Most people own horses as a hobby. For pleasure riding. We don’t make money from our horses. Nor, do we buy horses for the possibility of making money from them.
Horses can be an expensive hobby.
Yeah, a really expensive hobby.
Unless you live on a farm with a barn and pastures, owning a horse can be expensive. We can’t all have a horse living in our back yard like 2 Broke Girls!
The closer you are to major cities – the higher the costs that come with horse ownership.
I live in the Greater Vancouver Area and horse keeping costs are horrendous. It costs about as much to board a horse as a month’s rent on a small apartment.
When we’re on a low income and scrimp to own a horse, we want to save money where we can. But we don’t want to negatively impact the horse’s health.
I could come up with a list of 100 money saving tips for horse owners, like buy your hay out of the field instead of having it delivered. Maybe I’ll do that list one day, but for now these are my experiences, how I’m doing it.
The main reason I can afford owning a horse on a low income is because I cut other expenses out of my life. Fortunately I can walk past clothing and jewelry stores!
Bakeries not so much!
Self board versus full board
There are two types of horse boarding establishments.
Full board is where you pay one price that includes everything. That means a stall for your horse to live in, the bedding, turn out to a pasture or paddock, the grain and hay the horse eats, and someone else cleans the stall, feeds, and does the work. You’re looking at hundreds of dollars a month. More than $500 if the facility has an indoor arena and other amenities. For example, the North Shore Equestrian Centre in Vancouver charges $1175/month (as of January, 2020). Yikes! Way out of my budget.
Self board is where the owner pays for a spot for the horse. This might include a stall or it might just be a pasture. The owner does everything. Buys the food and transports it to the barn, cleans the stall or paddock, feeds the horse, grooms it, and everything else.
Actually there are three types of boarding. The other is called semi or partial board and that falls inbetween full and self board. Generally the horse owner provides the feed and the farm owner does the work. This could vary depending on the arrangement with the farm owner.
For the purpose of this article, which is about keeping a horse on a budget, we’ll be talking about self board.
Self-board is generally pasture board and may include a stall in the barn. At the very least the pasture should have a shelter for shade and protection from bad weather. It is the most economical way to board a horse starting around $100/month. Unless you’re in a major metropolitan area where you could be looking at doing all the work and paying $200/month or more.
The horse owner is responsible for buying their own grain and hay, feeding and watering their horse, stall cleaning, and may be required to supply their own bedding. If there are no communal barn tools, be prepared to invest in a wheelbarrow and manure fork for mucking stalls.
Sometimes the self-board price includes morning feeds and turnouts, or this might be negotiated with the boarding operator for a higher price. It’s really hard if you work a full time job to get out to the barn before work, especially if it takes half an hour or more to drive to the barn, and then your job is in another direction.
I’ve done this a few times. If I have an injured or sick horse who’s on twice daily medication, this is what I have to do. Waking up an hour early to visit the barn before work. It takes commitment to self board a horse.
Self-board is perfect for horse owners who live close to the boarding facility and whose schedule allows them to get to the stable once or twice a day to tend to their horse. Especially if the barn is between their house and their job!
Small, privately run horse farms can be more negotiable with their prices than larger boarding stables with set rates.
At larger barns, a horse owner could negotiate a lower rate by cleaning stalls and helping with other farm chores. That’s kind of a younger person’s thing. You know when your back is stronger and you have more energy.
Horses eat a lot. 20 pounds of food a day is average.
Your horse’s situation might be different.
If you own a horse who’s not an easy keeper, is skinny, and loses weight during the winter months, then you need to up the food consumption = spend more money on feed.
This is why you want to find a boarding stable with pasture. Good pasture with plenty of grazing that’s suitable for the number of horses on it. A ten-acre pasture with at least a dozen horses isn’t going to be sustainable. One or two horses on that same pasture, depending on your climate, might be grazing year round.
Whether or not you have a sustainable pasture, once winter hits your horse will need hay. Prices vary depending on where you live, and the old supply and demand issue. If the area is having a drought, hay will be hard to find and the prices high.
Price also depends on the cut of hay.
What’s that when I say “cut”?
This means the farmer usually cuts his field at least twice in the summer months. The first cut might have more weeds and rougher grass. Probably nothing wrong with it, fine for a horse. The first cut is generally cheaper.
Now the second cut will have softer grass and not so many weeds and will cost a bit more money, maybe a dollar or so more than a first cut. Usually the farmer won’t get as many bales off the field from a second cutting.
Some fields, depending on the irrigation or rainfall, might even get a third cut of hay. The field will yield fewer bales, but will be a nicer quality and cost more.
Prices also vary depending on what type of grass is planted. Some fields might be just alfalfa grass or timothy grass, or a mix of different seeds. Or it could just be local hay, whatever grass happens to be growing in the field.
The most important thing is the grass is not dusty or moldy which happens if the hay got rained on between the time it was cut and baled. You want as nice and sweet smelling hay as you can find for the lowest price.
A nice second cut local hay is about $5/bale in my area. And up…
The bales weigh around 50 to 60 pounds. Depending on the time of year and the horse’s other feed, the horse will eat a third to half a bale of hay per day.
Maybe you’re in an area where hay is hard to come by or is really expensive. You still want to get some hay for your horse if there is no grazing because horses need long stem for their guts to work properly.
If you’re cutting back on hay, you need to up the other feed your horse is eating. Remember? 20 pounds a day. Maybe more. Your horse needs food in its belly so it doesn’t get skinny or starve.
Alfalfa cubes to the rescue!
You can buy sacks of alfalfa cubes, or maybe timothy cubes, or a mix, at your feed store. You can increase your horse’s consumption of alfalfa cubes after calculating how much hay or pasture grass the horse is eating. My feed shop charges around $12 for a 40 pound sack of cubes.
Beet pulp is another forage-like horse feed that is good for keeping a horse on a budget. A sack of beet pulp pellets is purchased from the feed store. Put a scoop of beet pellets in a bucket and add water. Don’t feed dry beet pulp. You want the feed to end up with an oatmeal consistency, so it might take a little experimentation, though horses seem just as happy to eat sloppy beet pulp.
I use a scoop of beet pulp also throw in a handful of molasses pellets to sweeten the beet pulp. I have a jug for juices and drinks that holds about half a gallon of water. I fill it up four times with hot water, stir it, and let it soak for at least half an hour so it’s not sloppy. That seems to be the right consistency. That makes over 20 pounds of horse feed.
There’s not much nutritional value in beet pulp, but the horses love it.
I tend to feed beet pulp during the colder months, especially if I’m concerned about the horse’s water consumption. Beet pulp has high water content and helps keep the horse hydrated.
A 40 pound sack of beet pulp costs around $12 to $15 in my area. When I was feeding three horses on it during the winter, a sack lasted about two weeks.
Whether or not you need to feed your horse grain depends on the rest of your feeding program and how easily your horse keeps its weight on.
Also the age of the horse comes into effect. Horses over 15 years old should be eating senior feed. Younger horses can get by just fine on regular horse pellets. Sweet feed is good to help keep weight up or when the temperature dips, and is a nice treat for the horse.
My horse is an easy keeper and on the chunky side. He gets a light horse feed that doesn’t have grains but has vitamins and minerals. Half a scoop a day. This is just to keep him coming to the barn when I call him. He gets a scoop of MSM with his feed. He could probably go without grain but he’d get cranky at me. The light feed is higher priced, over $20, but he doesn’t get that much so it lasts awhile. A sack of horse pellets don’t cost as much, around $15 and sweet feed is in the same range.
No need to call the vet unless a serious problem is obvious or suspected.
A tube of deworming paste costs $10 to $20, depending on the brand and the type of parasites you’re aiming for. The vets used to recommend worming more frequently, but a few years ago my vet said they’ve reevaluated (at least in my area) and twice a year is good. Going into the winter and then again in the spring. You can buy wormers at tack stores and online and fire it into your horse’s mouth. Way cheaper than having your vet worm the horse.
There’s always a big debate whether or not to vaccinate a horse. If you keep your horse in a large boarding stable, there are probably rules about the types of shots your horse needs. There are some vaccinations you can purchase and inject your horse. Your vet can give you instructions. I’m kind of squeamish about needles, but you do what you have to do. Within a week of separating from the deadbeat, one horse became ill, and I had to give him injections for three days following the vet treatment. Like I said, you do what you have to do.
You can not skimp when your horse needs veterinary care. You can’t. For your horse’s health, if something isn’t right, call the vet ASAP.
When I write about getting finances under control, one important goal is to set up an emergency fund. If you own a horse, you can either keep a separate fund for horse expenses, or use your regular emergency fund and make sure you build it up.
You also can’t skimp on taking care of your horse’s hooves.
The farrier is the person who takes care of your horse’s hooves. They need to be trimmed every couple of months or so. If you do a lot of riding on rough surfaces, your horse will also need shoes. Again, every couple of months.
Yeah, I spend more on my horse’s shoes than my own shoes! Ha ha!
A trim in my area is around $50. Shoes will run you over $100.
Money saving tip: if your horse must be shod, try shoeing just the front hooves and see how it goes.
Some people take a farrier course, buy their own tools, and learn how to trim their horse’s hooves. How’s your back?
The trouble with farriers is that they’re not the most reliable bunch. Farriers tend to go missing and phones disconnected. If you can find a good farrier who shows up when expected – hold on for dear life!
I keep my horse on a large farm, about 40 acres. The horse has access to about half of that. Nice pasture with a creek running through it. The barn is rustic. A former turkey barn that’s been turned into a loafing barn, so horses can go in and out as they please. There’s electricity but no running water. I’ve been boarding here on and off since 1988. Though pretty much “on” since 2002.
Play the video below for an overview of some of the pasture and the barn where the horses go in and out of freely.
The property has a very shallow well. They’re always running out of water at the house and a water truck delivers during the dry months. There used to be water in the barn, but a leak from the pipes between the house and the barn was running the well dry. Farm owner’s solution? Shut the tap between the two. There’s the creek for water. I have a rain barrel outside the barn door. Plus I haul water using a Coleman jug from my house during dry times, as needed.
My horse, Cajun, is the last one standing. The other horses all passed away of old age or issues brought on from aging. He’s alone on a huge pasture, so no competition for the grazing. I pay $140/month, a good deal in this area, but not too many people would keep horses in a rustic situation. I can bring my dogs to the farm with me. The owner is really good if it’s snowing and the roads are too treacherous for me to come out. He’ll go down and throw hay to the horse.
Even in the winter months, I can keep the cost of feed down to less than $100/month. The rest of the year due to the pasture grazing, I spend about $25/month on feed. Having an outside horse is a huge money-saver.
It’s in the back of my mind that I should find another place to keep my horse, only because I want him to be part of a herd again. Right now his herd is me and two dogs, so he must think his herd sucks!
Also, the farm owner is getting up there in years and is thinking it might be time to sell and downsize and move to another part of the country.
And now that I’m down to one horse, maybe it’s time for me to start thinking about doing that, too.