Guest post by Nicole from Horse Rookie.
Tracking What Horses Cost Down to the Penny
If asked to describe the most financially responsible path to horse ownership, it likely wouldn’t include quitting your corporate job, starting a small business, moving across the country, and jumping into the equestrian world with both feet.
Yet, that’s exactly what my journey into horse ownership entailed.
Like many of you, I had taken riding lessons from a young age all the way through college. At that point, my enthusiasm for investing time and money in other people’s horses waned. If I was going to carve out time for riding as an adult, I wanted it to be for my own horse.
It wasn’t until I relocated to Montana in my early thirties that I finally realized that goal.
Was the idea of buying a horse scary? Sure. But I’d been in the equestrian world my entire life, and I felt prepared.
(Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.)
Are Horses That Expensive?
The only truthful way to answer this question is an all-caps, bold, resounding “HECK YES.”
When it comes to owning a horse, it’s important to be prepared for the financial responsibility that comes with that decision. Understanding what horses cost and how you can afford one ahead of time sets you up for success from day one.
Did I follow my own advice? Of course not…
Brain: “Can I really afford a horse?”
Gut: “Sure, why not?”
Brain: “Everyone says horses are really expensive…”
Gut: “Don’t worry about it. Just go for it.”
During my first two years of horse ownership, I didn’t think I needed to track my spending. There was no point in making a budget — or sticking to one. After all, my business was doing well, and I always paid off my credit card each month.
Come year three, though, I started to feel the heat.
Every time I got my monthly barn invoice, I squinted at the grand total and thought, “Can that be right?”
Every time I pulled out my wallet at the local tack store, I got a pit in my stomach.
When my math-minded, non-horsey sister asked what my equestrian habit cost on average, I had to admit that I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t even have an educated guess.
I loved my horse, barn family, and mental and physical benefits of riding. But… how much was all this bliss really costing me?
I had no idea.
Getting Serious About Money
If I wanted to enjoy my equestrian lifestyle over the long run, I needed to get some serious clarity into my spending habits.
I decided to track (and publish) my monthly spending via horse expense reports on HorseRookie.com.
In addition to holding myself accountable, I wanted to provide those considering buying (or leasing) a horse a detailed look at the real cost of horse ownership.
The expense reports are also designed to help you benchmark your own spending, discover new ways to save money, and find areas where it may be worth investing more.
In this case study, I discuss how I track my spending, what trends I’ve noticed, and how budgeting has changed my mindset and, more importantly, behavior.
Context is King
Before we dig into the numbers, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
- Costs are unique to each person. Factors like geography, skill level, and goals all impact how much you spend — and what you spend that money on. My data reflects my personal financial situation, location, and interests.
- I have one horse. He’s a 13-year-old AQHA gelding trained as a reined cow horse who moonlights as a jump/dressage/ranch riding/trail/do-anything steed.
- Startup costs are separate. These expense reports don’t reflect sunk “startup” costs, such as the cost of my horse, trailer, and truck.
- I’m a single-income horse owner. I don’t have a spouse, parents, or trust fund (I wish!) helping with my expenses. Every dollar I spend, I earned.
- I’m a small business owner. I don’t have an employer who cuts me a paycheck each month. My financial picture is solely tied to the success of my business. (Note: That business isn’t related to horses.)
- I live in Montana. Depending where you live, your expenses may be higher or lower.
- I board my horse. Affording a house with enough land for horses simply isn’t an option in my area at my income level. If you keep your horse at home, you may not incur some of my costs — but you’ll also have other expenses that I don’t (e.g. fence repair).
- I do multiple disciplines. From dressage to stadium jumping, eventing to reining, cow work to ranch riding, I like to do it all with my horse. That means I often need additional gear, tack, and apparel for different sports versus a single discipline.
- I get creative. When I can find creative ways to save money or trade for expenses, I do. In my monthly expense reports, I often make notes about when/how I’ve been able to offset certain expenses.
- It’s only October. I’ve gathered nine months of data, so I made extrapolations for October-December to arrive at annual spending projections.
Horse expenses can be grouped into several core buckets. In my reports, I assign every expenditure into one of these categories:
- Education (e.g. Lessons, clinics, online courses, certifications)
- Events (e.g. Schooling shows and competitions, special events)
- Health (e.g. Farrier, vet, supplements)
- Fun (e.g. Treats, gifts)
- Gear (e.g. Tack, apparel)
- Insurance (e.g. Mortality, medical, liability, vehicle, roadside assistance)
- Stabling (e.g. Feed, stabling, deworming)
- Travel (e.g. Fuel, lodging)
- Note: I estimate monthly barn commute fuel based on the mileage cost to my barn multiplied by 4 visits per week. Any additional travel, such as hauling to a show, is added on top of that.
- Other (e.g. Everything else)
Horse Budget Goal
My goal is to keep monthly horse expenses under $1,000 after adjustments (e.g. trades).
This is what I feel comfortable spending out-of-pocket based on my anticipated income and non-equestrian life expenses.
Without further adieu, let’s get into the numbers.
What Does a Horse Cost Per Month?
Valuing my Equestrian Lifestyle
My horse expenses average $1,774.58 per month BEFORE adjustments.
The chart below shows monthly expenses from January – September 2019. These numbers represent the total dollar VALUE of my equestrian expenses.
It does not factor in any trades for products or services. In other words, if I didn’t trade for anything, this is how much money I’d be paying each month.
- It was eye-opening to learn my monthly “goal budget” ($1,000) is below the baseline value of incurred expenses 100% of the time.
- That means that if I didn’t actively work to trade for products and services, I’d would never be able to stay on budget and still do everything I like to do.
- My greatest spending relief occurs during Montana’s coldest months (January-March). Lessons are often cancelled due to low temperatures, I drive to the barn less often, and I participate in few (if any) clinics or shows.
- My highest cost months are April-July, which is the height of our clinic season. During this time, I typically take three lessons per week and ride in clinics at least one weekend per month.
- September expenses picked up a bit due to local end-of-season show costs.
Offsetting Expenses Through Trades
The next chart adjusts monthly expenses to account for the situations when I’m able to trade for products and services.
These adjusted numbers are what I actually PAID OUT to support my horse habit each month.
My horse expenses average $843.31 per month AFTER adjustments.
Get 7 Ways to Barter for Horse Expenses when you sign up for Horse Rookie’s email list.
- In case the numbers weren’t clear enough, I’m not able to afford my equestrian lifestyle without putting in some serious sweat equity.
- Many horse owners pitch in at the barn doing chores, which is a solid option. For me, I put my marketing and project management skills to use instead.
- I manage my barn’s English and Western clinic program, which runs from April-October. I coordinate, promote, and manage online registrations and payments for 18-20 clinics and 100+ riders each year.
- I also created a new website for my barn (including copy, design, and development) and took over management of the facility’s Facebook page.
- In return for helping boost the barn’s income (and free up the owners’ time), I’m able to offset some of my board, clinic, and lesson costs throughout the year.
- Additionally, I have a client who allows me to run a “horse fund” credit instead of being paid for marketing services.
- After trades, I only went over budget in January ($11.25) and April ($177.85). Not too shabby!
Where the Money Goes
The chart below shows my monthly expenses (value) by spending category.
- As you can see, I value educational opportunities more than gear, shows, etc.
- Lessons and clinics are routinely my high-dollar expenses each month, often at a rate that more than doubles the next closest category.
- Typically, I take three lessons per week: jumping, western flatwork, and cow work.
- During clinic season (April-October), I usually ride in at least one clinic per month.
- Stabling (i.e. board) and insurance are the only consistent categories month-to-month.
- Many equestrians choose not to carry any insurance, but I’m not one of them. (Learn why.) I have a horse mortality, major medical, and liability policies, and they cost me nearly $200 per month. In three years, I haven’t needed any of them (knock on wood!), but I feel safer knowing I have them in case something bad happens.
- Travel was consistent almost every month, except for a few outings to local schooling shows or cow working events.
- Health-related expenses spike in April when our barn does Spring vaccines, but are otherwise fairly consistent. (I expect another spike in October for Fall vaccines.)
- My gear expenditures are all over the place. In August, I actually came out ahead thanks to consigning some used gear at our local tack store.
The chart above shows the average percentage of monthly spend in each category. Not surprisingly, Education, Stabling, and Health get the biggest slices of my budget pie.
Optional vs. Essential Horse Expenses
Clearly, a lot of my expenses would be considered “optional” versus “essential.” I don’t need to take lessons, ride in clinics, or have insurance to support my horse habit.
What would it look like if I pared down to my four main essentials? Check it out.
What Does a Horse Cost Per Year?
Now that we’ve outlined monthly expenses, let’s look at the bigger picture — the annual cost of horse ownership.
Reminder: Since I don’t yet have data for October-December 2019, I used an average of prior months to project annual spending.
My projected horse expenses are $23,069.58 per year BEFORE adjustments.
Remember, this is the anticipated VALUE of expenses I incur for the year — not taking into account any trades for products and services.
My projected horse expenses are $11,894.25, per year AFTER adjustments.
Remember, this is the anticipated actual PAY OUT — after taking into account any trades for products and services.
Get 7 Ways to Barter for Horse Expenses when you sign up for Horse Rookie’s email list.
How will my actual annual spending likely break down by category? Take a look.
I hope my monthly horse expense reports inspire more equestrians to track and reflect on their own spending habits. Here are a few important things I’ve learned through this process:
- Increased accountability: Knowing each dollar I spend on my horse will be tracked (and published) has nearly halted impulsive purchases. I no longer stop by the tack store when I don’t need something specific. I no longer add things to my Amazon cart without careful consideration. Every purchase is intentional.
- Appreciate education: Since learning how much of my budget goes toward lessons and clinics, I try harder to make the most of every opportunity.
- Use it or lose it: If I don’t use a piece of gear or apparel, I now sell it on consignment at the tack store. It doesn’t do me any good to a) buy things I don’t use or b) keep things I don’t use. Even though I don’t make back what I spent originally, it’s better than nothing.
- Stay creative: Seeing the numbers reinforces that I need to keep being creative about how to fund my horse habit. Whether that’s strategic trades for products and services, shopping sales, or getting inventive with the gear I already have, it takes a lot of work to get costs within my target budget each month.
- Invest in health: Things like equine massage, chiropractic sessions, and supplements may seem optional. But keeping my horse in peak health is far less expensive in the long run.
- Prioritize what’s important: Before I moved to Montana and bought my horse, I used to spend money traveling and investing in multiple hobbies. Now, I prioritize my horse, barn family, and equestrian activities. It’s a choice, but it’s not one I regret. After waiting decades for a horse of my own, I’m making the most of it.
- Technology can help: I use Intuit’s free budgeting software, Mint, to track daily spending across the board. I also maintain a detailed Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for my horse-related expenditures.
Analyzing my spending has completely changed how I view the financial side of horse ownership. Now, with eyes wide open, I can make smarter decisions, prioritize what’s truly important, and boost my chances of affording this expensive hobby for many years to come!
After 25+ years in the saddle, I bought my first horse at 33. I love practicing dressage, eventing, stadium jumping, reining, trail riding, and cow work with my Quarter Horse in Montana, USA.
I started HorseRookie.com, an educational website, to help equestrians of all levels (especially rookies) answer common questions, make informed decisions, and have more fun with their horses.