How much does it really cost to own a horse (With Real Numbers!)

BLD, Expenses, Horse Ownership

Disclaimer: everyone’s situation is different.  Board fees vary greatly depending on the type of services provided, hay costs fluctuate based on geography, and training fees depend on the experience of the trainer. I realize others may spend much more than I do, and many will spend a lot less. I wanted to share my own experience and expenses, and I’m not passing any judgment on anyone else’s situation or circumstances.

I’ve read articles in the past discussing the cost of horse ownership; however, they always spoke in potential expenses and estimates. Never real figures. Money is a sensitive topic and a lot of people are uncomfortable discussing what they spend for a variety of reasons. I wanted to share my own actual expenses, especially since I have owned multiple horses, and what I have learned from reviewing this info in detail. I have tried to be as accurate as possible. I know I’m missing some purchases, but the data below represents the majority of my equestrian related spend from 2014 through 2018.

Not counting the purchase price of my horses, I’m spending on average almost $20,500 per year. When you factor in the purchase price of three horses, I’m on track to spend over $150,000 by the end of 2019. This is a rather sobering thought and really made me stop and think. 

1. Is it still worth it?

2. Am I making the most of my riding and time with my horses?

The answer to the first question is a resounding yes. Unfortunately, the answer to the second question is a big fat nope, so I’m on the path to think more about what I can do to change that no to a yes. I’ve had some setbacks horse-wise, but a majority of the answer to question 2 rests on my shoulders. Stay tuned as I’ll be posting about these topics in the future.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the expense details.

In evaluating the numbers, it helps to have some background information on my horses. I have owned up to three horses at one time (Mario, Ray, and Ellie Mae), and am currently happy with only owning two – Mario and Ellie Mae. Mario (aka “Mar”) was purchased in February of 2014 and retired in May of 2016, Ray was purchased in July of 2016, Ellie Mae in August 2017, and Ray was sold in Nov 2017.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the purchase price of a horse is just a drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost of ownership. What may surprise new horse owners, though, is the extent of additional costs and fees. It boggles the mind of my non-equestrian friends that horses might need supplements, chiropractor adjustments, or visits from an acupuncturist. Or that my farrier budget is more than my friends’ own shoe budget.

I definitely suffered from My First Horse Syndrome when I first bought Mar. You can see in the graph above, the spikes in spend over the first two years were all over the place. In the beginning you will need more stuff – tack, grooming supplies, riding clothes, apparel for the horse, etc.  This is a given. I also believed I needed every single thing that someone else mentioned.  Like “Oh I have three blankets for my horse”, so I ran out and bought three blankets.  It turned out, Mar only needed two. I also felt compelled to personalize everything – just because it was possible. Lol Mar does have the nicest stuff – too bad he is retired and I feel it is bad luck to ride a different horse with saddle pads embroidered with Mario’s name.

The graph above adjusts to show the total monthly spend per horse. As I increased the number of horses, I was much more cautious of my equestrian spending habits. My average monthly cost is actually lower in 2018 with two horses than it was in 2014 or 2015 with just Mar.

I also learned some valuable lessons. Trying to keep a “manageably sound” horse sound enough to ride is pricey.  That maintenance doesn’t come cheap.  He has also needed to wear front shoes and front pads – even in retirement. My farrier bill is currently split 60% for Mar and 40% for Ellie.  Again, Mar is retired and this is just to keep Mar sound enough to be turned out. The poor guy just has the thinnest front feet!

Green horses can eat up your money too! When I had Ray, although there was little to no maintenance from a soundness perspective, I was spending more on lessons and training because he was green (and greener than I could handle without significant help).

The chart above breaks out my spend per category. I excluded board, lessons and vet bills from this chart. The details of those categories are in the table below. I was a bit overzealous on the supplements with Mar.  I was quick to pull the trigger and order supplements for any and all of his ailments. I have calmed down a bit since. Figure in 2015 I was spending almost twice on supplements (just for 1 horse) compared to what I spend in 2018 on two horses.

I started showing at local schooling hunter shows in the spring of 2014 through the fall of 2015. This definitely had an impact on my wallet.  Additional lessons, tack and apparel needed for showing, and extra grooming supplies quickly added up. I never did eventing or got seriously into dressage.  That would have only added to the tack expense. 

What I find especially interesting, I completely stopped buying the fun stuff (apparel, tack, horse apparel, and grooming supplies) in 2018. LOL Smartpak was probably really bummed out. Ellie required major training for behavioral issues when she first arrived in late 2017 and this was my primary focus. Plus, I was already well stocked on the essentials in the other spend areas (excluding supplements) and because I try to buy quality products when possible, they have held up pretty well. It is 2019 and I am still wearing the same breaches I bought in 2016 & 2017. Yay- they still fit!

I have always been very disciplined regarding tracking and budgeting (I was a finance major in undergrad). I wouldn’t have been able to evaluate my horse related spend without my monthly budgets. If you are interested, click here to check out our Equestrian Budget & Savings Planner.

The table below lists all of the details. A few notes to keep in mind. I didn’t stop taking lessons in 2018, instead it was included in my board and no longer broken out separately. It may look like I have spent less but cut out lessons – this is not the case. New horses always require more stuff, even when you think you have everything. There are visits with the saddle fitter to consider, tack that only fit your prior horse, and new grooming tools that are needed.

I would love to hear from you regarding horse budgets, spend, and any insights you would like to share! Has evaluating your own expenses caused you to change your riding habits? Thanks! – Kate