Thursday, September 24, 2009

7 Ways to Save Money with Horses That Make You Go Duh!

The words "save money" don't usually go in the same sentence with the word "horses" because horses are expensive hay-burning creatures who are outmoded forms of transportation in the modern age. But, it is nevertheless possible to save money when it comes to caring for and enjoying your horses.

7 Ways to Save Money with Horses

This list comes with a warning, though: it is a list composed by a master of the obvious. You will read this list and say, "Well duh!" to many of the items. Nevertheless, ask yourself how many of these steps you are actually willing to take, especially the steps that seem quite obvious. You ready? Here goes.

#1: Stop Buying or Breeding More Horses
Don't say I didn't warn you that some of these items make you go "Duh!" Yet how many people do you know who own a stud and some mares, and keep churning out colts just because the mares and stud are "there"? How many people are taking in rescue horses or buying more horses just because it's a buyer's market? Every single horse, no matter under what circumstances it was bred or bought, eats and eats and eats. And that equals money running like a hemorrhage out of your bank account. Just stop it ... no really. Don't even go there.

#2: Sell the Horses You Don't Ride
Pasture ornaments are pretty, but is your pasture really a Christmas tree? Does it need decorating? Do you derive joy out of looking at those ornaments, or do you feel guilty every time you see those horses and think, "I've got to start riding them!" No matter how much money you paid for the horse or how much the horse is worth in a good horse market, in a crappy economy when money is tight, that horse represents a total financial liability. Find it a new home, even if it means taking a financial loss compared to what you paid. Moving the horse to a new home means getting some money out of the deal, plus the reduced expense of all the food the horse won't be eating in the future. Suck it up, folks!

#3: Opt for Pasture Board if Possible
If you board your horse rather than keeping him at home, opt to board him in pasture rather than in a stall or run, if possible. Unless he is a total hothouse flower or runs through fences (or is a stud), pasture board is both cheaper and healthier for your horse. Yes, you'll have further to walk to catch your horse and he'll probably be covered in mud, hay, and manure, which means more grooming for you. However, your checkbook will reflect a healthier balance and your horse will probably be more mentally sound.

#4: Supplement Well But Inexpensively
I've written a lot of articles about how most hay and horse feed doesn't cover all your horse's basic nutritional needs, so to have a healthy horse you will probably need to supplement his feed. I've found an inexpensive "cover all bases" formula that does that for about $60 a month. It's called "horse goo" and is a mix of Simplexity Health Essentials (with blue-green algae, enzymes, acidophilus, and bifidus) plus a specific antioxidant juice. Feed 1-2 ounces of this goo daily for healthy results. When I say healthy results, I mean low to no incidence of colic, healthy feet, shiny mane and tail and coat, and high immunity. Amazing how well this stuff works. It's like having champagne even if you're on a beer budget. Get the specifics on mixing up this "goo" here.

#5: Skip the Shows and Go Play
Whatever your training routine is, stand it on its head. Add some variety to your routine. If you campaign your horse all the time at horse shows, go trail riding or school your horse in a different event. For instance, my jumper mares do really well when I take them to some team penning and sorting events. It gets them out of the jumper ring and chasing some cows, which for them is total fun. And the cost can't be beat: $20 for the day, which ends up being about 6-8 runs. Now that's cheap entertainment. I have friends who have been taking their dressage horses to some sport horse versatility shows, where they do the equivalent of a trail obstacle course. This teaches even the spookiest hothouse flower dressage horse to drag logs, carry raincoats, get the mail, and walk over all manner of obstacles. This is good cheap fun that's also a psychological rest for your horse.

#6: Decide Whether Your Horse Really Needs Shoes
Many horses do needs shoes, I know. But ask yourself, "Does my horse really need shoes all year round?" Maybe not. If you ride your horse in a soft arena all the time, he may not actually need shoes. Many cowboys pull their horses shoes off in the winter to give their hooves a rest. Consider doing the same for your horse. Shoes constrict the hoof and increase shock on all the joints in the body. Even if you want to go trial riding, you can still pull your horse's shoes this winter -- just buy a pair of boots to protect your horse's feet. A good pair of boots runs about the same price as a shoeing job, so you won't be overspending there. Plus, many horses only need boots on their front hooves, since they carry 60% of their weight over their front end. Pulling your horse's shoes for even 3-4 months will save you a pretty good chunk of change, not to mention improving your horse's health.

#7: Figure Stuff Out On Your Own
For a long time when I "schooled" my horse, I just walked, trotted, and loped him in both directions. I had no idea what I was doing except for exercising his muscles. That's because I always had a trainer who told me what to do, step by step. I never asked why we did what we did, I just waited for instructions, like a good little rider. Once I moved out of the big city and into the country, I was clueless because I didn't have an instructor (there were very few jumper instructors in cowboy-land). So I had to start figuring stuff out for myself. I read some books, took the occasional lesson from a trainer who lived 50 miles away, and watched some videos. I rode with people in the neighborhood, some of whom used to train horses. I made a lot of mistakes, and learned that almost no mistake is "unfixable." I became a much better rider and I learned to start my own colts. So instead of spending all your dough on lessons with a trainer, try to figure some stuff out for yourself. This will decrease your costs, and the things you learn will be priceless!

The "Well, Duh!" Factor
Yeah, I know, most of the things on this list are just common sense, but you'd be amazed at how many horse people have NO common sense. When you read this list, don't just say to yourself, "I already knew that." Instead, start planning how you will implement these changes in your daily life. If you plan on taking fewer lessons, figure out how you will tell your trainer about your change in plans. A lot of people are afraid to tell their trainers this. You'd be amazed. Then make a plan on how you will figure things out by yourself. Will you watch videos? Will you go to a clinic or two? Will you try a different event just to get a new perspective on what you need to work on? Be creative ... it's fun!

What about you? Any ideas, obvious or subtle, to have fun for cheap with your horse in this cruddy economy? Do share!

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