How to do “the horse thing” without breaking the bank

How to do “the horse thing” without breaking the bank

My baby

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.

Arabian Horse

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.

My horse, Chappy

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.

Chappy and Jane

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.

Chappy girl

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.

Lunging Chappy
Chappy before she got all her adorable “flea bites” (freckles).
Bringing Chappy home

Bringing Chappy home

Chappy, at homeOne of the main goals with buying a piece of property was to be able to bring my baby girl, Chappy, home.

She’s been my baby since I met her at just two weeks old, then brought her home to live with me at 8 months. She’s a beautiful little 10-year-old mare now, and I love her to death. She has been residing at the home of a professor I met while in graduate school, and I AM SO LUCKY to have had her so close by. A HUGE thank you to the family who has kept her like one of their own. I couldn’t have done this without them.

But it is finally time to bring her home.

The fence is in place, the buckets are hung, the gates are up. Our backyard will be her new home. And looking out the big picture window in my own kitchen to see my girl grazing and lazing the day away is priceless.

But just like everything else with home-buying/home-ownership, it hasn’t been nearly as simple or straightforward as I would have liked.

First, it took far too long to prepare. Because, as is too often the case, other things cropped up. Other efforts were needed. Time was split.

Our first attempt was postponed. Our second attempt aborted when she refused to load onto the trailer. The next time I saw my girl, she walked right up to me and nuzzled my hand, clearly asking for forgiveness.

Another two weeks passed, with dedicated training involved. Finally, on attempt #3, we successfully brought my girl home.

Over the bridge to grandma's house we go



I spent Memorial Day weekend constantly heading to the backyard just to marvel at the sight of her. So often I found myself distracted from my projects just gazing out the windows at her. She’s home.

Oiling my saddle

I truly believe that my love for horses is God-given. I believe that He placed in my heart a special place for these majestic creatures that He created with love and care. And in my life, I am to love and care for them as well. For this one in particular.

Chappy girl

I am so thankful that I was given this heart. It’s so much a part of who I am. And I don’t mean that I always want to be known as “the horse girl”. I mean that animals, horses in particular, are a part of my calling. Much the same as my work, my marriage and so many other things in my life. They are inseparable from the rest of me.

Arabian Horse

Someday, I’d like to write about more of the ups and downs and lessons God has given me in the past few years of trying to be wise and right. I was stretched and grown and learned so much. But it’s still a little raw. I’m still unsure of what it all means…

For now, I will bask in the knowing that my baby is home.

My baby

What horses have taught me: Balance

What horses have taught me

People sometimes relegate horses to the status of an expensive hobby or indulgence,
but I want to show you through this series that the life lessons they teach are priceless.

I believe my horses have taught me about balance more than just about anything else in my life…balance both literally and figuratively.

I had to learn how to sit atop a horse and not fall off. How to keep my seat without stirrups, without reins, without…anything. Just my body in sync with my horse. I had to learn to move as she moves and bend as she bends to simultaneously flow with and counterbalance her motions with mine so neither would be thrown off course.

Example: Hippodrome

Hippodrome trick riding.

And then there is the figurative. I have learned to balance my love of horses with many other things in life: family, friends, work, hobbies. I have learned that balance is essential in training, growing, learning.

In an effort to help Chappy learn to be calm and responsive without allowing her to pull us around or run over us, we often backed her through the barn, out to the pasture, into the round pen. Wherever we went, she went backwards. It’s hard work for a horse, and better yet, it is mentally challenging. It requires trust and submission. But all that backing? She forgot how to move forward. Oops.

We had to reteach her how to lead moving forward, how to lunge moving forward.

Balance. It’s crucial.

The backing wasn’t bad, the groundwork wasn’t harmful, it just needed balance.

Lunging Chappy

In fact, it would be easy to go the other way. To hop right on her after pulling her from her stall. Or to give lip-service to lunging, but only make her do a round or two before jumping on.

But I believe in balance. So we do a good 15 minutes of groundwork before riding–lunging, leading, backing, turning, pivoting, desensitizing, really anything I can think of. Then I ride. And it’s beautiful.

Riding Chappy

The balance of ground work and riding enable Chappy to be in her prime, to not get bored, to listen, learn, grow.

Life is like that too. We need balance to be our best–to listen, learn, grow.

Balance between work and play, between awake and sleep, between business and relationships. It should all be balanced.

Horseback riding

Other What Horses Have Taught Me posts:
Delayed gratification
“I can do this”
God is in control

The Curated Life: Horses

The Curated Life: Horses

People ask me all the time: “Do you ride all the time? Like every day?”

I hate getting that question.

Because it forces me to face my answer: No.

I don’t. In fact, I recently admitted to going six months without riding at all. Six months!

It’s ridiculous. Terrible. An atrocity!

My girl, Chappy

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.

Horseback riding.

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!

Curating my life - riding

Happiness, comfort and healing

Happiness, comfort and healing

My horse, Chappy

It’s been some time since I’ve felt completely, totally, irrefutably happy.

Just over six months ago, we lost my brother-in-law far before his time, and it hurts. It still hurts. Our loss, our grief has overshadowed every moment since that awful day. We loved much, so we grieve much.

Here in Virginia, fall is the perfect time to ride. The weather is lovely, the mosquitoes not so bad, and fall lasts through December. But we lost Michael in October, and while I went through the motions, most of last fall is a blur of heartache. I didn’t ride. Not once.

I didn’t ride all winter. It was cold, dark, rainy.

I didn’t ride in March or April, it was an unusually cool Spring, and wet as usual. I clean stalls, I feed, I groom, I arrange vet and farrier care, but I didn’t ride.

Then, I did it. I dusted off my saddle, pulled out the bridle and actually rode. For the first time in six months.

Registered Name: Easy Feelin'

And it was great. Perfect. Beautiful.

I watched the sunset from horseback, and I loved on my baby girl.

Eventually I dismounted and put her away, gave her some grain and stored all that tack once more. But this time it won’t collect dust–it won’t stay hidden for long. Because this was life-giving. This small act of riding brought a real smile to my face, one I couldn’t deny if I tried.

I felt euphoric, alive, joyful…happy.

Pony nose

I know that riding horses isn’t the source of my joy. The Lord is the source of all joy. But He has given me a special heart for these majestic creatures of His, and through them, He comforts and heals my heart.

The happiness didn’t last forever, and the next day my muscles were pretty sore (I forget just how much muscle it really takes to ride well!). But I have been reminded just how therapeutic a ride can be, and I plan on partaking again pretty soon.

Happy trails!

Riding my horse

What horses have taught me: God is in control

What horses have taught me

People sometimes relegate horses to the status of an expensive hobby,
but I want to show you through this series that the life lessons they teach are priceless.

In my very first “What horses have taught me” post, I gave a little background on how I came to own horses in the first place. But today I want to explore a significant lesson I learned in the midst of that story.

For the first time, I truly learned that God is in control–of everything. And I didn’t realize until recently what a treasure that lesson was to learn early in my life, and what influence that has had in my adult life.

After I had spent three long years scrimping and saving every penny (literally, I regularly checked the couch cushions for loose change), at 13 I had finally earned enough to fund my half of the purchase price of a horse. We were ready.

Riding Chappy

At the beginning of that summer, we began buying the local swap sheet and I circled just about every ad for a horse in our price range. My mom made the calls–one after another. Most of the time, the call was as far as it got–the horse had already sold, or needed an intermediate to advanced rider, or there was some other obvious issue.

But a few times, we actually made appointments to go see the horse, to ride it, to evaluate. We often brought along our neighbors who knew far more about horses than we did.

I remember several of the horses distinctly. Whitney was a gray standardbred, she was calm and quiet, pretty and perfect for a kid like me. We loved her. We put an offer on her. I dreamed about the day we would bring her home and make her ours. Then she was sold to someone else.

I was devastated.

My parents consoled me as they told me the bad news. God is in control, they told me. If it was the horse that He had picked out for us, she wouldn’t have sold to someone else.

We kept looking.

My horse, Chappy

Soon, I fell in love again–harder this time. His name was Mister Mighty Miracle. He was a 16h thoroughbred and absolutely beautiful. At only 6 years old, he was incredibly calm and just loafed around with me as gentle as could be. This was it. I was sure. I wanted him so much I ached for it.

But our neighbor noticed something about him, one knee was slightly larger than the other. He wasn’t limping and it didn’t appear to be swollen, most likely just a congenital defect that would have no impact on him. But we wanted a vet to do an x-ray just to be sure, as part of the usual pre-purchase exam. But the owners said no. They would not allow an x-ray.

We don’t know why they did that, but we couldn’t in good conscience spend $3,000 on a horse of questionable soundness. So we had to be the ones to say no, to walk away. I was crushed. I cried so hard that night. I didn’t want to walk away, I wanted to bring him home, to love him.

But if he had been the one for us, the owners would have let us x-ray his knee, my parents said. God is in control. He won’t allow anyone to take away the horse that is for us.

The summer wore on and our barn remained prepped but empty. It was one of the hardest lessons of my young life.

Riding Chappy

It’s funny how often that lesson comes back around. How often I think of it. Just recently Husband and I thought we may have finally found the house for us, we were ready to put in an offer. But when we arrived at our realtor’s to put together the paperwork he told us that the house had gone under contract just that afternoon.

He looked at me and asked if I was disappointed. Of course I was, but not devastated.

I told him that we came into this journey of house hunting with the perspective that God has just the right house for us, and He will not allow that house to be sold to someone else while we’re doing due diligence to research it and crunch numbers before diving in. So, it just wasn’t the house He has for us. And more than anything, we want what He has to give.

*A BIG thank you to my parents for teaching me something so crucial in such a tangible way.

**To learn about Cocoa, the horse we ended up buying that summer, read this.

Other What Horses Have Taught Me posts:
Delayed gratification
“I can do this”

What horses have taught me: Gentleness

What horses have taught me: Gentleness

What horses have taught me

People sometimes relegate horses to the status of an expensive hobby,
but I want to show you through this series that the life lessons they teach are priceless.

I was raised in a household of boys, and I learned how to hold my own. You’d think that skill would come in handy when it comes to wrangling 1,000 lb animals. But the fact is while you definitely need to be a little rough and tumble to handle it, gentleness is far more important.

I learned this early on with a few sensitive horses–Apollo and Chappy, both Arabians.

When I began training with Apollo, I was a very young rider. In all honesty, I had no idea how to handle him and his edginess made me nervous. More than once his fear escalated my fear and vice versa. I learned from a seasoned trainer that more than anything, Apollo needed me to be calm and firm. He didn’t need me to be strong or fierce or stern, just calm and firm. It worked miracles–for both of us.

Chappy as a baby.

Those lessons were extremely helpful when I was faced with training my second Arabian–another sensitive mount, although less fearful than Apollo. Chappy was only a baby when I brought her home, so all of her training from the ground up has been in my hands. Getting on her back for the first time might be one of my highest accomplishments.

Chappy is super-sensitive, and I have learned that with gentleness I can use that to my advantage. She needs no spurs and has never even had a bit in her mouth (at age 10 she is still ridden with a bosal). She needs a guiding hand, firm direction and definite boundaries. With that, a little gentleness can coax her into a magical ride.

My sweet horse.

Horseback riding.

And what I learned from Chappy is so applicable in my life. When I interact with others, especially as a leader or teacher, I can guide them with firm rules yet gently prod them toward excellence. It became so very apparent when I was a writing coach how effective an approach that is when critiquing something as personal and vulnerable as a person’s writing.

“Training” is never easy for the trainee, I think learning to harness the criticism and discipline into gentle instruction will continue to serve me well.

Cuddling with my pony.

Other What Horses Have Taught Me posts:
Delayed gratification
“I can do this”