University of Maryland Extension

Keeping Horses on a Budget

Author: 
Sara BhaduriHauck

Horses are expensive to care for, and the expenses can quickly become burdensome unless they are managed carefully. It is possible, however, to keep horse care costs to a minimum while still providing a high standard of care.

Before you can determine where to cut expenses, you must first have a good understanding of what your average monthly expenses are. It is a good idea to determine your average monthly expenses based on at least one year’s worth of data. Some expenses, like board, are constant from month to month, but other expenses vary monthly based on time of year or frequency of need. Determine how much you spend for your horses in total, but also break out those expenses into categories (board, feed, veterinary care, supplies, etc.) and by individual horse. This information can help you prioritize where to focus cost-cutting efforts.

It is also helpful to categorize each expense as a need or a want. All horses need adequate feed, water, and shelter and regular care by a veterinarian, farrier, and dentist. Anything you pay for above this basic level of care should be considered a want.

Once you have a thorough understanding of your expenses, you can begin to consider ideas for reducing them. As you do so, remember that horses require quality care. Budget-minded owners may find ways to maintain horses more cheaply but should never do so at the cost of the horse’s welfare. The list of ideas below may help you formulate a plan for reducing your expenses.

Board and housing facilities

  • Let your horses live out or choose pasture board.
  • Choose a boarding facility that fits your budget. Facilities with special amenities, like an indoor riding ring, usually charge more for board than facilities without these amenities.
  • Board closer to home. Fuel and wear and tear on your car account for significant expense.
  • Help with farm chores in exchange for a reduced boarding rate.

Feed

  • Don’t overfeed; don’t feed concentrates unless your horse needs them. Concentrated feeds like grain are generally more expensive than forages like hay and are not required in every horse’s diet. Formulate a ration balanced for your horse, and compare that to what you are currently feeding.
  • Feed pasture to replace as much hay as possible.
  • Critically evaluate your use of supplements. They are not required in every horse’s diet.
  • Decrease wasted feed, especially wasted hay. Hay fed on the ground is easily wasted, as is hay fed outdoors once it gets wet. Invest in a covered round bale feeder, slow-feed hay net, or other type of feeding equipment designed to reduce waste.
  • Buy hay in the summer when supply is high and prices are at their lowest.
  • Feed round bales instead of square bales or bagged hay. On a per pound basis, round bales are usually the least expensive of these options.

Supplies

  • Price shop and check out online stores. The Internet makes comparison shopping easy. Some companies charge more for basic farm supplies that they market to horse owners; don’t forget to check general farm store prices, too.
  • Think critically before making purchases. Limit your spending to replacing supplies that are consumed, broken, or worn out.
  • Wait for sales, and buy things at the end of the season. Plan ahead, and be patient. If your horse’s blanket needs to be replaced, buy a new one in the spring when blankets go on clearance.
  • Stop feeding treats. While they’re not usually expensive, treats are an unnecessary expense. Reward your horse instead by hand grazing him for a few minutes or scratching his favorite spot.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of consumable products you use regularly. Products like hoof conditioner and fly spray may or may not be effective at what they claim to do. Use your personal experience and advice from your vet and farrier to decide if the perceived benefit to your horse is worth the price.

Other ideas

  • Participate in fewer lessons or competitions. Switch from private to group lessons, or take a lesson every other week instead of every week. Reduce the number of shows you participate in.
  • Buy a hardy horse. Some breeds of horses are generally easier keepers than others. If you’re looking to buy a new horse, consider one that will require the least inputs to maintain.
  • Eliminate horses that cost more than average to maintain. Hobby owners may find it hard to part with beloved pets, but those operating horse businesses should consider this option. Horses that require special feed, routine medical treatments, or other extra care may cost more money to maintain than they bring back to the business in profit.
  • Half lease your horse to someone. Leasing is one way to substantially reduce your cost by up to 50% or more, depending on the terms of the lease. If you lease your horse, be sure to have a written lease agreement, and have the lessee sign a hold harmless agreement. These documents will ensure that you and the lessee are on the same page about how the horse is to be used and will protect you from liability.

 

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