Buying a horse is an expensive proposition, and the costs of owning a horse go well beyond the purchase price (if you’re wondering if you’re ready to buy a horse, read this helpful article). The day-to-day costs of owning a horse can add up and easily get out of hand if you’re not careful.
However, there are tons of ways you can save money owning a horse.
We’ll start off by looking at how much to budget for your horse, so you know how much you’ll need every month. Then, get ready for some money-saving tips to cut down on the cost of horse shows, board fees, horse care, health care, feeding and bedding, tack and riding equipment, and how to save on riding lessons. Finally, we’ll take an important look at the four areas you shouldn’t be cheap on.
So settle in and get ready to pinch those pennies!
How to Budget for a Horse
Horsey Emergency Fund
Ideally, your emergency fund should not be your available credit limit. Your horse is very likely going to get hurt or sick at some point. At the very least, he’s probably going to pull a shoe (or two… or three…) or destroy a perfectly good blanket in the middle of winter. Expect unexpected costs.
Before you buy a horse, determine what it will really cost you to own. Not just the purchase price, but how much it will cost to maintain your equine every month (check out the checklist, below, to get your horse budget started). Have a few months of “horsey costs” set aside, so you’re not left scrambling if something goes awry.
Costs of Owning a Horse
You’ll have several recurring bills, such as:
-Farrier every 1.5 to 2 months
-Annual vet visit, plus emergency calls
Note: Ask at your barn if they charge a horse holding fee if you’re not there to hold your horse for the vet or farrier. Many barns charge extra for blanketing/ booting/ supplements/ extra feeds, etc. as well.
-Consumables, like supplements, saddle soap, fly spray, first-aid supplies, etc.
-Impulse purchases. Be honest – you’ll probably be tempted to buy new polos, boots, saddle pads, bits, etc.
-Gas & mileage to and from the barn
-Show fees, trailering, braiding fees, etc. during show season, if you show
-Association membership fees if you show or participate in any group activities, like trail rider clubs, etc.
Barter For It
Bartering your time for reduced costs is a great way to save on the cost of owning a horse.
Many barns will offer reduced board fees in exchange for work around the barn, like mucking stalls or doing the evening feed. While this is a great way to save some cash on owning a horse, in some cases this may amount to having a second job, so make sure you’re ready for the responsibility.
If you buy your own hay, you may be able to save money on hay by helping the farmer with the hay harvest. Working on the back of a hay truck is hard work, but the money you save on hay (especially if you can bring it home yourself and save on delivery fees) can make it well worth it.
Capable help in the horse world can be surprisingly hard to find, so if you’re a hard worker and are willing to get a little dirty, trading work for less expensive (or free!) equine services can be a great way to stretch your budget.
Even if your horse wasn’t “expensive”, insurance is still a worthwhile consideration. If he gets sick or badly injured and needs to be euthanized or undergo expensive treatment, horse insurance can go a long way towards helping offset emergency costs and helping you sleep better at night.
Save on Horse Shows
Consider Your Goals
If you absolutely love showing, then horse shows are certainly something to fit into your horsey budget. But if affording shows is a stretch, don’t feel like you have to show. If you’re doing it because everyone in your barn shows, it may be more cost-effective to switch to a recreational barn where you won’t be pressured to go for ribbons every year.
If you’re showing in A Circuit or rated shows, consider local schooling shows. Entry fees are usually much lower, and you won’t have to travel too far afield for them.
Nearby shows, where you can ship in and ship out on the same day, mean you won’t have to pay overnight stabling fees, which will drastically slash your budget. For the ultimate in show-savings, in-house shows (hosted at your barn) will reduce shipping and stabling fees to $0.
Split, Share, Save
If you show with your barn or with a specific trainer, you may not have much say in trailering fees. But if you don’t, consider sharing trailer space with another member of your barn, or other riders going to the same show.
For out-of-town shows, split a hotel room with a fellow rider. If your show schedules are the same (and you’re both friends!) you can carpool for even greater savings.
And of course, avoid the concession stand at shows and pack your own food, snacks, and beverages.
Show ring trends change almost as often as street fashion trends. Instead of looking like a fashionista one season and dated the next, opt for classic looks instead of trendy ones.
Make Your Show Coat Last
Your show jacket will be one of your greatest show attire expenses. To get a few more seasons out of your coat, opt for a size slightly larger than what you normally wear and have a seamstress take it in. This works especially well for kids and teens, and adults with fluctuating weight, as the coat can always be let out as you grow.
DIY Show Grooming
Clipping, mane pulling, and braiding are two common show season expenses you can easily eliminate by doing them yourself. Braiding will take some practice to get perfect, but consider it a good excuse to spend more quiet time with your horse.
Cut out groom fees by mucking your own stall (and providing your own bedding) and bathing your horse, if you’ve been paying someone else for this. If it’s part of your barn’s show fees, speak to the trainer or manager about doing your own work for reduced fees.
Bonus: Once you get good at braiding and show ring prep, you can make extra money offering these services to other riders. The money you make can offset your show fees.
Save on Horse Board
Outdoor pasture board is almost always much less expensive than stall board.
It also has the advantage of being much healthier and more natural for the horse, who will get to graze, socialize and exercise as he likes. Pastured horses are less likely to colic, get ulcers, or develop stall vices (‘stereotypies’ such as cribbing, weaving, stall walking, or chewing). Because their lifestyle is much more natural, pastured horses are also generally less stressed.
The only downside to pasture board is that it can be difficult for barn staff to coordinate individual grain or supplement feedings. You may also need to arrive at the barn a bit earlier than usual to catch him in the field.
DIY board is the ultimate money-saver. If you’re already at the barn every day anyway, this could be the option for you. Depending on the barn, you may be able to just rent the stall and do the mucking, turnout, feeding, etc. yourself.
If you live near a horse farm, consider inquiring about this option. Not all barns offer it, but if the manager is willing to offer you a DIY option, and you can make time for the responsibility, this is a great option to consider.
Share Your Horse
Want to cut your board cost in half? Get a part-boarder. Sharing your horse 2-3 days a week can be a great option, for several reasons.
First, a part boarder will typically pay half the cost of the horse’s board in exchange for riding, and possibly showing, privileges. Plus, if you don’t ride every day a part boarder can help keep your horse fit and working.
Another option for offsetting your board bill is to allow your horse to be used for lessons. You’ll need an especially calm and uncomplicated horse (and a willing trainer or barn manager), but if your barn is short of lesson horses, it can be a great option. Another bonus is your horse will always be used under supervision, so you can rest a little easier about how he’s being ridden.
Save on Horse Care
Use Human Products Instead
Anything with a horse on the label is likely to cost you a few bucks more than the human version. Items like shampoo, conditioner, detangler, sunscreen, and petroleum jelly can be found at your drug store for a lot less than your tack shop.
In many cases, you can even find horsey staples at your local dollar store. Good discount store finds include hairbrushes, combs, sponges, braiding elastics, baby wipes, baby oil, baby powder (to get white socks extra-flashy before entering the ring), first-aid supplies, grooming totes, and tack trunk organizers.
DIY Horse Care Products
In addition to using human products and discount store finds, here are a few horse care products you can mix up yourself.
Rubbing Alcohol Instead of Liniment
Lower leg liniment (think stable staple like Absorbine Liniment) is great for reducing heat and inflammation after a hard workout, but it’s expensive. Rubbing alcohol is a great substitute, and accomplishes the same goal at a fraction of the cost. Bonus: You can buy it at the dollar store.
DIY Detangler Spray
Keep that mane and tail long and luscious without breaking the bank by making your own detangler. You’ll need to shake this concoction vigorously before using, but it’ll save you a ton of money on maintaining a luxurious mane and tail.
To make it, mMix ½ cup of water and ½ cup of coconut oil in a spray bottle, like an old hairspray bottle. For extra conditioning, add ⅓ cup of conditioner, and a few drops of essential oil if you like.
Simple Show Shine
Nothing beats a last minute pre-ring touchup for adding that final “wow factor”. You can save cash every show season by making your own DIY show sheen.
Mix ¼ cup of baby oil and ¼ cup of water, with a few tablespoons of white vinegar and a large dollop of conditioner in a spray bottle.
Spray or apply all over using a clean cloth before entering the ring, but avoid the saddle and bridle area as it can make the coat slick and cause your tack to slip.
Natural Fly Spray
Fly spray is pretty much a necessity in many states during the summer, but it can get pricey. Many homemade fly spray recipes aren’t terribly effective, but this one tends to work pretty well. Apply it 2-3 times per day, or before you ride.
Start with 4 cups of apple cider vinegar, and add 20 drops each of rosemary, basil, and peppermint oils. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of liquid dish soap. Mix thoroughly and pour into a large spray bottle.
For more fly protection tips, read this!
Great for use as the first line of defense against minor fungal infections.
Mix 2 cups of water, 2 cups of generic mouthwash, ½ cup of vitamin E oil, and a dozen drops of organic tea tree essential oil.
Spray liberally to affected areas. Remember that fungal infections are typically contagious, so keep your horse away from others and do not share tack (like saddle pads or girths) with infected horses.
Save on Horse Health
Vet care is expensive. It’s tempting to play “wait and see” with sudden lamenesses or suspected colic, but beware – the longer you wait, the worse problems can become, making them harder and more expensive to fix later.
It may feel counterintuitive if you’re on a budget, but investing in good preventative care and addressing suspected issues early can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Pay on Time
You might want to hold off on paying that big vet, farrier, or trainer bill if times are tough, but it’s not a good idea. Your equine professionals have expenses as well and will grow disinclined to visit clients who habitually take too long to pay.
If you’re in a pinch, talk to your vet or farrier honestly. They may be willing to work out a payment plan, and can advise on cost-saving options or offer more conservative care plans to help reduce your bill.
Many medications need to be administered by a vet or veterinary technician. However, not all do. You can save money on farm calls by administering dewormer yourself, just talk to your vet about the recommended medication and dosage.
If your horse is prescribed medication that can be safely administered by a civilian, ask the vet to show you how to administer an intramuscular injection until you’re comfortable doing it yourself.
When it comes to your horse’s health, you are his greatest ally. The more you know, the healthier he will be.
Take a course in basic equine first aid (you can even take these online, such as the University of Guelph’s Equine First Aid Course), and practice a few basic procedures like taking your horse’s pulse, temperature, and respiration. Practice bandaging a leg, and keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand for injuries.
Learn how to recognize the signs of colic, especially if your horse is stall-bound or travels often. If your horse is shod, ask your farrier to teach you how to safely remove a shoe in case he pulls one loose. Here are some horse health signs that every horse owner should know.
Save on Shoeing
Your farrier bill is one of your most important recurring expenses. Good hoof care is critical to your horse’s wellbeing and your ability to ride, so it’s not a service to take lightly. With that said, here are a few options you can discuss with your farrier to help reduce this regular expense, while still ensuring your horse gets the care he needs.
From Four to Fronts
If your horse is shod on all four feet, does he need to be? If he’s undergoing corrective shoeing or has particularly bad feet, being shod all round may be necessary. But if not, he may do fine with just front shoes.
There’s no more natural option for your horse, and a barefoot trim is by far the least expensive footcare method. Talk to your farrier about your horse’s feet and if going barefoot might be an option. If not during the competitive season, you may be able to at least pull his shoes off for the winter, when hoof growth is slow and he’s not being ridden as much.
And if you think your showjumper “needs” shoes because he’s a jumper, think again – most of Sweden’s showjumping team at the Tokyo Olympic Games were famously barefoot.
Learn to Trim
Another benefit of going barefoot? Most savvy horse owners can learn how to do a simple maintenance trim themselves. All you’ll need is a rasp (under $50 at a farrier supply store). Ask your farrier to show you how, and to recommend how often based on your horse’s hoof growth.
This is a great money saver, but remember it’s no substitute for the skilled care of an expert farrier -you’ll still need to call her back every few months to check that the hoof is properly balanced, but you may be able to double the length of time in between trims.
Split Farm Calls
Just like with your vet, part of the cost of a farrier is getting them to your barn. Many barns have regularly scheduled farrier visits, so adjust your hoof care schedule to take advantage of these. If your barn doesn’t have regular farm calls, consider teaming up with another boarder or a neighbor to split the cost of a farm call.
Buy the Right Horse
If you’re in the market for a new mount, factor in the cost of what it’ll cost to maintain his feet. A horse that’s $1,000 less but needs to be shod on all fours every 6 weeks will soon be the more expensive option in a few months. Better to spend a bit more money upfront for a horse with good feet who will cut down on your farrier bills in the long run.
Save on Feeding & Bedding
Save Money on Grain
Feeding horses is expensive, especially if you’re feeding concentrates like grain or ration balancers. Here are a few ideas to help reduce your feed bill.
Graze as Much as Possible
If you have access to pasture, let your horse graze as much as possible. It’s better for his digestion and mental health to spend time at pasture, and grass is free. If he needs additional protein or carbohydrates for this job, consider additional high-quality hay and a ration balancer to make up the difference, instead of relying on grain or concentrates.
Feed More Hay
Hay is costly compared to grass, but it’s still cheaper than grain. Much like grazing, having forage like hay as the basis of your horse’s diet can cut down on grain costs while keeping his gut digesting optimally. If he needs more protein, consider adding alfalfa hay or even beet pulp to his diet.
Buy in Bulk
If you’re feeding concentrates, buy as much as you can afford and safely store at a time. You’ll save on multiple delivery fees, and most suppliers will offer discounts for bulk purchases.
If you can’t buy in bulk, picking the food up yourself will eliminate the delivery fee.
Save Money on Hay
The cost of hay has exploded in recent years for many states. While there’s no getting away from needing to purchase hay, there are several things you can do to reduce how much you spend on it.
Buy Hay Early
The cost of hay increases as supply decreases during the winter. Buy hay as early as you possibly can, and buy more than you think you’ll need to avoid having to pay inflated mid-winter prices.
Buy Round Bales
Round bales are large and harder to handle than square bales, but the hay inside is cheaper per pound than square bales.
A few things to keep in mind when feeding round bales:
Talk to your supplier – are the bales intended as “cow hay” only? Cows have tougher stomachs and lower standards than horses, and will happily gobble up hay that horses wouldn’t touch, so you’ll want to make sure the hay is horse-approved. Like with any hay purchase, inspect it yourself, send a sample for analysis if you’re unsure, and talk to other people who are using the hay, if you can.
Expect to lose some- the outer layer of round bales is often lost due to mud or spoilage. Do not attempt to feed these bits to your horse, rather remove the questionable outer layer (it makes great garden mulch) and feed the better-protected hay inside.
Mind the dust– Excessively dusty hay is cause for concern, but you can cut down on small amounts of dust a few ways. First, always shake hay out before feeding (even square bales). This helps release any trapped dust and makes it easier for your horse to eat. Soaking or hosing hay before feeding has several benefits, including cutting down on dust. It also makes hay more digestible and introduces more moisture into your horse’s diet, which is great for his gut health.
Reduce Hay Waste
Horses are notoriously picky and frivolous eaters. Cut down on the amount of hay that gets wasted by using hay-saving devices like hay nets, hay bags, and even treat balls stuffed full of hay.
For pasture kept-horses sharing a round bale, a product like a Bale Buddy can help reduce waste, as can building a sheltered hay manger to keep hay off the ground (where horses will step on it) and out of the elements.
Save Money on Bedding
After food, bedding is another major expense in the horse owner’s budget. While keeping a horse at grass eliminates this cost completely, there are a few things owners of stall-kept horses can do to cut down on the bedding bill.
Adding rubber mats to stalls reduces the impact on the horse’s legs and means you can use less bedding than on concrete flooring. Dirt floors are softer on the horse’s legs, but can still benefit from rubber mats to reduce wear and tear on the floor.
Shavings are cheaper than straw, but don’t go too cheap with bedding – if the bedding is made from scrap wood you may have to contend with toxic materials, large chunks of wood, and even staples and the like.
Cut Down on Shipping Costs
A big part of the cost of hay and beddings is the delivery fee. If you have a truck (or a friend who does), consider picking your hay and bedding up yourself to save on delivery fees.
Buying larger quantities less often can reduce the number of times you incur a delivery fee. It’s likely worth investing in good storage options and saving money by buying in bulk in the future, as suppliers often offer bigger discounts for larger orders. Consider joining forces with a friend or neighbor to gain an even bigger discount.
Save on Tack & Riding Equipment
Buy Decent Stuff
It can be tempting to buy whatever’s the cheapest option when it comes to tack and equipment, but this often backfires. Cheap tack can be uncomfortable for you or your horse and cause lameness or movement problems.
Cheap tack is also more likely to break, doesn’t last as long, and usually doesn’t look very good, either. It also doesn’t retain its value well, and you may have a harder time selling it when you’re done with it.
Buy the best equipment that you can afford. If leather is out of your budget, look for synthetic options which are long-lasting, hard-wearing, and gaining in popularity.
Buying used tack has several advantages, beyond just the price.
Gently used saddles, chaps, and boots are usually past that uncomfortable breaking in period, making them more comfortable to ride in. Because used tack is usually 20% or more off the new price, you can afford a much better quality of equipment than what you would buy new.
Sell Used Equipment
If you’re like most riders, you probably have a collection of extra saddle pads, hardly used boots, or extra bridles hanging around the tack room. Rather than letting it collect dust and dry out, why not list it online or put up a flyer in your local tack shop?
If online selling isn’t your thing, many horse auctions also accept used tack or equipment, as long as it’s in good condition. You may not get as much as you would via a private sale, but it’ll clear up space in the tack room and put some money in your pocket.
Make Do and Mend
Replacing equipment gets expensive, but even learning a few simple hand stitches can save you hundreds of dollars a year on replacing equipment. You can reattach or replace velcro strips, replace buttons or snaps and fix a split seam without a sewing machine.
Exterior blanket repairs should be done by a professional for turnouts or rain sheets, as these will need to be waterproofed. But coolers and stable blankets can often be mended by hand. And if not, duct tape is usually a fine interim solution!
There are tons of horsey items that you can make yourself. Some are simple (like polos), whereas an ambitious project like sewing your own hunt coat may take a bit more practice. Here are a few beginner-friendly projects that any amateur seamstress can nail beautifully.
Make Your Own Polo Wraps
You can make awesome polos with barely any sewing know-how. Bonus: you can have any pattern you like (as long as it comes in heavyweight fleece). Unlike cheaper polos that are all the same length in a set of 4, you can also make the hind leg polos a bit longer for a truly custom fit.
Check out this great tutorial on how to make your own polo wraps from the DIY Horseman.
DIY Fleece Cooler
Why not whip up a matching cooler for those new polos? You can get by with lighter weight fleece for this project depending on your climate, or go for a matching look with a cooler you can guarantee no one else in the barn will have.
Follow this article on how to make a fitted horse blanket, or use a rectangle of fleece for a sheet-style cooler. You can also swap the velcro strips for ties for even less sewing, but make sure the horse is supervised while wearing it.
Tack & Stirrup Covers
Protect your investment with a saddle cover, and maybe even some stirrup covers to prevent stirrups from rubbing against the saddle.
Follow this tutorial on how to make a saddle cover, and check out Budget Equestrian’s guide to making your own stirrup covers (and you may just want to bookmark that site while you’re there for more crafty DIY ideas)
DIY Halter Fuzzies
Even a small piece of heavyweight fleece or imitation sheepskin can get a second life as a comfortable halter fuzzy that’s perfect for shipping, or for horses with sensitive skin. Check out this informative blog (with tons of step-by-step pictures) for instructions on making a DIY halter fleece.
If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can make some really elaborate projects (think quilted saddle pads and even your own DIY show coat), but you may have to purchase patterns for those.
Save on Riding Lessons
If you’re currently taking private lessons, inquire about semi-private (with one other rider at a similar level) or group lessons. You won’t get the same one-on-one attention as a private lesson, but you’ll benefit from learning from others’ mistakes. And you’ll have the opportunity to make new horsey friends, too!
Audit Rather Than Attend
Instead of paying steep fees to attend clinics with high-price coaches, consider auditing instead. Audit-only tickets are usually available for a fraction of the price, and you may be able to snag a recording of the session as well.
Stretch Your Lesson Dollar
This won’t reduce the cost of your lessons, but it will help you get more value out of them. Keep a lesson journal and write down what you did, and any feedback from your coach. Review this before the next lesson for a little refresher.
Watch YouTube videos from reputable trainers that address skills you’re working on. Something as simple as hearing a technique explained in a different way can be all it takes to ‘crack’ a new skill and help you progress faster.
Where You Shouldn’t Save
You don’t need to bring in the vet for every bump or scratch, especially if you’ve learned a thing or two about equine first aid and keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. But for serious lamenesses and suspected colics, the longer you wait about a problem, the worse it’s likely to get. It can be tempting to ‘wait and see’, but be aware that the longer you wait, the higher a bill you risk.
Consider enlisting the help of an experienced horse friend or checking with your trainer first if you’re uncertain. A horsewoman I met once was convinced her horse was severely lame when he developed a sudden and noticeable limp until her farrier pointed out that the bell boots she was leaving on 24/7 were rubbing the horse’s pastern raw.
Feeding low-quality food is usually false economy, as your horse will need to eat more to get the same nutritional value from his feed.
If you’re ever unsure that your horse is getting adequate nutrition, take a sample of your feed to your local agriculture outreach or university extension program. In most cases, they can perform nutritional analysis for free, or at a very minimal cost.
While buying used equipment is smart, buying broken, poor quality, or cheap equipment isn’t.
This doesn’t just apply to big-ticket items like saddles, but just about anything you can think of – cheap lead ropes often have poor-quality snaps that break or metal fittings that come undone. Cheap plastic buckets are likely to have handles pull through or split, especially in cold weather. Opt for a lead rope with looped-on snaps that you can replace if they break, and spend a few dollars more for proper rubber feed pans and heavy-duty buckets
Nylon lunge lines and lead ropes are less expensive than cotton but can cause a nasty rope burn if a horse spooks. Either opt for cotton, leather, or synthetic ones, or make sure to wear gloves when using nylon strap products.
If something needs to be fixed, fix it ASAP. Downed fencing, gates that don’t latch, splintered wood, and loose nails can all cause grievous (and expensive) damage to a horse.
If you find you’re constantly replacing wooden fence boards, consider adding a line or two of electric fencing to the inside. Electric fencing is inexpensive, as far as fencing options go, and will keep horses from leaning on or “testing” the more expensive wooden fence.
Never, ever buy a used helmet. Even the most expensive helmets are only designed to absorb one massive impact. After that, the protective shell or inner foam may be crushed, broken, or otherwise compromised in a way that you can’t see. You can’t guarantee that a used helmet has never been subjected to a fall, so it’s best to avoid used helmets altogether.
On the same topic, only purchase ASTM-approved helmets (if purchasing in North America). Check the box or inside of a new helmet for the ASTM seal, and avoid buying from anyone who is trying to sell you a non-approved helmet.
Decent helmets start at $45, there’s no reason to skimp on safety.
Congratulations on your equine journey, and for being financially responsible while doing so. There isn’t much about owning a horse that’s “cheap”, but hopefully these tips have given you some ideas and inspiration for how you can save money while still enjoying the sport you love to the fullest.
What’s your #1 money-saving tip? Share it with your fellow Equinavia readers, below!