A lot of people think that self-care boarding, whether in your backyard or at a self-service stable, is far more affordable. Think again. Even if you place no value whatsoever on your personal time, there are many costs involved that you should be well aware of.
If, once you understand the expenses and ongoing labor that are honestly involved, you’re still certain that you prefer to care for your horses on your own, you’ll go into the endeavor with a solid plan and few(er) surprises.
So, here are some of the top questions to ask yourself before embarking on a self-care equestrian journey;
Do you have enough space to adequately house and exercise the horses? At least a fifth of an acre per horse is recommended. Many counties legally require more than that.
Is your space safely fenced? T-posts and wire aren’t safe. If you have no other option than to use t-posts, make sure they’re safely capped with rubber tops or, better yet, a full length rubber sleeve. Set wood posts in gravel and cement. Ensure that there are no rough implements that can puncture the horses and no spaces that they may try to squeeze through.
If you need to divide the fenced area or create corrals, do you own sturdy horse panels? You can sometimes find used panels on sale for $50 – $70 each or purchase them new. Many brands start in the range of $90 – $100 each, though Big Bubba’s in Ogden makes their own to keep costs down; they sell their horse panels starting at just $70 each. Add gates. New, their prices range from $135 – $200 on up, depending on brand, height (walk through or ride through?) and width.
Do you have shelter? While some owners are opposed to placing a horse in a stall, it’s still nice to offer shelter (whether from a run-in shed or a sturdy stand of trees) so your horses will have shade in the sun, a bit of protection from rain or snow, and a reasonable wind block.
Where will you ride? Does your property offer safe, level footing? If not, you’ll haul in sand and pea gravel, and plenty of it. The delivery cost generally starts in the neighborhood of $65 and both sand and pea gravel as well as quality sifted top soil will run from $60 on up per ton. You’ll need several tons (ten is a good start) to create a passable base for your riding pen.
Where will you store your hay? You need a dry, clean, covered space to keep your hay and prevent it from getting damp, moldy, or infested with rodents. Most self-care experts advise getting enough to last for 3 – 4 weeks but no more, as the possibility of losing numerous bales to mold or other destructive elements increases the longer it sits.
Where will you buy your hay? Salt Lake has several outlets where you can purchase individual bales of hay for approximately $11 – $12 each. They weigh, generally, about 60lbs apiece, so be sure to take along a strong buddy if you’re not sure you can lift and load something that heavy. Do you have a truck large enough to transport your own feed or will you need to hire someone to deliver? If being delivered, does the supplier help to unload and stack?
How will you manage manure? If you’re in a small urban environment you’ll need to pick up the waste at least twice a day, 7 days a week. You can compost it if you have just a couple of horses, but with three or more you’ll need to devise a plan for removal.
If you do have stalls on site you’ll need shavings. Those can be purchased by the bag and you’ll need one or two per week (at least) per horse, for a cost of roughly $8 per bag.
Speaking of stalls, to ensure level footing and comfort you’ll want to add stall mats. These measure 6 x4 feet and weigh 75 pounds each. They cost $50 – $60 apiece. The dimensions and weight are usually too much for one individual to handle and move alone, so once again you’ll need help. Help, we should add (if you hadn’t figure this out already) usually costs anywhere from $10 – $20 per hour, depending on who you can contract to assist.
Water troughs and water buckets along with hoses and spigots with reasonable access to your paddock and/or stalls need to be in place. How will you manage freezing water over the winter months? Do you have electricity within range that will enable the use of a tank heater?
How about lighting? If you need to be on site before sunrise or after dark, can you safely see what’s going on?
Are you feeding the horses on the ground or in feeders? If using feeders, what kind? Hanging feeders? (how will you mount them?), troughs, hay nets or some of the newer ‘hay pillow’ feeder designs, made with ground-grazing in mind.
Keep in mind that repairs will be needed on a regular basis, as horses are big and fast and when enclosed in less than 100 acres or so they’re likely to break something. You’ll need to fix that.
Okay, you’ve covered most of the material needs if you’ve successfully addressed all the aforementioned issues. Now, let’s look at the time involved.
Every day you’ll need to be at the barn around 7 a.m. It’s important that horses are on a relatively consistent schedule and, if you have a regular day job and need to be at the office before 8:30 a.m., you need to give yourself enough time to feed and clean and ensure that the water troughs are filled. Take off blankets or turnout sheets if the temperatures will rise much above freezing during the day. Get back to the barn by 6 for their dinner feeding; not too much before, but not too late. Put the blankets or turnout sheets back on if night time temps will drop much below freezing. Check the water to make sure everyone has enough to drink. If there is enough light to see what you’re doing, muck out the stalls and paddock again.
Like to sleep in on the weekends? Too bad; it’s not going to happen. Sure, you can push their breakfast back to 7:45 or so, maybe, but don’t count on too much relaxation. Vacations? Forget it. Self-care is your job, your hobby, your recreation and your vacation. You’re needed on site, 365 days a year. The work is there and it’s your responsibility to do it day in and day out; doesn’t matter if you’re tired or sore or sick.
If you’re still enamored with the idea of taking care of your horses on your own, we can assume you’re a strapping individual who can easily lift 100 pounds (or more) over your head with one hand, are in optimum health and have the drive and fortitude to persevere in any weather, day or night, even if physically impaired or in searing pain. It’s also likely that you’re in possession of unlimited wealth, super-human energy and boundless creativity! Bravo!
And, if for any reason your resources, will and patience run out, take a look at our recent article about Salt Lake’s best horse boarding facilities.