How to Reduce Horse Costs

As described in the Horse Cost Calculator, the monthly cost of a horse is typically $200 and can easily be two or three times that. This article examines each area and provides suggestions on how to reduce your costs.

Stabling

For many horses, stabling is the most expensive item, in many cases making up over half the costs. If you are using a professional stable, you may want to consider the level of service you need:

  • Full Service. In addition to a stall, some stables will have additional facilities such as: riding arena, training circle, tack room, changing room, horse training, people training, restaurant, riding trails, and so on. These facilities have to be paid for and in many cases there is a premium built into the stabling fees to cover their cost. If you are not making extensive use of such services, you may be paying a premium and not getting any benefit from the extra costs.
  • Serviced Stall. You get a stall, mucked out daily, with fresh bedding. Also access to grassland during part or all of the day (the amount of grassland access varies). Food (grass and/or hay), minerals and salt are normally included. Normally cheaper than the above option.
  • Un-serviced Stall. A stall is provided, but the mucking out and other work is down to you. As you do all the labour, costs are much lower.
  • Field Rent. In this case there is no stall or other facilities, just the field (and associated grass) is provided. Depending on where you are, this can be a very cheap option. As this is more suitable in good weather, some people use field rent during mild weather months and rent a stall only during winter.

If you have land (or access to it), another option is to build your own stall and pasture your horse on your own land. In this case, you need to build not only the stall itself but also any other facilities you need (e.g. storage for straw and hay, tack room, fencing). Aside from the capital costs of this construction, it is perhaps the cheapest option as you only need to pay for material cost (e.g. bedding).

Although the full service option is the easiest, by choosing one of the other alternatives you can greatly reduce your costs.

Bedding

After stabling, bedding is perhaps the largest single cost. If you self-stable, bedding is probably the most important cost item, and consequently offers the greatest opportunities for saving.

There are many different options for bedding, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For guidance on which one is most suitable to you, click on bedding comparison. Ways to save money include:
 

  • Bedding Choice. By choosing an inexpensive type of bedding, you can make substantial savings.
  • Bulk Purchase. By buying in bulk you can cut your purchase costs by up to 70%. For example, large straw bales are far cheaper than small ones.
  • Bulk Delivery. If you have storage room, it is cheaper to take one large delivery than multiple small ones. In many cases, the delivery charge for one large delivery is less than what you would spend on fuel if you have to make multiple small pickups using your own car and a trailer.

Food

Grass is the cheapest source of food. For most horses it is also the best.

If you need to buy food, a good indicator of the cost is weight. A horse needs to eat about 3% of its body weight each day (e.g. a 500 kg horse needs 15kg of food). Costs of food vary from region to region, but as a rough indicator:

  • Hay. At about 10 cents per kilogram, the cheapest alternative after grass.
  • Grain. Grain comes in at about 25 cents a kilogram. However, you will need to buy a grain crusher (about $200 used) to crush the seeds before feeding them to the horse, as uncrushed grain cannot be properly digested by horses (much of it just passes through). However, given the cost of food over the long-term, it is much cheaper to buy a grain crusher than purchase musli.
  • Musli. A number of speciality Musli products are available at about 70 cents a kilogram. Although generally higher quality than using your own grain mixture, it can quickly become very expensive if used in quantity.

You may wish to discuss your food regime with your local vet, as suitable foods depend somewhat on the horse. Older horses with dental issues may not be able to eat enough grass and hay and consequently require an energy-dense food such as Grain or Musli. Likewise, certain breeds (e.g. heavy draft horses) may need energy-dense foods. Some horse breeds are prone to laminitis (a serious and potentially permanent hoof disease) if they have food which is too rich for them; check with your vet on a suitable feeding regime to avoid this. Consequently, you may be limited in terms of what foods are suitable for your horse.

If you don't have enough grassland, renting an ajoining field may be a low-cost source of cheap grass. If you use hay, large bales are normally half the price or less per kilogram (or per pound) than the small bales. In all cases, one can normally get a discount for buying in bulk (even buying four sacks of musli may give one a small discount as opposed to buying them individually). Some point get together with other horse owners to make a single much larger order of food (or bedding) in order to get even better bulk discounts.

Saddle and Tack

I good used saddle can often be found  for a quarter of the price of a new saddle. The reason for this is that people seem to have a strong preference for a good looking saddle rather than one that has scratches and is showing cosmetic wear. However, a bit of surface wear does not affect the soundness or useability of a saddle, so if you don't care overly about how it looks (your horse certainly won't), then a used saddle is a good way to save money.

If you are purchasing a used saddle direct from the owner (rather than a store), you can often negotiate some extras (e.g. stirrups, briddle & lead, saddle rug, etc.) to be included in the price.

Wormers, Minerals and Salt, Insect Sprays

Although these are not major cost items, one can save money by shoping around. Check out the internet and also speciality shops for the best deals. Here in Europe a dose of wormer costs about 40 euros, but in the USA it is under $10. As 3 wormers per year, we always ask visitors from the USA to bring us over some tubes as it saves us about 100 euros per horse per year (check that you will not have a customs issue if you bring over large quantities).

We used to use a lot of insect repellant for our horses, which over the course of a summer can cost a small fortune (the most effective sprays are also the most expensive). Since we started using fly sheets, we need far less insect repellant and found that the fly sheets were paid for before the first summer was over by the savings on sprays.

Vet costs

Vet costs are the big unknown. In a good year they may be only $100 (for inoculations) but in an unlucky year it can go into the thousands.

Consider buying insurance to cover vet costs. Although it is not cheap (e.g. $40 per month for basic cover), it can help protect you from major bills (e.g. $8000 if your horse gets a severe case of colic and needs an operation).

It also helps to keep a close eye on your horse. If you spot a problem quickly, before it becomes severe, the costs of treatment will likely be much less. For example, a case of colic found in the early stages can be treated for perhaps $200, a few hours later you may need specialist treatment ($1000 to $2000), a few hours after that perhaps surgery (up to $8000) and not many hours after that it is too late and you lose the horse. Colic is of course the extreme example, but even with relatively minor items (e.g. hoof abscess) prompt treatment is cheaper. Look at your horse each day (preferably each morning and evening) to check that it is eating, moving and behaving normally. Clean and examine the hooves frequently (preferably daily) to remove hard objects and to check for possible damage. If you go on holiday, either leave your horses with experience people or have an experienced person drop in and look at them once a day to check that there are no issues.

Learn how to handle minor issues yourself. For example, minor skin injuries do not require a vet, but they should be cleaned and disinfected. There are a number of good disinfectant sprays for horses, which will disinfect minor wounds and close they off and repell insects (insects on an open wound can spread disease or lay eggs). Likewise, minor spains can be treated by restricting their exercise or even confining the horse to a stall for a couple of days, with close observation that the sprain is getting better rather than worse.

Dental work can be done either by a vet or a dentist. In my experience the cost is about the same, but an experienced equine dentist is probably the better investment as he will have more experience in the dental area and consequently will likely make better decisions on what should be done, thereby avoiding expensive mistakes.

For routine work, try for a bulk discount. For example, if you have more than one horse, time it so they all have their inoculations at the same time, thereby avoiding additional callout fees.