Boarding: You Get What You Pay For

For many horse owners, deciding where to board requires the same careful thought and research as buying a new car, or even a house. Factors such as cost, location, and level of care all figure into the choice. So, too, does the type of horse and his use. A weekend trail horse obviously does not have the same needs as a horse who competes at "A" level shows every weekend. Yet a weekend-only rider will have different requirements from someone out there every day.

What an owner is willing and able to pay usually is the overriding consideration. Horses are expensive, and monthly board bills consume the largest chunk of an owner's equine expenses. Board bills can equal or surpass a monthly car payment or approach a mortgage payment. Throw in shoeing, routine veterinary care, and supplies, and even the most unflinching horse owner might wince. Lessons and transportation to and from shows can swell an already hefty bill.

Location also will determine the cost of boarding. Owners with horses in parts of the country where the cost of living is high and open land scarce--the Northeast and Southern California, for example--can expect to pay more than their counterparts in less-developed areas.

Convenience also factors into cost, as well as cachet. Owners who live in or near large cities will pay the price of boarding at a barn within reasonable driving distance. They will pay to keep their horse in "horse country"--the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, the Middleburg-Warrenton corridor of Virginia, or Greenwich, Conn.

There are options to pricey barns in desirable locations. Owners willing to do all their own work, from turn-out to feeding and mucking, might pay as little as $50 a month for a stall and pasture. Some farms also offer board in exchange for stable work.

Where to Look, What to Ask

Say you get a job transfer to another state and want to take your event horse with you. How do you find what suits your needs and your pocketbook? Consider:

  • examining the classifieds in the local newspaper or various horse publications to get an idea of what is available;
  • calling regional or state associations in your particular discipline--dressage, hunter/jumpers, eventing--and asking for contacts and a copy of their publications;
  • visiting the local tack shop to check for postings. Word of mouth can be the best way of finding a new home for your horse.

Once you find a boarding facility that interests you, set up an appointment. Ask to see the standard board agreement. Ask a lot of questions. Talk to other boarders. Go back unannounced.

You also might want to consider the proximity of the nearest veterinary clinic. If you live in an area which receives a lot of snowfall, consider the difficulty in reaching the barn in inclement weather.

What's Out There

The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care conducted an informal survey of boarding establishments in different parts of the country. Some barns include what some consider "extras" in the overall price. Others add charges for services such as giving medication and bringing the horse up for the veterinarian.

Riders with horses in serious training at well-known show barns probably won't pay less than $1,000 a month. Some will pay considerably more. Basic outdoor board--a field for grazing, available water, and hay in the winter--will cost about $100-150.

Owners of Thoroughbred broodmares pay board based on a day rate, which ranges from an average of about $15 a day in California to $20-25 a day in Central Kentucky. Foals might cost an extra $3 a day, or nothing at all until they are weaned.

Old Salem Farm, a well-known hunter/jumper show barn in North Salem, N.Y., offers practically every service imaginable. All the customer has to do is wait at the mounting block. Old Salem grooms, feeds, turns out, tacks up, and even fills out horse show entries.

Monthly board is $1,650 and includes daily care, training, and lessons. Medication and supplies run another $150 a month, while shoeing and veterinary work are billed directly to the customer. The cost of competing in horse shows is extra.

At Potomac Horse Center in Gaithersburg, Md., boarders pay $450 a month, plus a deposit. This covers feed, mucking, turn-out, and blanketing. Boarders supply their own medication. Potomac Horse Center caters to riders who hunt, event, and do dressage, and gives 600 lessons a week. The center has three indoor arenas, two outdoor arenas, trails, and open land.

Showstock Stable in Keswick, Va., is a full-service barn that specializes in selling and showing horses. Monthly board of $775 covers all the basics. Medication, veterinary work, and shoeing are extra.

Horse Heaven Farm in North Carolina's Piedmont Country operates at a little slower pace. It is essentially a retirement home for old or lame horses. Horse Heaven provides outdoor boarding on 175 acres. Boarders get hay in the winter. The price is $125 a month, plus an extra charge for those horses which need grain.

In competitive South Florida, Southern Cross Farm in Wellington offers proximity to the show grounds as well as a 10-acre jumping field at home. The board is two-tiered: training board at $1,100, which includes lessons and schooling of the horse; and $825 for full-care board. Southern Cross provides the gamut of services, including braiding and wrapping of legs. Although most medication is extra, Southern Cross provides feed supplements as a part of the board.

At Carriage Station Farm, a combined training facility near Lexington, Ky., boarders have the option of full or partial care. Full care costs $385 a month and covers feeding, cleaning stalls, turning out, and blanketing. The cost of giving the horse medication is an extra $2 a day. Outdoor board runs $200-$250 a month.

In Texas, Las Colinas Equestrian Center in Irving caters both to English and Western riders. The standard board is $425 and consists of a 12-by-12 stall cleaned twice a day, feeding three times a day, turn-out three times a week, grooming, and use of the facilities, described as "the best in the Southwest." Personalized care of the horse and training are extras.

On the West Coast, the Los Angeles Equestrian Center offers three basic boards: $410 for a box stall in an enclosed barn; $317 for a stall in a partially enclosed barn; and $305 for a covered pipe corral. The rates include twice daily feedings of alfalfa cubes and stall cleanings. Everything else is extra. The LAEC has elaborate facilities, which include several jumping rings, dressage arenas, and a covered Equidome.

About the Author

Jacqueline Duke

Jacqueline Duke is special projects editor for Blood-Horse Publications and editor of its book division, Eclipse Press. Additionally, she is editor of Keeneland magazine. She enjoys competing her horse Winston in dressage competitions.

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