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creative ideas for keeping a horse

Don’t want to say goodbye to your horse? 9 horse care cost reduction tips

Sometimes, a little creativity can reduce your horse costs dramatically. We all face unexpected challenges that cause us to start considering the worst when money problems surface, but there are some easy ways to keep your horse happy and healthy without breaking the bank. Consider these nine horse care cost reduction tips before you decide to say goodbye.

Horse care cost reduction tipsst saving tips.
Photo courtesy of Tricia Hope via Flickr.

If he’s still an important part of your life and you have the time to spend with him to prove that’s so, ponder how you might reduce your expense while providing a good home with the following strategies:

  1. Consider a living arrangement with feed options that include quality pasture forage. Of course, if it’s rich pastures, you need be careful with sugar sensitive horses and also acclimate healthy horses slowly, but grazing is how horses eat most naturally. Turnout board (proper shelter is essential – as during the hot, buggy summer months as in the cold, windy winter) can save you money and make your horse a happier critter. Ensure ample fresh water is provided always and necessary supplemental feed is provided when grass is scarce.
  2. Explore barefoot as an alternative to shoeing. While some horses need shoes, most can adapt to a barefoot life. If hoofs can stay healthy and your horse remains sound without shoes, you can save a good sum opting for trimming over metal plates. It takes a few weeks for a shod horse to adjust to barefoot. Monitor hoofs daily initially for signs of stone bruises, which work up the hoof to become painful abscesses if not treated quickly. Drawing agents are inexpensive and needed as quick treatment. I prefer Epson salts, which are also available as a gel product these days, but some swear by ichthammol. Soaking takes time and should be done a couple of times a day for at least 20 minutes. Epson salt gels and ichthammol can be applied to the sole, packed with cotton, secured by Vetrap and protected from bandage tearing with duct tape.
  3. Do bi-annual fecals (more regularly if counts worm warrant) instead of a regimented regular paste wormer approach. It’s less expensive, healthier for the horse and helps to reduce a big problem we’re now facing with parasite resistance while being kinder to the environment.
  4. If you board, see if there are jobs you can do (stalls, ,turn out, fence repair, tack cleaning, etc.) to help trade some sweat equity for horse housing costs.
  5. Have the horse around the house? Adding more fencing with bigger grazing areas outdoor shelter can reduce feed and bedding costs.
  6. Offer a friend ride time in exchange for splitting care costs or consider a shared arrangement with a leasing agreement (make sure this is vetted by an attorney and addresses liability and also plan on watching what they do around your horse for a while if you don’t know them well).
  7. Sell or gift your horse to someone you trust who is willing to let you continue the relationship.
  8. Create a bank account where you put all money usually spent on coffee, fast food, lottery tickets, prepared meals, entertainment and other items that are impulse buys. Substitute bought with homemade. You’ll be amazed how quickly this account can grow once you get conscious of unnecessary spending.
  9. Get savvy about seeing and treating issues early. There’s a lot you can do without a vet to doctor little things and prevent them from becoming bigger problems. Giving your horse a good look over daily is a big step toward avoiding costly remedy bills. Cuts, hoof bruises and rubs are little things until neglected. Seeing colic early can mean the difference between a quick recovery and a twisted gut. Learn how to handle basic injuries so you can help prevent them from becoming big problems.
horse care cost reduction tips
Horses aren’t just tools – they’re friends. Photo courtesy of Gesina Smith via Flickr

It’s not that hard to find ways to reduce the cost of keeping a horse. Time is required, though, if you want to get educated about smart solutions. A bad living situation with poor pasture or hazards around the facility can get costly very quickly. Taking the time to understand what makes a good horse environment can save you money and headaches.

Over the years, I learned to doctor most things another would call a vet out to handle. Developing a good relationship with your vet helps. I’d often call to explain what was going on and ask for input – what should I do or is this something you think you need to see? The majority of the time, the vet would say, do what you’re doing (or try this) and call me if it comes to that.

If you really want to keep your horse, there are a lot of ways you can implement these horse care cost reduction tips. As with most things, the question is, do you want to throw time or money at the challenge?

Young Horse Training Tip #4: Pasture time is training strategy

It’s not fair to expect a young horse to be focused on your requests if he’s not allowed time to kick up his heels. A tiny paddock available through the back stall door isn’t enough.

If your horse is at your home, there are many ways you can design space with what you have. Sometimes you can do this at a boarding facility too. Any good young horse training strategy must include time for your baby to kick up his heels.

A horse around the house

Your spouse might get a little cranky about this one, but it’s fairly easy and inexpensive to put temporary electric fencing on a lawn. Just make sure you spend time working with your horse to ensure he’ll honor the boundary first. Also, it’s best not to do this during the muddy season.

Be prepared to rotate frequently or your lawn will get gone.

If you have some land, consider fencing it in (bigger is better in this case – you can always subdivide a perimeter with cheaper and mobile materials).

Mowing actually improves pasture condition. Don’t hesitate to cut back the weeds once in a while so tenderer, more nutritious (and palatable) plants can grow.

While there are a slew of cautions out there about poisonous plants you must scour your property to remove (do this if you have the time for a safer approach), horses are generally pretty good about knowing what’s bad for them (or what they need to supplement what they’re not getting from you) if ample, nutritious feed is provided.

Don’t forget the importance of salt (and know horses have different needs than what’s provided in the typical 50 pound blocks designed for cows).

Always make water available. This means ensuring no ice crusted water. Colic is a big issue with horses that are dehydrated.

What are good options for fencing in a pasture? It depends. With over 20 years spent fencing acres at Halcyon Acres®, we’ve tried it all. Some solutions worked better than others. What’s necessary for training facility with hot bloods and transients shipping in frequently, though, may not be essential for your particular situation. Even so, sometimes it’s surprising what works best.

We’ll cover what worked and what didn’t including some creative approaches for fencing on a budget in the next blog post.

Getting creative at boarding facilities

Young Horse Training Tips from
If you think you can keep young horse training a happy time for your horse without time to buck and play, you’re in for a big challenge.

If you don’t have access to a barn that offers enough pasture space for your horse to run (with equine companions for him to frolic with), you might be able to use land available but not yet fenced. See the section above for some ideas on things you should consider as you envision a plan borne from sweat equity and an open-minded facility owner.

Get an agreement in writing before you invest heavily. It’s fair for you to incur the cost of time and materials to construct a pasture where your horse gets first dibs, but you don’t want to pony up without assurances you’ll be able to use the space after your project is completed.

If you don’t put pen to paper before you begin, the property owner can enjoy your work product without your horse ever doing the same. They can ask you to leave any time. It’s also important that you both understand what the other expects in terms of materials used, access, responsibilities for care relative to turnout and other concerns.

If you’re boarding at a place that has no possibility of pasture turnout, consider a move.

Land available means opportunity. It’s relatively inexpensive (although can be labor intensive) to pound in T-posts (cap them to be safe) and string an electric fence. There’s tape, rope, wire and other options available.

People tend to put a huge emphasis on stalls (mostly for their convenience). Most horses are happy turned out 24/7 if there’s ample water, food and shelter. Run in sheds work fine for most situations. Horses tend to seek shelter more in the summer (for protection from bugs, sun and heat) than winter, so make sure during any time of the year shelter is provided if a pasture is your horse’s home.

Of course, the most important factor for the majority of horses is your company and attention.

Pasture living

You could save a lot of money housing your horse if you’re willing to consider turn-out board. Just ensure this provider is attentive to keeping water filled and cleaned, closely checking each horse at least daily, supplementing for nutritional needs throughout the year (hay, grain, salt, supplements as necessary), able to at least handle minor injuries and knows when an issue needs a vet, has safe fencing & pastures and enough shelter to accommodate all horses in the herd. On the latter point, there’s usually at least one bully in the mix, so you should look for multiple sheds or an L-shaped shelter so lesser ranking equines can escape from the elements.

Freedom without turnout?

If there are no options where you live besides stall residence and/or tiny paddocks (we have a lot of UK readers where this is the case), let your horse loose in the indoor or outdoor arena daily. Teach him to lunge (take it easy here – if it’s his only release let him play without reprimanding him too hard for doing so or chasing him around to get him tired). Figure a way you two can play together (safely) while you’re off his back with whatever you can find for space.

You can also talk to neighbors who may have existing pastures and compatible companions and negotiate visiting rights. If you’re in the country, chances are you’ll find a generous soul who welcomes you and your horse into their home without an eye toward reciprocity (although you should consider what you can do to help make their life easier).

If you’re in the suburbs or a wealthy area, people are likely going to want to be paid even if you only walk or truck in for short day trips. Still, that’s not a bad idea if you’re only boarding option(s) have no pasture space. You might be able to negotiate a trade with stall cleaning, turn-out help, holding for the blacksmith or other duties you can perform to save them time.

Make turn-out part of the young horse training process. A horse locked in a stall all day will get bored, fresh and frustrated. That makes it a lot harder for him to pay attention to what you’re trying to teach him.

Is keeping the horse you love a struggle?

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, you can find solutions 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.

Know you’re not alone in the challenge to make ends meet while having a horse around the house. In fact, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis, Americans pay more in taxes than for food, clothing and shelter. In 2012, we’ll pay approximately $4.041 trillion in taxes, which is $152 billion, or 3.9 percent, more than we’ll spend on housing, food and clothing combined.

Not to get into a political discussion here, but what’s scarier is the transfer payments (basically monies allocated through taxes that are given to citizens to pay for housing, food, clothing, health care and transportation). In 1929, the percentage was .05 percent. When Medicare began (1965) it grew to 11 percent. Now, it’s close to 35%. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to extrapolate that a growing number of people in this country are depending on others to pay their way. For whatever reason this is happening, with so many unable to even care for themselves, it’s no wonder more are labeling horses a luxury they can’t afford.

But 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:

  • What you’ll do to replace the mind calming components of your horse relationship (or the toll of not having an equivalent outlet)?
  • Do you have another source for the affection and connection that comes from your horse?
  • How will you replace the physical fitness and connection to nature components of your horse time?
  • Will saying goodbye to your horse rob you of the only personal time you have?
  • Are you ready to deal with the stress of wondering where your horse lands during his life and how he’s doing? If you’re firm about selling, save yourself the misery of looking up the horse later unless you have a buy-back agreement.

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.

Saying goodbye is heartbreaking. It’s not always necessary. Photo courtesy of Tricia Hope via Flickr.

Here are options for getting creative about solutions to keep your horse:

  • Look at alternative, less expensive and often more effective feed programs that include quality pasture forage
  • Explore barefoot as an alternative to shoeing
  • Do bi-annual fecals instead of following a regimented worming approach
  • 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
  • Approach other horse facilities to inquire about board in exchange for work if it’s not something you can do where you are
  • If your horse is home, adding more fencing and outdoor shelter can decrease feed and bedding costs
  • Defray costs by offering a friend ride time in exchange for splitting care costs (with a contract vetted by an attorney that addresses liability)
  • Seek out a co-leaser that shares board and other costs of care (insurance is a factor here)
  • Sell the horse to someone close, who you trust 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)
  • Craft a sale agreement that includes a for-life home and/or first option buy-back offer
  • Create a bank account where you put all 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 in the equation. 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 only 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. If he’s really important in your life, take the time to get creative with answers to keep you both happy. Sometimes selfish is good.

Have you ever sold a horse and continue to regret the decision? Are you challenged right now with an equine you feel you can’t afford to keep? Please share in the comments below. You’ll certainly get some kindred souls sharing your pain and might even find the ideal answer to your challenge from blog readers.