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.