Costs of keeping horses at home vs. boarding horses
There are a lot of arguments for keeping your horses at your own home instead of boarding them, but one that seems up come up regularly is that it’s less expensive to keep them at your own home.
I think this can be true, but it’s dependent on where you live, how you choose to keep your horses, and how many horses you have.
In this post, I’ll discuss how my costs have changed and compare boarding rates to my expenses.
First of all, let’s lay out what my current horse and living situations are: I own three horses who live with me on a 7-acre property just north of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The property includes a large pasture, small paddock, 4-stall Barnmaster barn with a bathroom, tack room, and wash stall with hot and cold water, trailer storage shed, hay barn, shop building, and house. My horses eat concentrates, supplements, and forage in addition to the grazing they have on the pasture. They are turned out in the large pasture for approximately 10 hours during the day and spend the evenings in the barn and attached sacrifice paddock. I am responsible for their care; I do not employ anyone to assist in their care.
I track horse-related expenses in a spreadsheet that’s very basic. I broadly categorize my expenditures into six groups: barn, competition, feed, health, tack/apparel, and training. Those groups are broken down into several subcategories. For example, “Competition” includes subcategories for membership dues, entry fees, and lodging. I document each expense, the amount, and put some basic notes on what the expenditure was for.
This pie chart shows what percentage of my 2017 expenses each category accounts for. There are some caveats to this chart: “Health” is somewhat misleading, as over half of the money I’ve spent in that category is directly related to breeding Gina. “Feed” does not include a bulk hay purchase made last fall.
Let’s break down the “Feed” category, since equine healthcare is something I’d be spending money on even if the horses were boarded. (The same is true for the most of the other categories, too.) What’s my monthly feed cost per horse? From January 1 to today, I have spent a total of $1,669.75 on feed, supplements, and treats. My hay cost is more complicated to calculate, as the horses split a bale of hay between them in the winter, but only split half a bale a day in the summer (because the pasture provides adequate forage). I did not track the date I reduced their hay ration, but I would estimate it was probably around mid-April. That means I’ve spent about $767.25 providing hay for the horses this year. That’s about $420.19 per month in total feed costs (hay + grain), or $140.06 per horse.
As you can imagine, feed is not the only thing affecting the horses’ living situation. Fortunately, the barn and fencing did not require repair before we moved in, and my purchases for the barn have been minimal. (I bought a small shelf for the tack room, a set of cross ties for the aisle, and a few buckets.) I don’t keep shavings in the stalls unless I know the horses will be staying the night in there (which happens infrequently and only in severe weather). The barn doors are kept open so the horses can freely move between the paddock and the barn area- most of the time they choose to roam around the small paddock.
The move to a larger property also brought some expenses that aren’t directly horse-related, but wouldn’t be occurring if we hadn’t moved. Our mortgage payment is slightly higher than it was at our previous home, and I contribute a larger percentage of my income to that payment than I used to. We had to buy a lawnmower (because there’s no way we’re push-mowing an acre’s worth of yard). The house is larger, so our electric and propane bills are higher. I might as well invest in Monsanto stock what with all the Roundup I’m buying in a vain effort to control the weeds in the driveway, the gravel parking areas around the barns, and the lawn. It can sometimes be difficult to neatly delineate household and horse expenses when your household is so closely tied with the horses. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll ignore the Roundup and lawnmower, and only include my increased contribution to the mortgage and utility expenses; that’s $300 per month, or $100 per horse.
This means the cost per month of keeping my three horses at home is $720.19, or $240.06 per horse.
How does that compare to boarding in my area? The cost of horse boarding varies wildly in Tulsa (as I’m sure it does in many parts of the country); however, the median price for full-care board in the area is $475 per month. (At $300 per month per horse, I was paying well below the median price to board the horses, so I’m not realizing as significant a savings as I would be had I boarded elsewhere.)
One thing I haven’t addressed is the cost of my time. There’s a couple of reasons for this; the first is that I don’t actually spend that much time doing chores day-to-day. I spend about half an hour in the morning feeding the horses, waiting for them to eat, and turning them out front. My neighbor has her barn help take them back to my barn in the evening before I get home from work, and I spend about half an hour in the evening feeding them dinner, sweeping the barn, and cleaning their water tank if it’s dirty. Projects like spraying weeds, organizing the tack room, and leveling the stall floors are either worked in around other things I’m doing outside or have a weekend day dedicated to them. For example, if I’m waiting for a friend to arrive at the barn so we can ride together, I’ll grab the sprayer and try to kill some weeds. The other reason I don’t factor the cost of my time into the cost of keeping the horses at home is because I enjoy the work it requires. It doesn’t usually feel like work.
Moving to a property where the horses live with me has also affected other areas of my life. My work commute quadrupled; previously, I lived two miles from the tack store where I work. Now, it’s a 45-minute drive to the office. I was able to negotiate working from home two days a week. That means my fuel costs haven’t really changed- I’ve just switched from going to the barn three days a week to going to the office three days a week- but I spend more time with the horses and more time riding. Johnny’s commute decreased in cost, as he doesn’t need to take a toll road to get to his workplace any more (and his mileage is about the same).
Johnny and I have found ourselves dining out less frequently than we used to. Our previous house was within a short drive to lots of fast food places and a few sit-down restaurants. Now we’re at least 15-minutes from any sort of restaurant except the gas station/convenience store/bait shop/diner a quarter mile down the road. (They do a mean breakfast sandwich and a delicious hot ham and cheese, but it’s pretty easy to resist the impulse to go there.)
In general, I haven’t found there’s much of a financial difference between keeping the horses at home and boarding them. The differences are intangible in nature: how do you quantify happiness and satisfaction?