Imagine waking up in the morning and being able to see your horse from the window, or strolling five minutes down the lane to your field, rather than sitting in a traffic jam or battling along icy lanes to the yard.

Imagine having the peace and quiet to do your horse at a time that suits you, rather than having to locate your mucking out tools that somebody else has borrowed.

These are among the many benefits of having your horses at home. But there are downsides too – from having no-one to help out if you are stuck at work or want to go on holiday, to working with limited facilities and having little or no storage.

So, how do you decide whether it is worth taking the plunge and setting up on your own?
For Octavia Walters, who now keeps her four horses at home in Evesham, Worcestershire, cost was a deciding factor.

“Previously, I had my horse on DIY livery which cost £25-30 a week. That's fine when you have just one and haylage and straw are included – and he had good, safe turnout with company. But as our clan grew to four, £120 a month each for a stable and the use of field became too much when everything else was extra.”
Octavia finally bought a house with three acres and built five stables.

“The increase in my monthly outgoings is considerably less than paying livery or field rent and I am my own boss. I have no school yet, but we have jumps and it's looking good.”

Weighing up the options
If you decide to give up your livery box and go it alone there are hidden costs to bear in mind. Feed and bedding can be pricier if it has to be purchased in small amounts due to a lack of storage, while choice can also be restricted to expensive poly-wrapped bedding or small haylage bales if you have no barn.

Calling out vets, equine dentists and farriers can also be pricier if you are on your own – one vet practice in the Cotswolds charges £38.50 for an individual callout as opposed to £19.25 for a shared visit.

Generally speaking, the more horses you have, the more cost-effective renting or owning your own yard will be, plus, if family members, partners or friends share a yard, there should always be help on hand – one of the advantages of being on a busy yard, as Octavia says: “The upside of being on a livery yard is that there are spare hands when you need them, people to talk to and ride with and it can be fun. We don't have any help at home and it's so easy to waste hours with the horses when I should be working!”

'There's no way I'd go back'
For many horse owners, a bitchy yard atmosphere, having belongings go missing, or being ranted at for being at the yard at the wrong time can take the pleasure out of the experience.

Elisabeth Seidel, who has kept her horses at home in Marlborough, Wilts for the last 15 years, says there is no way she would go back to a livery yard.

“The lack of help is more than made up for by the lack of interference and unsolicited advice,” she says. “A well run yard can be a big bonus for people that are very busy, but on the whole there's not much room for people who like to do things their way.”

But with more flexibility comes responsibility.

“You may not have a long journey to the yard on icy roads in the winter, but you may well be on your own in the snow, with nobody to help you dig the yard out or break ice on water buckets,” adds Elisabeth.

As a landowner, you have to look after the stables and fields yourself, and many rental agreements also dictate this.

“At the livery yard I always found it a real effort to get the owners to mend or maintain anything,” says Octavia. “You get to the stage of 'why should I bother fixing fences, poo-picking the field or raking the school when no-one else does'.”

Other worries about going it alone might include security and the lack of anyone to keep an eye on your horse.

What happens if you want to go away for the weekend or get stuck at work?

While there's no yard network to call on, many horse owners rely on friendly neighbours to help while freelance grooms can also be an option.

Planning pitfalls – and how to overcome them

Applying for planning permission for your new stables can be a lengthy – and often tedious – process. David Manning runs Landyke Ltd, a consultancy specialising in helping horse owners with planning issues. Here are his top tips:

  • Stables or fixed shelters outside the curtilage of the property (ie not in the garden) will need planning permission
  • In a conservation area, stables will need planning even if they are in the garden
  • That the stables are for private use (not for livery or hire) is often a condition of approval
  • Planners look favourably on applications where the construction materials match the surrounding buildings
  • Good access, with the gate set back from the road to allow a safe exit for horseboxes, is required
  • High-level lighting on stables or arenas can be an issue, especially with nearby neighbours
  • Talk to the neighbours and try to get them onside – at the very least this will create a favourable impression with the planners

THIS FEATURE FIRST APPEARED IN HORSE MAGAZINE'S JANUARY 2012 ISSUE