The only way to make a small fortune with horses is to start out with a large one, so the saying goes. As everyone involved in horses knows, equines are an expensive hobby and, unlike a set of golf clubs, cost just as much money when they are not being used as they do when they are being worked.
Having said that, there are ways to reduce the total yearly bill, and here are some strategies to cut costs in the coming year:
The majority of horses manage well on a forage-based diet and, if necessary, one vitamin and mineral supplement. A veterinary surgeon or nutritionist can advise whether your horse really needs additional feed or supplements.
Fortnightly weigh taping and body-condition scoring will help you monitor your horse's condition and health and could save you money. Donkey owners should be aware that horse weigh tapes are not suitable as feeding guides for their stock, so contact your vet or a donkey specialist for advice.
There are many different bedding products on the market so look into alternatives and decide what will work best for you and your horse. For example, although there is a high initial expense in fitting rubber matting, it can result in reduced bedding costs in the long term.
Buying shavings in bulk can be cheaper than bagged shavings, but you will need storage space. Some sawmills will sell shavings and sawdust at a cheaper rate if you come and collect it yourself.
Straw costs can vary from year to year but it is one of the cheaper bedding options and is often cheaper when bought in bulk.
Livery and location
One of the biggest costs for horse owners in towns and cities is the livery yard fee. Review the facilities for which are you paying. In short, be sure you need and use everything for which you are being charged. If you are paying for someone else to provide all or part of your horse's day-to-day care, could you do more yourself, even on a temporary basis?
Many horses can do well on permanent turnout, so it could be worth looking around for a suitable grass livery or renting a field, which can be even cheaper if it is shared with friends.
Longer turnout has several advantages over keeping your horse stabled. Firstly, horses are happier grazing outside than being kept in a stable, where boredom can lead to vices such as cribbing. Secondly, there is less laboursome mucking out, less expense on bedding and less time spent skipping out stables every day.
Look into sharing your horse with someone else or keeping the horse on working livery, where it will be used for lessons at the equestrian centre. Both of these options will reduce your workload and cost of livery.
Sharers can be found through the equestrian centre noticeboard, online forums and the local riding club.
If you share a yard with other people, why not club together to save money and time? Many feed, forage and bedding suppliers may offer reduced rates if they deliver in bulk. Ask veterinary surgeons, farriers and other professionals if they can reduce rates for group bookings. Save fuel by sharing transport whenever you can and work as a team with other owners to share daily chores.
Routine veterinary care
Discuss worming and feeding routines with your veterinary surgeon to make sure you are using the most effective and economical regimes. Design a targeted worming schedule based on faecal egg counts for best results.
Discuss the shoeing options for your horse with your farrier, as you may find your horse doesn't need to have a full set of shoes every time. If there is not much wear on the shoes, your farrier may be able to refit them. Hardy native ponies and cobs may not need to be shod on the hind feet or even at all if they have tough feet and do not work on hard surfaces.
Horses have simple needs. When money is in short supply, think carefully about what is essential for your horse's welfare and what is superfluous. Make sure you are not buying unnecessary supplements, rugs or equipment.
Looking after existing equipment helps it last longer, even if it starts to show its age. Leather tack will last a lifetime if it is properly cleaned, oiled and maintained, while rugs can be cleaned, repaired and re-proofed annually for as little as €20 each.
Buy some of your tack second hand and sell what you no longer need. Scan the classified adverts in the paper and check out websites for cheaper tack and equipment.
Buy generic products instead of brands; you don't have to pay for fancy packaging when the ingredients are the same. Become a label reader -- everything from wormer to medicated shampoo can be found in a generic form.
Use your skills
If you have your own clippers, offer a clipping service on a local basis. If you can turn out horses to a high standard, offer a plaiting and turn-out service. If you don't mind hard work, offer to muck out stables for a fee. Good riders can charge owners for schooling their horses, while good horses can be hired out for hunting, lessons and competition.