The other people on the tour marveled at the price tag. I nodded—this was nothing new to me.
Indeed, owning horses is expensive and a lifestyle choice. But if you’re reading this right now, you’ve made that choice (or are about to), and you cannot fathom it any other way. The day’s complications fade as soon as you get to the barn and spend a few minutes with your horse. When coordinating your social calendar, you’ve been known to consult the horse show/trail ride/rodeo/hunter pace calendar first. Before opening your wallet to purchase a flight, you stop to think whether it’s time to reorder joint supplements, and then you prioritize the purchases.
Or, maybe you don’t stop and think. Maybe you just pull out your credit card and hope it’ll work out later.
That’s a stressful way to live.
A few years ago I took a personal finance class, repeating it twice to really help the principles take hold. Each time I took the class, a different aspect of money management would stand out to me. Eventually, I got so interested in the money management process that I coordinated my first class earlier this year, aiming it at people in the horse industry. We met in a university dairy barn classroom (complete with Smooshy, the pregnant barn cat) and watched the lesson videos each week, went over homework, and completed group problem-solving activities.
Our class was small, but our attendance was strong, and we covered a lot of ground in those nine weeks.
Many people think the course I took and coordinated—Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU)—is all about debt-reduction. And while there is a lesson devoted to dumping debt, the bulk of the course is about responsible financial stewardship. Eventually that leads to being debt-free (yes, the house, too), and the ability to build wealth and give back to causes in which we believe.
Among the many subjects we covered, we talked about ways to optimize our planning, spending, and ability to handle emergencies—household, medical, car, and, yes, horse—should they come our way (and they will) and were able to figure out how, specifically, financial planning can look as a horse owner. Inevitably, we ended up discussing a few horse-person-specific tips and tricks along the way:
- Budget for all of it: board, bedding, hay, feed and supplements, routine vet bills, tack.
- Stick to the budget. If trade show goodies from the Land Rover Kentucky 3-Day Event or AQHA Congress aren’t in the budget, stay firm (or pull from your “fun money”/miscellaneous fund but, better yet, think about your trade-show need and budget ahead for the goodies.)
- Find a budgeting software you love. I have an app that I enjoy using, where Happy (my horse) has his own category. If you’re a pencil-to-paper kind of person, find forms that you find easy and even fun to use. Some forms are monthly, others allow you to budget by pay period, if you get paid more frequently than monthly and that’s more your style.
- Build at least a $1,000 emergency fund. (No, a last-minute horse show isn’t an emergency—don’t forget that miscellaneous/“fun money” budget line).
- As you seek to pay down debts, don’t forget about things you already have on-hand; consign or sell any tack or equipment (in good repair) you are not using.
- Shop around for feed, hay, bedding, and especially supplements. I’ve found prices on the latter can run the gamut. One I buy from my barn supply, one directly from the company, and one on a 90-day auto-pay/ship subscription.
- Research umbrella insurance policies unique to your situation (horses at home, boarded, own a boarding facility etc.). When I was shopping around for new insurance for my home last year, one company wouldn’t insure me because I owned a horse, even though I live in the suburbs and board my horse off-site. Ultimately, I found a company that would (many do). I’ve got extra liability insurance through my Kentucky Horse Council membership. Some get theirs through USEF or other association memberships.
- Create sinking funds (periodically setting aside money for a planned expense or gradual repayment of a debt) for big ticket items like truck replacement or even emergency veterinary bills.
- If you’re dealing with a large bill, such as medical or veterinary expenses, seek to set up a payment plan. Some providers will do this interest-free.
These are just a few things the five of us—and Smooshy and her eventual six kittens—learned along the way. And watching my riding friends learn the principles of FPU only encouraged me to be more intentional about my budgeting and spending as a horse owner. In doing so I’m more prepared to weather the emergencies and with a greater sense of peace.