Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keeping Horses at Home

Here I go again, writing on a topic of which I know very little. BUT, I know enough to have made the decision, for now, not to keep horses at home. There are a number of things I had not considered early on in our horse journey which came to light as I explored the possibility of moving to a horse property and keeping horses at home. For me, these details gave me pause, but for others they may be no big deal.

There are many reasons for keeping horses at home - reduced costs, more time with them, control over their care. The whole thing looks very different if money is no object than it does if you are on a tight budget. For our purposes, I'm going to be practical and assume you are not the type with bottomless pockets.

If you have more than one horse, you can't help thinking about the financial savings of keeping horses in your backyard rather than boarding them. Here in the Metro-West area outside Boston, board is extremely expensive ranging from $1,000 - $1,300 a month within a reasonable distance of our house. It's similar to the economics of day care vs. a nanny. The more kids you have, the more cost effective the nanny option looks.

The first thing we thought about when exploring the option of keeping the horses at home was the monthly cost of doing so. If you do all of your own barn chores, the cost to feed a horse in this area is about $350 per month which includes hay and grain. If you will have nice grass turnout that cost may go down a bit in the summer since they can graze and reduce your hay costs. Hay is about $10 a bale and a horse eats about a bale a day, maybe 3/4 of a bale. Your other significant cost is bedding. You will need shavings or some other form of bedding for your stall. If you have a run in stall, your bedding might last longer than if your horses are kept in all night. Regardless, plan for about $100 - $150 a month for bedding. I'm not including supplements in this discussion since their cost is the same whether the horses are at home or boarded somewhere else.

It looks like keeping horses at home could save us about $700 a month per horse (if you are doing everything yourself) which is pretty significant. But there are a few more costs to consider. First of all, there is the cost of living on a horse property. For us, moving to a town that allows horses would increase my husband's commute significantly and would have taken my two non-horsey sons away from a public school system they love so right there we had a deal breaker. But even if those pieces had fallen into place, we had a hard time finding a property we could handle that would give us everything we wanted. We currently enjoy the use of an indoor arena, several outdoor sand rings, jumps and fields. If we were at home, we would have reduced facilities.

Insurance and manure management are two additional significant costs. I am told by my friends who have horses at home that managing two is really not bad but adding a third horse seems to be a breaking point as far as the amount of mucking required and the quantity of manure you need to dispose of on a weekly basis.

Some rural towns will give you a good break on your property taxes if you are using your property as a working farm so look into the rules. The savings here might compensate for some of the costs listed above.

So now you've crunched the numbers, it's time to talk about the more subjective pros and cons of keeping horses at home versus boarding them. On the con side, having horses at home ties you down. My friends with horses at home are frequently looking for people they can hire to come take care of things when they want to go away for a weekend and it costs quite a bit to hire such a person. I believe they pay people about $100 a day for someone to come muck, feed and often stay overnight. Even when you are in town, horses tie you down. 7 days a week someone needs to be up early to feed them and turn them out. If everyone in the household is willing to take turns getting up and doing morning chores, then it might not be so bad. Horses need hay throughout the day unless they are turned out on grass so someone needs to be around to throw hay and fill water buckets in the middle of the day, everyday. And someone has to do night check, break the ice in the water buckets through the winter, change blankets, take care of emergencies, etc. There are some great devices such as automatic waterers and heated water buckets that will reduce your efforts but at the end of the day, horses need a great deal of care.

Horses don't usually like to be alone. If you have one horse you probably will want to provide the horse with a companion. You can run into trouble if you want to take one of the horses to a horse show or clinic for the day. Some of my friends end up dragging horse #2 along frequently so he doesn't get into mischief being home alone. You need to think through your program and consider what is the best number of horses to have at home for your lifestyle.

On the pro side, having your horses at home can be a great joy. I would love to have ponies in my backyard, to walk out the door and be with them any hour of the day. I would love to be at home more. My dog would prefer to have us home more! I could cook dinner while my daughter rode her horse. I think this becomes a bigger pro as the kids get older, have more homework and trips to the barn take up too much time.  We could afford to have two horses if we kept them at home. That's probably the biggest argument in favor of the idea for me. And I assume the bond is much greater when you take care of your own horse each day.

Having a farm is a serious lifestyle choice. If you really want one, then go for it! If you are just trying to find a way to cut costs, make sure you are truly ready for the commitment. If you aren't super knowledgeable, do you have someone you can call if something goes wrong in the night?

And if you're thinking about taking on something bigger, a boarding facility, think again unless you really know what you are doing. I know it sounds completely logical to buy a ten stall barn, rent 8 out to cover your costs and bring in a little bit of money, allowing you to justify having horses. Running a boarding facility is a ton of work and, unless you plan to do every bit of that work yourself, you are unlikely to see a profit. Look into how much you can charge for board. Backyard barns can't charge the same type of board a facility with an indoor and large outdoor rings can charge. Trainers running their own facilities always say they break even or lose money on the board and make it up with teaching or running shows or hay sales or some other horse adjacent business.

The other issue with running a boarding facility is that your home is no longer your own private space. You will have people there all the time and often those people will feel entitled to tell you what to do and to ask you to change your home to please them. I think I'd have a difficult time with this aspect of taking in boarders.

If I haven't talked you out of it yet, then good luck! I'm jealous! And I really hope to follow in your footsteps some day.