Livery yards are among the many sectors of the equestrian industry affected by spiralling costs, but these businesses are also facing an additional challenge, which has received little public attention according to an expert in this field.

Cheryl Johns, owner of Livery List and an industry consultant, told Your Horse that due to a “barrage” of unregulated and poor-quality yards offering cheaper rates, well-run yards are being left out of pocket and even closing their doors.

She said this is a “potentially catastrophic” situation, where the respectable yards meeting industry best-practices struggle to express the need for price increases when they already appear to be ‘expensive’ and can even be left subsidising their clients by undercharging just to keep their stables full. Price increases are often met with contention, and livery clients handing in their notice to move to a cheaper yard where all may not be as it seems.

The situation is having dire effects on the industry, impacting on staffing and equine welfare, as well as leading to debt. Whilst there are yards that are more than acceptable that can offer cheaper livery, it’s important for horse owners to understand why some yards may cost more than others.

“Many well-established and well-reputed yards have closed their doors in recent months, while substandard ones can continue without concern,” she said. “These are the yards that are those most likely to provide low welfare standards, low-quality feed and bedding, fail to meet basic maintenance, insurance or health and safety obligations, and have the least experience.”

Cheryl said the issue also impacts education, with novice owners often relying on their livery yard owner for guidance and support.

She said in order for things to change, those who use livery yards must be educated on the true costs of horse ownership and of providing livery services and be prepared to pay the realistic costs to keep a horse these days.

“Horse ownership is fully optional, it’s a hobby,” she said. “It’s seen as elitist to have a horse, but ironically livery yards are one of the lowest valued industries, especially in the equestrian sector. Prices for livery have barely changed in the last ten years and yard owners just don’t seem to be able to reflect the increase in prices for fear of a mass exodus of clients.”

What are you paying for?

The cost of running a livery yard far exceeds the cost of the stable and grazing, Cheryl explained.

Many horse owners overlook the rise in essential running costs, like electricity, feed and bedding, insurance, facility maintenance, staff training, business rates, increases in minimum wage, plus inflation, which are unavoidable for yard owners. Those yards that are run as a professional businesses have far higher overheads than those that aren’t.

“When considering a cheaper yard, you need to ask, ‘Why is this yard cheaper?'” Cheryl said. “Go and look at the yard and be armed with questions, like how long have they had the yard, what qualifications do they have, do they have insurance and do they have livery contracts.

“So many yards are closing because people can’t afford to run them anymore. We are losing the reputable yards to this influx of cheaper, poor-quality yards, where everything can seem great until something goes wrong, like if their horse loses condition or injures itself and the yard isn’t insured or doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to deal with the situation.

“Every livery yard should have the same obligations in terms of welfare and management, however big or small they are.” At present there is no obligatory registration or even any minimum requirements for someone to open a yard so the onus is on the horse owner to understand what they should be looking for to ensure they are choosing a yard that is most suitable, and will meet their expectations in the long run.

Cheryl has devised a Yard Viewing Checklist to help horse owners determine the right yard for them.

To find out more about best-practice, explore Livery List’s Yard Owner Hub, which includes free templates, resources and information on all aspects of yard management.

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