The Ride of Your (Mid)Life, Part IV: Show Me the Money, Honey

In Part IV of her mini-series on considerations for the mid-life rider, Penny Hawes discuss the financial realities of horse ownership.


You’ve waited your entire life for this – you’re finally getting your own horse. You’ve worked hard, raised a family, and now you’ve got the time, you’ve got the money – this is it – your dream is about to come true!

It might be wise to take a break on the celebrating to make sure that you’re prepared financially for this new chapter in your life.

You probably don’t need me to tell you that horseback riding isn’t a poor woman’s sport. Look at any “horse for sale” ads. A 10-year-old horse that’s safe on the trails costs more than a luxury cruise; and you could buy a loft apartment in Manhattan for less than you’d pay for anything that’s got some serious competition history (and the pretty blue ribbons that go with it).

The only way to make a small fortune with horses is to start with a large one…

Often, people make the mistake of thinking that the check you write to purchase the horse is the one that will put your bank account (and your spouse) into a tailspin. Get over that hurdle, and it’s clear sailing! Sadly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Once you’ve purchased your horse, don’t put away your check book! You’ll have services and fees including the commissions, the pre-purchase exam, your trainer’s fees (for going to ride the horse to make sure it’s not a fire-breathing dragon that will attempt to kill you as soon as your foot is in the stirrup)… Oh, and don’t forget the shipping to get said four-legged gold mine to his new home.

“Saving money” by keeping your horse at home

Once you’ve written all of those checks and gone to have drink, you figure the worst must be over — you’ll be saving money by keeping your horse at home. Umm… I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s a little like saying you’re going to cut your grocery bill by switching from imported caviar to domestic.

In addition to the obvious expenses, like barn, bedding, blacksmith, feed, fencing, and vet, you’ve got those little “extras” that people tend to forget, like a truck and trailer (useful for helping your brother-in-law move furniture and hauling a year’s worth of clothing, bedding and Ramen when your daughter heads to college).

On the home front, you’ll need to consider manure removal, increased property taxes, increased insurance costs and paying the neighbor’s teenaged daughter to feed the beast every time you have to travel for work (or decide that you’d like a weekend getaway).

You’ll also want to consider a chiropractor, massage therapist, and acupuncturist – for you! Our bodies aren’t quite as limber as they were in our teens, and mucking, carrying around bales of hay and five-gallon buckets of water take their toll.

Of course there are other costs – ones you can’t put a number on, like not sleeping in on the weekends, getting the fisheye from your spouse when you come in from the barn while the aroma of “Eau de Cheval” wafts about you, and hiding the checkbook so all of those checks you wrote (and continue to write) don’t have to be discussed just yet.

These only add to the disconcerting discovery that your leg muscles suddenly lack the strength to carry you upstairs and your arm is too tired to lift a toothbrush to your mouth.

In case this list is making you totally rethink the idea of keeping your horse at home, I am, yet again, the bearer of bad news: boarding your horse could cost even more.


Saving money, time, and effort with full board… or not

For those of us who don’t have room to keep horse at home (they’re generally frowned upon in fourth-floor apartments), enter the perfect solution: the boarding barn!

Someone else lugs the water buckets, buys the hay and cleans the stalls. Your horse can have his flysheet on when he goes out in the summer and his turnout rug on in the winter. He’ll be fly sprayed, his hooves will be picked, and he’ll be around a dozen or so of his friends. Kind of like sending your kid to camp – it will be a great experience for everybody!

After you’ve discovered you could vacation in Monte Carlo for the price of just one month’s full board, you start looking for more affordable options. Maybe partial board or a co-op situation would be good. A few horse owners chip in to buy hay and bedding, you all take turns doing the work, and your horse gets a stall and turnout with a few buddies. That’s a great solution – except when your boss needs you to stay late to work on that proposal on your night to feed… or one of the other boarders isn’t a morning person and your quiet Saturday morning with your family is cut short when you receive the call pleading you to go and feed.

Before you decide that your retirement fund is going to cover less than a week’s worth of groceries by the time you actually retire, read on for a few tips to help keep you, your spouse, and your horse happy without breaking the bank.

One of the things you face as a potential (or current) horse owner is a lot of information about what you “must have.” Ranging from a $10 illuminated hoof pick to a custom saddle costing thousands – you’ll have multiple choices at multiple price points for each and every purchase.

First things first

Your job as a responsible horse mom (and someone who doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life eating Ramen), is to pick your purchases wisely, as in, have a plan. First priority is basic needs such as food, water and shelter.

If you’re going to board, list the reasons why you’re boarding so you can select between the locations and services on offer in your area. If you board because you don’t have the room for your horse at home but you’re retired and have a lot of free time – perhaps self-care board or a co-op situation is a good choice. On the other hand, if you’re a novice owner who’s still working, a boarding barn which offers lessons, training and a lighted ring might be the better choice. Remember – choose the option that fits your needs the best.

Sometimes domestic caviar is good enough

As you wade your way through tack catalogs with the glee you felt perusing the toy section in the Sears’ Christmas Catalog as a child, remember that sometimes good enough is good enough. The $300 bridle may be lovely, but the $100 one may fit your needs just as well.

Want to splash out and have a little fun? Go for needed items, like lead ropes and grooming bags, in your favorite colors. They’ll not only make you smile, they’ll be easier to identify if you’re boarding your horse.

Remembering the reasons you’re purchasing supplies and equipment will help you make wise choices. But if you’re looking for a new hoof pick and your grooming area is always a little dark, go ahead — spend the $10 for the illuminated one. After all, you’ve waited your whole life for this.


Penny Hawes is a midlife horse owner who still doesn’t have an illuminated hoof pick. She lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter and various quadrupeds. You can read about her horsey life (and check out her new coaching program) at

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