Keeping A Horse On A Budget Without Compromising Their Health

No matter how much we love our horses most people will moan about how much they cost and how little money we have left at the end of the month. There’s no doubt that horses can be expensive but the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to keep the costs down to a minimum, without having to switch to self-board or spending all day, every day looking after your horse.

Regardless of whether you’re keeping your horse at home, on rented land, or at a boarding yard you can save money. Whether you want to reduce your horse’s feed bill, save money at the yard or lower your veterinary bills it doesn’t matter.

How to reduce your horse’s boarding costs

Any internet search on ‘how to reduce your horse’s boarding costs’ will bring up endless results saying that if you switch to self-board or DIY livery you’ll save a massive amount of money and, while that’s definitely true it’s no good if you don’t have the time to look after your horse every day. All of the tips below allow you to keep the cost low without having to increase your workload.

Not all horses need a stall all year round

The costs associated with stabling your horse overnight can often be amongst the highest, typically around 200% to 300% more than pasture board, after all, you’ll need fresh bedding every day and will also, in most cases, need to increase your horse’s forage intake. 

As long as your horse is healthy and isn’t in regular training then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t keep him turned out all year round, as long as you provide them with plenty of grazing, freshwater, and shelter. Also by turning your horse out instead you’ll not only save a small fortune on bedding each month but will greatly reduce your maintenance costs too.

There’s no need to worry about whether or not your horse will be okay when the weather gets really cold though, horses are far hardier than we give them credit for and can easily withstand temperatures as low as 32° Fahrenheit (0° Celsius).

Keeping your horse turned out can really cut the cost of ownership

Using stall mats as well as bedding can save you a lot of cash

If you’re not able to keep your horse turned out then installing stall mats (often called rubber mats) in the stall will, in the long run, reduce the amount of bedding you need to use.

Stall mats can be used on their own but because they can become slippery when they’re soiled they’re normally used in conjunction with some form of removable bedding and while the cost of initially installing them can be expensive they’ll soon start to save you money. By using stall mats you won’t need to use as much bedding so, once you’ve recouped the cost of fitting then you’ll start saving money.

By half leasing your horse you’ll drastically reduce your monthly costs

I know that this isn’t for everyone and you should consider the pros and cons before deciding to half lease your horse but if you do go ahead with it will cut most of your horse’s costs in half as well as give you a lot more spare time.

Half lease means that you retain full ownership and responsibility of the horse but share the riding and most of the costs with somebody else although in most cases you’ll still have to pay the veterinary bills yourself. Together you’ll both agree on a rota of who can ride which can be great if you don’t get a lot of time to ride yourself.

If you do decide to half lease your horse though it’s important that you and the lessee have a contract that outlines both of your responsibilities. Sadly it’s often overlooked but it’s probably the most important thing when half leasing your horse.

Offering your horse for lessons can offset boarding costs

Like half lease, this isn’t for everybody and certainly isn’t for every horse, especially if your horse is a little more on the lively side but if you board your horse at a riding school, or live near to one then it can help to offset some of the boarding costs (or earn money that you can use towards the cost).

Sometimes referred to as working livery, the ideal is that your boarding costs are reduced in return for your horse being used for riding lessons.

Give manure away instead of paying for its removal

Many states and countries have laws on how big muck heaps can be so a lot of people pay for the manure to be removed which can, over time prove to be quite expensive. While you can’t do anything about the law there are a few things you can reduce or even completely do away with the cost.

Why not sell or give away horse manure rather than paying for it to be collected
  • Gardening organizations – While we only think of manure as a waste product gardens see it very differently and many gardening organizations will gladly take it away for you.
  • Local farmers – With the growing demand for organic produce many farmers are turning to manure instead of artificial fertilizers, but when you consider the average farm (according to the United States Department of Agriculture) is 444 acres (179.6 hectares) that’s a lot of manure so they’ll always be grateful for free manure.
  • Bag it up – If you don’t live near a farm or don’t have any local gardening organizations, bag it up and offer it to anybody who’s passing. People generally prefer to take manure that’s already bagged up so leaving a sign outside the yard advertising the manure will let everybody know. Bagging it up while mucking out will save you a lot of time rather than dong it later.

Reducing your horse’s feed costs

You might think that the only way you can reduce your horse’s feed bill is to cut back on what he eats, but by planning ahead and by knowing exactly what you’re feeding your horse you can save a lot more money than you might think.

Buying your feed in bulk can save you a great deal of money

If you have the space to store months worth of feed then buying in bulk can be a great way to save money, yes you’ll have the initial (often upfront) cost of buying the feed but once you average that out you’ll find that you’re actually saving a surprising amount. You can save even more if you group together with other owners and buy even more food.

The more food you’re buying the better deal you can negotiate with the supplier too, after all the more food you buy the more money they’ll make too.

Purchase your hay directly from the farmer

If you live near a farm then ask the farmer if you can buy the hay directly from him. Unlike most feed merchants he won’t have to pay any storage or distribution costs so will be able to sell it to you at a cheaper rate. It’s also good to support local businesses whenever you can, especially in the current Covid-19 environment we’re all living in.

Buy your winter hay during the summer

During the winter there’s not so much grass about (and the grass that there isn’t such good quality) which is by most horse owners will increase the amount of hay they feed in the winter months which understandably increases the demand for it, which in turn pushes the price up. If you’re able to store it then buying your winter hay when the price is lower is a far more cost-effective way of doing it. 

Buying hay in bulk with other horse owners will help to reduce the cost

Measuring your horse’s feed is much better than feeding by volume

We’ve all done it, you’re in a hurry so you feed your horse a few scoops of concentrate then think ‘yep, that looks right’ but before you know it you’re doing it every day. You might not realize it but by feeding your horse like this you’re far more likely to be overfeeding him and therefore spending more money than you need to.

Instead, you should calculate your horse’s weight, as well as how much they should weigh, then from there, you can work out how much food they really need. Once you’ve got that you can then measure your horse’s food and I bet you’ll be amazed at just how much less you’re feeding.

If you’re not sure what your horse’s weight should be or how to weigh him then this article will help you, while this article will help you to know how much to feed your horse; based on his age and workload.

Mix food yourself instead of buying ready mixed concentrate

I know that it can be easier and quicker to feed your horse a ready-made mix but mixing it for yourself will not only save you a lot of money but will also be better for your horse. That’s not to say that your horse won’t get the nutrients he needs from a ready-made concentrate, instead, he’s more likely to get far more than he needs. Whereas, on the other hand, if you only buy what your horse needs then you can mix it accordingly, dependent on his individual requirements.

It might add a couple of minutes (if that) onto the time you spend feeding your horse but in the long run, the amount of money you save will far outweigh any extra time you spend mixing food.

Feed more hay/forage and less concentrate

You don’t have to always feed your horse the same amount of concentrate and in most cases, they don’t need as much as you might think. A horse at rest may not need any at all while a horse on a heavy workload will probably only need around 2.5% to 3% of his body weight.

Even with the best quality hay or hay replacer, it’ll be cheaper than feeding the same amount of concentrate so replacing some of your horse’s concentrate (or all of it depending on his workload) with forage will greatly help your pocket. 

Regardless of whether or not you increase your horse’s forage intake, you should always have the hay analyzed, that way you know the exact what your horse is eating.

Use a ration balancer to increase your horse’s vitamin and mineral intake

If your horse isn’t getting enough nutrition from his hay you can either spend more money and increase his concentrate to make up for it or add a supplement to his feed, or if you want to save money you can use a ration balancer to top up his vitamins and minerals without unnecessarily increasing the number of calories he’s consuming.

Technically balancers are supplements, after all, you use them to supplement your horse’s diet but because they’re designed purely to ‘balance’ your horse’s nutrition they’re a lot cheaper than most supplements (around half the price in some cases). If you’re worried that your horse isn’t getting everything he needs from his hay then a balancer is definitely the way to go.

Use a slow feeder or haulage net

Slow feeders or haulage nets can slow down the speed with which your horse eats

Horses are natural grazers that need to spend a lot of their time eating (because of how their digestion works) but if your horse is greedy or a fast eater it can be difficult to make sure they’re doing this without overfeeding them, which is obviously going to cost more money. You can, however, increase the amount of time a horse spends grazing without feeding them any extra. Instead of using a haynet or hay feeder use a slow feeder or haulage net (both available on Amazon). Both are designed to reduce the amount a horse can take at any one time, therefore increasing the amount of time they take to eat the same amount of food.

Doing this will obviously save you money but it will also help your horse to digest his food better as well as prevent him from overeating.

Keeping your horse’s care costs low

Regardless of your horse’s age, care cost can add up far quicker than you realize and while we all want our horses to be healthy it doesn’t mean that you need to spend a lot of money.

Make sure your horse’s insurance covers everything you might need

Insurance isn’t one of those things that you should try and cut corners on but having the right policy can save you a lot of money if your horse needs to be hospitalized or if he needs extensive medical treatment. You can shop around to find the cheapest policy but it’s more important to find one that has the features you need.

When looking for an insurance policy it’s a good idea to know exactly what you want to be covered for before you start looking. I’ve put together a guide on insurance to help explain some of the terminology and jargon.

Learning basic medical skills will save on call-out fees

I’m not suggesting that you should get rid of your veterinarian and do everything yourself but there are some basic things that you could easily learn to do yourself. Most veterinarians will charge a call-out fee every time they visit your horse but if you have a basic understanding of how to dress wounds, administer dewormer and medication you won’t need to pay the fee.

Split medical call fees with other owners

If you keep your horse at a boarding yard you can save a lot of money by arranging for annual checks and visits (such as farriers, dentists, and veterinarians) to be carried out on all of the horses at the same time. This will mean that there’ll be one call-out/travel fee and if this is split between all of the owners you can end up saving rather a lot of money.

You can possibly save money on unexpected visits too by asking other owners if their horses need to see a veterinarian at the same. That way you’ll be able to split the call-out fee between you both, of course, you won’t be able to save as much with annual visits but you won’t have to pay the fall call out fee.

Ask other horse owners if they want to have their horses vaccinated at the same time as yours - it'll save a lot of month in the long run

Use alternative and natural remedies where possible

Many sprays, shampoos, and ointments developed ‘especially’ for horses can be expensive but if you’re able to use natural alternatives this can save you a small fortune. For example, using baby shampoos instead of horse ones will cost you around 60% less. You can save even more money by making things like mane and tail detangled, a tiny little bit of coconut oil will work wonders on that knotted tail (I actually prefer it to detangler).

Have your horse’s manure samples checked regularly for their egg count

While we all agree that you should have a regular deworming program it doesn’t mean that you should deworm your horse every so many months regardless of whether he needs it or not. Some horses are more susceptible to worms than others so it’s far better to have your horse’s manure checked regularly for eggs. If your horse has less than 200 eggs (around 90% of horses do) then he probably won’t need deworming but a fecal egg count (or FEC) is the only definitive way of knowing if your horse should be dewormed or not.

Does your horse really need to wear shoes?

Not all horses need to wear shoes and can often benefit from not wearing them so if you’re horse doesn’t have tender feet (or needs to wear corrective shoes) why not remove them completely? After all having your horse shod can double, if not triple your farrier costs, but without shoes, he’ll only need to have his feet trimmed.

Use fish instead of mosquito dunks to get rid of larva

Some areas are more prone to mosquitoes than others but if you happen to live in one of those areas you’ll know just how problematic they can be and the diseases they can carry, diseases which can be costly to treat. To prevent this sort of expense it’s better to deal with the problem at the source and get rid of those pesky bugs. Most people use something like mosquito dunks in their water troughs but the trouble with that is you need to replace them regularly. Instead, why not try a couple of goldfish – yes I did just say goldfish! I know it may sound crazy but when the mosquitoes lay their eggs in the water the fish will eat the larva, therefore preventing them from maturing and biting your horse.

Don’t buy named brands

As soon as you add the word horse or equine to a product the price seems to saw yet the same product without any horsey links tends to be a fraction of the price. Some like a soft baby’s brush is far cheaper than a special face brush, yet it’s just as good, if not better.

The same goes for toys, don’t spend a lot of money on a horse safe soccer ball when an old, partially deflated, leather soccer ball will work just as well.

How to keep your riding costs down

We don’t often take the cost of riding into account when thinking about the expenses involved in owning a horse but the tack alone can cost a not so small fortune, especially if you’re a Western rider. And that’s before you’ve even thought about the cost of lessons.

Look out for clearance items at tack shops

Just because a saddle is from last year’s line or the style is no longer in fashion it doesn’t mean it can’t be used, yet many tack shops (especially those online tack shops) regularly have clearance stock that they want to get rid of quickly. This can be a great place to find a bargain, for example, I recently found this curb strap on for just $1.99, when you consider it originally cost over $7 that’s a massive saving (72% to be precise).

Joining local groups online can be a great way of finding used tack

There are plenty of local horse groups on sites such as Facebook that advertise used tack and other equipment so it’s worth signing up to a few. While you might have to wait a while if you’re after something specific it can be a good place to start your search if you’re looking to replace anything.

The only caveat I would add though is that, unless you use something like PayPal to pay for any items you may not be protected if something goes wrong with the transaction.

Maintain and care for your tack and other equipment

Looking after your tack properly will help it to last longer and therefore not need replacing so quickly. You don’t need to wash your saddle thoroughly after every ride but a simple wipe down and regular cleaning will help keep it in tip-top condition. The same goes for rugs and halters as well as your kit – leaving your hat all sweaty will help to reduce its lifespan.

I’ve written a few useful guides on cleaning things such as your tack and blankets

Group lessons are much cheaper than private lessons

Just because you have your own horse it doesn’t mean that you should give up on lessons, they can still be helpful because, if nothing else it can be easy to fall into bad habits. That said though riding lessons can be expensive with the average private lesson costing around $60 (they can range from $40 to $80 for an hour) and if you’re paying that every week the cost will soon add up (over the year it will cost $3120).

Group lessons on the other hand can be around $20 to $25 less for the same amount of time (that’s a saving of between $1040 and $1300 a year!!) so are a far more cost-effective option. You could even arrange with your friends to all have a lesson together.

Group riding lessons are much cheaper than private lessons

Reducing other horse ownership costs

Below are some money-saving tips that I couldn’t fit into any of the categories above but that I thought were useful, I hope they help you too.

Keep a record of what you’re spending

While keeping a record of your expenses won’t directly save you money it will help you keep a track of what you’re spending money on and how much you’re spending. This will also give you a better idea of what you do and don’t really need.

You can buy expense record books in most stationers or you could download our FREE horse record kit!! As well as every record you’ll ever need for your horse it also has a handy expenses page too (which you can print as many times as you need). Sorry for the blatant plug but as this article’s about saving money and the kit’s free it does fit in anyway 😉

Buy everyday yard essentials at budget stores

When you need to stock up on sponges or have run out of poultices buying them from a tack shop will cost you a lot more than if you were to buy them at your local discount store instead. You’ll also find a whole range of things that will be useful alternatives, such as dryer sheets instead of insect repellent – yes it really does work!

I recently wrote an article full of household items that, can not only be used around the yard but will also save you money.

Buy seasonal items out of season

Just as is the case with hay, buying things out of season will save you a lot of money because the demand won’t be so high and companies will want to clear space for the current season’s essentials. A great example is blankets, you don’t need to buy your summer blankets in the summer and likewise for winter rugs so why not buy out of season if you can save money!

Further reading

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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