Common Mistakes Buyers Make
when Purchasing Horse Property  - by Marie Griffith

--for the safety and comfort of both you and your horses
 

Q. What are some of the most common mistakes first-time buyers of equestrian
properties make? How can buyers avoid making these errors?

A. Buyers fail to get adequate inspections and have a Realtor do a market analysis of property in the desired area. Fail to research the trails or other desired horse amenities (horse folks, services) where they will be moving. And, verifying the suitability of the zoning and restrictions for what they may want to do in the future or how they plan to currently use the property.

Q. What else is important for a new stable owner to know about owning and maintaining a horse property?

A. The answers to the following subjects are detailed below:

Drainage/Footing

There is always room for improvement in drainage and footing. Obviously this directly affects your horses’ hooves, and your boots, with each rain and for several days after. When you purchasing is the time to take a hard look at where the water goes and consider re-grading or installing new footing to improve runoff away from the horse paddock and areas. Take extra precautions that water does not wash sediment from manure into nearby creeks or rivers. This is a red flag to environmentalist and neighbors who will report the violation to country officials.
As soon as there is any complaint of this nature, it is investigated. I had a neighbor who was temporarily storing her manure along side a dry creek bed at the bottom of her property. We called her attention to it and it was corrected immediately as she recognized that when the winter rains came, the dry creek bed would fill with water and overflow into a nearby creek which eventually led into the American River, a prime water source. To be sure, the most effective drainage systems aim barn and house roof water away from paddocks and manure areas. It is best to direct toward landscaping or into or storage tanks for later use. To keep paddocks from over-saturation, utilize decomposed granite (DC) or sand to eliminate soggy paddocks and your horses feet. Some stables require you do this as a yearly maintenance item. For stalls, use heavyweight stall mats or extra pine shavings.

Horse Fencing & Gates

Note the kind of fences and see if adequate for your use. You see horse pastures fenced with a variety of fencing, as follows:

Wood Fencing: Wood, while traditionally beautiful and generally safe, is difficult to maintain and can be costly.

Vinyl Fencing: Providing the aesthetic beauty of a traditional wood fence, vinyl fencing is safe and very durable.

Electric Fencing: Used alone or with an existing fence, electric fences can discourage a horse natural propensity to find something to hurt themselves on by providing both a physical and psychological barrier. They now come in a 2 to 4-inch green or grey mesh material so it is easier for the horse to see and more attractive to look at.

Horse Fence, No-Climb Fencing - Probably the best for horses, especially for foals, because they cannot get a foot stuck in it. This is sturdy fencing (2" x 3") that is usually twice as thick and as expensive as "field fencing," a 4" by 4" wire square. Horse fence is often installed behind wood for extra security, or alone with metal stakes. The metal stakes should have a plastic caps installed on top of the stakes for the safety of the horse who will always be horse'n around at the wrong time and place. Horse fencing comes 3  foot and 4 foot. Four foot is recommended as it discourages horses from reaching over the top to nibble grass on other side of fence. It is sometimes installed along with electric wire, to keep it from horses leaning into it and causing sagging.

Barbed Wire: Generally speaking, avoid barbed wire fences at all cost as it often leads to serious horse injury. One strand of barb-wire at the top of horse fence is a consideration but normally you avoid its use and use barb-less wire on top instead. Barbed wire is used on cattle ranches. 

Fence Line: Horse properties without continuous fence lines or series of barriers encompassing the entire facility might create a hazard. With no ready way to quickly contain a loose horse, the chances of the animal making it to a nearby road before he can be caught are greatly increased. Putting in a perimeter doesn't necessarily mean having to install a whole new fence line. Look at the layout of your property and see if simply adding a few fences to join buildings and existing fence lines will complete the circle of safety.

Gates: A single gate to the outside world can be a safety item. When a horse gets loose, the first response is to close that one possible exit and afterward go after the escapee still contained on the home property.

Sagging Gates: Gates that are sagging and have to be lifted or dragged through the mud are a safety issue and should be corrected. Sometimes if the gates are heavy, a steel post must be installed.  While moving your horse or during turnout, your attention needs to be focused on the horse, not manhandling the gate. A poorly maintained gate is headed toward complete collapse, which means loose horses and a number of possible dangers.

Manure Management

Each horse generates about one half a standard wheel barrow full of manure each day. (It is said 1,000 pound horse generates about 50 pounds of manure). What goes in must come out: You normally feed about 1.5 lbs of hay per 100 pounds of horse weight (Note: this depends on horse’s metabolism, of course, and I have a thoroughbred with a healthy appetite). My horse, a large active mare, 1200 pounds, eats about 18 pounds of hay a day or 540 pounds a month and, using a 110-pound bales  (some bales in different parts of the country weigh only 75 pounds a bale); So, at 110 pounds per bale, a 1200 pound horse eats about 5 bales a month. At a cost of about $10.00 to $15.00 per bale, this is about $50 - $75 per month in hay. (Note: Some prefer to feed pellets to reduce their manure volume; however, they are not always preferable to some horses’ digestion)

Following are a few options for disposal of this “digested hay” .

1. Leave where it is dropped. If you have very large pastures, the manure can take care of itself and you will just need to clean up around the barnyard, and feeding areas, and may need some fly control.

2. Ideally,  your local waste management company can be hired to pick it up at curbside. Depending on the number of horses kept, the manure can be placed in regular trash cans or a small dumpster can be rented and dumped on a regular basis. Each waste management company has its own rules, regulations and prices for manure pick-up. Many horsy areas have a lady or manure person pick it up on a monthly basis with a truck and dispose of it for you. Ask the owner or horsy neighbors what they do.

3. Spread into your arena footing. If it is mixed in with used stall chips it can serve as inexpensive arena footing. This is what I do as well as a few trainers I know. It eventually turns into a type of "arena dirt."

4. Compost. This entails layering the manure with dry material; many times shavings are already mixed in. This process involves getting the right mix of air circulation, dry material, and moisture. The piles also need to be turned which can be very labor intensive if many horses are kept on the property. Here a small tractor with loader helps. After the manure no longer resembles manure, you are ready to redistribute this organic fertile matter around your landscaping and garden. You will usually have about 3 piles at any given time in various stages of composting.

5. Manure Worms. Information from a Magic Worm Ranch has been valuable to one ReMax Realtor, Debbi McSwain. She said the following, “these wonderful creatures feed on my manure pile and breed more little wormy manure eaters. The process can take some time to establish a large enough worm population to really get going, but it's well worth it. After the worms eat the manure they leave behind piles of wonderful worm-castings (looks essentially like marvelous fertile soil) that can be spread onto other parts of your yard and garden.”

Riding Arenas

How you use your horses will determine if the arena (or if space to build an arena) is adequate. If you do a lot of arena riding, your horse property should have an existing arena or room to accommodate one. Don't underestimate the cost of building an arena or improving an existing one. Footing is a considerable investment that will affect the soundness of your horses and the amount of maintenance your arena will require. Hard-packed dirt as arena footing is unacceptable. A standard sized competition arena is 100 by 200 at a cost of about $50,000 or more, depending on footing.  A roping arena may need to be larger for certain cow work. A good round pen is about 66 feet round for adequate training. A regular, all purpose arena will be about 60 x 100 (this is the size according to the Certified Horse Assn., for someone taking or giving beginning riding lessons.) A regulation small dressage arena is 20X40 meters (or about 66 feet by 132 feet), a large dressage arena is 20X60 meters, (or about 66 by 198)The minimum height of the fence should be 3 feet and 4 foot would be better. This can cost upwards of $100,000 to install with the recommended footing. Covered arenas cost, because price of steel, etc., usually over $200,000.

Note: Eventing, trail riding and endurance courses use more rugged land.
Check with a grading contractor to help plan the layout of facilities. Choosing a good base for the footing, such as DC (decomposed granite); this is important. According to the discipline, you can add sand or other materials.

. . . continued at top of right column

 

Barn/Shelter

Most horse properties will have an existing barn or shelter for the horses. In California, for example, a horse shelter is usually all you need because of the overall milder winter weather. In New Mexico, I see horses standing out in the snow at 10 degree weather and not be shivering. (Though for older horses, this would not be adequate). Of course, California damp cold feels much colder than high desert dryer climates. Mainly, horses need shelter to get away from the whipping rain and wind. Ideally, you want to look for a barn with the some of these features:

Soundness of Construction - Mainly, a shelter or barn should be able to withstand piercing winds and heavy rain, as well as rough wear by some horses. They should also, of course, be water tight, yet have adequate ventilation. While there is a great deal of charm to many old barns; safety must be your first consideration. While remodeling is always an option, you may choose to replace the old barn with a modern and affordable prefabricated barn, obtaining a permit for the electrical work, which is important.

Adequate stall size to suit your horse. Ideally have the stall open so your horse can come and go into an enclosed or shared paddock area for exercise. At least three sides should be enclosed with the opening away from the direction of most winter storms. Standard Stall size is 12 by 12 for for some horses a 9 by 9 that is open at the end is satisfactory for shelter. A foaling stall needs to be at least 12 by 16 if possible.

Location - Consider the barns proximity to the road, house and storage facilities. For some, the closer the better to watch the horses and tend to the feeding and clean-up work. Also, evaluate how its location will affect the risk of flooding. Good ventilation in the barn is critical to your horses health, and yours. Ordor must have a place to escape. Stall floors should be dirt or matted with good drainage. The Center aisle, or the shed-row, should have non-slip flooring.

Tack and Feed Areas

New as well as experienced horse folks appreciate a well maintained tack and feed area. It encourages them to feel good about this whole "horse at home business." These areas are in daily use and could always benefit from re-organization of their space and utilization. One possible approach is “what if I were just moving in, what would I prefer? -- a good question for sellers in the process of preparing to put their ranch on the market.

It is a good idea to use pallets under hay and shavings bales to keep hay away from ground dampness (often obtained free or for a nominal cost at feed or hardware stores). Also need a tight fitting lid for containers of grain and supplements. Additionally, a secure feed area is very important to  protect horses that get loose and over eat, making themselves dangerously sick with colic. Also to be considered, is there room to install storage shelves or organizational systems to accommodate everything from hoof dressing and winter blankets to hoof picks. This will make daily chores quicker and easier all year round, and horse'N around much more enjoyable.  While you’re thinking through grooming mode, consider creating or improving a well drained space convenient for use as a wash rack and cross tie. A portable hot-water dispenser is a very nice "luxury" to purchase for washing your horses in the winter.
 
Rule #1, keep it simple and easy to maintain.

Lighting

Proper Lighting makes your stable area more user-friendly at night and in the winter. Well-placed, low watt lighting (8 watt fluorescing lighting uses very little energy and can be left on all night.) This is what we use in our barn shed-row. Also, you might consider a combination of motion-activated, automatic timers and manual lights in your stable yard area, and in feed, tack areas, and walkways and, of course, stalls, for night care when necessary.


Automatic Waterers

A clean, reliable water source is a must for every horse, and automatic waterers offer a huge improvement on buckets or tubs. A few competition/show-type owners may prefer to hand water to keep track of just how much their horses are drinking. A horse "off water" may be about to colic or be sick, if not already. Most horses, however, are fine with an automatic watering systems.  Your plumber can help design and install a system tapping into your current water source. While you’re installing water lines (and be sure to install your water lines deep enough if they cross your stall or main paddock area),  consider installing misters in stalls and shaded areas for those really hot summer days and nights you know are coming. We purchased our portable misters inexpensively at Home Depot and ran them along the top of the stalls, attached to a hose, for those 95+ degree days.  It keeps the horse owner cool while grooming, feeding, or tacking up.


Fly Removal

While flies are more a summer problem than winter, spring is a good time to consider installing a time-release insecticide sprayer system to minimize flies. Several vendors offer system installation and periodic maintenance and reservoir refilling. Just "google-it on the Internet for sources."  Early spring is also the perfect time to order "fly predators" if your area is known for a fly problem (these are tiny unhatched eggs you scatter around your horse barn and paddock areas, allowing them to hatch and eat the fly eggs in the manure).  There is also a product called "Solitude IGR" made by Pfizer that is thought to dramatically reduce fly populations. You might want to check it out.

Tractors, Needed or Not

Manure handling and pasture maintenance are the two horse-farm jobs most likely to involve routine tractor use. However, if your acreage is small or your property is largely wooded, a tractor would probably be underutilized. Likewise, if you have fewer than three acres that require mowing maybe two or three times annually, you can probably get by using a riding mower. In these smaller setups, you can minimize the need to mow even further by your cross-fencing the area for your horses.

Sub-dividing your pastures into smaller portions using temporary fencing, (i.e., electric or bright colored landscaping tape) and use your horses as lawn-mowers can be an inexpensive and useful answer.

Also the popular garden tractors may provide enough power to help out with the chores on horse properties up to about five acres. They are very maneuverable for small grazing areas, and a garden tractor with 16 to 18 horsepower can pull some implements. says Riding mowers at the upper end of their seven-to-25-horsepower range may be able to push a snow blade or pull a small chain harrow or ground-driven manure spreader.

If your property exceeds five acres of grass pasture, or the terrain is rugged or steep, and if you regularly do chores demanding, then you will probably need more horsepower, and a real tractor is recommended. Shop around for a good used tractor; if steeper terrain a four-wheel drive tractor like a Kabota is very handy, or one on a track. We have had an old John Deere on a track for our 9 acres and used it to lovely manure piles, grade trails and push brush around. Searching for a "good deal" on a tractor may require your neighbors and you will probably enjoy the shoping. Our grand-son loves riding on our tractor; for him this is entertainment, big time. For city folks, a tractor can provide a real connection with the land.
 

Q. From a legal perspective, what should buyers know before purchasing a horse or equestrian property or any kind (ranch or commercial establishment)? <Sellers: please note also.>

A. To be sure, you must obtain a legal title to the subject property, free of liens, easements, and other encumbrances that are not wanted. This of course can be properly addressed if you go through a Title Company and/or Law Firm and ask for a clear title, guaranteed free of liens. The preliminary title search will show all the recorded easements, such as road easements, electrical easements, water line easements, road assessments or other assessments that the buyer may be responsible for in the future.

If the easements are just mentioned, and not spelled out, ask your Realtor or Title to obtain a detailed easement description for you.

If buyers are buying into a subdivision, such as a gated or up-scale horse community, you will surly have restrictions and rules and regulations, called CC&Rs;  they should be read and understood as they will affect how you can use your property.  If the property has been a rental property, unrecorded liens may be something to look into. Be sure the renter knows of the sale in case there is some kind of long-term lease or unrecorded deed in hand, or needed repair, that could hinder the sale at the last minute.

Most important, If you are purchasing a commercial property, check the zoning. You most likely will have to purchase it as a residential property (and cannot count the income from boarders into the loan qualification). Most residential horse properties have zoning which allows you to board horses but you must have a special use permit to train horses. Check it out. You can also look into a mixed-use loan, part business loan and part residential loan. Many lenders, please note, do not like to give you a residential loan on horse properties that are over 10-15 acres unless you put more than the standard 20% down. Some with 20-60 acres require a 40-50% down payment. Land only requires a 30-50% downpayment with often a 3-5 year due date, and higher interest rates, encouraging you pay cash.

PERMITS, ZONING, SETBACKS & VIOLATIONS:

Also, if there have been illegal building additions or zoning violations (such as construction or electrical or plumbing additions not to code and/or without permits or steep driveways not paved (when required) to the home (bathroom remodeling, family rooms, electrical additions, grading violations, ponds or swimming pools requiring permits, or there are illegal barns or outbuildings (such as electricity added to an Ag Barn (Note: an Ag Barn in some counties can be permitted without any physical inspection by the county and are not supposed to have water or power installed to them, unless done with a permit). Also, check to see if buildings meet the county setback lines and/or are grand-fathered in. In some Counties barns have to be 50 feet from the property line; other counties only 30 feet.  If you fail to check with the building department before purchase  and you later go to the county to obtain a permit to remodel your home and/or make an addition to your barn, all the unpermitted items may have to be made conforming with their appropriate fees. That is why a number of owners remodel without a permit. The permit is not as important as the work down properly and meeting code requirements or your expectations. A number of owners do not get permits to decrease the contractor's or their own hassle and, more important, to save money on property taxes. Property owners are reassessed when they take out a building permit.  However, whenever you go to sell, the buyer may ask for an inspection or perhaps go to the County to research all the building/electrical permits pulled at this address and discover no records. It may be a county housekeeping error, but permits, or no permits, should be disclosed. An experienced Realtor will  encourage you to make all inquires and inspections, especially those that concern you.
 

Water, Water Rights, Wells, Irrigation

Water is a precious resource and must be considered in purchasing any piece of land, especially a Ranch or Horse Property with animals.  The right to withdraw water from western streams,  rivers, or lakes is governed by what is known as the "prior appropriation" system, which dates back to Gold Rush days when gold and silver miners needed an assured water supply for their operations. Because livestock need a guaranteed water supply, prospective buyers must make sure that they are purchasing a good water supply or water rights along with the land --if the source of water is reported to be a lake, stream or river. Chances are the water rights for any property you might buy were adjudicated decades ago, and this adjudication will specify the amount of water the property owner can withdraw each year. (especially applicable to large Ranches). Although ranch real estate can generally be expected to include water rights, some states allow property owners to sell their water rights separately. Experts should be consulted before purchasing land or improved property with water rights.

For a smaller horse property (less than 20 acres) it is best to have access to public and, if possible, a good well along with canal or ditch water (this is the best of all worlds). the more sources of water the better. Properties with year-round streams are always desirable and enhance the properties value.  Holding tanks can also suffice for irrigation. Using public water to irrigate will, of course, be more expensive. A well should always be checked-out. Order a report or ask to see the seller's well report, which should include productivity (gpm) and potobility (drinking water quality). The original drilling report will most likely be filed at the environmental department of the county in which you are buying (though not all records in rural counties are complete). Although the original drilling report provides useful information (depth, production, and pump size), the buyer will probably want to get a current report because water levels change and the buyer will want to be sure the well is not beginning to dry up (note: the winter draw-down may show more gallons per minute than one done in late summer when there is less rain. ) If a new well is needed, the costs can run anywhere from  about $8,000 to $25,000, depending on area.  A four-hour draw down and well check by a local well company may cost about $390 - $400 including a potobility test to ensure the safety of the water to drink. It the well does not pass the potobility test,  showing some contamination, the well company can bleach out the well with a recognized process and/or  filters and blue-lights can be installed, some very costly, and then the water re-checked.  If the well only produces a few gallons per minute, a holding tank is suggested and may even be required.  A well producing 80-100 gallons a minute  minute is a very valuable addition to your horse or ranch property. The same applies to good water rights and/or irrigation water.  Many horse property owners are satisfied with 5 to 20 gallon-a-minute. If irrigation is needed then a  2,500 gallon holding tank may be suggested, depending on the number of animals and the amount of irrigation. The well, landscape contractor, or county Ag agent will be able to  give you more exact information.


Septic System

Finally, check out the septic system and leach fields before completing the purchase. If buying land, be sure the land has a "perc and mantel test" (usually costs about $700-$1000, verifying the soil is suitable for a septic system; add the complete septic design into the package from a civil engineer and it costs more; if the property does not "Perc," you may not be able to build without the expense of a mound or other specialized septic system costing upward of $20,000 range or even more).  Be sure the septic tank size is big enough for the number of bedrooms you have or might wish to add in the future (perhaps later for quest quarters. If not, Your inspector can advise you. If more bedrooms are added, usually a licensed civil engineer can expand the leach field. Or, if necessary install a second system. It is recommended that you to be there for the septic inspection or have your Realtor represent you.   A licensed septic person (often a licensed plumber) should be hired to inspect the septic tank (if seller does not already have a report and certification to furnish you). Either buyer or seller may be responsible to have it pumped, as needed, after the inspection; the inspection and pumping will run somewhere around $500 in Northern California and is often negotiated, but most often the seller is expected to pay for pumping and the buyer, the inspection. This cost can sometimes come out of close of escrow funds, like all inspection fees, and sometimes with a small additional surcharge.

Note: You should not paddock horses over the septic leach field without possibly damaging the lines, especially if the lines are close to the top like some systems (as with mound septic systems). Casual grazing over leach fields is sometimes permissible, as long as horses don't live there; but, not systems with a mound (usually meaning there was lots of clay and underground water in soil so property requires a more expensive septic system (i.e., $20,000 or more). Another reason you should order a "perc and mantel" before you buy a vacant piece of land so you will know if you can install a standard system. More Septic Information here.

Inspection Fees

All inspection fees are usually negotiable between buyer and seller, depending upon the county and state in which you are purchasing or selling property and/or its customary procedures. Your Realtor can advise you.  If you are the seller, inspections should be ordered up front, if at all possible, so you know where you stand in selling your property and about how much you should net after all fees and corrections. These inspections should include an natural/environmental hazard report which is mandatory in some states such as California, which will tell you if you are in an area of high fire hazard, earthquake hazard, high probability of radon gas, etc. etc. etc.

INSURANCE

Also, in California now, buyers have to check the insurability of the property long before completing the sale. If they wait till the last minute they may find that the property cannot be insured adequately, especially if it has had a history of claims. Ask about Farm and Ranch insurance to help with liability of your horses and guests.

Manufactured, log homes, and/or A-frames sometimes present specific problems in insurance and with getting the best loans with lenders.

Mold

Mold is particularly worrisome in some areas (i.e., because of excessive rain/moisture areas), and/or if there has been excessive moisture leaking into a home or manufactured home (i.e., leaks in roof or siding) that have not been taken care of in a timely manner. I have heard it said by inspectors that there are 5 types of mold, with two types to worry about.

Q. What trends are you currently observing in the sale of horse/equestrian properties in general? And, what is driving these trends?

A. I see more and more people leaving the crowded city areas to escape to the peaceful and uncrowned rural hills and grasslands of California and other desirable areas. They are tired of paying high boarding fees and prefer to have their horses in their own "backyard." Many are willing to commute as long as one hour or more to enjoy some acreage and serenity where they can allow their horses to  graze around their country homes. Also, more and more people are arranging their jobs where they can work at home part of the week and/or telecommute. 

A number of buyers are wanting to purchase property with room for a second home for family members or purchase acreage enough to enjoy building a covered arena and large barn. Others find that they can now enjoy the "good life" and either live in the city 3 days and come to the Ranch for 4 days (especially if horsy neighbors can fill in for them on days away). Often the wife and children stay in the country taking care of the animals, sometimes the husbands with a role reversal. You are also seeing more and more people wanting to stay at home, Mr. Moms. Congested cities and a desire for a more spiritual and peaceful way of life ---yes, back to nature, I feel, are the main driving trends. --- Marie Griffith, BuyHorseProperties.com

Tips to Transporting your Horse
to its New Home

Copyright 2007 Marie Griffith. All rights reserved. The above article is the property of the Author, Marie Griffith, and may not be duplicated or redistributed in any way without permission

NOTE: If you found this information helpful or you have comments to add, please email Marie
 

NOTE: The above information deemed accurate but not guaranteed. This is for general information only and buyer and seller should make their own investigations
to confirm with other reliable sources.