(Because there’s riding on a budget, and then there’s riding when you don’t have a full time job and are still paying off your student loans.)
As you may have figured out by now, I am not the most gifted person in the financial department. It’s right in our blog title. However, I grew up without the greatest understanding of money and budgeting and all that good stuff, so as an adult I’ve had to learn a lot about being smart with my money, especially when it comes to my extremely pricey hobby of choice. So today, I am going to impart some of my hard-earned knowledge onto you, my dear readers – some general budgeting tips and some stuff specifically tailored to equestrians. Hopefully some of you will learn something from my mistakes!
Pretty much the first, and most obvious, tip is don’t buy stuff you don’t need. It’s so simple and yet it is so difficult to follow. Especially in horseback riding, where trends are mighty and ever changing, this can be difficult. Do I want one of those fancy memory foam half pads? You bet! Do I need it? No. I don’t have saddle fit issues and my plain ole’ wool half pad works just fine and was a fraction of the price. Would I like to try gourmet handmade saddle soap? Of course I would! But Lexol costs ten bucks at Ace Hardware and my bottle isn’t running out anytime soon.
This applies to every aspect of your life, but I find it especially important when it comes to horseback riding. Horse people really, really like to buy things – there’s a reason the phrase ‘tack whore’ exists! But most of us aren’t riding at a level or on enough horses where we require three bridles, five sets of monogrammed polos, twenty pairs of breeches, and so on and so forth. Yes, those leather open-front boots are pretty, but your horse doesn’t interfere and you’re only jumping 2’. Your polo wraps will do just fine – and no, I don’t mean those $40 bedazzled ones from Etsy.
It’s okay to buy something ‘just because’ sometimes. (You bet I’m going to find something fun to do with this year’s tax refund!) I’m a huge proponent of “do what makes you happy.” But be aware that the money you spend on ‘just because’ purchases is going to affect your ability to buy necessities.
Do your best to buy inexpensive items, but know when it’s better to splurge. This applies primarily to safety issues – I spend more on helmets than on pretty much anything else, because I am willing to spend that extra money when my life is on the time. I’m also willing to spend a little bit more when it comes to horse health – a good farrier and quality feed/hay will go a long way. Anything that you’re going to have for a long time (e.g. saddles) is also going to be something you might want to spend a little more on – it’s better to invest in one nice product than buy a cheaper product three or four times. You can also buy high quality items used for less than new, if you’re okay with a little wear and tear.
If you really, really want an expensive item that is NOT a necessity, never underestimate the power of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. This is how I acquire most of my ‘duplicate’ items (thanks for all the saddle pads, Kelsey! 😉 ) as well as nicer versions of things I would have, were I spending my own money, bought cheaper, such as riding boots. I actually know someone who registered for her wedding at a tack shop – and she picked up some cool stuff! If it’s not something that you immediately require or a safety issue, wait it out. At some point, an occasion will roll around and someone else may buy it for you.
When buying new items, remember: one in, one out. Need a new pair of breeches? Get rid of an old pair first – preferably by selling them. Changed your horse’s ‘colours’? You can sell all those old saddle pads and so on and pocket a little money instead of just collecting extras. Even if you can’t get money for your old items, getting rid of them will save you space. And if you don’t use it, get rid of it. As long as it’s not broken, someone else will almost always be willing to buy it off you.
Pay for things at the time of purchase/service. Unless there’s a significant difference in price if you pay ahead, I prefer to pay for things when they occur. I don’t pay for my lessons ahead of time – I bring a check and it goes to Trainer immediately after my ride. When I pay ahead of time, I’ve spent money on a promise, not a proper good or service – there’s no guarantee that I will actually receive whatever it is I’ve paid for (especially in the case of lessons – weather can turn bad, people and horses can get sick). This method certainly won’t work for everyone, but it makes me feel much more comfortable to know exactly where my money is going and when.
I also pay with cash whenever possible. For large or online purchases, I use a debit card – I don’t like using credit cards because they can encourage spending ‘invisible’ money – money you don’t really have. I do recommend getting a credit card if you are young, because building credit will be extremely useful in the future when it comes time to buy a car or house or take out a loan – but only one card, and only use it on a few inexpensive purchases you know you will be able to pay off immediately. Then remove it from your wallet and bring it out only for emergencies (e.g. you ended up in the hospital). Shred it if you have to. Credit cards are temptation. If you are financially secure, they are great, but if you are on a tight budget (and I’m presuming you are, since you’re reading this post), they’re usually not a smart idea.
Find a riding instructor/trainer you like. This doesn’t seem like a budget issue, but it is. I spent a very long time shopping around for a new trainer and while I did find many less expensive options, I chose current Trainer because I feel like I’m getting a higher quality of instruction. Because of that, I end up spending less money on lessons because riding once a week is enough for me to feel like I’m improving. I’m learning something every time I ride as opposed to paying to get on a horse and canter around a few jumps without really getting an education. And of course – if you’re not showing or on a young/green/new-to-you horse, you probably don’t need to be taking multiple lessons a week. I know some people who only take lessons once or twice a month, and if you and your horse are comfortable with each other and don’t require a whole lot of assistance, that is perfectly acceptable. Do whatever is in line with your goals and your budget.
And when it comes to finding a trainer you like, remember that you do not need to own a horse to be a successful rider. The best trainers will always be willing help you find something to ride – this is how I was able to keep progressing throughout most of my riding career, despite never owning a horse. At the same time, a good trainer with whom you have a good relationship should never pressure you into buying a horse if you’ve made it clear that’s not in the cards. If your trainer is pushing you to buy a horse, go to shows, and so on, without respect to your budget, you might want to consider finding a new trainer. Owning a horse is a massive expense and although we all dream of it, for many of us it is simply not a viable option. That’s okay. You are not less of an equestrian because of that. But if you do own/lease a horse…
Field board is always an option. If you are the type who is okay with spending a little more time on things like grooming and maintenance, field board can be a great option. It is virtually always cheaper than stall board, and as any vet will tell you, the more time a horse can spend outside, the better (injuries nonwithstanding). A few caveats: field board situations can vary drastically, so it might take a bit of searching. Things to look for: plenty of space (my rule of thumb is no more than two horses per acre for small groups; one per acre if it’s a large herd), an appropriate amount of grass for your horse (easy keeper? dry lots might be an option), and some form of shelter since your horse will probably not be able to come inside depending on the weather. Some field board plans offer feed, blanketing, etc., and others don’t – find a situation that works for you. That said, field board is not a viable option for all horse owners. If you show competitively in a discipline like hunters where appearance matters, field board might not be for you. If your horse does not know how to behave himself around other horses, field board might also not be for you.
If you have the time and knowledge, it’s okay to be a do-it-yourself horse owner (or rider). I grew up in hunter world where Stuff Gets Done For You. It gets expensive very quickly. If you show, learn to do a show-quality full body clip and braids, at least on the mane, on your own. If your horse’s blanket gets a tear or the surcingle falls off, sew it up yourself instead of buying a new one or taking it to a repair shop (pro tip: use dental floss when repairing horse clothes; it’s stronger than regular thread). I know someone who learned how to rasp her (barefoot) horse’s feet and was able to cut back on farrier visits by about a third (caveat: she was taught to do this by the farrier). As long as you’re not impacting your safety or that of your horse, there’s no reason you can’t give certain shots, clean your gelding’s sheath, and so on and so forth. Just ask someone knowledgeable to teach you, if you don’t already know – this is not usually the kind of thing you want to rely on Google for.
And last of all, don’t be afraid to step back if you need to. This is one of the hardest things to do as a horse person, since many of us feel that riding is an essential part of our lives. However, it is extremely expensive, and sometimes things happen. Maybe you have a health issue; maybe you’ve just lost your job; maybe you’re going back to school. Maybe you just need a bit of a financial lifeboat. It’s okay to stop taking lessons for a little while, or to lease out your horse. It’s okay to concentrate on other aspects of your life. The horses will still be here when you come back.
I hope you were able to learn something from these tips! How you y’all budget your lives to include riding? Tell me in the comments! I’m always looking for ways to save.