The bond between horse and human can be strong, and most horse owners expect the very best. Being professional at all times is essential; you’ll also need sound business sense in order to make the business profitable and grow successfully.
Why start a livery yard?
Horse-riding is a popular pastime, but caring for a horse can be time-consuming. Those that do own horses are often unable to provide daily care, and so look to livery yards to provide basic routines. Your market is potentially large, particularly in areas where horse-riding and ownership is common. Owning a livery yard is also a great business for horse lovers; it allows you to engage with your passion on a daily basis.
Location and infrastructure
Both are essential to running a successful livery yard. A countryside location is obviously essential but you need to research the incidence of horse ownership in the region to see if you’ll have a large enough market. Infrastructure is key to keeping the day-to-day operation working well. Is there room to store hay and manure? Is there an outdoor tap for refilling water? If you need to make changes, such as installing fencing, make sure you consider this when negotiating on price for the land or lease.
Other things you need to consider:
- Are there bridleways nearby? Lack of available riding routes will put off potential clients
- Will you buy the land or lease it? Leasing can be less expensive in the long run but you’ll find it harder to make the business profitable
- Secure tack rooms are important; customers will want to know their property is safe
You won’t need any qualifications to own and operate a livery yard, but many potential customers will want evidence of your proficiency – qualifications can go a long way to addressing this worry. Courses run/accredited by the British Horse Society are particularly respected; the BHS Instructor exam is a rigorous qualification comprising both stable management and coaching modules.
Would you also teach?
It’s important to note that you are not entitled to teach people to ride horses unless you are licensed (at which point your legal liabilities would be covered by the Riding Establishments Act). You can always add this at a later date but bear in mind that many horse riding establishments derive the majority of their profit from teaching because the cost of overheads for livery are high.
Managing expectations with the customer is very important for every business, but especially so when it comes to livery yards. People are very protective over their pets, so if they think you’re putting on a blanket every night and you don’t, things could turn sour. Make sure everything is covered in the contract, including who pays for vets' bills, frequency of food and water provision, etc. Your insurance company may also have stipulations and rules that must be adhered to; make sure you take these seriously or you might not receive a pay-out in the event of a claim.
Staff are ambassadors for your business – any business owner will tell you the company is only as strong as the staff. This is especially true of horse riding establishments – staff will be providing care and companionship to the horses, and this requires certain qualities such as empathy, a love for animals, organisation, and professionalism. If your staff let you down, your reputation will suffer immensely, and you may find yourself struggling to win business.
Insurance and legal issues
It’s very important to note that, while public liability insurance is optional for most businesses, it is compulsory for horse riding establishments. You won’t need it if you are running a livery yard, but if you decide to teach then make sure you take out a suitable policy immediately. Injuries are not uncommon and damages can reach millions of pounds.
If you employ staff you’ll also need to take out employer’s liability insurance, and you may wish to take out professional indemnity insurance, which protects you against claims made by a client for services rendered.
Start-up costs for running a livery business vary widely, but are relatively high compared to other businesses. Unless you can lease land at a preferential rate or already own suitable premises, you’ll find it hard to turn a profit as initial and on-going costs can be high.
Buying an established livery yard is an option; expect to pay between around £100,000 and £3m depending on the number of stables, the current infrastructure, the turnover, and the room for expansion.
If you need to rent land yourself, this will probably set you back between £10,000 and £60,000 a year depending on the size. On top of this you’ll need to budget for insurance, DIY repairs and new structures (where necessary), cost of supplies, legal advice regarding contracts and other costs. A full and detailed budget is essential if you want to keep on top of your finances.
The first step
Gaining both knowledge and experience in both business and equestrian environments is essential; talk to current livery yard owners about their experiences (it would be best to go to another part of the country so they don’t view you as competition). Gain experience working in a livery yard and see what’s involved on a day-to-day basis. Work out a very precise budget before you take the plunge; tightly controlling costs will be essential to turning a profit.