Cutting Cost of Horse Ownership in Tough Financial Times

In a May 2007 article entitled, Horse Experts See More Unwanted Horses, Abandonment, Neglect,” it was reported that “Some owners are dealing with hard times by abandoning their horses on federal land. Others are selling horses at auctions, and the animals end up being slaughtered in Mexico or Canada.” These unwanted horses, and the closing of slaughter houses in this country, have also caused the bottom to drop out of the horse market. Grade horses and registered horses are bringing much less at sales. And even though there are some excellent articles available on the Internet regarding the costs of keeping a horse, in the current turbulent economic situation, what horse owners really need are tips on how to cut horse maintenance costs in order to be able to keep their horses.

According to one eXtension response (faq/47), the annual cost of caring for each horse can easily be $500-$3,500 or more per year depending on confinement/pasture, feed, bedding, labor, veterinary care, etc., and that is not including emergencies. So what are some things a financially strapped horse owner can do to cut costs in these hard times? Here are some horse owner’s* and equine specialist’s tips for saving money:

Horses don't need blankets. Blankets make humans feel better. However, if you clip your horse, then, yes, put a blanket on him when it gets cold. Also consider blanketing if you haul during cold weather.

Board horses for other people. Not usually a profitable business, but you can set prices so that your own horse care is paid for by your boarders. If you are stall boarding your horse, consider pasture boarding if it is a less costly alternative in your area.

If you can, set up a composting pile. You may actually be able to make some money with your horse (yes, way). Local greenhouses and gardeners may be interested in buying it.

Some horses do very well on hay alone. No oats, sweet feed, supplements etc. Note that the hay has to be of sufficient quality to do this with your horse. Old hay that is low in nutrients could spell disaster. It really helps to educate yourself on what is good hay and what is bad hay. The best way is to send a sample of hay in to the LSU Forage Testing Lab to get an analysis before you buy it. This also helps you avoid buying poor quality hay for $10/bale. If it doesn't look/smell/test good, don't buy it. Sweet feed prices continue to rise. One average horse will probably go through a bag a week ($936/yr). Depending on the price of hay, the size of the bale and the quality of the hay, the cost for feeding hay alone may be more than the sweet feed. Some higher priced pelleted feeds are a better value because you can feed much smaller amounts for the increased nutritive value.

As reluctant as one horse owner was to recommend it, electric fencing might save money. Bored horses tend to lean over fences, pushing them to their limits. The best fencing in the world is the one that they never touch (or only touch once.) Unless the fence is the only thing separating your horse from a highway, you can turn the charger off sometimes for days. When you see the horse starting to lean against the fence to get fresh grass, turn it on. The horse will soon quit trusting the fence, even when it appears to be off. This can save on utility costs.

Buy hay in bulk. This, of course, requires the ability to store it. Most dealers won't say "If you buy 100 bales, it's less money." Like all things, the price can be negotiated - it doesn't hurt to ask. In an area where hay is premium, they know that they can sell it to the next person, so they are typically very strict on their price. Some dealers let you get it out of their fields for less money.

Not really a money saving note, but have several suppliers and rotate through them. Don't rely on just one. If he's out of town for two weeks or he's out of hay, it's easier to go down your speed dial list to the next one than try to find and build a relationship with a new supplier. Don't try and play them against each other. . .they all know each other and talk on a regular basis.

Always check the hay for mold. Although they will eat it, horses cannot tolerate moldy hay. Avoid the temptation to buy the large round bales, unless it has been stored out of the weather and you can also store it out of the weather. Round bales can be a source of food poisoning from contamination if the bales have gotten moldy sitting out in fields. Cows have the ability to process moldy hay, but not horses, due to their simple stomachs.

Hoof Care
Do some research and explore barefoot as an option for your horse. It is cheaper than shoes. Learn to trim your own horses’ feet. A rasp is inexpensive, and you get better at it the more you use it. Also, if you must shoe, consider putting shoes only in the front, where the horse bears 60% of its weight.

Have the soil tested before you fertilize the pasture so you will only spend money on the nutrients that are needed. Fertilizing makes best use of the native grasses or improved grasses. Spray weeds with herbicides early in the season to keep them from competing. Plant ryegrass for winter grazing, and fertilize it generously with nitrogen, but limit grazing to a couple of hours a day. Remove horses to prevent trampling. If you leave them on it full time, they will ruin it in a matter of weeks.

Rodeo and Horse Show Participation
Continue to participate if you can afford to support the organization or event. Just be more selective.

Tack Maintenance
Keep tack clean and in good repair. It will last for years if it is cleaned and oiled regularly, and repaired quickly if it breaks. Instead of buying new, consider buying good used equipment.

Trailer Pool
Consider hauling with a friend or neighbor, if you are both going to the same trail ride or event. Fuel is one of the greatest expenses for recreational events, so if you can reduce it by half, that is significant.

Keep your horse turned out as much as possible. First off, this makes the horse much happier than if it is kept in a stall, where boredom can lead to vices such as cribbing. Second, there are no stalls to clean, saving the cost of shavings/bedding and no one has to pick out stalls every day (time savings).

Pick and choose your vaccines. Horses do not need all the vaccines that are available, especially if they are not being hauled where they will be in close contact with other horses. Check with your local vet or supplier to see what the most threatening diseases are for your area. Also, if the owner is able to do the vaccinations her/himself, they can be purchased from vet suppliers for less money and the owner saves her/himself the vet’s trip fee.

Get your horse’s teeth checked at least once a year, as poor teeth will reduce feed efficiency. Serious injuries need immediate attention. Learn to check your horses’ heart rates, temperatures and capillary refill time to determine the extent of the injury. You don’t need a veterinarian for every scrape, scratch, limp, bruise, or sniffle. Horses heal very well with little human intervention. This is a HARD thing for us humans to do, though, when your horse is apparently hurt. Two or three weekend emergency vet calls where the horse is not seriously injured and the vet charges are $500 or more, will cure most horse owners of the desire to put the vet on speed dial. If you must go to the vet, take your horse TO the vet. This will save the vet's trip fee.

Research shows that tube worming is not more effective than paste worming, as long as the wormer gets into the horse. Although many popular websites recommend worming every two months, Dr. Denny French at the LSU Vet School cites research that indicates this can lead to more resistance from the parasites we are trying to control. Due to our weather patterns, he advises worming in January, then every three months, depending on the level of parasites your horses have. Moxidectin has shown excellent control for a three month period. Do not typically worm during the summer, since the heat will kill parasites during the hot months. Resume worming in early October when the weather turns cool again.

Horse rescue organizations nationwide are reporting that they are at capacity and cannot take additional animals. These are unusually hard economic times and it is important for horse lovers to enter into conversations via the web, in their horse owner organizations, or through their local county or parish Cooperative Extension Service to offer tips and to identify ways horse owners can cut costs. If you have found ways to cut horse care costs, then this is the time to share that information with others in the horse owner community.

Gloria T. Nye, Ph.D.
Family & Consumer Sciences Agent, St. Landry, St. Martin & Evangeline Parishes
LSU AgCenter, 1065 Highway 749, Suite A, Opelousas, LA 70570-0005
337-948-0561 (O) 337-948-0564 (F)

Howard J. Cormier, former Regional Equine Agent, Southwest Region
LSU AgCenter, 1373 Caffey Road, Rayne, LA 70578
337-788-7547 (O) 337-788-7553 (F)

*Acknowledgment to horse owner:

Kent Woodward, Waypoint Farm, Inc., Timberlake, NC
1/7/2009 2:47:45 AM
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