Smart Money Moves

Get financial advice tailored for your Western horse life so you can save money, no matter what kind of rider you are.

There’s no argument that your horse life is an investment. With vet and farrier bills, feed, transportation cost, vehicle insurance, training bills, and trail and events fees, owning, caring for, and riding horses can get expensive quickly. The spread of urban and suburban growth into rural areas further limits opportunities to economically sustain your horse life, not to mention inflation and the generally increasing cost of living. While you can’t safeguard yourself from all expenses, there are some ways you can take more control of your finances and protect yourself from loss. Plus, getting your financial house in order means you can spend less time worrying and working and more time enjoying your horse.

 We’ve outlined three different types of riders, differentiating by level of commitment and investment, and made suggestions of smart money moves you can make to support your horse life. 

THE RIDER:
Hobbyist 

You’re a recreational rider. You mostly trail ride or enjoy putting around with your family and friends at home, your boarding facility, or a nearby arena. You may go to a playday, sorting, branding, or gymkhana every so often, but don’t compete seriously. If you competed in the past, your horse has likely aged out of his job and is a pleasure horse or babysitter for the next generation of riders. 

The money moves: Save yourself financial heartache.

As a recreational rider, you’ll want to focus on managing expenses, especially if you’re new to horses. First, regardless of the cost of your horse, you’ll want to have mortality insurance on them. This covers you against losses caused by an accident, illness, theft, and other situations. A quick search online will provide a list of agencies that offer equine mortality insurance, and most major insurers will have it. When getting quotes, the insurance company will ask how much you want to insure your horse, which is usually justified by his age, breed, and purchase price. Colic insurance is a smart addition to a mortality plan. Most owners will choose to save a colicking horse with surgery, and then will leave the vet with a $4,000 bill. A colic policy will help with these costs. 

Read More: 21 Ways to Save on Your Next Riding Adventure

There are several supplement companies that offer colic coverage, as well. With Platinum Performance’s Platinum Colic Coverage, they’ll reimburse you up to $10,000 for colic surgery if your horse is enrolled in their program and using their approved daily supplements. SmartPak has a ColiCare program that provides up to $10,000 in colic surgery reimbursement if you use ColiCare approved daily supplements. 

Even recreational riders should consider insuring their horses to protect them. A quick search on your smartphone will provide a list of agencies that offer equine mortality insurance to protect you against losses caused by accident, illness, or theft. Photo by Nichole Chirico

If or when you purchase a new horse, have a vet check done beforehand. It can seem like a significant investment upfront but could save you money in the long run. It’s not uncommon for a horse to have a health issue that wasn’t shared that can cost even more down the road in maintenance or for a procedure. It’s similar to having an inspection done before you buy a house. It’s a significant purchase and going into it with as much information as possible is a smart money move. 

Finally, even an easy-rider will cost money in upkeep. If you’re new to horse ownership or don’t yet manage a personal budget, you can quickly get into trouble keeping up with the basic annual costs of feed, regular farrier visits, teeth floating, vaccinations, and deworming. If you don’t have pasture or live in an area where you don’t have year-round access to grazing, you also will need to factor in the cost of hay and grain. To get an idea of these expenses before a horse purchase, or to better manage your personal finances, visit your local feed store to check on market hay prices, and call a reputable farrier to ask about hoof care and a vet to get health-related cost quotes. 

THE RIDER:
Local Competitor or Youth Rider 

You’re committed to your horse life. You compete at local or regional shows but likely have a job, family, other hobbies, and other responsibilities that you must balance with your horse habit. You may be an emerging youth rider, making your way through the ranks as you aim toward regional or national competition (at which point you’d become ‘The Serious Competitor’). At this level, you may also be a serious recreational rider who takes your horse on rigorous long, multi-day trail rides or other backcountry adventures so have to worry about transportation but not trainers and entry fees. 

The money moves: Make the most of your dollar.

At all levels of horsemanship, all ‘The Hobbyist’ money moves such as basic insurance plans and horse-care budgeting still apply. However, at this level, because you’re taking your horse to events where they’ll be around more than just you and your friends or family, you will want a more robust insurance plan. Adding liability insurance to the mix will cover your horse and the people around them if an accident happens. You’ll be protected if, for example, your horse kicks someone and they decide to sue you. The best way to handle this is to get an extra umbrella policy on top of your other insurance plans (e.g., homeowners, auto, etc.) as it protects you if you are the target for any personal liability. 

Transportation is also a factor at this level, as you’ll need to transport your horse to and from events, the trail, lessons, or other activities. While tempting, it’s not necessary to have a flashy setup with all the bells and whistles if it doesn’t fit your budget. A basic, safe truck and trailer are typically adequate for most people’s needs. Trailers qualify for slightly different purchase methods than regular vehicles, so talk to your banker about options if you have to get a loan. You can get a 20- to 30-year note on a horse trailer, allowing you to extend the length of your payment period. Be mindful that insurers will consider a trailer with living quarters to be a recreational vehicle, which changes the insurance plan and rate. 

Read More: 5 Financial Tips Every Horse Owner Needs

If you’re trying to show or compete, it’s likely that you want to have some success or at least see improvement. While it’s possible to do it on your own, you also can often pay for lessons with a local professional without boarding with them or putting your horse in training. It’s a budget-friendly option for do-it-yourselfers, and trainers are often very receptive to being asked about lessons or recommending someone. Find a qualified professional in your discipline by developing relationships at events with trainers and seasoned horse owners and riders. It can be intimidating, but many of these people are excited to share their advice and welcome new people into their community. Bonus: You’ll have more fun at the show when you have friends and guidance, and can achieve your own measure of success. 

If you’re starting out or stepping up, remember that you can lease rather than purchase a horse to compete on. This is an especially common arrangement for youth riders. This is where relationships can be so helpful. Reach out to a trainer in your discipline to get a recommendation and to find out if they know of anyone interested in leasing a horse. Leasing is a more affordable option before committing fully if you’re still unsure of the investment.

A budget-friendly option for do-it-yourselfers is finding a trainer who will allow you to trailer your horse in for lessons.
Photo by Nichole Chirico

THE RIDER:
The Serious Competitor 

For this rider, horses are more than a hobby. Regardless of your discipline, you take your riding seriously and are constantly looking for ways to step up your game—a higher level of competition, a more talented horse, or achievement of a specific accolade. You have made the commitment of both time and money and want to have something to show for it. 

The money moves: Invest in learning.

As before, all the money moves in the previous categories apply to the serious competitor, with an additional focus on understanding and managing training, coaching, and other expenses. 

The single best step you can take at this level is to make the most out of your horse’s training and your lessons. Take seriously the recommendations that your coach or trainer provides, reminding yourself when you’re frustrated that they do this for a living and likely have tested advice. Find a trainer whose style you like as you’ll be more likely to follow their advice. If you aren’t willing to be open-minded, the money and time are wasted.

With that, if you’re serious about competing, you likely have a horse in training or are regularly working with a trainer. If you have a horse in training, you want to understand how much you should expect to pay and what’s included in the bill. The training fee will vary from trainer to trainer based on experience, accomplishments, geographic location, and age of the horse. Generally, you can expect to pay between $1,200 and $3,000 per month, which often includes lessons, board, and feed. Ask questions to ensure that you know what you’re getting for the price. And, if you’re shopping around, it’s best to call to get an estimate rather than trust what’s on a trainer’s website as it may be outdated. If you expect the trainer to attend events, to coach you, or if they will be hauling your horse to shows, they may bill you for the hotel, food, transportation, and other expenses. If the trainer has other clients at the event, you may be able to share costs. Be sure to have a training agreement that outlines these expenses in writing, and any add-on arrangements, such as an agreement to pay for fuel, should be documented via text or email. It’s not a matter of trust, it simply ensures that all parties are protected. 

Finally, learning judging criteria is another way you can make the most of your investment of time and money. Many associations offer judging seminars and workshops that you can audit. While they’re intended for professional judges, they’re usually open to the public. If you can go, listen, and learn what the judges are looking for, and how they score and assess riding in your discipline, you’re much more likely to understand the standard you need to meet. 

You can also learn how to scribe and volunteer your time at local horse shows to get a better idea of what the judge is seeing when he’s in the middle of the show pen.

At the competitive level, your financial savvy is really about maximizing the investment you’re already making. At any level, start with the protective and cost-saving measures at ‘The Hobbyist’ level before making your way to the rest of the recommendations.

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