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For Stables, Boarding Horses First Step to Profit

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Opening Fox Hollow Stables for boarders hasn’t done much to bring in profits, owner Linda Stevens says, but it has brought in customers. And that’s what drives her business.

“The boarding side of my business doesn’t have much profit because of overhead costs like hay, grain, barn help and stuff like that,” she says. “We have to board horses to get potential clients in. Then we get them into taking lessons and showing.”

Stevens says that 80% of her boarders are also show clientele or a part of her public lesson program.

Owners of other regional horse stabling farms like Michael Furrie of Fiorino Farms in Columbiana and Diana Hall of Riding Quest Stables in New Castle, Pa., agree that it is difficult to make a profit on boarding horses. It’s the services that follow, they say, that makes money.

For $650 per month, Stevens provides complete care of clients’ horses, including letting them out in the pasture, feeding them hay, filling their water, scrubbing the buckets and keeping the stalls and barns clean.

Between the two barns, Fox Hollow can house 31 horses. Each horse has a stall large enough for them to move and live comfortably and each barn features a tack and grooming area for boarders to store their tack and groom horses. The stable is current at capacity, with 18 horses being boarded by Fox Hollow clients and the rest belonging to Stevens.

“I have five horse owners that work off a portion of their board,” she says “Financially, it is a wash, but being that the boarder has vested an interest in barn work, it is more reliable help.”

Riding Quest Stables’ Hall agrees that it is not always easy to find help, however with her and her family of three, they are able to care for most of the horses in her barn, as many as 70 at a time, she says.

The barn takes in more horses in the winter months when outdoor horses from other farms need somewhere warm to stay.

“We do have one lady we pay who cleans stalls a few hours each day, three or four days a week, and we have a few college students who muck stalls in exchange for lessons,” Hall says.

The goal of her stable is to be welcoming to riders of any riding style, she notes

“We offer an indoor and outdoor arena, which can hold a small stadium course or a trail pattern for practice and we have a small cross-country course available,” Hall says. “We also have some horses available for full or half leases. We recommend lesson students try this option before buying, as they take over the expenses.”

If she didn’t offer lessons, leasing and educational opportunities like clinics with successful equestrians, Hall says Riding Quest wouldn’t turn a profit.

“Boarding could never make a business run because of the cost in general expenses. We can’t catch up with the cost of it all and we don’t expect families or recreational horse owners to keep up with an expensive board rate,” she says.

Hall charges $450 monthly to board a horse, which involves full care.

Hiring barn workers has been one of the biggest issues for Fox Hollow, Stevens says. One dedicated equestrian, Samantha Haaf, has been working and riding under Stevens since she was 10 years old. Now an adult, Haaf knows the ins and outs of the business.

“I learned to do all the background stuff that doesn’t just involve riding, all the dirty work of cleaning stalls and feeding,” Haaf says. “There’s more benefit in that than paying someone to do it all for you.”

Haaf is Stevens’ main barn hand and assistant trainer, and she is on the lookout for more help.

“When Sam [Haaf] was a kid, she just wanted to be at the barn all the time. She would work all winter long with me, scrubbing water buckets in 20-degree weather,” Stevens says. “By the time she was 13, she could run this place.”

With more help, Stevens says she could focus more on training horses. Due to a connective tissue injury, Stevens herself doesn’t do as much riding. However her daughter, Alyssa, and Haaf ride and help train the horses.

“When I can’t find people to hire, we have to do it all ourselves, including when we’re sick or it’s a holiday,” says Stevens. “The animals can’t take care of themselves.”

Fiorino Farms’ Furrie owned a few trail horses of his own at his property before getting involved in Saddlebred show horses. He explored reselling horses at national shows in states like Kentucky, Michigan and Delaware, where he and his business partner would buy, train and resell horses for anywhere from $60,000 to $800,000.

That business was tricky, he says, as making a profit was difficult due to the amount of work, time and money that was required to buy and prepare a quality show horse to be sold.

“Out of the 10 or 12 Saddlebreds we trained and sold, maybe three of them did we make anything on,” Furrie says.

Recently, he’s decided to just stick to boarding horses, which he says was never a big profit for him either.

“It’s very stress-free and relaxed now,” Furrie says. “People can come here and do what they want with their horses. I have 4-H kids and people who just trail ride. It’s really nice right now, like a little family.”

For years, he says, it wasn’t always so nice, with some boarders taking extra hay for their horses, or extra bedding, which led to even more of a cost for Furrie. This caused him to downsize from 35 boarding customers to just nine or 10, he says.

“Less people and animals makes it easier for me to keep control,” he says. “When I had 35 horses and 35 owners, it was tough keeping track of people doing stuff they weren’t permitted to do. It became a constant job.”

In the past, lessons and training helped turn a profit. Furrie used to charge $30 per hour for boarders at the barn and $40 for the public. The instructor and horse trainer who worked with him took most of that, however Furrie always kept a small facility fee from each lesson price.

“Twelve to 18 lessons a week really add up to a lot,” he says.

The average horse requires about three bags of bedding weekly, which is about $15 a bag, he says. Hay runs between $3.50 to $4 per bale, which adds up each week as each horse receives cuts of hay multiple times daily, he says.

“To be competitive as a boarder, I charge somewhere between the $300 to $350 bracket per month,” he says. “I am now able to make a profit and keep my prices because I’ve toned it down with the amount of people and who I keep in my facility.”

Beyond just boarders, Hall also offers therapeutic programs for individuals with autism, which is one of her favorite things to do, she says.

“It’s beautiful to see how happy the horses make these people,” she says. “They’ll come in and brush them and love on them. It’s a win-win situation for the horse and human.”

For those in the equine business, the measure of success – at least on a personal level – isnt always taken in dollars.

“The rewards don’t come financially, but rather spiritually. We love seeing our horses and riders happy,” she says.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.