Taking care of a horse on a limited budget might seem daunting, or even impossible in some cases. That’s because we all know how much time and effort it takes to care for a horse, to say nothing of the financials involved. Horses are expensive to buy and expensive to keep, but monthly and annual care costs vary drastically depending on a few factors.
Caring for a horse on a budget requires planning, discipline, and a bit of know-how. Some of the most useful tips I can give you are to maintain tack and supplies so you won’t have to replace them, learn some basic medical skills, unshod your horse, share your horse, and offer it up for lessons or shows. You could also consider paying for boarding costs with work, or better yet, just choose a self-care boarding option.
Below, I’m going to detail each step and share some of my own experiences with caring for a horse with little to no money. In my previous article about horse ownership costs, I came up with a round figure of $3,800 per year without boarding. Let’s see if we can bring these costs down somehow.
Buying used tack.
Buying tack that’s already been used by another horse might not seem that appealing at first, but remember that we’re trying to keep costs as low as possible. As long as the tack fits your horse and is still in decent condition, you’ll be far better off using second-hand tack than buying your own.
That’s because tack is one of the most expensive investments apart from the horse itself. Everyone wants their horse to have the best saddle and the best bridle. However, as long as they fit well and don’t inconvenience him as it works or trains, your horse won’t care one way or the other.
You can get used tack for half the price of a new piece, and even cheaper in some cases. Make sure to inspect it properly beforehand, and be vigilant for deals that seem too good to be true.
Take good care of your tack and supplies.
I like to take care of my things, that’s just the way I’m wired. When it comes to tack and supplies for horses, the better I take care of them, the more they last. Not having to replace your gear every few months can dramatically cut down on your annual costs.
With saddles, for instance, they can last the entire lifetime of your horse as long as you clean and maintain them properly. Leather saddles need oil treatments from time to time to prevent the leather from cracking and breaking. Moreover, make sure that you store your saddle in a shaded, dry spot, preferably on a saddle rack. Don’t just leave it around your property for the sun and wind to have their way with it.
You might also want to clean the horse’s blankets regularly, as well as buckets, brushes, and anything else you know you’ll use daily.
Unshod your horse (only if it can manage it).
Horses didn’t adapt to walk and work on rough surfaces such as concrete or pavement. Their hooves get badly damaged as they walk on these surfaces regularly, and the concussive forces generated during a walk or trot can even damage a horse’s bone structure. That’s what horseshoes are for: to offer much-needed protection and to allow our horses to work on hard surfaces.
That being said, as effective as horseshoes are, getting them fitted and replaced can be a financial burden. If your horse walks on regular ground most of the time, and if he’s not put to work all that often, you can consider giving up horseshoes altogether, or at least for a time. If you would like to learn more about this topic, feel free to read up on this separate article that I wrote not too long ago.
Learn some rudimentary medical skills.
I’m not saying you should give up on calling your vet altogether. A veterinarian is the most qualified to give your horse the care that it needs, especially when it comes to mild or serious procedures. Still, it can pay off to learn the basics, as these can save you quite a bit of money in the long run.
A vet will charge you even for the most minor intervention, such as wrapping up a horse’s leg, deworming, taking temperature measurements, or checking its teeth and gums. You can do these yourself without too many issues provided you’re careful and you’ve done your research beforehand. Furthermore, you can even administer your horse’s vaccines yourself, which can also save you quite a bit of money.
All this being said, if there was ever an area where you SHOULDN’T try to save a buck, it’s your horse’s health. You can try and take care of the basics, sure. Just be ready to call a vet immediately if you notice something might be remotely wrong with your horse.
Stock up on hay early in the year.
Hay is a primary source of food for horses during the cold months. That’s when the grass dries out, so hay is the next best thing. The trick is, if you buy your hay as winter approaches, you’ll end up spending much more than you would normally. That’s because sellers know that we’re willing to pay more just to make sure our horses will have their fill.
Buying hay in the summertime just after it’s been cut is a much smarter decision financial-wise. Just make sure you have somewhere to store it and keep the rodents out. Buying supplies and food in the off-season is generally a very good idea if you’re on a budget. This brings me to my next tip…
Buy supplies in the off-season.
Just like hay, it definitely pays off to buy your supplies in the off-season. For instance, if you’re looking for extra warm horse blankets, consider purchasing them in the warm season. Horse sheets or sunscreen – buy them during the winter. This way, you’ll always be prepared for what’s coming later in the year, but you’ll also save a few bucks.
These items become more expensive as more and more people are looking to buy them. If you keep an eye out for off-season deals, you can find some real bargains and save up even more.
Consider group lessons.
We all want to benefit from our trainer’s full attention, particularly if we’re just starting out. However, group horseriding lessons are considerably cheaper than one-on-one encounters. If you already know the basics and you’re just looking to learn some new tricks or to polish up your stance, group lessons are a great way to achieve your goals.
In addition, riding your horse alongside other horses has its own benefits. It gives you and your horse the opportunity to learn from other riders. It also allows your horse to get used to the presence of other horses. The downside is that you won’t be the only student out there.
Self-care boarding is probably the best way to cut costs if you’re struggling financially as a horse owner. While most boarding options are expensive and will set you back between $400 and $650 per month, there is a cheaper option that involves a bit of work and know-how on your part.
Self-care boarding means that you’ll only pay for your horse’s living arrangements. You’ll need to take care of the horse yourself. This includes regular turnouts, feeding, cleaning the stall, and providing water. It’s a lot of work, and I’d only recommend this solution for somebody who has a lot of time on their hands. If you work a regular job and expect to be able to take care of your horse yourself, you should probably consider asking for help. Otherwise, you might become overwhelmed sooner than you think.
Self-care boarding costs somewhere between $100 and $200 a month, which is definitely more affordable when compared to pasture boarding or full-care boarding.
Half-leasing your horse.
We know that horses bond with their owners, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t bond and get along with more than one person. Half-leasing your horse is a very good solution if you’re looking to cut costs as well as responsibilities. By half-leasing, you’ll still own your horse and you’ll still be responsible for it. However, you’ll allow someone else to ride it from time to time, as well as care for it when you’re unavailable.
The actual sharing of responsibilities is usually agreed upon by the two parties. You and your lessee will sort everything out and will likely sign a contract that outlines the terms of your agreement. It’s a good solution for cutting down horse ownership costs, particularly if the horse is well-behaved and adjusts to having two handlers.
Offer your horse up for lessons.
It’s expensive to care for a horse, but most owners seem to forget that the horse itself can actually pay for some of those expenses. By making your horse available for lessons, you’ll sometimes be able to offset your boarding costs, or you’ll be able to earn some extra cash to pay for some of your other expenses.
This is a good solution only for well-behaved horses, mind you. If your horse is too enthusiastic for its own good, you should probably skip this step in order to save yourself from even more expenses.
You don’t need a stall all year round.
One common misconception among horse owners is that you should keep a horse stalled for as long as possible in order to control its environment and living conditions. While it’s definitely true that you will be able to control your horse’s environment while stalled, it’s often a very expensive and unnecessary solution.
Horses have been living outdoors for thousands of years. As long as you don’t live in a particularly cold area with very harsh winters, you can even keep your horse turned out all year long. By turning out your horse instead of stalling it, you’ll dramatically cut down on bedding costs and general maintenance.
Of course, you’ll need access to a property with good fences and a decent pasture in order to pull this off.
Stay away from brands.
Buying supplies exclusively from named brands is a sure way to ruin your finances. Take a step back and make a list of your most important tools and items, such as brushes, nets, blankets, toys, buckets, etc. Many of them will be available at online stores with ridiculous prices, but only because they belong to a brand.
An item’s quality is not measured in its brand value. You can find replacements for a fraction of the cost, and horses definitely don’t care if their blanket costs $20 or $150 as long as it keeps them warm.
I’m not saying you should go ahead and buy the cheapest items you can find. Pricing does have an influence on quality in some cases, just make sure that you’re not overpaying.
One final tip for you: horses are incredibly popular nowadays, so finding a local online group that could help and support you shouldn’t be too difficult. Once you find and join one, you can work on your relationships, make friends, look for cheap lessons or cheap tack. You can also ask for advice (financial or otherwise), and you can ultimately make better and smarter decisions for you and your horse.
If you’re new at this, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Just make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into before buying the actual horse. Horses are not cheap to buy, nor are they cheap to keep, but they won’t drive you to financial ruin if you follow at least some of the tips that I detailed above. I know they helped me out quite a bit when I was struggling to make ends meet.
If you have anything that you would like to add, or if you’d like to share your own experiences with caring for a horse on a limited budget, don’t hesitate to get in touch!