One of the benefits of stabling a horse at a boarding operation is that there are many personnel around the barn to attend to horse needs when necessary. This can be an incredible convenience for the horse owner, but it does add to the work of the barn personnel. Unless you are involved in a “full service” barn, there are usually added fees to the monthly board rates to pay for these privileges.
That doesn't mean you have to charge a good client for feeding her horse if she is sick, for example. You might do that for a couple of days just because she is a good client.
But you should know when you are willing to provided services free, and when services will be charged on the monthly billing. And you need to make sure your clients understand that, too.
What Services Warrant Added Fees?
Basic board typically covers stabling, 2-3 times daily feedings, mucking of stalls and paddocks and turnout. Other tasks that might warrant service charges service include:
- Extra or specialized turnout
- Catching the horse and bringing it in for the veterinarian, farrier, chiropractor, acupuncturist or other support practitioners
- Holding the horse for the vet, farrier or other support practitioners
- Extra bedding
- Extra hay
- Feeding extra supplements beyond what the barn usually provides, such as daily dewormer, psyllium, SmartPaks, vegetable oil, beet pulp, etc.
- Health care services such as paste deworming, administration of medication or immunizations, wound care cleaning or bandaging
- Putting on and taking off equipment such as blankets, fly masks, hoof boots or leg wraps
- Insect control, such as fly spray application
- Show preparation such as bathing, clipping, braiding and mane pulling
- Laundry service for blankets and/or blanket repair service
- Tack cleaning
- Clean up of aisle and wash stall when owner doesn’t perform this task
- Hand walking, lunging or exercising the horse
- Lessons and/or arena use
- Tack locker availability
- Trailer parking or trailering the horse off the farm to shows and events
Every one of these services costs a barn owner, manager or riding instructor time and money. If barn staff must be hired to carry out these procedures, then payroll expenses go up. If the barn owner, manager or riding instructor elects to carry out the tasks, then that person's day could be consumed by the extra tasks, preventing them from doing their primary job.
How Are These Services Charged?
The question of how to apply fees fairly should be answered up front when a new boarder comes to the barn. So there are no financial surprises, boarders need to know what they are getting into besides a flat board rate.
The dilemma is always how to make it fair. Should there be an a-la-carte fee for individual items selected by an owner, or does every boarder pay the same for added services no matter how many services they use? If it is to be a-la-carte, then a menu of possible services allows owners to tailor choices to their specific needs. While some barns and owners prefer that method, you’ll need to decide if the fees will be charged per month, week or day. Fees for added services vary depending on how much time it takes and the extent of out-of-pocket expenses for the barn owner/manager. Fees generally range from $10 to $50 per month for any one service, and can be $5-10 each for an a-la-carte procedure. More involved services should cost more because labor is one of your biggest expenses.
Just as a barn might charge different rates for horses living in a pasture versus an outside paddock versus inside stall, it is possible to set up a different “tier” of board rates. Those who want specialized services can have them included as part of their monthly board rate, while others might prefer a lower board fee with an occasional extra for infrequently added services.
For example, one owner might work full-time and really wants to spend time with her horse when she is at the barn. So she might pay for services that she doesn't have time to perform, or that she chooses to pay someone else to do so she can spend barn time with the horse or in the saddle.
The overall board fee for a full-service barn might be considerably higher than one that provides the bare essentials, but owners could be more accepting of paying a flat fee up front than seeing it nickel-and-dimed from their pockets with itemized services. That way they are able to estimate their monthly budgets more exactly.
How you decide to manage service fees likely affects the type of boarder attracted to your barn. If you decide to charge for a-la-carte, you can count on an increased amount of record keeping and billing. There is also a potential for boarders to complain about a-la-carte charges or how a task was performed and how often. If you charge a flat rate, then some will be dissatisfied because they aren’t interesting in availing themselves of many of the offered services and they think the "board fee" is too high. Some horse owners are self-reliant and prefer to meet the vet and farrier themselves, equip their horses themselves with blankets, boots, or fly masks, etc. Some expect that turnout is part of the board fee, and others might not have a need to feed supplements.
No matter what services are offered or used, there will be an added cost to you that should be passed on to your clients. Most horse owners are appreciative of the specialized attention to their horses and happily will pay for the privilege and convenience. Just make sure you are up-front about when charges will be placed and for what services.