How to Afford to Ride

11 Tips & Tricks

By April D. Ray 

Nearly everything to do with horses seems to be continually rising in cost. Yet cutting corners in any way that might compromise your horse’s health and welfare is never the solution to saving money. So how can we add higher costs to what is already a tight budget, and how much further will our finances stretch? Fortunately, we’re here to help with some horsekeeping tips and tricks that will help you stay in the saddle without breaking the bank.

Basic accounting tells us if we have money worries we need to spend less and make more, which can be hard when horses are involved. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and some of the suggestions in this article may not work for you and your individual situation. But sometimes just being creative and thinking outside the box will help you find a way to maintain your horse habit and lower your stress.

Between riding lessons and clinics, ask your barn buddies to give you their feedback, and audit clinics for a fraction of the cost of riding in them. Photo: Soul Touch Photography

1. Do-It-Yourself and Co-Op Board

If full board is proving to be too expensive, consider part or co-op board. Some barns offer this affordable option, which takes the some of the workload off the barn owner/manager and puts some responsibility on the horse owner. There are many different setups for boarding from simply renting the stall and paddock, to full board with all the bells and whistles, and everything in between. Finding the right situation that works for you, your horse, and your bank account without sacrificing the care and safety of your horse can be challenging, but getting creative and working with the barn owner and other boarders can help you figure it out.

2. Share Your Horse

If you own your own horse and find the bills are piling up quicker than you can pay them, consider a part-lease. While this might not be an option for everyone, with the right match this can be a good solution that also frees up some of your time. Make sure your leasee has valid insurance and signs the necessary waivers. Make sure your own insurance policy will still be valid with someone else riding your horse.

3. Be the Barn Help

Good barn staff can be scarce in our industry. Most barns are looking for reliable help, so if you aren’t opposed to picking up a manure fork and wheelbarrow, you can work off some of your board bill or lesson fees. Depending on your schedule and physical abilities, feeding, cleaning, or general barn duties are also a good way to spend more time at the barn and get a workout at the same time. 

Good barn help is hard to find. Work off some of your board bill or lesson costs by lending a hand. Soul Touch Photography

4. Offer Equine Styling Services

If you possess the right tools and experience, consider earning extra income by offering your services to clip, braid, or pull manes. Clipping is a tough, dirty job that many people are quite happy to pay someone else to do. If you have a good set of well-maintained clippers and know your way around horse hair, this can be quite lucrative.

Remember that clipping can be hard on your body, and dangerous if horses are not well-behaved. For the safety and comfort of yourself and the horse, don’t hesitate to ask the horse owner to be present. No amount of money is worth jeopardizing your own safety, so don’t be afraid to say no to naughty horses who don’t want a haircut.

Pulling or shortening manes is another job that some folks don’t like or know how to do, and they may be willing to pay for. Braiding for shows can also bring in a nice bit of income. Practice makes perfect, so when you’re perfect you can charge more money for these services.

Find a great How To on tidying up manes and braiding in Canada’s Equine Guide 2018

Braiding for horse shows can bring in a nice bit of extra income. Photo: Soul Touch Photography

5. Change the Lesson Plan

While cutting down on the frequency of riding lessons may be the last thing you want, sometimes it’s just plain necessary. Between lessons, your buddies at the barn who are familiar with your riding goals can help by watching you school your horse and giving their feedback. Having someone make a video of your rides can be a huge benefit when you don’t have a trainer on the ground to critique you. Auditing clinics is another excellent way to learn at a fraction of the cost of taking the clinic yourself.

6. Curb Your Competition Cravings

Competition costs can add up quickly, but some options are less expensive than others. Attend a weekend show instead of a week-long competition. By going for one or two days of a multi-day show you can drastically reduce your showing bill. If possible, share trailer rides with a friend or fellow boarder to cut down on travel expenditures.

Cut showing costs by reducing the number of days you compete. Photo: Soul Touch Photography

7. Be Feed Smart

Buy the best quality feed you can afford and store it properly to avoid spoilage. Buy in bulk if you have the storage capacity. And if possible, pick up your own feed to save on delivery charges. Slow feeders will reduce wasted hay and help stretch your hay supply. 

8. Vet Your Horse Care Costs

Don’t skimp on vet and farrier care, as doing so may compromise your horse’s health and result in higher expenses in the long run. Schedule your veterinary and farrier appointments for the same days as others at the barn, so the farm call fees can be shared. Deworm your horse based on fecal egg counts to avoid unnecessary medication and expense. 

9. Manage Risk Wisely

When money is tight you may question whether insuring your horse is a worthwhile expense. But you’ll be glad of the protection if the worst should happen and you find yourself without a horse or with high veterinary costs for a horse that can’t be ridden.

10. Convert Clutter to Cash

Clean out your tack trunks and closet, and sell all those things you no longer use. Doing so will bring in some extra cash to buy what you really need – and free up extra space in your tack room. Whether you buy new or used, always buy the best quality tack and gear you can afford, take good care of it, and it will reward you with many years of service and hold its resale value.  

How many bridles do you really need? Sell what you are no longer using and let someone else enjoy the ride. Photo: April D. Ray

11. Be Smart Not Spontaneous

Most of us have been guilty of impulse buying at one time or another, and have felt the buyer’s remorse that often follows. As even small expenses quickly add up to big costs in the end, avoid unnecessary purchases whenever possible. For larger purchases, try waiting 30 days and then see how you feel. If after a month you still believe it’s a beneficial purchase, then go ahead and buy it – if it’s within your budget. If not, you didn’t need it anyway and you can congratulate yourself on being smart – not spontaneous. 

To plug the leaks in your piggy bank, start by taking a good, hard look at your horse-related expenses – you might be surprised at just how much money is galloping off to the barn. Next, make a budget – and for help with that, read How To Budget Horse Expenses.

Friend: So, what do horses cost?

Me: Everything. They cost everything. Literally all of it. Photo: Farfel, Fetch! Photography

This article was originally published in Canada’s Equine Guide 2019, the January/February issue of Canadian Horse Journal.

Main article photo: Soul Touch Photography

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