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“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them;
for those experiences have left an indelible impression,
and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
Typical siblings, Jane the Goat stealing Chappy’s grain and vice verse. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side…
I attended a training clinic recently where I learned a lot, but also saw people spending beaucoup bucks on training tools, tack, t-shirts and more (on top of the $50 entrance fee!). In fact, Wells Fargo was there to finance the purchase of roundpens, saddles, automatic waterers and more.
I got my tickets for free and brought my own snacks and proteins to eat in the car during breaks so I wouldn’t have to purchase expensive concession food. My only expenses were the gas to get there, dinner (split entrees with my mom), and a hotel room (30 minutes away because it was more affordable).
It got me to thinking about how it really is possible to do “the horse thing” frugally.
It’s true, I don’t have a $1,299 saddle. I’m sure they’re comfortable, durable and well built. And for someone who has thousands available in disposable income, it may not be a bad investment. But for the girl who brought her own food to the clinic? It’s a little ridiculous.
When I got my first horse at age 13, I bought a used Western saddle for $50. You know what? I still use it today — the only Western saddle I’ve ever bought (also, my English saddle, still in use today, was $30). Is it the best saddle ever made? No. Is it safe? Yes. Does it work? Yes. So no new saddle in my future.
When I was looking for a treat to spruce up my tack, I bought a pretty new saddle blanket for $10.
It is possible to keep a horse on a budget. I promise.
Board is the biggest part of just about every horse-owner’s expense. When my husband and I began looking for a house to buy, we knew that we wanted enough property to house my horse and cut out that expense. That said, we couldn’t afford a fancy farm or even 10 acres in the Virginia Beach area. But we did get a lovely 2.5 acres, zoned to house a single horse, with a tiny one-stall barn. Just enough to meet our needs. (We bought a goat to keep her company — low cost, low maintenance.)
But even boarding doesn’t have to be ridiculous. I worked out a deal with someone to work off part of my board cleaning stalls and feeding, even house-sitting when the owners went out of town in exchange for a cut in my rate. I even provided labor (call on your friends and family!) for major barn cleanings and hay deliveries to work off some of the cost. The family I boarded with were extremely kind to me and I hope my efforts and knowledge (I even did some training with them) was a benefit to them as well.
Feed of course is going to be an expense. We source our hay locally from the grower himself (instead of purchasing through a middle-man tack/feed store), and we buy a cheaper mix grass instead of an expensive orchard or alfalfa. My horse gets plenty of nutrition from it and I’m able to give her more in the winter to help keep her warm and keep her gut active without worrying about her gaining weight. We even went to purchasing round bales because they’re cheaper than square bales. I also don’t worry about an expensive grain. My horse gets Original Safe Choice, which I would recommend for just about any horse, the exception perhaps being a senior horse who struggles to keep on weight. What my horse drops, the goat eats so we don’t even have to get goat feed unless we want to. Tractor Supply, Rural King and other supply stores often have sales (BOGO half off) or coupons ($2 off each bag) that I use to get a stock pile of grain at a cheaper price.
Vet care is another biggie. I have cut the cost by taking measures to keep my horse as healthy as possible, like regular deworming (3x/year in Virginia) and keeping her outdoors as much as possible. I have also worked out a deal with a vet to purchase vaccines and administer them myself. Not all vets will do this, but I have a relationship and trust built between myself and my vet. Now my vet visits 1x/year to administer rabies and draw blood for her coggins. She also checks her teeth at this time.
The farrier, of course, is another regular expense. Every six weeks. But in the winter, horses’ hooves grow more slowly, so we stretch it to every eight weeks during that season. Every little bit helps.
Having my horse in our own backyard does involve some extra costs, but most are one-time costs that I will benefit from for years to come: fencing, gates, stall mats, buckets, stock tanks, etc. We were able to save some money by installing electricity to the barn ourselves (or rather, my dad — an engineer — installed it), and installing the wood and electric fences ourselves. There are some maintenance costs, but it is far lower than boarding.
Supplies is a big one that I spent lots of money on as a teenager (when I didn’t have to pay for feed myself!). Instead of expensive horse shampoo and conditioner, I get some from the dollar store. Aside from that, I have a small canister of Carona, a small bottle of BioShield, a bottle of fly spray (I do pay more for UltraShield, but use it less because it’s more effective — also, you can buy the concentrate and mix it yourself), a bit of hoof conditioner and maybe a bottle of thrush treatment. And I keep baby oil on hand for getting the tangles out of her mane.
Tack is something that will require investment, but it doesn’t have to be a lot, and it doesn’t have to be often. I own two saddles, English and Western (purchased used for $30 and $50 respectively). I own 4 bridles: English, Western, training and bozal. Right now, I only ride in the bozal. I only have a few bits (when I needed something new for my horse, I would borrow friends’ bits to try them out before making a purchase). An English and a Western saddle pad (I do have a few inexpensive saddle blankets to change up the look or colors).
Being frugal requires a little more time, a little more effort, and definitely some forethought, but it is so worth it if it makes having a horse affordable.
I have this beautiful, wonderful thing at my fingertips and yet I don’t put it to use in my life.
There are a thousand excuses–I have them memorized. The limited daylight in winter. The wet or cold or hot or windy weather. The responsibilities of life. Work. Home. Relationships. Time.
Honestly, they are valid excuses. But they are excuses, not reasons.
And I don’t want to live excuses anymore.
As Husband and I attempt to pay down big student loans and simultaneously save enough for a down payment on a house, we have gone over every single expense with a fine tooth comb. Every. Single. Penny.
We’ve made big changes and little ones. We tweaked our car insurance to save $15 a month, and at one point even got rid of our internet service at home.
I cannot tell you how many times we have calculated the cost of keeping a horse, down to the penny. And it’s not cheap. Beyond the cost of feed and board and farrier and vet care there is the time. The daily grind of cleaning stalls, feeding, letting in, turning out. It all takes time.
But she’s my baby. My girl. Not just a part of my world, but a part of me. I would do anything to keep her. Letting her go just doesn’t feel like an option, because I think it would break my heart.
The value that she brings to my life isn’t tangible, it cannot be given a numerical value. It just is.
Then, earlier this year, I brought forth this idea about living a curated life. And recently, I realized that this part of my life, this horse-loving barn-cleaning part of my life, should not just be consumed, but curated.
Carefully designed, molded, shaped, collected and pieced together. Chappy should be too. The value she brings to my life should be forefront, not vaguely remembered from six months ago. The beauty and life that she offers should be capitalized on.
So I have decided: It’s time to curate.
My desire is to ride two or three times a week. It’s completely doable, I just have to commit. I’m thinking if I make space to ride Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at least two or three of those times should work out, with decent weather. And Sunday makes a good back up day. (Usually Sundays are set aside to spend with God and Husband, but Husband said he would love to come with me to the barn to watch me ride on Sunday afternoons.)
And just to make things clearer, I want to set some goals. Goals for me and for her. Goals that will motivate me to ride more and will benefit us for years to come.
Goals for me:
1. Ride 2-3 days/week
2. Ride Chappy in large pasture
3. Begin taking Chappy down trails near stable
4. Train Chappy to load/unload from our trailer
5. Increase comfort level at lope in large pasture
6. Add hitch to my truck and increase my trailering skills
Goals for Chappy:
1. Consistently keep head down
2. Maintain consistent, easy pace
3. Increase neck reining ability
4. Continue to work on side-passing
5. Begin flying lead changes in large pasture
6. Begin turn on haunches
By the end of the summer, I would love to start taking Chappy to Northwest River Park on weekends, to practice trailering, and work her in the round pen there, then take a few walks in the open area of the park. Perhaps by fall we will be ready to tackle a trail =).
So there you have it, my breakdown of goals to bring this part of my life from consuming to curating. Wish me luck!
“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them;
for those experiences have left an indelible impression,
and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
People often relegate horses to the status of an expensive hobby, but I want to show you that the life lessons they teach are priceless.
People describe me in all kinds of ways. I hear a lot of “shy,” “quiet,” and “timid.” The fact is, most people are wrong. I’m not most of those things. Sure, I’m reserved. An introvert. But I’m not as fearful as they assume.
But we all struggle from time to time with confidence. We wonder if we have what it takes. We wonder if we’ll fail, and if we do, what that failure will look like, how it will reflect on us, and what it will mean.
With horses, there is a lot of opportunity for failure. But in the midst of that, there is also a lot of opportunity to take chances, to make up your mind and say over and over again “I can do this.”
There is also a lot of opportunity for overwhelming success.
Horses have taught me to face my fear head on. To give more credence to the abilities I know I have than the fear that tells me I’m not enough.
It comes in all shapes and sizes. I had one particularly difficult horse that I fell off of more times than I can count. Apollo is the sweetest little boy in the whole wide world, but he spooks like nobody’s business. He bucks. He bolts. He spins. He twists. He’s like an entire rodeo all wrapped up into one package.
Can I tell you the number of times I landed in the dirt? No. Can I tell you the number of times I picked myself up, dusted myself off (literally), said “I can do this” and stared fear down as I jumped right back up on? Nope. Because it was too many to count.
It also showed up during my first week interning with a nationally known horse trainer when I found myself selected to attempt Roman riding (picture me standing up on a pair of horses) for the very first time in front of a crowd of onlookers. (As well as other tricks, like the hippodrome shown below.)
And the little phrase was reinforced when it came time to break my filly (shown below) to ride all by myself.
The fact is, my “I can do this” attitude has shown up in so many areas of life…like going to a college more than 40 hours away from home…like going skydiving in spite of my fear of heights…like moving to Virginia for grad school because I know it’s what God wanted me to do in spite of the fact that I didn’t have a job there…like juggling finances and balancing a very, very tight budget…like all the things I face head on instead of shying away from.
Horses have taught me that no matter what it might feel like, I have the ability to do more than I could ever imagine.
I can’t say that I was looking forward to your arrival, but with the new leather bag Husband bought me to carry all my work “stuff” in, I am pleasantly surprised by my delight in packing my things to leave for work this morning. Amazing how an over-sized handbag can turn a day around.
Oh, what a wonderful ride we had! Let’s hope it stops raining sometime soon so we can do it again…
Thank you for holding off on Saturday so I could line dry my laundry, and thank you for arriving on Sunday. There’s really nothing like rainy day to make you stop all the craziness and just enjoy. Even if we did get seriously wet running in and out of stores yesterday. But at the same time, I’m not sure I really love the weather report…another week of you might be more than I can handle.
Thanks for Sunday. I know that I have to share you with the rest of the world Monday through Saturday, but I’m so glad that we set aside Sunday for us.
People seem to relegate horses to the status of an expensive and even indulgent hobby, but I want to take the time to share that the life lessons they teach are priceless. Through this series of posts, I hope you begin to understand what a profound impact horses have had on just about every aspect of my life.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t one of those horse-crazy little girls gleefully playing with My Little Pony or enchanted by Breyer models. I wasn’t begging my parents to give me a pony for my birthday. I remember exactly three time that I rode a horse as a child–going in circles at a friend’s birthday party, up and down a driveway at a ranch (apparently I was too young to join my family on the actual trail ride), and at the grand canyon where we rode burros along the rim (and technically burros aren’t horses, so maybe that doesn’t even count).
Then, when I was ten, we moved to western New York–Erie County to be exact, a place I would later learn has more horses than the rest of New York state combined. My parents bought an old farm house with 15 acres of land and a big old barn built in the 1840s. That barn was a treasure trove for my brothers and I. And in one dark corner of an old stall there was an rusty blue tack trunk. And in that trunk, there was a collection of pieces of dried-out, cracking leather bridles and old metal bits and things that I never knew about. They fascinated me.
It wasn’t long before I was asking my parents for a horse. Eventually they agreed that we could get a horse if I paid for it myself. My dad took me to the local gas station to buy a swap sheet and we looked at the average cost of a horse–$3,000 became my goal.
At the time, I was getting about $15 a month in allowance. And I picked up an additional $2 a week dusting the house. At that rate it would take me 10 years to save enough. So I proposed a compromise and my parents agree to go halves.
For three long years I pinched pennies (literally, I search couch cushions…), recycled plastic bottles, saved every dime I received, and picked up any extra chores and babysitting I could muster. I didn’t buy so much as a stick of gum in three years.
As my savings grew, so did the requests from my brother–for some toy or another he thought “we” would enjoy (pellet guns? really?). At least once a week he pelted me with, “You don’t really think you’re going to get a horse, do you?” I just lifted my chin and said, “Yep, I really do.”
When I was 13 and my half of the money was saved, we started circling ads in the swap sheet every week and calling about Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and more. We looked at horse after horse. We even brought our much more horse-savvy neighbors to see a few. We put an offer on one, just to see her sold to another buyer. I desperately fell in love with another, just to have them tell us we could not have a pre-purchase vet exam to xray his slightly enlarged knee.
Finally, we found a dilapidated old mare. Her owners couldn’t afford to feed her. Honestly, she was in terrible shape, far too thin with her ribs showing and her high withers and swayed back. Her hair was dull and rough, her mane and tail sparse and mangy. Her teeth were just awful, her hooves cracked and splitting. She was an old style Quarter Horse with small feet, bulky shoulders, and an “anvil” head. She even had a “prophet’s thumb” (indentation in the muscle of the neck). She was already 19 years old. Gosh, looking at photos now she was one of the ugliest horses. But 13-year-old me didn’t see that, and I’m so glad.
13-year-old me was in love. A chestnut colored Quarter Horse was my dream come true. Her name was Lee Shines Eternal, but everyone called her Cocoa. And for $1,000 we got her for a steal! Of course, the rest of my saved money went toward the serious bills we soon received from the farrier and equine dentist. But still, I was in heaven. A horse of my very own.
And those three long years of scrimping and saving? It was all worth it.
Please be a calm, quiet day. I think I need to ease back into the workweek…
Dear Power Company,
Will you please get my electricity back on? Putting on mascara in the dark was an experience I would rather not go through again tomorrow.
Dear Rainy Sunday,
Can I just say thank you? You were exactly what Husband and I needed. A day of church, browsing through Trader Joe’s, picking movies, resting, snuggling on the couch and eating homemade sticky buns… Basically, we just didn’t do anything at all. And it was great.
We had the best first ride of the season yet! I’m so proud of you for remembering all those long hours of training that we’ve had together. I’m delighted that you even remember the more advanced maneuvers that we just started learning last summer. Let’s keep up the good work and make some real progress on your training this summer, shall we? Maybe by the end of the season we’ll be trail riding at Northwest River Park!
You’re only two weeks away…
Please come as quickly as you can. I cannot wait for our little road trip up the Eastern Shore in celebration of Husband’s birthday. And if you don’t mind, bring some sunny weather with you =).
I think it is ingrained in every little girl to love these massive animals. Interestingly, I wasn’t as taken with them as some of my friends (I was really into dolphins as a little girl), but when I was 10 and we moved to a new home with a barn and pasture, things changed. I became enamored with horses, and determined to get my own!
It took me three years to earn enough money to pay for half a horse (an agreement I had with my parents that they would pay the other half), but it was once of the best things I’ve ever done. At the age of 13, I brought home my very first horse.
Since then, I’ve had more experiences with horses than I can relate…I showed and gamed, I worked at a breeding farm, I got a bachelor’s degree in Equestrian Studies, I interned with a nationally known horse trainer, and the list goes on.
Perhaps one of the best things I did, though, was bring home my own filly when she was 8 months old and complete all of her training myself.
Her official name is Easy Feelin’, but she is better known as Chappy around the barn. She’s “my baby girl” and the light of my life. It’s hard for me to believe that she is already eight years old! She is no end of entertainment and affection. And although I sometimes gripe and complain about cleaning stalls, I love that I get to live right around the corner from my baby and see her anytime I want.
I have learned more from horses, and from Chappy in particular, than you can imagine. I’ve learned patience, persistence, sacrifice, self-control, determination, courage, love, respect, and so much more!
If your little girl ever asks for a pony, I would encourage you to seriously consider it. My horses have taught me so many lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thank you, Chappy girl. I am so thankful for you!
(The above photo is a bridal portrait with Chappy taken by my sister-in-law.)
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