I live in Connecticut and my riding circle is firmly centered in New England, where spending habits are often politely described as “Yankee thriftiness.” I wouldn’t exactly say we’re cheap, but we certainly know how to save a buck. I recently asked friends and acquaintances how they stretch their horsekeeping dollars. Here’s a sampling of the many tips I received.
1) Host a spring/fall shot clinic
“We host a ‘vaccination day’ or ‘shot clinic’ to save on barn calls. We split the barn call among several horse owners within a 10-mile radius. We hold the clinic on a property that can handle the influx of trucks and trailers and, of course, we enlist several organizers to direct traffic and make sure things flow smoothly. The vets love this as it allows them to stay in one place, while covering a lot of ground!” —Karen, Connecticut
2) Worship the sun
“We have two 100-gallon stock tanks, but we keep them facing south so that come winter we only have to plug in the heaters when temps drop into the teens. We’ve found that if we keep the tanks full, the horses break the thin top layer of ice themselves. By midday the ice melts in the sun again.” —Julie, New Hampshire
3) Think value
“Sometimes, spending a little extra money pays off in the long run. I buy 1200 denier turnout blankets. [They cost a bit more but] my very first one is on its fifth year. Use your local library for horse books. If they don’t have your favorite book, ask the librarian if he/she can request it from another library. Watch for good deals when renewing magazines. I renewed my subscription to EQUUS and got an EQUUS baseball cap as well!” —Dawn, Connecticut
4) Feed what you need
“Feed only what your horse needs. Accurately assess your horse’s energy needs with the help of your veterinarian or equine nutritionist. Why offer more or better feed than your horse requires for his level of work?” —Martha, via E-mail
5) Buy in bulk
“Buy in bulk whenever you can. If you don’t have adequate storage, consider splitting a load of hay or shavings with local horse owners.” —Kelly, Pennsylvania
6) Barter, barter, barter!
“Sort through your tack trunk. Trade that old bridle for a used blanket, saddle or bit. Sell the items you don’t need either on-line or locally. Keep an eye out for sales, and scour discount stores for items you can use around the barn.” —Martha, Massachusetts
7) Save energy
“One of the biggest savings I’ve seen is in my electric bill since I switched to energy-efficient light bulbs. I use them in my house and my barn. My electric bill dropped by almost 100 dollars per month. Some conservation organizations will come to your barn to evaluate your energy use and offer the bulbs free. Contact your local energy commission for more information.” —Jane, Massachusetts
8) Become a working student
““Save on lessons and become a working student! Most trainers are flexible and will work around your present schedule. You gain so much more as a working student as you learn both in and out of the saddle. You’ll learn all the things that happen behind the scenes like show grooming, care, health and nutrition. And, most working students spend a lot more time in the saddle than students who pay for hourly lessons.” —Lindsey, Massachusetts
9) Turn ’em out!
“Turn your horses out all night in the summer and save on shavings. Partner up for trail rides and shows and split the money for gas.” —MaryEllen, Massachusetts
10) Consider buying a senior horse
“If you’re a pleasure rider (low competition, light to moderate work), get an older horse! The purchase price drops considerably when the horse is over 15 years of age. You’ll want a vet check on any horse you buy, but a senior horse can provide you with years of happy riding. My horse turns 18 in a few weeks and I couldn’t be happier with her.” —Sharon, Massachusetts
11) Optimize lessons
“Optimize lessons by writing notes and practicing when you go home. I average only one lesson a month, but I make the most of them by doing my homework!” —CJ, Vermont
“When, after practicing all of the above, it’s still too expensive to own full-size horses (as we found last year with two young kids in daycare), get ponies! I’m not able to ride, but it’s wonderful to continue practicing my horsemanship and ground skills with my ponies. It’s a family venture as well. My young children are able to experience caring for equines. My vet and farrier bills are about the same, but feeding ponies is far less expensive than feeding horses.” —Pam, New Hampshire
Of course, I won’t be able to implement all of these suggestions, but I have already adopted a few. And for the extra savings they bring, I have my fellow horsemen—always a resource for practical ideas—to thank.