are all done at the same time, during the working hours of our ranch hands. We make the decision, morning and evening, if blankets will stay on or not. Any mixing of ingredients for noon graining must be prepared in advance by the owner, put in zip-lock bags in their grain barrel, and we will feed it.” Stall rates range from $360-415.
Policies for regular health care vary from barn to barn. Many barns require owners to keep horses up to date with shots, while others do it themselves. “We don’t leave it up to the clients to get shots done,” said Dow. “We arrange for everything and bill them.”
Chapel agrees. “We host and go to so many shows that we have one vet come in and do all the necessary shots for all the horses. For injuries or vet work outside of vaccinations, our clients can choose their own vets.”
You can also dictate the deworming schedule, either by doing it yourself or informing owners of their responsibilities. Keep tabs on each horse’s status by reminding owners to notify you when a horse is treated.
Price Your Services
In pricing services, make sure your income offsets expenses while supplying value to horse owners.
Hidden Fox Farm, El Cajon, Calif., boards at $185 for corral and $205 stall. The farm posts monthly charges for extra feeding, blanketing and grooming services. For example, an extra feeding costs $35 per month, blanketing costs $10 per month and mane pulling/clipping costs $25 per month. Owner and trainer Katy Boswell explained, “The amounts are determined based on how much time it takes, how much it costs, what other barns charge for the same service, how much people are willing to pay and how much we want to perform that particular service.”
To price, think about how much time a procedure consumes and what facility or equipment it demands. Blanketing and unblanketing a horse may take 5 to 10 minutes every day. Daily turnout can take longer, depending on the distance to and from a paddock, and possible extra time needed to catch the horse.
The increased cost of hired labor can also affect your pricing. As you hire and manage employees, you can assign them to perform services that are other than typical. Then, market these professional services to offset the additional labor costs while adding to your bottom line. For example, a hunter barn can supply a show groom for expert trimming, clipping, mane pulling and braiding.
Another decision is your presence during veterinarian or farrier calls. If the horse’s owner can’t attend, who will meet the vet or farrier, bring out the horse or even hold the horse if necessary? Will you charge your customer for the additional time spent?
Shaw noted, “Some stables charge extra to handle a horse for the vet or the shoer. I don’t. It’s an education for me to be there and be involved with what the vet or shoer is doing. If the horse has a persistent behavior problem, then the shoer arranges for the owner to be there.”
How will you handle the charges for equine health care? You can pass a bill directly on to the owner, or pay all bills yourself and then bill clients—a practice that may be hard on cash flow. In the latter case, you might add on a service fee for assuming the charges.
If you make capital improvements on your property, board fees can contribute. Determine a fair approach to cover costs of upkeep and enhancements. You might elect to impose a temporary price hike to pay off the expense of a special amenity, such as nighttime lighting in winter months. Or a monthly fee for trailer parking can pay off your investment in grading and maintaining an all-weather parking surface.
And what about the destructive horse? Cribbers, kickers and stall pacers all add up to expense and time. “We used to absorb the costs,” said Dow, “but now we charge our clients, at cost, for any damage caused by the horse.”
Communicate Your Policy
Your boarding contract should clarify the extent of services included in the monthly fee, plus list ones that are available, but cost extra. Make the text definite, so all boarders understand what the rates include. Additionally, if there is ever a misunderstanding or disagreement, you can refer to the contract.
Dan Byrd of Santa Fe Horse Park, Santa Fe, N. M., supplies a boarders’ packet. “It’s a folder that has the waivers, barn rules, emergency contact sheet, board rates and list of extra charges. We add the extra charges to the monthly bill.” This barn charges $250 for an outside pen, $300-350 for a barn stall.
When delivering extra services, commit to excellence and be prepared for critiques. For example, a meticulous owner could be quick to find fault with you or your employee’s clipping job. Discuss her concerns and emphasize your criteria for quality.
That owner might decide to bring in an outside service provider. Think about how you permit grooms or massage therapists to handle animals on your premises.
Dow responded, “They need our O.K., because otherwise you lose total control and accidents can happen. You need to know what’s going on with the horses. If different people come in to a barn, it can produce quite a bit of chaos.”
Realize that the more complex your fee structure, the more time you will spend in recordkeeping, billing, and dealing with possible disagreements with clients. The more custom services you perform, the greater the opportunity for increased demands and misunderstandings.
Additional horse handling also requires more time spent managing your staff. You’ll need to develop a system to assure that each employee understands what horse receives which services.
Charging for extras may or may not fit your business model. If their value meets your clients’ needs, these amenities can benefit both you and the horse owners in your barn.