It's not news that finances figure heavily into horse ownership. It's no surprise that the current economic situation is weighing on horse people more than most. Horses are not cheap. They're often free, but we in the horse world laugh at "free". Even free horses are expensive to keep. Riding is an expensive sport, period. What has been unusual has been the incredible growth spurt in the industry in the past fifteen or so years.
When the economy is good, people spend more on hobbies and activities. Horses can soak up money like bedding soaks up the stuff the horses leave behind. I don't know whether there has been research to define it, but I'm going to guess that the health of the economy can be measured by the horse world. From owning horses to betting on them, and from taking lessons to showing, disposable income aimed at the business end of horses causes that end to flourish and more and more people to join in the rush for our cash.
This may be a great time to buy a horse if you have lots of cash, a solid job that isn't in danger of dematerializing, and a death wish. There are literally tons of horses on the market for a fraction of their former prices. If you have the wherewithal to help out a desperate owner by giving his equine buddy a good home, jump on in with both boots and feel good about yourself while you play.
If, however, you own a horse and are struggling to make ends meet, don't bet the farm that someone will offer you top dollar for your pal, and don't take food out of the mouths of your babes to keep that horse life of yours afloat. Be resourceful! It's what horse people do best.
- Get another job. That's an obvious first step. There aren't many great jobs available, but barn help is almost always a necessity. Post signs at the supermarket and tack and feed stores and take on barn-sitting jobs on the weekends. Work off lessons if you can. Work off some or all of your board. Work at a commercial farm for hay to feed your animals. Offer a feed pick-up-and-delivery service for a modest price that will cover gas and maybe earn you feed from the store.
- Barn-sit for folks who actually have the money to own horses and still go on vacation or indulge in serious illnesses.
- Half-lease your horse to another rider.
- Buy more horses and offer them as leases for enough to cover your expenses and theirs (be sure to check your farm insurance before you try this).
- Fire your barn help and look for someone who will work in exchange for riding time or board for their horse.
- Learn to braid, groom, or hand-walk horses and post a sign for those services. Even in this economy, there are still show barns where you might come in handy.
- Offer your horse to a lesson barn in exchange for his board and some riding time for you, just be aware that you will lose some control over his use.
Think! If you're smart enough to outsmart an animal that could kill you in a swipe, you can come up with creative ways to earn the right to keep him around and give him another shot at you.