Horses aren’t just tools – they’re friends. Photo courtesy of Gesina Smith via Flickr

It can be heartbreaking to look at a horse you envisioned as a family member, companion and partner for life as an expense you can no longer afford. ‘Buyer’s market’ is a mantra we’ve been hearing in the equine industry for too many years. When that translates to needing to find a new home for a trusted friend that’s been your spiritual rock, recreation, and health club combined, there’s more to consider than the money of the matter.

Fortunately, if you’re willing to be creative, there are options that may allow you to keep your trusted steed healthy, happy and home, or at least ensure his life without you in it will be a good one.

Horses aren’t just recreational vehicles to be sold off as commodities when times are tough. They’re pets and partners representing ‘me time,’ emotional bonds, spiritual enrichment, psychological stabilizers and confidants. Before you decide you can’t afford a horse anymore, consider the real costs – and try to get creative about how you may be able to hold on.

In your decision to sell have you considered:

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways you can reduce, share or cover the costs of owning a horse. The possibilities are as vast as the ideas you can entertain. It’s not necessary to sacrifice if you’re willing to work a little more or make concessions that allow you to continue to spend time with your horse for less.

Is keeping the horse you love a struggle?
Saying goodbye is heartbreaking. It’s not always necessary. Photo courtesy of Tricia Hope via Flickr.

11 Creative Solutions for keeping your horse

  1. Look at alternative, less expensive and often more effective feed programs that include quality pasture forage
  2. Explore barefoot as an alternative to shoeing
  3. Do bi-annual fecals instead of following a regimented worming approach
  4. If you board, see if there are jobs you can do (mucking stalls, turn-out, fence repair, cleaning tack, etc.) around the facility to help reduce your monthly fees
  5. Approach other horse facilities to inquire about board in exchange for work if it’s not something you can do where you are
  6. If your horse is home, adding more fencing and outdoor shelter can decrease feed and bedding costs
  7. Defray costs by offering a friend ride time in exchange for splitting care costs (with a contract vetted by an attorney that addresses liability)
  8. Seek out a co-leaser that shares board and other costs of care (insurance is a factor here)
  9. Sell the horse to someone close who you trust and is willing to let you continue a relationship with the horse (this may involve a discounted sale price or a monthly lease fee – or, just a kind soul who gets it)
  10. Craft a sale agreement that includes a for-life home and/or first option buy-back offer
  11. Create a bank account where you put all the money usually spent at retail outlets on coffee, fast food, bought lunches, lottery tickets, prepared meals, entertainment, restaurant meals and other items that are impulse buys or part of your routine and make your own or go without

Before you cast off your horse with the conviction he’s costing you too much, consider what you’ll lose when he’s gone. Money isn’t the only factor. If he’s not the right horse for you – or you’re not the right person for him – that’s a different story. But, if you have a horse that’s been your partner, your biggest enjoyment in life, your primary exercise and/or your rock, the price of losing this lifeblood is a lot higher than the savings you’ll see by eliminating what you’re shelling out to keep him. Perhaps instead of asking “Is keeping the horse you love a struggle?” the better question is, “are there creative ways to keep you both happy?” Sometimes selfish is good.

27 Responses

  1. Great post! There are a lot of people going through this now which is really sad. I am going through this as I have 6 ponies that I have to sell because of the high price of hay. I would love to figure out something so that they would pay for their keep so I can keep them here.

    1. have u bee to a local farmer or any close to u……u would be surprise ……they will work with u on hay etc….go ask them to help around the farm for hay etc……for your animals….lot of farmers need help….harvest time, planting time,,,,,,,seasonal….make sure to stop at each one too…..

      if u know somebody who is a diseal tech…….they can point u to the right person……

        1. Sorry this didn’t pan out for you, Kim. We buy our hay out of the field here for the lighter bales (this can cut costs significantly) and have been fortunate to find a local provider willing to drive a pick up into the large pastures where horses are located to deposit round bales as necessary for a very reasonable cost (we’re good customers at Halcyon Acres, which helps). Around here, farmers would welcome an extra hand for harvesting chores in a trade arrangement, so you’re smart to shop around. Another possibility is to rent out some of your acreage for cultivating. We found a nearby farmer looking for fields to lease for hay production. Instead of an acreage fee (this wouldn’t have amounted to much in comparison), we struck a deal where they cover all planting and harvesting costs and we split the hay crop 50/50. Here we both share the risk, but unless it’s a horrible year, the value of hay provided far exceeds typical land rental figures.

  2. Thanks for stopping in, Kim. Yes, it’s so hard. Ponies, huh? I’d look into insurance and zoning codes in your area, but you might be able to offer pony rides to help cover costs.

  3. I followed some of your suggested tactics a few years ago and cut my horsekeeping costs roughly in half. Pasture, a barefoot horse, and training myself to be ultra-thrifty (the last suggestion in your list) made such a difference that I can hardly believe I can easily keep my horse even though my paycheck has dramatically shrunk since 2008!

  4. Great suggestions. For a horse with the right training and temperment, “working board” with a riding school or therapy program is another option. A trainer I know offers “school board” at about 1/3 the full board rate, in return for use of the horse for lessons at specified times.

  5. It’s so wonderful to hear this, Alli. Yes, there’s always a way if you want it badly enough, isn’t there? Good for you!

  6. Thanks for the additional ideas, Helen. These are great ones to consider. If it’s a good program you may get some additional free training as part of the board reduction :-).

  7. It’s not quite on the topic, but another solution is not to buy a horse you can’t afford to keep in the first place! There are so many free or “cheap” horses on the market right now, it’s hard for people who love them to resist. Once the upkeep costs start rolling in, some of the less experienced or knowledgeable get some real sticker shock! I’m personally struggling with this right now, as a horse I’ve been working with for a friend is officially for sale. I adore this horse, and the friend would outright give her to me if I wanted, but I have two other beloved souls that have been with me all their lives, are basically unsellable anyway, and it just doesn’t make financial sense to take on one more. Knowing that the horse is super talented, and her owner will be very particular about the home she goes to makes it a much easier decision.

  8. I can’t tell you how many calls we get from people saying they need to let their horses go. First question I ask is if they have a pasture for their horses. We are very lucky to be in Oregon. A couple of years ago we started the Oregon Hay bank which is for horse owners who are having problems with income. We help with hay and thanks to donations, can help with ferrier work, shots, and even teath flooting.

  9. Great article! I pointed out many times when I wrote my blog that most people hemorrhage money without even knowing they are doing it. You can make a frappucino at home for about 25 cents if you have a blender. There ARE good pasture boarding places, you just have to spend some time and effort looking for them. And don’t forget that many of us have a lot of stuff we don’t actually need. Designer clothes and bags, video game systems, quads, motorcycles, extra cars, jewelry, art, sporting equipment, boats, bicycles and recreational equipment can buy a lot of hay. Sell the extra saddles – they can be repurchased easily once you’re back to work. If your priority is your horse, look at what else you are paying for (or own) that you really don’t need.

  10. 3 yrs ago I had to sell my colt that i raised and trained myself because we were having our first baby. I live in the desert and in a retirement community for the most part so there really isn’t a lot of places with land to keep a horse, my only option was boarding. It was costing me $200 a month and I saw no other alternative but to sell. I made up a buy back contract and the gal who bought him promised to keep in contact and I have never heard back!! 🙁 2 months after he was sold I found a place to board for only $30!! I was soo heart broken 🙁 I now have a new horse, and am on my 3rd pregnancy, and she is on a dry lot but I feed her 8lbs of soaked beatpulp, 4lbs of grain and a flake of alfalfa (which i increase in the winters) and she’s very fat and happy, she’s actually gained 100lbs since I got her 6 months ago! I keep her barefoot and aldo have my own rasp which i got 2nd hand so i can save $ on getting her trimmed. Got my saddle for $25 off of craigslist and also i shop tack sales online that will be 75-80% off . like when fly season is over all the fly sheets and fly masks can get as low as $2.99 ! My horse is cheaper to keep then a car is. We tend to think we HAVE to buy the expensive stuff from the tack stores, but i’m always shopping craigslist and ebay and chicks-saddlery online and I have saved hundreds!

  11. Yes! My horse fell into my life two years ago while I was already having to be thrifty. These two years have been the most fulfilling of my life because of him, even if I do have to pass up nights on the town with friends to pay my board.

    If you do go barefoot, be careful, though. Sticking with your regular farrier can spell disaster and serious vet/farrier bills if he/she isn’t competent in real barefoot trimming, resulting in lameness. My horse came to me barefoot and I had one farrier really mess him up, leaving him lame for a couple of weeks. Done correctly barefoot trimming is far healthier for a horse and far cheaper for the owner. Just do your research and talk to people who have happy, barefoot horses and see who they use. I even learned how to rasp my boy’s hooves myself so if I’m really in a crunch, I can file his hooves down weekly to push off a farrier visit. Again, though, make sure you know how to balance your horse’s hooves correctly before attacking trimming yourself. One wrong nip can leave your horse out of commission for a while…

  12. The only way we have been able to keep our horses is by being very cautious how our horse dollars are spent. I bought a rasp and hoof stand, and I learned to do hoof trimming myself (this alone is a huge savings). When hay is in cutting season I look for deals where I can buy it straight out of the field for a discounted price (a little sweat equity goes a long way). I buy a quality feed that doesn’t need extra supplementation and I can feed less of it with good results. I maintain a good regimen of worming and teeth floating so that my horses are getting the most out of their diet. I shop around with online companies for deals on wormer and other horse supplies, I use ebay and craigslist a lot for tack, clothing, and equipment purchases. It is so much more econmical to buy lightly used items than purchasing new. My children’s whole show wardrobes were “lightly used” but who would know that I only paid a song for some of the quality pieces they have. When I have things that are outgrown or not being used I sell them on Craigslist, E-bay or consign at the tack store to re-coup some of the costs and be able to afford something else that is more needed. My kids belong to a local 4-h horse club that does a lot of fundraising through the year to help cover the costs of show fees during our show season. We have even used our ponies by giving pony rides to raise much of the funds.

  13. I too scrape by on my horse keeping expenses down to a minimum. I learned how to trim myself, Its hard work but if you do a leg a day its doable, even though I am disabled. LOL
    I make my own bridles, but bits & hackamores are something you can’t make, but can buy used. I even made my own treeless saddle. Its still being used and is quite comfy for me and my horse.
    One thing you can’t skimp on is vet care and teeth. Or worming on time. And vitamins. While you feed the worms your expensive feed they damage the insides of your horse and fecal’s don’t always catch them.
    I trade services in exchange for hay, there are always ways to cut corners. This horse is worth the sacrifice to me. But after she is gone I am not so sure I will do it again, maybe a 1/2 lease?

  14. I keep my boy on a tight budget. I’m a single parent of two and having my horse makes no financial sense what so ever, but I wouldn’t consider selling him for anything. He is my sanity, my family, he makes my life feel whole. There are days when I’m so overwhelmed by life I feel like I want to give up, then I head to the paddock and spend some time with him and I get filled with peace.
    He’s barefoot, fed on only a mix of chaff and hay and my gear is so old it’s not funny. I’m lucky enough to live in New Zealand, with heaps of land around so he’s full time grazing with thick rugs to get him through winter.
    Something we have over here is leasing, where horses are ‘rented’ for the cost of care to people and return to their owners after an agreed period. This means you can retain ownership and have the right to pull your horse out if you’re not happy with the level of care they’re receiving. It’s a good system for those who need it and if I found myself that badly off that I could no longer give my Jones a basic level of care then I would consider this before I would think about selling. I plan to have my boy for the rest of his life.

  15. Thanks everyone for your continued comments.

    Another possible money saver is to have hay tested before you buy it. This can save you money on feed and supplements by making sure your horse is getting a good quality forage.

  16. I will be giving up my 2 remaining horses in the near future, proboly in the next month. I sold by boys early this spring, and now the mares have to go. Ive been talking to a resuce to help me place the mares in good homes. I loved my boys, but they were dumped on me, where as my heart belongs to my mares. The boys went to a good home, but the girls i want to guarentee a good home. My relationship of 12 yrs ended today and since we run team driving truck, my job is ending too. So with zero income, even having the horses on a friends land, i cant afford even the most basic of care. Ill miss my girls, and will never be able to get over it. But they deserve better than what i can give them

    1. So sorry to hear this. I do get the mare bond thing. Sometimes letting go is the right thing to do. The end of a long-term relationship will put anyone in a tailspin. Give yourself some time before you make this final decision. You could always get a part-time job in retail or food service. Some of the best money I ever made (seemed huge at the time as a high school student with few expenses) was from tips working part-time at a Friendly’s in the local mall (was pulling in over $300 a week in tips more than 30 years ago – when that represented a decent full time wage for a kid). Don’t give up just yet – you have options.

  17. Hi everyone,
    I just discovered this conversation. I have four horses that I have on my own pasture + stables. I do all the work myself which takes me about 2 h/day on average, winter and summer.
    I’m not in the stage where I think of having to cut down in horses (yet) but at times it seems like a possibility that might happen…. it scares me then for it must be verrrrry hearthbreaking or even ‘impossible’.
    That is why I have found a ‘rescue-solution’ for “in case”. The day that finances will be too short I think of taking one or two boarding horses, the stables and pastures are big enough to allow this. The income of it will cover my expences for my own horses. Another possiblity I keep in mind is offering people, families a small program which I would call “initiation on horses (how they live, think etc) and their management (care, stables, pasture etc)”.
    Here in Belgium we still have a lot of people that don’t have horses (or can’t afford them – time, money – ) and (I think) would be happy to spend some money just to be able to spend a day with me and my horses and learn about them.
    Other people give birthday parties for children with their horses in order to have some income.
    I also have been giving swimmming lessons to young kids when times were hard. That gave me more money than needed for the horses…
    I hope my contribution has been usefull to some of you.
    I do apologize for my English, as you can see it is not my native language… but the heart is there ;-)))
    Summer greetings from Belgium!

  18. Thanks for stopping in and sharing, Damienne. Wouldn’t have guessed English isn’t your first language from your comment – you have a better command of the language than some who speak it always. Good for you for thinking ahead. Sometimes boarders cost more than they bring in, so take the time to work all the numbers (electric, repairs, broken equipment, your time, insurance, etc.) before you set a price. Please do let us know how your ‘initiation on horses program’ goes. I’m sure many readers of this blog would enjoy hearing about your success strategies.

  19. I wish I would have found this a few months ago. Since I sold my beloved horse, I became mentally and physically unhealthy. I picture us at shows, clinics, grooming stall etc. I wasn’t thinking clear and didn’t want to sell him. I didn’t want to seem like a bad person by withdrawing my decision to sell him the night before he left. Now I’m miserable and lost. He is not easy to replace. The partnership and time we did together is something I cant get back. People used to describe me as happy, now Ive turned into a hateful person who browses the internet in my spare time.

    1. I’m sorry to hear of your challenges, Kristin. Perhaps you can find a part-time job at a local stable where you can spend some time around horses to pick up your head a bit?

  20. My husband and I were given land from his dad to build a house. While building, I brought home 2 horses that desperately needed a home. We have 5 acres and his dad has 20 acres. Plenty of room. It was my lifelong dream to have a horse. My room was plastered with horse pictures, including the ceiling. I spent all my free time at the nearby farms, just talking and brushing the neighbors horses, and cows. My husband and I trusted a family member to sub contract our house. In a nut shell, we came out $70,000 over budget. I cried all the way home from our closing. I knew we wouldn’t be able to afford it. In the meantime, I was given a retired standardbred gelding on a free lease with option to keep after 6 months. I wanted another horse, because one of my mares was not rideable any more. I got a second job to pay their way. A year or so later, my mare died. I cried for weeks. My kids would miss her. She was so good with them and she was my first horse. My kids then shared our other mare because my gelding was not for young kids. Anyway, we now have 4 horses on our property. My girls are now teens and both have their own horses. One was a rescue right from the track and the other we bought next to nothing because the people coundn’t keep him any more. My other mare is now 31. Now after 12 years of struggling to keep our house. 401k withdrawls, working 50 hours per week, mortgage modification, sold our tractor, doing whatever was necessary to keep our house and horses…I cant do it anymore. My husband and I fight all the time about money. I lost my second job and don’t want to get another one. I want to sell our house and start over somewhere in a cheaper house with cheaper taxes. Our taxes have gone from $175 per month to over $400. My husband says I am selfish. We were given the land to build on and we need to stay put and sell the horses. I would rather live in a box than to get rid of my babies. He doesn’t get it. It came out in counseling that he resents me for bringing them home to begin with. Am I crazy for wanting to sell my home to keep my horses? They are my anchor. My girls do local showing and 4-h. They adore their horses. My girls know what is going on and from talking to them, would be willing to move to keep their boys.

  21. Hi Brenda,

    Sorry to hear of your troubles. It’s hard sometimes to help someone who isn’t a horse person understand the bonds we make with these creatures.

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