Let’s face it: We were going to have this talk sooner or later. We might as well get this conversation going. There are select few who love to talk about finances, especially when it affects the furry companions that we love. But budgeting doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, being responsible with our finances can ensure more resources for the horse time that we love so much.
How Much Fun Money Do You Have?
Firstly, let’s establish that for most of us fanatics, horses are for fun. They enrich our lives in so many ways, but they are not a necessity (except, of course, the lucky few who get to ride or train professionally). So there a few basic financial considerations when it comes to owning a horse.
Firstly, how much fun money do you have at your disposal? Starting with your base monthly income, subtract all your necessary bills (rent/mortgage, utilities, phone, cable, groceries, gas, insurance, and non-horsey spending money, savings, retirement, debts). How much do you have left over?
From that amount, can you support a monthly board payment, supplements & grain (which can run anywhere from $20 – 100 or more per month), and the farrier every eight weeks, with some wiggle room for vet bills, semi-annual wormers, and basics like shampoo, hoof treatment, new grooming tools, etc.?
There are many fantastic budget tools these days that make finances much more convenient. Personal finance blogger, Millenial Money Man has various Free Budgeting Spreadsheets to keep on track, as well as tips on how to live well on less money. I would also recommend Mint as a convenient personal finance tool. Keeping your entire budget in order will help determine how much you can allocate to horses and determine whether horse ownership is right for your personal means.
The second, and perhaps more important consideration: How much debt do you have? Even if you can afford a minimum payment on outstanding debt, be it student loans, car payments, or medical bills, is it worth it not to put the extra hundreds of dollars per month from your horse’s care towards those debts (particularly those with high interest)? This is a personal question, and only you can decide how to maneuver your own debts. Even if you can’t see parting with your horse, I would highly suggest finding ways to decrease your monthly costs to put towards your debts (see “Ways to Cut Costs” below).
Thirdly, there is the savings consideration. Are you able to cover all of you and your horse’s expenses in the case that you lose your job or have an emergency health crisis? Additionally, are you still able to put a healthy amount of money towards savings and retirement, or is your hobby going to affect you long-term? I hear a lot of horse people talk as though they’re never going to see hard times or a fixed income. Saving aggressively even in other areas of your budget (less eating out, used vs. new car, etc.) can enable you to save for retirement and still have a horse.
They Are Rarely Ever a Business
If you own your own horse(s), there are ways to off-set the costs, but this likely won’t be enough for a profit after their monthly expenses. Professional riders are the blessed few who are actually paid to ride, but they fit in a small niche and go through extreme competition to get there.
If you own your own property, you could have a breeding or training program run out of your house. But these days, breeding is such a specific market, and the trends can change quickly in relation to the time that gestation, maturity, and training take to accomplish before selling your prospects. Counting all the money you would put towards hay, supplements, shots, vet visits, and most importantly, your time, the price tag on your horses would have to be pretty high to be profitable.
The most common full-time equivalent income is a medium-to-large scale boarding stable. With a sizeable barn and pasture, you could get enough horses to pocket a couple thousand dollars a month after hay, bedding, and utilities. Granted, you will probably be doing most of the dirty work yourself, but this is a great way to be around your horses all the time and also pocket a serious amount of cash.
Ways to Cut Costs in Horse Care
There are certainly ways to cut down on your board payments and keep a more balanced budget. You can always ask the stable owner if you can trade stall cleaning for a discount in board. You can also give lessons on your horse or offer training to people and their horses. This would be great for someone who is already at the barn all the time. Be honest about your experience and the level at which you feel comfortable training.
If you are already at the barn often, you can offer to exercise, groom, and bathe other boarder’s horses for a reasonable fee. When I lived at a boarding stable, a friend paid me five dollars a day five days a week to just walk her horse. I would roll out of my apartment in my pajamas and muck boots, slip Bandit’s bridle on and take a morning stroll on him bareback down the gravel road. It was great!
If you have agriculturally-zoned property of your own, this is a major bonus, as your expenses will likely be cut in half. Depending on space, you can possibly keep another couple of horses on your property for a competitive rate and make a monthly profit to cover your own costs. Win win.
You may also want to consider a lease or half-lease of your horse. There are many riders out there who don’t want to commit yet to horse ownership, but would pay you amounts in the hundreds to lease a solid horse in their discipline (ranging from trail & pleasure to competitive circles). Just be confident that the person you lease to will be a good fit and is not likely to harm your horse or their training.
Shop for deals on your most needed products. Buy in bulk when you can afford to, because this will save you in the long run. For the more pricey, non-urgent items like new tack, you can budget for them instead of buying them on impulse. You may find a cheaper way to purchase it in the meantime, and you won’t be stressing your monthly budget because you are saving in smaller amounts for it.
Get creative! I have seen people make para cord halter and bridle accessories, customized polo wraps, and even barn door plaques for some side cash. Are you good at photography? There are people who will pay you to take pictures of them with their horse.
Alternatives to Ownership
If, after all these considerations, you decide getting a horse is not the best for your current financial situation, there are various alternatives that keep you hanging out with the animals you love. You can take lessons, lease or half-lease a horse, or exercise friend’s horses. I have found that for the horse lover, it’s typically harder to stay away from horses than it is to stay connected with them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I can’t say I have been perfect in the budgeting arena, which is why I feel compelled to share this bit of wisdom with you. The bottom line is that horses are work. They teach us about responsibility and thinking outside of what just benefits ourselves and our needs. You are caring for another living being. Before taking the plunge into horse ownership, it is in your best interest and the horse’s best interest to be able to care for them long-term. The sweetest joys in life are made sweeter by eliminating the stress of finances.