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Running a Livery Yard


Many horse owners lust after a few acres and stables in the countryside.  It is easy to imagine the benefits - and it is easy to convince yourself that you could cover your costs by boarding horses for other people.  There ARE opportunities for those prepared to do their homework and provide a GOOD livery service, but there are also numerous pitfalls.

This article can only serve as a brief introduction to the subject.  There are many good books available and considerable information on the internet.  Any time spent learning and researching will not be wasted!


Qualifications

You need a sound knowledge of and experience with horses, and the ability to get along with people.  Formal qualifications are not essential but they will certainly help reassure potential clients that their horses will be safe in your care.  But running a livery yard needs more than equestrian knowledge.  You require sound business sense, the ability to budget and maintain accounts, and some public relations and marketing experience.  

If you already have suitable facilities, the financial investment will not be as heavy.  But if you are not 'handy', repairs and alterations can be very costly.  If you have more than a few boarders, you will need to employ, train and supervise staff - do you have accommodation for them?

Facilities

A successful livery yard requires a good location, the correct facilities and services for the market, and sound financial backing.  Too many people find themselves with a few spare stables and think they can offset the cost of keeping their own horses by taking in a few liveries, but give little thought to the additional costs and responsibilities involved.

At very least, you need decent stabling, well fenced grazing areas, and an all-weather manège.  A secure tackroom, feed storage, toilet facilities, and a parking area are also essential.  Your premises will attract business rates and you will almost certainly require planning permission, unless the property has previously been used for business purposes.  See more on facilities.

Location - know your market

A livery yard can find some customers almost anywhere - but will it attract enough business at realistic rates?  If you are setting out to look for a property and location is not dictated by other circumstances, your options are considerable.  Ideally, you would hope to be within 10 miles of a reasonable-sized population centre, in an area where there are plenty of horse owners and a shortage of competition.  But most people will not have such a wide choice.  

To help you decide whether a certain property will make a successful livery yard, you must ask the following questions:

  • Are there enough horse owners in the area without their own facilities?

  • What facilities or services can you offer - and who else in the area is offering a similar service?

  • What are similar businesses in the area charging - and how busy are they?  Will you have to try and undercut their costs?

  • Is there good hacking available close by - or do you have sufficient land to offer off-road riding ?

Business Plan and Budgeting

As with any other business, you must carefully examine your fixed overheads (rates, mortgage repayments, insurances, maintenance and depreciation) and your variable running costs (labour, electricity and water, hay, straw, concentrates etc.) and balance these against the income you expect.  You must allow for unexpected expenses (emergency repairs, for example) and consider the effect of a livery client departing suddenly owing you six weeks' back bills.

If you don't know a cash flow forecast from a balance sheet, an evening course in book-keeping for the small business would be a very worthwhile investment!  

Your legal liabilities

When you accept payment for providing a service, you create a contract and a legal liability for the breach of that contract.  You will require legal liability insurance for your business, and employer's liability if you engage any staff.  

It is essential that you have a written contract with your clients, detailing the services you offer and any conditions that apply - and what your charges and payment terms are.  See sample contract.

Livery yards do not require a licence unless they provide instruction - then they come within the provisions of the Riding Establishments Act and must be licensed by the local authority.


 

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