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2006 Horse Boarding Guide for the Northern Shenandoah Valley

Farm Business Management Update, December 2006/January 2007

By Bill Whittle (, Extension Agent, Farm Business Management, Page County; Crystal Smith (, Extension Agent, Agricultural and Natural Resources, Animal Science, Warren County.

The ownership of pleasure horses by the non-farm population has exploded in the northern Shenandoah Valley during the past few years.  This remarkable growth has fueled an increase in the components of the horse industry that service the private horse owner.  One such important component is the boarding facility that caters to horse owners who have inadequate acreage and facilities to maintain animals on their own property.  Horse owners choose a stable to board their horse for many reasons.  Often it has to do with management and the intrapersonal relationships between the horse owner and the people the horse owner most often comes in contact with.

During the summer of 2006, Extension distributed a survey to the horse industry in the northern Shenandoah Valley to develop a portrait of the area’s boarding industry.  The objectives of this survey were to describe horse boarding facilities in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and to determine the relative cost of amenities provided at the facilities.  The survey contained over 50 questions related to the types of services provided, cost of those services, and the overall management of the facilities.  Since many variations of boarding facilities exist, not all situations fit easily into the survey format.  Participants were asked to select the answer that best suited their operation and to provide comments explaining their answers if necessary.  In situations where the total is greater than 100% stables responded to the question at multiple levels.

Forty facilities responded to the survey.  The majority of them were in the Clark-Frederick area.  The results indicate that most facilities are operated by owner-managers who take a very active part in the day-to-day management, even when they have employees.  The types of boarding facilities ranged from pasture to stall boarding with varying degrees of turnout.  A single operation often includes more than one variation of boarding.  Also, the results show the availability of a wide array of amenities, including outdoor and indoor arenas, providing exercise for horses, providing a winter blanketing service and providing tack storage ranging from individual tack lockers to heated and air conditioned tack rooms.  The boarding facilities that offered more amenities generally charged more for their boarding services.  A summary of the results of the survey are provided below.

People interested in operating a boarding facility to service the growing pleasure horse industry can use the 2006 Horse Boarding Survey Results for the Northern Shenandoah Valley to develop a successful business plan and to decide what type of facility to build.  Horse owners can use the results as a guide to the breadth of services available within the horse boarding industry and the rates that pleasure horse owners are willing to pay for these services.

Summary:  Results of the 2006 Horse Boarding Survey for the Shenandoah Valley

  1. Boarding rates (Table 1):  The types of horse boarding facilities generally range from pasture boarding to stall boarding with varying degrees of turnout.   Most of the pasture boarding facilities could accommodate a greater number of horses (generally 10 to 20) at their facilities.  The stall boarding facilities in the area typically accommodate fewer horses:  on average, less than 10.

    Table 1.  Monthly Boarding Rate Per-Horse for Various Boarding Schemes

    Boarding Scheme


    Average Number of Horses Boarded

    Average Rate   per-month   per-horse $

    Range $









    Pasture with Run-in






    Pasture with Occasional Stall






    Stall  (Total Confinement)






    Stall with Individual Paddock






    Stall with Multi-horse Paddock






  2.  Level of service:  When asked about the level of service provided, 65.6% reported offering full service:  all feeding, turnout, and stall cleaning is done by the barn management.  Forty-one percent felt they provided minimal service.  Several facilities indicated they offer the horse owner the choice of full or minimal service based on the fee structure. 

  3. Style of riding (Table 2):  Forty-five percent stated they cater to a specific style, while 54.8% indicated they have no preference to the riding style of their boarders.

    Table 2.  Frequency of Various Styles Represented at Facilities








    All types


  4. Customer age:  Fifty-eight percent of the facilities cater to customers of all ages, while 25.8% indicate they deal with adults only, and 23.4% deal with children only.  The number of customers at boarding stables ranges from as few as one to as many as 20 for the larger operations.
  5. Watering systems:  While pastured, horses have access to water by trough (65.6%), automatic watering systems (50.0%) and natural springs/creeks 34.4% of the time.  Eighty-eight percent of responding boarding stables indicated they watered horses in the stall by bucket.
  6. Fencing:  The most popular fencing material for the confinement area is board fence (68.8%), followed by electric (25.0%), woven wire (21.9%), high tensile (21.9%), rubber/plastic (9.4%), and polywire (6.3%).  While some differences are indicated between confinement areas and the entire farm, for the entire farm, board fence is still used the most, 50.0%, followed by woven wire at 34.9%. 
  7. Horse gender:  Most facilities (80.7%) do not allow stallions at their facilities.  However, 19.4% allow stallions, and 37.7% stated they have stallions on the premises, which probably means that the facility is also operating a breeding operation along with the boarding stable.  Fifty-eight percent of the facilities separate mares from geldings in the pasture.
  8. Stalls:  The size of stalls is all over the spectrum, but the typical stall is 12 foot by 12 foot.  Stalls are most frequently cleaned by the barn management (72.4%) while 34.5% of the facilities have the horse owners clean their horses’ stalls.  The majority of the surveyed facilities clean stalls once a day (64.3%) and use shavings as a bedding material (76.7%).  Straw is used as a bedding material at only one-fifth of the stables.  Eighty-one percent of the facilities include the bedding in the boarding fee. 

  9. Amenities:  The amenities or “extras” provided by the stable are a major part of the expense of boarding a horse (Table 3).  Seventy-seven percent of facilities use the “first come, first serve” method, with the remaining 23.0% requiring that amenities use be scheduled.

    Table 3.  Amenities Available
    Type of Facility


    Outdoor Arena


    Covered Arena


    Indoor Arena


    Outdoor Wash Rack


    Indoor Wash Rack






  10. Tack storage:  Almost all of the stables have some type of tack storage for clientele.  Storage rooms range from cubicles to individual tack lockers to heated and air conditioned tack rooms with washing machines and bathrooms.

  11. Other services:  Other amenities/services that are often provided are riding lessons (54.8%), horse training (54.8%), horse exercise (45.2%), blanketing for the boarded horses in the winter (67.7%), and horse transportation on a fee based system to events (51.6%).  Forty-five percent of the facilities in the survey indicated that they sponsor horse-related events on site including trail rides, shows, clinics, and seminars. 

  12. Monitoring:  The frequency and regularity of monitoring the horse is important to boarders.  This survey indicated that the facility owner is the primary on-site manager, checking on the horses 87.1% of the time.  Stable employees check on horses 38.7% of the time, and a designated barn manager will regularly monitor the horses one-third of the time.  Horses are generally checked twice a day (53.3%) by barn management, but in one-fourth of the situations they are checked four times a day.

  13. Operating hours:  In most boarding situations clientele are permitted to come and go as they please; however, one-third of the stables state they have hours of operation, closing generally after 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. 

  14. Feeding management:  Eighty percent of the areas boarding facilities include the cost of feed in the boarding fee.  Most facilities provide grain (86.7%), hay (90.3%) and, if needed, supplements (50.0%).  A variety of hay types are being fed; mixed hay (63.3%), timothy (63.3%), orchardgrass (60.0%), and alfalfa (30.0%).   Horses are generally fed twice a day (86.7%) according to the animal’s individual needs as determined by facility management.  

  15. Health management:  Horse health is a major concern of the horse owner and the facility owner/manager does not want to introduce disease to the stable.  Sixty-five percent of the facilities have a designated quarantine area; however, only 54.8% of the facilities routinely quarantine new arrivals.  Stables have become proactive in the prevention of disease.  Ninety-seven percent of the horse boarding facilities require horse owners to provide proof of a negative Coggin’s Test. Other frequently required proof of immunizations are shown in Table 4.

    Table 4. Immunizations Required for Boarding

    Required by the Facility









    West Nile  






    Potomac Horse Fever (PHF)




    Seventy-four percent of the facilities include deworming as a service; however, many itemize it as an additional cost (80.0%).  Deworming regimens vary from using a daily deworming product to rotating paste deworming products multiple times per year. 

  16. Veterinarian services:  Part of the health management system employed by boarding facilities is the method in which veterinarian services are provided for both routine and emergency care.  In many instances, facility management and horse owners have agreed to a method for scheduling routine checkups and handling emergency care.  This arrangement becomes particularly important in emergency care situations when the owner is not available and time is of utmost importance.  Some facilities utilize a care, custody, and control agreement allowing the facility management to make decisions in the owner’s absence. 

  17. Farrier services:  The majority of the facilities (67.7%) have a farrier on retainer who provides services for all the boarded horses.  Twenty-six percent of these facilities charge a holding fee when the farrier is servicing the horse if the horse owner is not present.  Horse owners often (61.3% of the time) will make arrangements with the farrier for scheduling and payment of services for their horse on an as-needed basis.

  18. Insurance:  Though boarding stables are for-profit enterprises mixing people and large animals of varying temperaments that often represents a sizeable investment for the owner, only 83.9% of the facilities carry liability insurance on their operation.  A large percentage, almost 13% of facilities, choose to accept the risk that nothing adverse will occur at their facility.


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