Being “Put Out to Pasture” May Not Be So Bad – for the Horse or the Facility Owner

8 06 2020

I represent many full service boarding facilities and most face the same types of challenges.  The economics of operating such a boarding facility are often difficult for the average person.  The market where the farm is located may not support the boarding fees that need to be charged in order for the facility to turn any sort of profit – and sometimes may not even support high enough fees for the facility to simply break even. I often half-jokingly/half-seriously tell folks who ask about becoming a boarding facility to do it only if (a) they have unlimited funds and enjoy having a business that needs someone carefully paying attention to it 24/7/365; or (b) their farm is located in an area with a strong market for stables and the boarding fees people will pay are high enough to make the venture profitable, even after taking into account the cost of adequate staff, insurance and maintenance; or (c) are simply just compelled to do it because of their love for horses or their love of the atmosphere of a good boarding barn, despite all the economic and liability downsides (similar to how comedians and pastors always say folks should not attempt their professions unless it is a true calling and you just CANNOT do anything else and be happy).

Adding riding lessons or horse training to the mix when you own a boarding facility ratchets up the liability, the cost and the complexity of the operations.  Allow children as students and expensive horses in the stalls and the stakes are even higher. One child injured in a riding lesson can take down a trainer’s career and a lesson barn’s program, so it’s important to have substantial safety protocols in place and adequate, well-trained staff in addition to plenty of insurance (e.g., liability; care, custody and control; instructor liability and perhaps other coverages, depending on what opportunities the stable provides to its patrons).  None of these necessary safeguards are inexpensive and all eat into the profitability of the enterprise.

While I do not in any way intend to discourage quality boarding facilities from opening and operating, I must be frank about the realities of the business because every week I have someone calling me with a romantic story about how they dream of operating a boarding facility.  Often it goes something like this – they saw this pretty property and thought it needed horses in the pasture, so they are in the process of building a barn and are going to board a few horses “for fun” and need the business set up.  Sometimes they have already set up their Facebook page and had a stable logo designed.  So exciting! Bless their hearts, I love their enthusiasm – if only it were that simple.  Oftentimes these are wonderful, kind folks who are not at all familiar with horses and really do not know what they do not know.  Thankfully they are calling me (or someone else equally knowledgeable about the equine boarding business such as an equine-specific insurance agent or experienced or a local, successful boarding facility owner), so they are hopefully going to learn something about what it will take in terms of time and money before they spend a lot of money on the front end buying property, building barns, putting up fencing, investing in graphic designers, etc.

Operating a boarding facility day to day is also not for the faint of heart (I wrote an entire blog post about it, in fact), but one twist that might make it less stressful, less expensive and more feasible for the general public (and in some ways even more rewarding), is for a facility to limit boarding to retired horses who just need a peaceful, safe place to spend their golden years – with no riding permitted. The insurance cost is significantly lower and the human traffic at the barn (i.e., opportunities for injuries) is typically lower.  Not to mention the learning curve is much shorter when all you are doing is offering retirement board with no riding, no lessons, no training, etc. And the owners of these retirement facilities are rewarding horses who have often worked hard and made their owners very happy, some for a very long time (or have even rewarded them with prize money, in some cases).  Providing a safe and peaceful haven for these horses is quite fulfilling for many folks.  When no riding is allowed, fewer staff member are needed at the barn and an inexpensive co-op structure is also quite feasible with retirement facilities as long as you are careful to choose the members of your co-op very carefully.

Some folks looking into providing boarding services, especially those with veterinary or medical training, may decide to offer special services for retired horses with health issues or even go the route of a becoming a rehabilitation stable for horses that are recovering from injuries.  But, more commonly, folks are setting up stables to serve horses that have simply completed their working lives and now deserve some peace, quiet and good quality time with a herd.

 

So if you have always wanted to operate an equine boarding facility, you should consider the economics and your equine knowledge base carefully before embarking on such a venture.  Once you are comfortable that you have the knowledge you will need, but perhaps the economics are a concern, you might want to consider the idea of allowing retirees only with no riding.  A retirement stable may offer just the balance of economics, liability and service that you are seeking!

If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some general questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com.  I used to answer quick questions for free if I could, but I am getting so many calls for free legal advice that I am having to start charging a little something for an initial chat!  A good problem to have, I know. Starting January 1, 2019, I’m going to be charging $99 for a 30 minute general question session. Sometimes I can help folks a lot in 30 minutes. Can’t review any documents in that amount of time, but usually I can at least give you some direction or general thoughts about a type of situation. If you don’t hear back from me quickly, it’s not because I don’t love you or think you have a great question or because I don’t know the answer (usually), I’m probably just really busy and haven’t had a chance to email back.  After the first 30 minutes for $99, my usual hourly rate starting January 1, 2020, is $400.  For your budgeting purposes, I can typically provide a simple liability waiver and release or a horse lease or a sales contract or other simple, short agreement for about $500-750 each, a typical equine facility lease between unrelated parties for about $1,000-$1,500 and a typical boarding agreement (including Barn Rules and Equine Disclosure form) for about $750-$1,000. These are of course estimates and if your situation is complex or unique or you just like to make lots of revisions and add lots of details, it will cost more simply because I do bill by the hour.

You can check out our firm’s Equine Law Group at www.rl-law.com if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories and information, this blog is (in a way, I guess) an advertisement for legal services.  I have to tell you that in bold, says the North Carolina State Bar.

 

 





Boarding Horses is Not for the Faint of Heart

11 11 2014

Whether you are considering building a barn on your property or already have a barn on your property and are considering allowing boarders to come board horses on your property, you should think very carefully before embarking on such an adventure. Boarding horses is definitely, as the title says, not for the faint of heart. There are a myriad of issues that arise, legal and non-legal, from issues related to adequacy and safety of your facilities to temperament and safety of the animals being boarded.

The obvious concerns about personal or equine injuries which might take place on your property are probably the issue most people think of first and with good reason. Horses and ponies are large animals and it does not take much in the way of a wrong, even accidental, movement to do a lot of damage to a human being or another animal. We all know of situations where a horse kicks a dog or another horse, and that can certainly get expensive to remedy, but what is more often a concern to us is injury to people. Under certain circumstances injuries to people, especially young people, can cost a stable owner a fortune even if the stable is insured.

What do I mean? Well, children are the humans we as a society consider most precious. They have their entire lives ahead of them with what often seems like unlimited potential. It is that potential that, once squelched with death or a debilitating injury, can cost a stable owner and its insurance company (assuming the stable has liability insurance) a great deal of money to remedy. A claim for injury to a 50 year old person will in all likelihood not yield the monetary compensation that a claim for injury to a 5 year old will yield. And where there are horses and ponies, there are often children. And if you add to the mix the possibility that you are going to permit children’s group riding lessons, you have magnified the potential for injury and, at the same time, magnified your potential liability for those injuries.

In addition to the risk of human injury on site for which you could be potentially held liable, there is the risk of a horse escaping your facility and causing injury in the process, whether the animal runs into traffic and causes an accident or tramples someone off site during its escape, among other things.

Another risk relates the boarders themselves for what they may perceive as damage to their horse for which they blame you, the stable owner. Many times a disgruntled boarder has believed that the stable owner was negligent in permitting an unqualified worker to handle the boarded horses and claim that this worker did something which resulted in injury to that boarder’s horse. Maybe the barn manager read the turnout chart incorrectly and put two horses who do not get along in the same paddock by accident and one or both of them is injured. Perhaps it will not be a huge financial hit if it is a $500 retired pasture horse, but it could be a sizeable problem if the injury is to a $50,000 show horse.

Being hypervigilant at all times about the condition of your fencing and the vegetation growing in the fields and paddocks is not an easy job. If someone’s horse dies from ingesting a poisonous plant that should not have been growing in the fields, you may have a problem. If someone’s horse steps in a rabbit hole and breaks its leg, someone may claim you should have inspected the fields better for these hazards. Are they correct? Maybe or maybe not. But oftentimes it does not matter if they are correct or not because the claim will probably be made – because when a person, his child or his horse is injured, that person wants someone to blame. And if you are the stable owner, you will probably be on the list of people they would like to bear some of the blame.

However, if money is no object and you really enjoy the environment of a boarding facility and are comfortable with the risks it presents, then it may make sense for you to get into the boarding business or continue the one you have. Or if you know the risk and are of average means, but you feel you are compelled to get into or continue the business because of your love for it and you are willing to assume the risks, then it may be fine for you. Or if you live in a key location where people will pay substantial amounts for boarding services at your farm, it may make financial sense for you to enter or continue a boarding operation. But if you are an average person of average means with an average farm in an average location, you have a lot to think about. Lots of insurance coverage is an obvious necessity if you ever board even one horse and a good equine insurance agent should be the first person you call before opening your barn doors to boarders. And then a good equine lawyer so that he or she can explain to you the risks of your undertaking a boarding operation. Information is always empowering, so gather as much information on the risks of housing a horse boarding operation before you undertake it so that you are making the best decision that you can make for you and your family.

If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com. I often will answer a short and simple question for free if you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. If you don’t hear back from me quickly, it’s not because I don’t love you or think you have a great question or because I don’t know the answer (usually), I’m probably just really busy and haven’t had a chance to email back. And you can always buy the first hour of my time for $250 (my usual hourly rate for 2014 is $350). Lots of folks will save up all their equine (and some corporate or real estate) legal questions and short documents and sit with me for an hour and we will do as much as we can during that hour and it’s only $250. You can check out my Twitter feed @nchorselawyer as well as our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at http://www.rl-law.com/equine if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories, this blog and the Twitter feed referenced above are also (in one way or another, I guess) an advertisement for legal services.