Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fudge Factor

(post by Jason) When Melissa and I started boarding retired horses we went through all the business start up costs and income/expense projections that she highlighted in her last couple FAQ posts. The one thing that she didn’t mention was what we call the fudge factor, or at least we call it that on a good day. Nobody starts a business thinking about fudge factors but it is a lesson every business owner very quickly learns to pay attention to and plan for. 

It goes like this. After all the income is tallied and after all the projected expenses are properly accrued there are always a host of unforeseen, unaccountable expenses and cost increases. You need to be aware that they are going to happen and you need to build them into your cost structure or you are going to get stuck in a world of hurt very quickly. “Oh fudges” are the stuff of life and they are not rare. Roofs spring leaks, truck and tractor engines blow when they shouldn’t, equipment requires expensive and unforeseen repairs at extremely inopportune times. Even excellent clients occasionally forget to send a cheque and of course it only happens when you were really counting on the money to arrive in order to pay a bill ! At the end of the day all businesses have to be somewhat selective about passing costs on to clients. If we raised the board bill every single time we faced a cost increase or a large, unforeseen expense we would very quickly run out of clients.

“Oh fudges” happen outside the realm of accounting and expenses too. Employees get sick or don’t show up, vendors run short of critical supplies, parts that were supposed to be sent overnight mail take a week to show up, etc. These sorts of “Oh fudges” aren’t business killers so much as they are just plain frustrating. 

Life is full of, “Oh fudges” and the best remedy we’ve found to deal with them is to try and keep a sense of humour. If you’ve ever wondered why so much country music is about farming and farm country this blog post should help clear that up. 

The Truck Broke Down, The Baby’s Sick, The Cheque is Late, The Horse is Down and It’s Only Monday aren’t the top five hits on Billboard’s country charts yet. However if someone hands me a guitar they might be chart toppers soon ! Flatt and Scruggs I am not but I do have an unexpected flat tire to pay for !


Winston and Faune showing off the dirty look

Lily in one of her favorite napping spots

Griselle is equal parts cute and muddy

Moe is the last horse standing, surrounded by Trigger, Apollo, Levendi and Homer. Someone needs to come up with the perfect caption for this picture.


Merlin, Noble, Fabrizzio and Walden


Romeo and Asterik

Sam and Renny

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Please enjoy the pictures, and we hope everyone is having a nice week so far!


Fabrizzio and Lucky looking very cute and innocent while waiting for breakfast. I know they were up to something.

Renny, Dutch and Sebastian

Cuffie rolling with Traveller watching. Calimba and Norman are eating hay.

Snappy eagerly waiting to eat


We are still overrun with deer, and I love seeing them grazing on our newly seeded pasture (not).


Lighty and Africa

Hello from Tiny

Sunday, January 27, 2013

More FAQs

In my last post I covered the frequently asked questions that we get in regards to starting a retirement farm.  We have another set of questions that we are asked multiple times per week as well, not in regards to starting a retirement farm, but in regards to what someone can do with a completely unrideable but otherwise healthy horse.  

1.  Are you a rescue?  No, we are not a rescue.  All of the horses retired with us are here because they have a loving owner who is willing to step up and pay for them to enjoy retirement.  (Before people start up with the hate mail I'm not saying any horse owner who chooses not to retire their unrideable horse is a bad person so calm down.) I am simply saying we are not a rescue, we are not a non-profit, and we will not support your horse for free.  If you want your horse to be retired at our lovely facility with excellent care you will have to make the choice to pay the board bill.

2.  What happens if someone does not pay the board bill?  We screen our clients carefully, as carefully as they screen us, and have never been faced with this decision, but if someone ever decided to stop paying the board bill for their retiree we would not continue to support the horse at our expense. That is a beyond foolish decision on our part that could potentially affect our ability to care for the other horses retired with us.  If someone ever did abandon a horse in our care the horse would be euthanized. Undoubtedly my inbox will be blown up with all the hate mail I will get for making that statement.  I would not enjoy it, I would cry a lot, and I would hate being forced into that decision by the horse's owner, but at the end of the day it is the most fair decision to us and the horse.  I am thankful none of our clients would ever dream of abandoning their horse.

3.  Another variation of question number one is "I love my horse dearly but he can no longer be ridden. I cannot afford to pay retirement board, would you consider retiring him for free?"  No. For further explanation see my answer to question 1 above. 

4.  I cannot afford to retire my horse and he can no longer be ridden, do you know of any potential homes for a companion horse?  My answer is always that I don't know of any potential companion homes because that is the truth. People ask me all the time if I know of someone looking for a companion horse but as of yet I've never had a single person ask me if I know of any free companion horses available. 

This question in itself does not bother me.  From time to time you can be the lucky person that finds a good companion home for your unrideable horse.  The part that kills me is that it is usually followed up with:  MUST be an EXCELLENT home, MUST have EXCELLENT vet and farrier references, MUST sign a contract that they will not sell or give away the horse away, blah blah.  That is the part that really irritates me.

OK, let's cut to the chase here. You could afford the horse when you could ride him, but now that you cannot ride the horse you can no longer afford him.  The reason is because you are planning to get another horse you can ride.  I absolutely do not blame anyone for wanting to get a horse they can ride.  However, if you don't want to pay the bill for the permanently broken horse any longer just man up and euthanize the horse.  I can respect that decision.  I cannot respect the fact that someone else MUST be willing to provide an EXCELLENT home of which you approve, agree to do it for the life of the horse, sign a contract in blood, pass all of your background checks . . . yet you yourself are unwilling to do all of these things. Do people seriously not see the massive double standard in this, or am I simply being judgemental and cranky?

Well, that is it for this round of FAQs. It turned a bit into Melissa getting on her soapbox and ranting at the end, but when you are asked this stuff several times a week it starts to get old, and I'm only human.  


Johnny and Lighty


Cinnamon and MyLight

Largo and Rocky


Murphy and Sam (we're in that blankets on, blankets off time of year)

Noble and Merlin

Thomas, Moe and Homer

View of the front 1/2 of the farm that you can only get when the leaves are off the trees (there are 2 barns and 3 run-in sheds in this picture)

Tony, Leo and Chance highlight this view of the buildings at the back of the farm; another barn and 3 more run-in sheds

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions

We get asked all the time to provide free consulting on how to start a retirement farm.  By all the time I mean we are contacted on average 2-3 times per week asking for advice, guidance, etc. on starting and running a retirement farm.  I wish we had time to assist and answer all these inquiries but we simply do not have the time. It is not because we don't want to be helpful, it is because we are way too busy running our own farm and attempting to occasionally carve out some non-working family time.  Since we don't have time to correspond with and answer all these inquiries I have tried to put helpful information on our website for people interested in running a retirement farm. I thought I would address the most common questions we get on that topic in this post. 

1. What do you charge for board?  I'm going to admit that this question always makes me shake my head, but I come from a business background.  This is the WRONG question to be asking, yet is almost always the first question.  What we charge for board should absolutely have nothing to do with whatever you charge for board.  Why is this?  The answer is in Business 101.  You have to determine your costs for land, infrastructure, feed, hay, bedding, other supplies, labor, equipment, etc. and THEN decide what you need to be charging for board in order to make it a reasonable endeavor. 

You may be able to charge less than we do, you might need to charge a lot more. It all depends on the costs that are specific to your geographical area, and it also depends on the types of facilities you have.  Four board wood fencing is expensive, you might use a cheaper option.  Or maybe you want to build the Taj Mahal of barns which will obviously drive your costs up.    

2. Our next most common question is some variation of "I own 15 acres and I will be retiring soon.  I think boarding retired horses will be a great way to earn income, and at the same time I can enjoy taking care of and watching the horses.  What do you think?"  I think for most people asking this question it is probably a bad idea, especially given that most of the people who are asking this question have little to no experience with horses.  You are going to end up being very tied to your property, which  means your dreams of doing a lot of travel, visiting family more frequently, etc. are going to be hard to accomplish.  

It is much easier to do these things with no horses at your house and a regular 8-5 job with sick, holiday and vacation time.  The horses will need to be cared for 365 days per year, even on Christmas, even in the rain, the cold and the heat, even if you are sick with the flu (been there done that more than once), no matter who dies, even if your spouse is seriously ill or hurt and in the hospital . . . I could go on and on and on.  Not to mention that a lot of tasks involved with caring for horses can be physically demanding.  

Do not misunderstand, I love what I do and that should be pretty evident to anyone who reads this blog, but for some reason people seriously romanticize the realities of running a retirement farm.  It is hard physical work, it is 24/7/365 (horses love to hurt themselves or get sick at the holidays, when you have plans, etc., trust me on this!!), you work outside no matter what the weather brings, you get dirty, the horses decide to be rude and uncooperative at the most inopportune times, and the same care has to be provided every day.  That means weekdays, weekends, holidays, EVERY DAY someone has to be out there doing the work. These is not like a herd of cows where you can put them out in the pasture with hay and water that you check every few days and they pretty much look after themselves.  You need to like being at home most of the time and you need to like being outside most of the time.

3.  The third most frequently asked question:  I already run a  regular boarding facility but I want to change over to boarding retired horses.  How do I do this?  My answer to this will be short as this is a pretty straightforward question. I really only see two options.  The first one is to gradually phase over your business by having all new boarders be retirees and slowly change the focus of your business. Option two is an immediate change and as of X date you now only board retirees. This means any current boarders that are not retirees will need to leave.  

4.  How do I start a retirement farm? This is an awfully broad question but the good news is this is not rocket science.  Decide what type of care you want to provide and to how many horses, which in turn will determine the type of facilities and acreage you will need.   Now calculate your costs: land, facilities & infrastructure, feed, hay, bedding, insurance, equipment, maintenance (fences, buildings, equipment and land will all need maintenance), labor, routine supplies, marketing/advertising, taxes, utility bills, etc.  Once you know your costs you will know what you need to charge per horse to have a viable business.

5.  We've been asked a variation of this question several times and it always surprises me. It goes something like this:  I want to have a retirement farm and make a reasonable income, however I don't want to be tied to the farm. How can I do this?  I never quite know where to start with this one.  I'll answer a question with a question.  If you don't like the idea of being tied to your farm why do you want to do this for a living?  

6.  How do I attract and keep clients?  As with most things getting started is the hardest part. Hopefully you have been involved with horses in some manner for awhile and thus have contacts and relationships in the horse world.  Let these people know what you are doing, word of mouth is the most powerful advertising.  Advertise in publications that go to your target audience, have a website, etc.  Once you have boarders you need to do what you said you would do.  Provide the care you promised to provide, even when you are sick, even when you have a family emergency, etc.  

Those are the answers to our most frequently asked questions, I hope someone finds them  helpful.  There is nothing ground breaking in any of these answers but this is a pretty straightforward business model.  One thing I will add is when Jason and I were looking for land a few years ago, of all the "horsey" areas we looked at (middle Tennessee, Lexington, Tryon, Aiken, etc.) in the southeast Lexington, KY had the most affordable real estate by a landslide.  We were blown away by the selling prices for turn-key horse farms.  We seriously considered moving ourselves and all the horses there, it would have been a lot more affordable than staying in middle Tennessee.  In the end Lexington gets way too much winter weather for me so we stayed in middle Tennessee, but it was a close call.  So I guess my one last bit of advice is if you are looking for land or a turn-key horse farm in a horsey area, you cannot beat Lexington for affordability.


Toledo and Stormy

Darby always has the cutest fuzzy ears in the winter

Wiz and Sebastian

Elfin and Homer were having playtime

Everyone got their blanket on again today; Calimba and Maisie found it difficult to groom with their blankets on


Dutch showing off his trot along with Sam and Johnny

Walden, Noble and Fabrizzio with Lightening and O'Reilly in the background

Traveller and Cinnamon

Faune, Asterik and Silver

Tuesday, January 22, 2013



Sam doing his thing


Cuffie napping, Silky hanging out, Norman, Traveller and Maisie eating hay

Darby and Sebastian

MyLight and Calimba

Tiny, Oskar and Toledo hanging out

Noble, Fabrizzio, Lucky and Merlin

Titan, Silver, Lotus, George, Asterik and Romeo on the run

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Playing Nice

The last couple of days were definitely a nice peace offering from Mother Nature after the miserable weather earlier in the week. The weekend was even nicer than expected.  As Jason said, you know it is pleasant when Melissa, the coldest of the cold, takes her coat off.  I took my coat off on Saturday and Sunday. Jason of course had his shirt sleeves rolled up. 

It is kind of mind blowing to Canadian Jason how cold I am. I am always reminding him I grew up in the south, not Canada. We have one of those head scan thermometers and the other day Jason decided to scan his forehead and take his temperature, and then scan his hands and see what their temperature was.  His forehead was 98.6 F and his hands were about a degree lower.  My forehead was about 98 F, and my hands were 75.  Jason kept re-checking his data and re-scanning my hands, muttering about how this wasn't possible.  He finally conceded that it was, in fact, possible.  

So, back to the topic at hand, I took my coat off both days this weekend which is all the proof that anyone should need that we had a pleasant weekend here. There were a lot of happy horses soaking up the sun, some just standing around resting a hind foot and others napping.  It was nice, and everyone was in a good mood. Jason didn't even have to defensively announce our happy family status like he did a couple of days ago.  It is amazing how pleasant, sunny days can instantly improve your overall mood and outlook on life, especially when you work outside.


Jason was down to his shirt sleeves as he changed the battery on the tractor

Lucky and Lightening soaking up the sunshine

I wasn't sure who this was until he lifted his head...

... it was Hemi

Levendi, Trigger, Homer and Apollo

 Snappy showing off the winter look

Wiz and Johnny

Africa and Murphy

Chili and Sam

Faune, Winston, Gus and George

Merlin, Walden and Noble