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Beware, this could lead to more horses!

You just wanted a place where you could have your horse on your own property. A quiet little retreat with a nice little barn and a green pasture with some nice fencing, maybe a ring to set up a few jumps or barrels. So you found the perfect place. But you only have one horse, and your barn has four stalls. This can lead to big problems if you’re not careful. You may

be vulnerable to the horse owner’s most potent virus…Empty Stall Syndrome!

This is a disease that begins to grow when the horse owner realizes that they could actually have more horses on their property. Walking past empty stalls in a barn leads to thoughts of more equine heads bobbing out as you pass, welcoming nickers, and a view of horses playing together in your field. The disease is insidious, as it takes the form of a desire to do a good thing, and becomes a very expensive addiction.

The first thought is usually one of care for your own horse. “He needs a companion. I could rescue an older horse to keep him company.” That expands to thoughts for others.  “My child (or grandchild, or spouse or best friend) needs a horse to ride when they visit.” Rationalization sets in quickly. “I already have one, just one more wouldn’t be that much more expensive.” But it almost never ends with “just one more.”

There are several ways to deal with this problem without exploding your wallet. The first, (and most unrealistic) is simply to ignore it. “I already have a great horse, I should just concentrate on her!”  Most of the time this does not work, as the horse owner still has to walk past one or more empty stalls every day.  Another way to deal with the problem is to turn the empty stalls into something else. Extend the walls to the ceiling, add an electrical outlet and some scrap carpeting, put in a refrigerator, and some shelves with horse books or an old tv with a cd player and some horse related cds. You now have a lounge where you can keep cold drinks, refrigerate medications and relax after a long trail ride.

A spectacular tack room could take another stall, and a feed and equipment room still another. These may help you feel justified in keeping it to one horse. If,  however, the upgrades to your barn aren’t enough, there are several other ways to get  horses into your empty stalls without spending a fortune.

The first is to simply lease out your stalls to others. You can do this without making more work for yourself by making it clear that you are simply renting the space, and it is a “self-care” barn. That means that everyone is responsible for taking care of their own horse. Your boarders will come each day and feed their horses, muck the stalls, and take care of filling and cleaning water buckets, etc. You are responsible for keeping the barn in good condition and calling the owner if you notice any injury to their horse. In some cases, you might agree to let the horses in and out to the field. If an owner is going to be away, you can charge extra to take care of the horse while they are gone. This option gives you the ability to have other horses in your barn without having to add to your work load. Extra services, such as feeding, worming, holding the horse for the vet or farrier, or cleaning the stalls can be added for a higher fee. Be sure to include a contingency plan for severe weather emergencies such as hurricanes or deep snow. Boarding horses may also qualify you as an agricultural business, which could may have favorable tax consequences. (You will need to check your local laws to see how this would apply to you.) It also gives you people to ride and talk horse with.

You can also board horses as a full care facility. That means that you are responsible for the regular daily care of the horse, although the owner would still be responsible for expenses such as vet, farrier, or dentist. The extra work to feed and fill water buckets is negligible, but you need to consider the extra time and physical work involved in mucking out stalls. Once you have found your rhythm for mucking stalls, you can usually do about 5-6 stalls in an hour, depending on how messy the horses are. When deciding how much to charge, be sure to count the cost of feed, hay, and bedding in addition to the extra work for you.

Another option is to foster horses that have been removed from abusive or neglectful situations. This will have a cost to you, as you will usually be required to provide feed and sometimes medical care for the horses, but you will be doing a wonderful thing and you may be able to deduct some of the expense. (Talk to your tax professional) You will need to contact your local aspca or equine rescue for details.

Most of all, resist the urge to go out and buy more horses unless you have thoroughly thought the idea through and counted the cost. Remember, a horse is a long-term committment, not a passing fancy. Empty Stall Syndrome can be your downfall or the key to a wonderful new career!

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