The Cost of Keeping a Horse
By Eleanor Richards
It's on the internet, in newspapers, on television; it's the topic of conversation everywhere - the rising cost of living. Decisions have to be made - do we fill the car with gas or put food on the table?
For horse owners more difficult questions need to be answered. Can I afford to take care of my horse? Is my horse getting the care he needs? Is he being purposely abused because of lack of funds?
There are no easy answers, but here are some…
Do not get another horse. Don't breed your mare, don't take a "free" horse, don't go to an auction and come home with another one because he was "cheap".
I know this is hard. We think our mare would raise a beautiful baby. Our hearts want to rescue the unwanted horse. The auction horse might be sold for more money (but probably not).
Acquiring another horse will only make life harder for you and your current horse. The economy will probably get worse before it gets better. Think with your head - not with your heart when it comes to getting another horse. Learn to say "no".
If you have an extra stall and the room, think about boarding. Boarding a horse will give you that extra horse (if you really want one) and if properly managed, a little income. Boarding may give you a new friend, someone with whom to ride and the opportunity to help another horse lover.
Before deciding to offer board you must sit down with a paper, pencil and calculator. You need to figure expenses for the care of one horse for one month. This exercise will also show how much your own horse is costing you each month. You may be in for a shock. (You may also want to hide the worksheet from your spouse!)
Let's look at some numbers.
Coastal Bermuda grass hay in southern Texas is approximately $8.50 for a sixty pound bale. A 1,000-pound horse may eat as much as 22 pounds a day (I'm using the high end, the low end may be 15 pounds a day - it depends on the horse and quality of the hay). It will cost $3.30 a day to feed a 1,000 pound horse 22 pounds of hay. ($102.30 for a month with 31 days.)
A note about the hay - our goal is to give our horses the best care. This means not feeding two flakes of hay in the morning and two flakes at night. The best care means providing hay in the amount and quality the horse needs…regardless of the cost.
A balanced commercial mix designed for the horse's age, activity level, forage quality and fed according to the feeding directions is required. If the hay is of good quality and fed in sufficient amounts, very little grain should be needed. The minimum amount stated on the feed tag may be enough.
Currently a balanced commercial product designed for a healthy adult horse at a low activity level (ridden lightly) can be purchased for approximately $12.00 per 50 pounds. The feed tag recommends a minimum of five pounds per day for our 1,000 pound adult horse. The cost of the grain for one day will be $1.20. ($37.20 for a month with 31 days.)
If the boarded horse is going to be kept in a stall bedding must be part of our expense sheet. The most popular bedding is bagged shavings purchased from the local farm supply store. Currently a bale is running approximately $7.00. (There are discounts for purchasing large quantities.)
The amount of shavings used for one horse will vary. Some horses are terrible at keeping a neat stall. We'll use the high end and figure an average of five bales a week for our boarded horse, which equals $140.00 per month in baled shavings.
If you have access to bulk shavings there can be substantial savings. Make sure the bulk shavings are safe for horses. Check with the supplier to insure there is no black walnut or other toxic wood being used at the mill.
One thing most people overlook when boarding horses is labor. I'm going to calculate one hour a day for the care of one boarded horse. This does not include exercise, removing blankets, holding the horse for the farrier or any other extras. The 2008 federal minimum wage is $5.85 per hour. Labor to care for one horse for one day will be $5.85. $181.35 for a month with 31 days.
Many people who board horses do not calculate labor because they figure they are doing the work for their own horses. But there will be extra work generated by the boarded horse.
The cost of caring for one horse for one month will be approximately $460.85.
The $460.85 will not cover the farrier, veterinarian visits, the feeding of supplements or any extra labor. It, also, does not include manure pick-up, eletcric, water, mortgage payments, taxes or insurance. Depending on where you live the price of hay, grain and shavings may be lower or higher.
Turning the horse out for part of the day or offering a turnout area with shelter may lower the expenses. If you grow your own hay or have plenty of safe well-managed pasture the expenses may also decrease.
It is also possible to lower expenses by feeding cheap low quality feed (this includes the hay) and not enough of it. You can also get stingy with the bedding, neglect cleaning the water buckets and clean the stalls sporadically. But if you do, your boarder may be calling me because their horse is losing weight and has a "dull" look.
I'm afraid, with the current economy; the days of properly caring for a horse for less than $200.00 a month are gone.