I'm guessing that you've noticed that a dollar doesn't stretch as far as it used to, and we all need to look for areas to cut back.
Myriad articles have been written on the subject of cutting horse expenses (go ahead, Google it!) with solutions that border from ridiculous to downright insulting. I read one suggestion that made me laugh out loud: Cut back your herd. Gee, why didn't I think of that? Maybe because the three horses I have are family, and losing them is the last thing I want to do. Someone else also advised not to breed your mare because you'll have another horse to feed (really).
Other suggestions included:
- Make your own riding clothes/horse clothes (sure, but I'll have to buy the sewing machine, which will probably run more than a pair of breeches, and then I need to learn to use it).
- Be more selective on what shows you go to (who wouldn't realize that?).
- Move your horse to a less expensive boarding facility (no kidding; but have you seen some of the places?).
- Turn your horse out more to save on bedding (we should all be maximizing turnout for health anyway).
- Make compost and sell it (good luck with that).
- Don't blanket your horse if he doesn't need it (again, that's basic health).
And Horse Journal i
sn't without fault either in the silly ideas category. When I look back at some of our suggestions, like combining with other horse owners to purchase a larger quantity of hay at once--a massive undertaking for minor savings--I shake my head. Is it really worth the effort? Probably not.
I must admit that some of the ideas I read sounded good in theory, and I do recommend the suggestions Deb M. Eldredge DVM shared last spring. Dr. Eldredge is very down-to-earth and sensible, one of the reasons her Urgent Care series is so popular. (It describes how to handle an equine emergency and helps you quickly determine if you can handle it on your own or need veterinary help.)
Some ideas I read immediately brought to mind legal issues and liability, such as horse leasing and bartering with the stable owner (work for feed, so to speak). I don't think they're worth the risk.
If you're going to lease your horse out or even share-lease (as in you get to ride him three days a week and your friend rides three days a week in exchange for paying half his expenses), be absolutely certain you have a hard, legal-binding, bullet-proof contract that spells out every scenario, even if you're sharing with your best friend. Ditto if you're going to rent out a stall or go into full-time boarding. You can't trust anyone. (We did articles on pre-purchase contracts and boarding-stable contracts earlier this year.)
And the "barter for services" suggestion never fails to shock me. Clearly, a lot of writers didn't do their homework. Bartering is the type of deal where you clean stalls or whatever in exchange for the board of your horse. Well, you may want to consult your CPA or tax attorney first because there are IRS Barter laws, and the IRS may consider the exchange taxable. According to IRS Tax Tip 2012-33, "Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Usually there is no exchange of cash. However, the fair market value of the goods and services exchanged must be reported as income by both parties." I wouldn't risk this for anything.
As an aside, double-check laws if you're hiring minors, too (even for no wages) or have people working for you without proper paperwork, disability and worker's comp insurance. There are laws about all these things, which may vary by state, but the last thing you want to do is end up in that type of legal difficulty. I have heard of cases on both the Barter problem and hiring minors. It's real.
To get back on track, the fact of the matter is that horses are expensive, and it may mean sacrifices in other parts of your life, like no vacations or driving a 15-year-old car. Some folks work more than one job. And, with a little effort, you shave a few dollars here and there on barn cost.
If you're a Horse Journal subscriber, you already know the number of amazing Best Buys we've found in tack, equipment and consumable items like shampoo. I loved our article on Washable Show Coats. Not only do you save on dry cleaning, but the overall pick coat was also the Best Buy!
Talk with your local tack store staff (not the big box stores, but the smaller ones that might be staffed by the owner). Many tack stores are also in the used-tack market. "Pre-owned" riding clothing and tack can be a steal, as long as you inspect it well. I've actually found some of my "finest" purchases by scouring garage sales, though. A lot of times the family isn't even sure what something's worth (and you can certainly barter there) and they just want to clear stuff out without wastefully throwing it away.
So, in thinking about this blog, I shaved quite a bit off of our expenses this past weekend. For one thing, I made a chart of our horses' supplements and determined exactly what it was I wanted them to have. It is so easy to get sucked into feeding the next great thing that comes down the pike, but sometimes you can find the same ingredients and quality with another product and save some bucks (look for the NASC seal for the National Animal Supplement Council; member companies do submit to audits to ensure the containers have in them what the label claims).
I cut out anything "extra," figuring that these are healthy adult horses in low-level work and a six-month trial should show if something is lacking nutritionally, such as the flighty mare needs her magnesium upped or the bad-hoof mare starts to show sub-par hoof growth.
I also sorted out on how large a container of supplement I could feed at once (the rule of thumb is to use up an open container within around 30 days). I also concentrated on getting pelleted supplements, so I could be sure that they were consuming all of it and I could stop buying the liquid tasty stuff I was using to help the powders stick to the feed. Unless I have to add something back in later, I am down to a top-choice joint nutraceutical and an excellent hoof supplement. It cut my costs in half. A savings of $1500 per year.
In addition, I remembered when I was young, poor(er) and energetic, I used to go to the lumber mill and bag my own shavings. They guaranteed no black walnut, which causes horses to founder, and I saved a small fortune doing that. About four months ago, I tore an ad out of our local newspaper that said, "Equine bedding. $5/bag delivered." That's all it said, and I finally got around to calling it.
A young man and his daughter arrived with the bedding -- a small load just to try it -- and so far I am thrilled with it, kicking myself for waiting so long to try it. He was on his way to see his other daughter ride in a nearby show, so I didn't hold him up, but my husband did ask a few questions about the bedding to be sure they were acceptable. I think that will save us over $300 a year.
So, what am I going to do with that $1800 savings? Well, most of it will likely go into my equine emergency fund, so I have more to fall back on if the unexpected occurs. But I'm seriously thinking about doing a hay analysis, too, to be sure that my hay is truly up-to-snuff. Heaven knows that this is the largest expense for everyone who owns a horse, so it's got to pay off to know that we're getting the quality we think we are. Who knows? Maybe I can drop another supplement.