Caring for horses on a budget
Owning a horse is a major responsibility, and a significant investment of both time and money. Most owners do not generate income from their horse, but are intent on spending time with their equine companion. During tough economic times, horse owners need to explore and implement options to reduce costs.
There are several things horse owner can do to minimize costs associated with horse management:
- Housing. Healthy horses thrive outdoors and only require shelter from adverse weather, including excessive heat or cold (below 18 F), and freezing rain. Keeping a horse outdoors with access to a loafing or run-in shed saves the cost of building and maintaining a barn as well as labor expenses associated with stall cleaning. It is usually more cost efficient to keep a horse on the owner's property/farm compared to boarding. Boarding is necessary for some horse owners, but can be expensive.
- Cleanliness. Flies, mosquitoes, and ticks are responsible for a number of bacterial and viral diseases of horses. Reduce the risk (and expense) of these diseases by discouraging these insects and ticks in your horse's environment.
- Safety. Improving barn safety can prevent accidents and unnecessary injuries.
- Bio-security. To reduce the risk of some diseases, consider having visitors wash hands and change boots and clothing before and after handling horses.
- Breeding. Unless a mare or stallion has exceptional conformation and an outstanding performance record, planning a foal that realistically may be difficult to market is unwise and expensive.
Have a good working relationship with a veterinarian. It is important to determine the extent and financial commitment a horse owner can maintain. These decisions should be made prior to an emergency involving a horse. During an emergency, it is common for a horse owner to approve procedures one cannot really afford. Communicating the emergency plan to a veterinarian will help keep care and after-care affordable. There are many benefits of a yearly veterinary examination. Research has shown that taking an active interest, and being involved with the daily care of a horse results in a healthier horse and reduced veterinary care costs. Become familiar with horse vitals (temperature, heart rate, etc...) and normal behavior. Changes in baseline vitals and behavior are usually early indicators of illness. Learn to give intramuscular shots, oral medications, and basic leg wrapping techniques. Work with a farrier to set a hoof care schedule based on how much hoof the horse typically grows.
With feed costs rising, it is important to utilize feed efficiently. Nutrient requirements for horses depend on their physiological status (age, metabolism, weight) and their level of production (maintenance, growth, exercise, reproduction, and lactation). Most horse owners over feed their horses, leading to wasted money and unhealthy, overweight horses. Removing unnecessary grain from diets can lead to substantial savings. Regardless of the horse, forage should be the backbone of a horse's nutrition program and should comprise at least 50% of their diet.
During summer months, utilize pasture as an affordable way to meet a horse's nutritional requirements. Reducing costs associated with horse ownership takes hard work and some creativity. Most cost reducing opportunities fall in the area of preventative medicine, education, and taking on the responsibilities of horse ownership.