So You Think You Want Horses?

by Staff on June 20, 2011

Horses in Charlottesville and Albemarle CountyIn addition to the experienced farm families who are skilled at managing equestrian operations, we also have many clients who are first-time horse enthusiasts.  Those who are new to the horse-experience may not necessarily need to run a profitable horse farm, nor do they need to raise particular types of race horses or draft horses.

Instead, the newcomers most often want just a horse or two for their own pleasure.   Before they launch into that commitment, it’s important that they know there are many places in central VA where they can ride other people’s horses, and where they can board their own horses.

It becomes our job to find them a suitable property that can accommodate their needs without requiring extraordinary expenses for the new owner.   An example of that would be….  the instances when we’re contacted by a resident of a northern (as in, “cold”) state, who believes that he needs a barn with an individual stall for every horse.  That may be the case in other parts of the country, but in Virginia our milder winters allow for other arrangements such as run-in sheds and protected pastures.

Here’s a problem for many 1st-time horse owners-to-be:   they find a property online, it sounds like suitable acreage for their plans and it has great views … but they may not know that most of the acreage is a vertical hillside of a mountain, which is completely unsuitable for horses.  (Goats maybe, but that’s another subject).   Our job is to connect the new horse owners to a realistic property.

According to the Animal Science department of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, an expected requirement would be at least 2 acres of well-managed pasture per horse, if the land is relatively level.   If the pasture is on a slope, then more acreage is usually necessary to maintain the pasture and avoid over-grazing and erosion concerns.   In Albemarle county (around Charlottesville), there are no restrictions at this time as to the maximum number of horses per acre.  Humanitarian concerns should rule the decision.   If the owner has a boarding or breeding operation and they’re looking to obtain land use taxation, then the county requires at least 1 horse per 5 acres plus an additional $1000/year income from the business. 

So, back to the barn/stable issues…. what should a newcomer expect to spend if he wants to lavish his horses with a great center-aisle barn/stable?    What are considerations to be sure you’ve covered the details of your new horse operation?   Here’s a link with a list of explanations and reminders of features (water, tack room, loft etc) to consider when designing your horse barn.

Recent estimates we’ve received from area builders (see links at bottom) indicate that a 4-or-6 stall barn (common in central Virginia) with a center aisle would run approximately $48k-$75k depending on the level of detail (do you really need those chandeliers in the barn?)   A general rule of thumb for estimating is to plan at least $10,000 per cubicle in your barn.  And yes, the tack rooms etc count as “cubicles” too!

Here are a couple of sources for more detailed estimates and information about building a horse barn.
Morton Equestrian Buildings at 540-825-3633
Louisa Barns at 804-690-2377
Virginia Cooperative Extension at 434-872-4580

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