Many of us are struggling with the rising costs of care, equipment and necessities, such as feed, for our horses and ponies, particularly at present, so it’s a good time to try to knuckle down your equine finances.
There are over a million equines in the UK, owned by all walks of life. The Covid-19 pandemic and difficulties with household finances due to increasing costs and restrictions on working have meant that equine charities in the UK have been overrun by welfare cases due to owners not being able to afford to look after their animals adequately. Not always through neglect, but more frequently through people meaning well but not being able to afford to feed or care for their horses as they could have done previously. However, charities only have limited spaces and must prioritise welfare and rescue cases, meaning they have limited spaces for animals whose owner’s simply cannot afford their care.
Here are some ideas and suggestions to cut the ever-increasing costs of keeping horses, without detrimental effect to their well-being or welfare.
- It is important for anyone considering taking on a horse to fully consider all of the costs involved. It is also important to consider the re-homing possibility of the animal in the event that you are no longer able to look after it. It is also worth considering any issues the horse or pony has and if these will incur additional costs, such as ongoing health issues.
- Plan your outgoings in relation to each of your animals- you will roughly know when costs will be incurred such as shoeing, vaccinations, worming and so on- and should be able to plan finances effectively to allow for payment of these items. Unfortunately, some costs, such as vet bills, can come out of the blue which is why it is important to either have adequate insurance in place or to have a regular savings programme each month whereby you put away a little at a time to be used in the event of an emergency.
- If you have regular outgoings such as livery, feed bills, lessons, then take a look back at your expenditure over recent months and this should give you a good idea of where a majority of your money is spent and will allow you to plan for future months and see where costs could be cut.
Cutting costs on the keep of a horse or pony is not easy, but there are some areas where savings can be made…
- The majority of horses and ponies can survive most of the year on a forage-only diet, providing the grass is of good enough quality and in plenty enough supply. It is important to make sure grazing is not overstocked and is well managed. If necessary, vitamin and minerals can be added to their diet by way of field licks – these are fairly inexpensive and the cost of which can be shared between horse owners whose animals share a field- or a feed supplement if you do feed an additional portion of hard feed.
- If hay is needed, it is more beneficial to buy more expensive, good quality hay, than cheaper hay from previous years as you will end up feeding more of this to get the same nutritional benefit. Consider bulk buying hay and getting it delivered, or buying large bales which often work out cheaper. Consider bulk buying with other liveries to reduce costs and the more you order, the more you are likely to save.
- Weight taping and condition scoring will help you keep an eye on your horse’s weight and will give you an indication of how they are getting on with their feed rations. Some feed companies, such as Spillers® will come out for free to weigh your horse and advise on the best feed to maintain optimum condition. This is well worth doing and you usually need a minimum of 6 horses to be weighed for them to come out. However, some riding clubs do organise these independently for those who are not able to have them at their own livery yard due to a lack of numbers.
- Ensure you are feeding the correct amounts. If supplements are needed, consider buying the human equivalent; 1kg of salt in the supermarket is exactly the same as that you’d buy in a feed store, just much cheaper. Same with oils, 1 litre of vegetable oil in a supermarket works out much cheaper than equine-specific oils from a feed shop.
- Consider buying in bulk, many feed shops will offer a discount if you order in bulk so why not group with other liveries and make large orders, often these will be delivered as well which will reduce your fuels costs but having to collect it.
- There are a huge amount of bedding types on the market and this is ever increasing. However, even for virtually the same products, the costs and quality do vary tremendously. Some of the cheaper options, such as straw are cheap to buy, but not very economical if your horse is particularly dirty. Take a look at what other options are available and work out of there is any saving to be made by changing the bedding type.
- Rubber matting, although an initially expensive outlay, can cut costs in the long run as it reduces the amount of bedding you require, and some clean horses can do on just a sprinkle of shavings or straw. This would also save time as well by not having a whole bed to muck out on a daily basis.
- Some people even give away products that can be used for bedding for free- such as shredded paper or wood shavings. Try looking up local businesses that may have a surplus supply and get in contact with them. Even if they can only supply the odd bag here or there is can save you a few pounds every now and then.
3. Livery Costs
- One of the largest costs for horse owners is generally livery which is usually payable on a weekly or monthly basis and can sometimes run into hundreds of pounds a month by the time various add-ons are taken into account.
- Review the facilities and services on offer to check that you are getting the most benefit out of everything you are paying for. If your horse is being cared for by someone else, on a part or full livery basis, see if there is any scope to reduce this by doing more of the care yourself.
- If items are provided within your livery- such as hay, bedding, and feed, ensure there is no way that these costs can be reduced. It is shame to be tied in to having these products if you can buy the same yourself elsewhere for less money.
- When you go on holiday or are ill, many yards charge for additional horse care. Many offer reductions if booked early so check this. Also find out if it may be cheaper for you to employ an external freelance groom to care for your horse while you are away, if this is something your yard owner would permit.
- Many horses are part stabled and this is what contributes to huge costs, not just the stable but the bedding, hay, rugs and so on. Consider if your horse could live out permanently and if there are any suitable yards nearby. Many grass livery yards now offer good facilities such as schools, tie-up areas, and emergency stables so it is worth looking around as this is often around half the cost of stabled livery.
4. Consider a Sharer
- Many horse owners could do with a hand every now and then with riding and horse care. Many owners are turning to sharing their horses on a part loan basis to help with this and to help cover costs. Usually, you would permit the other rider to have free access to the horse for a set number of days per week, and on those days they would be responsible for the horse’s day-to-day care. The usual contribution for this, depending on the horse and facilities available at the yard is around £25 per week.
- Do bear in mind also, that if you have a sharer, this is someone who will know the horse, and may be able to cover whilst you are away on holiday to reduce your livery costs. You will, of course, need to check the rules regarding this with your livery yard as there may be additional costs incurred for sharers or restrictions on this for the yard.
- You could also consider putting your horse on working livery at a suitable establishment which means they would be used by a riding school or equestrian centre, either for lessons or hacks, for a set number of hours per week. Usually, this is only 3 or 4 days per week, which would allow you to ride the remainder of the time, and often weekends are left free allowing the owner to compete should they so wish. Arrangements for this can vary between yards but generally working livery includes care as well and can be at a vastly reduced rate compared to other livery options.
5. Work with Other Liveries
- Like the earlier suggestions about bulk buying feed and hay, this can be used in other areas of horse ownership too. Why not bulk buy wormers, or book vets, farriers, dentists and so on who are all likely to reduce costs of they come out to more than one horse.
- Rather than buy new equipment, especially for items only needed short term, see if you are able to borrow or loan items from other liveries, and be happy to return the favour if needs be. As long as things are well looked after this can be a good arrangement and can reduce the costs of buying items yourselves.
- See if you are able to swap yard duties with other liveries, perhaps if they are there in the morning they can save you time going to the yard by turning your horse out for you, and you can return the favour a different day. You could even come up with a rota and regularly share duties. You would, however, need to check this is permitted by your yard especially iof they offer these services.
- Sharing transport is always beneficial as well. There is no point taking separate transport if you are going to the same show. Often people will share lifts for a contribution towards the fuel which can work out more cost-effective for both parties than taking two separate lorries or trailers, plus you are then there to help each other out if needs be.
6. Vet Care
- Routine veterinary care will reduce the likelihood of larger, more costly problems in the long run. Make sure your horse is adequately vaccinated for both Equine Influenza and tetanus, and ensure they are wormed or worm tested regularly, in line with a worm management program and that all horses on your yard are following this programme too.
- Vets will also split the visit cost between parties, and many vets now offer a free call out for over a set number of horses seen on one visit. Find out when other horses on your yard are due vaccinations and so on and it is always an idea for everyone to try to use the same vet which increases the likelihood of being able to share callouts.
7. Farriery Care
- Ask your farrier if your horse requires the shoeing it has currently. Many horses and ponies can make do with just front shoes, and some can make do with being barefoot. There are more and more farriers these days who specialise in barefoot, making it an option even for competition horses.
- Also, if your horse outgrows the shoes before they are worn down, most farriers will refit the existing shoes which will often reduce the cost by a small amount.
- The costs between farriers can vary greatly so it is important to take a look at the local options and get feedback from other horse owners. Sometimes it may be worth spending a little more on regular care than cutting costs and risking other issues with the feet in the long run.
8. Restrict Purchases and Shop Around
- Don’t be dazzled by new products or feeds on the market. Fully consider whether your horse needs things before purchasing. Ignore any flashy marketing and be realistic.
- Look after equipment, keep it clean and stored well and this will reduce the need to replace items so often. As suggested earlier, consider borrowing item from friends and fellow liveries rather than buying them.
- When you do need to buy new things, consider buying second-hand. Websites such as eBay offer second-hand and discounted good often cheaper than you can buy them in the shops. And websites such as Facebook often have local pages for second-hand horsey items or swaps.
- Many areas now hold equestrian car boot sales where you can sell old and unwanted items and buy new and second-hand items. Don’t be afraid to haggle either as you can often find yourself a bargain.
- Many yards now ask for insurance proof. Reduce your insurance costs by shopping around. Many companies will happily reduce costs to some extent over the phone to secure your business, especially if you advise you have had a similar quote from one of their competitors. Also if you are buying online, you can see exactly what is covered in your insurance and can reduce this dramatically by varying options on the policy.
- If you are not worried about recouping the cost of your horse in the event of death or loss, and are more concerned about ensuring they are covered for vets fees, consider reducing the amount they are insured for as this can heavily reduce your policy amount. There are more requirements also for horses insured for more than £5000, such as the requirement for vetting. If this is the case and your horse is over this value, consider reducing the amount they are insured for and these items will not be a necessity.
- You can often specify the veterinary cover you would like and also the excess, the higher the excess, the lower your policy will be but bear in mind that this excess will be payable on every claim that may be encountered.
- Make sure you insure for the correct level of activity. There is no point insuring your pony for point to pointing if it is a field companion, similarly if uninsured for the correct level of activity you may find yourself uninsured to compete at certain events.
10. Training and Competing
- Consider joining a riding club. For a small annual fee- usually, around £20 or £30- many offer subsidised lessons and training that, independently, would be more expensive. They also often organise group events, such as cross country schooling, which costs a lot less than going on your own and is more fun! It’s also a good way to get to know other local horse owners.
- If you want to have a lesson or hire facilities, such as a school consider inviting friends. As well as the possibility of being able to share the lift, the cost of hire or lesson can be split.
- If you are entering competitions, look at those closer to home to save on fuel. Make sure you get entries in early as many often add at least 50% onto class fees for entries on the day, and you always risk arriving and your chosen classes not having room.
11. Do Not Scrimp on Essentials
- There are some essential areas of horse care where corners should never be cut. These are the fundamentals of responsible horse ownership. What may seem like good savings at the time can put the horse’s welfare at risk and can run the risk of much heftier bills in the long run.
- Always ensure your horse gets veterinary care as and when needed. Ensure vaccinations are up to date. Do not try to diagnose or self-treat yourself, by all means get a second opinion from a more experienced person on your yard but if you are in any doubt about the seriousness of any injuries or symptoms make sure you call a qualified vet at the earliest opportunity.
- Make sure you use a fully registered farrier. Do not allow anyone to deal with your horse’s feet unless they are fully qualified. Even the incorrect trimming of a hoof can lead to lifelong problems so avoid these at all costs.
- Repairs to damaged equipment, and property- such as fencing- are vital and must not be overlooked to safeguard the security of the property, and reduce the risk of injury to people or animals.
- Ensure your horse is insured at all times. Even if you follow the advice given above, your horse will still be insured adequately against public liability and vet costs so ensure this is in place at all times.
Overall, there are many areas where money can be saved just by simply stepping back and taking an outsider’s perspective of your spending. Try keeping a record of your equine spending over the course of a month, and see where this can be reduced if possible. Sometimes the smallest changes can add up to a good saving with little effort. . Even if only a fraction at the time, over a horse’s lifetime, especially if you own one or more, this can seriously add up.
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