Today I spent more than five hours trying to get six tons of hay into the barn. The rub was these were 400 Lb. bales.  I didn’t order these bales. They came from a client who wanted to save money on board by supplementing feed costs.

Clearly there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the way (actually several), but I recall being told the trucker could get these bales into the barn and responded that if dumped under shelter, I could figure out a way to stack them over time. He showed up unannounced with a flatbed. The moment I saw the rig, I called a friend asking for help. He wasn’t immediately available. The driver and I spent more than an hour with my tractor in play simply trying to get them on the ground. He left them scattered in the yard and barn driveway. Fortunately, the hay provider was a sport, having also misunderstood the circumstances of this delivery (note to self, NEVER again have an intermediary handle delivery communications), and dealt with the challenge in good humor.

Help arrived shortly after the truck left. We spent the next three hours trying to spear these bales with a round bale spike (harder than you might imagine). We ultimately found pushing to be easier. The loft floor really isn’t solid enough to trust it to hold my tractor, so we also spent time (two of us) manually pulling and/or flipping bales to the back of the barn as the weight became too great for the tractor to move. We put 16 bales in the barn and 4 in the pastures, giving up when darkness hit with both of us exhausted. Later, a neighbor showed up with a bucket. We managed to get another 8 bales in the barn with the three of us and flashlights (my friend came back – boy do I owe him now) in the next hour. Of course, the challenge of getting them out of the barn will be left for another day, but at least they’re safe from weather.

Reflecting the events of the day started me thinking about how often horse owners are penny wise and pound foolish.

Here’s my top ten list for costly decisions people make to save money with horses:

10.          Neglecting trimming, shoeing or hoof care to save a few bucks – shop around if your blacksmith is too expensive or unskilled in keeping your horse’s feet balanced and instructing you on how to keep them healthy. Everything above the hoof is affected by what hits the ground. If the foot’s not right, you’ll start seeing problems elsewhere. Save money on bling and attire, but don’t skimp on proper maintenance here if your aim is a sound, happy and safe steed.

9.            Cheap board – you get what you pay for. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Consider the care, nutrition support and handling your horse will be getting as you entrust his safety to another. If you don’t know what it takes, read and ask before you delegate another to do this for you.

8.            Buying a horse without input from an experienced trainer or instructor. My first horse was a nightmare for all involved but me (I loved him as a fearless kid that wasn’t bothered by his dangerous behavior – but it was horrid when we were forced to part after the boarding facility, Pony Club and every other place we rode refused to have him on their property). My parents (who had no horse experience) and I went to the stable without seasoned input and bought the first horse I test-rode on the spot. He was obviously drugged. An experienced trainer would have picked up on this and other issues – and required some future visits that weren’t so announced. Lesson learned. Don’t do this.

7.            Shopping for price on starting under saddle services – or worse, not asking around about results prior to shipping your horse off to a facility. Early training sets the foundation for all future requests you’ll make of your horse. Done right, the horse will come to relish training, handle new challenges with ease and be a safe, reliable and happy steed. Unfortunately, there are a good number of people hanging a shingle out there who don’t know what they don’t know and others who will gladly take your money without producing promised results. We get a lot of horses coming to Halcyon Acres already sent to another to be ‘broke.’ Sadly, the owner’s out his investment on the first start attempt, and it’s a lot more expensive (and time consuming) to fix a scrambled brain – if the damage can be undone – than to work with a horse right from the onset.

6.           Feeding crap – it might seem like you’re saving money buying grain from a cow mill or throwing hay to a horse that’s dusty, moldy or devoid of nutritional value, but the fact is, your horse’s health – and weight – requires sustenance doses of vitamins, minerals and quality roughage. Forget about the long-term effects of poor feeding practices, you’ll have to spend a lot more trying to have quantity make up for quality and will still suffer from the results.

5.            Spending money on supplements without assessing your horse’s needs. Instead of buying buckets of product because someone said so without understand what they may be doing to your horse, invest a few bucks in testing the quality of the hay you’re feeding and calling on an individual who’s skilled at determining your horse’s condition and providing nutritional solutions that are specific. Most supplements are a waste of money, particularly when given to horse without investigating their issues.

4.            Assuming a horse is happiest left alone. Whether you think you’re rescuing a horse by putting him out to pasture or think you’ve offered nirvana by dropping him at a posh boarding facility that you rarely visit, the neglect will cost you if you seek a healthy, happy and willing horse. Most domesticated horses are wired to want a job that involves humans. Think again before you decide to save (or own) a horse you don’t have time for. Most will languish if you’re not there to offer life purpose. Feed, vet and care costs will escalate over time.

3.            Failing to check a horse daily for injuries or issues. A small cut can turn into a major infection and huge vet bill very quickly. Horses who start with a mild colic can twist a gut rolling with fatal results. Pastured horses can get stuck in a fence or other obstacle and become seriously injured as they panic to set themselves free. Puncture wounds become nasty very quickly if they’re not treated immediately and often. Don’t assume vendors will notice an injury or issue with your horse. If you own the property where your horse is housed, or board him out, you owe it to him to look in at least once a day to ensure he’s OK.

2.            Skipping vaccinations – they’re relatively cheap and the cost of dealing with herpes, rabies, aborted foals, West Nile and other major equine ailments easily avoided is huge in money and heartache. We’re dealing with an outbreak at an area racetrack now that could have easily been avoided, or at least minimized.

And the number one dumb thing people do to save money with horses:

1.            Jumping with glee over a free horse. It takes just as much money to feed, house and care for a good horse (actually, usually less) than an unsuitable one. Add the hours of frustration with training efforts going nowhere, vet costs of injuries borne by a nutcase, lost quality time trying to reach a horse that isn’t receptive and energy trying to make a horse ill-equipped to do what you ask fit with your envisioned activities. If your aim is to enjoy time with your horse, find one that’s ready and willing to do what you want. This usually involves a purchase price.

There are so many other things horse owners do thinking they’re saving money with practices that actually cost them a lot more in the long-run, but that’s my list for tonight. We’ve all done it. Learning from mistakes it what makes a seasoned equestrian. Have a tip you want to share or a story of a lesson learned? Please post a comment so others can learn from your experience.  Thanks.

8 Responses

  1. Hi Nanette,

    When it comes to owning a horse, it seems as though there are some things that are just a given that are part of the purchase price so to speak. Horses require a lot of care and if neglected can become even more costly than anticipated. Kind of like if you own a Ferrari you will pay a hefty initial price and the cost of maintenance will be much higher than if you bought a Focus. Same concept goes with horses, they will require a much higher upkeep than say a dog or cat.

    I think that it is so important for potential horse buyers to really understand that fact going in so they are aware of the total expenses of owning and caring for a horse and not short change themselves and most importantly, their horse.

  2. I especially like the last one, “free horse.”. I have accepted two free horses in my career knowing what I was getting into (I’m a former professional trainer) but I now have neighbors who accepted a free “gelding” who turns out to be a ridgling or cryptorchid stallion. They are paying now in increased vet bills due to his escaping going after mares and face a large bill to get him gelded. Buyer beware, especially if a nice horse is free!

    Also, cheap feed is not worth it. Good feed costs less in the long run since you feed less and have healthier horses. Good hoof care can mean a sound safe horse versus bad care yielding an unsound or unridable or”crazy” horse in pain.

    This is a good list!

  3. There are so many horses now that need good homes… My first horse had muck itch forever, but I loved him dearly and through him was gradually introduced to the monumental expenses and care required to be a responsible horse owner. From there I went on to raise and show Quarter horses. Money pit but certainly, to this day, my passion. I don’t own them know because I can’t afford them… but until you actually own horses for a while, it’s hard to be aware beforehand of what it takes to provide proper care.

  4. Thanks for checking in and commenting, Kathleen and Susie. Yes free horses do tend to be the most expensive, don’t they? Today with so many families struggling and forced to seek good homes for their horses, prices are extremely reasonable. The minimal purchase price and peace of mind that comes with knowing where the horse came from and what he’s done is huge. I do hope you’re able to enjoy your passion soon again, Susie.

  5. Yes, I couldn’t agree more with all of these. There are sooo many people out there who have no idea about horses and think they can get one for free (or next to free) for the kids and everything will be ok.

    Invariably these horses end up half starved in 6 months time because they either can’t afford to keep them, or the kids had no idea how to handle the horse and are now scared of it! Which brings me to another thing people neglect…riding lessons…they’re well worth the money :).

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