The Debt-Free Equestrian: How to Start

There’s a long-running joke in the horse world about how we might as well just feed the money directly to the horses… but it doesn’t have to be that way. Meagan DeLisle shares her experience of becoming a debt-free equestrian.

In this new series Meagan DeLisle shares her journey to financial freedom and how she pinched her pennies to become debt-free while owning a horse. Meagan and her husband were able to clear out all of their debts (aside from their home), all while Meagan continued to travel and compete with her horse Joey. It took creative strategy, a lot of dedication, and some nights of ramen noodles, but once that last payment was cleared Meagan knew she wanted to help other equestrians riding on the struggle bus. It isn’t an easy journey, but it is so worth it.

It has been a LONG road. As I hit that “make a payment” button for the LAST time on my car payment I couldn’t help but want to cry and scream and dance all at the same time. For the first time in a long time, I was free and I could see my dreams coming true sooner than I had ever hoped.

But it didn’t start out that way.

My journey to becoming debt-free actually started three years ago when my former horse fractured his splint bone shortly before my college graduation. I worked multiple jobs all through college in order to have a horse boarded at my college barn and still afford my own expenses, but that income barely left room for much to save (and why save when you can order Dominos every night?!). It was three vet bills later that I realized I was in over my head and couldn’t afford to give my horse the proper care he needed and so I retired him to my college barn where he would receive prestigious care and be able to teach many budding equestrians the basics.

Fast forward to this past November: I owned a horse again, was newly married and was scraping to get by. That is when my dad introduced me to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University which has been my toolkit for my debt free journey. I made some tough decisions like trading in my beloved truck and taking home a much more affordable and gas friendly car that I could pay off quickly. My husband and I sat down, set a budget and committed. While things were tighter, I actually felt wealthier because I had full control of my money. All the money we used to blow at fast food joints and on small things here and there vanished, allowing more money for savings and necessary purchases.

The day I purchased Joey was one of the happiest days of my life. While I wouldn’t have traded him for anything in the world, I can’t help but to think how much more pleasurable horse ownership would have been had I not had to balance all of my own personal debts on top of the expenses of owning a horse. Photo by Wayne DeLisle

One month in, I was hooked.

While becoming debt-free wasn’t always easy or fun, we did it (all on one income, by the way, as my husband’s only employment for all but two months of our debt-free journey was his farm) and now I can see the benefits of this “alternative” lifestyle in my equestrian life. I know it will be impossible to get everyone to understand or jump on board with this thought process — in fact I have had several argue with me as to why my beliefs are wrong. This is what worked for me, and it is my goal to share my journey with as many struggling equestrians as I can in hopes that it will encourage you to make the same choices I did and find your way to financial freedom.

So, if you are on board, prepare yourself. You are going to want to pull your hair out and possibly strangle me all at the same time, but when you make that final payment like I just did all of the sacrifices will be worth it.

Horse Ownership: Is Now the Time?

It doesn’t need to be said, but horses are expensive. To us, they are a need, not a want, but if you don’t already own a horse and aspire to one day here are a few things to help you evaluate if you are ready for horse ownership.

  • Do you have the horse’s full purchase price in cash, in hand, without having to rely on a loan?
  • Do you have three months of expenses stashed away in a safe or savings account for emergency purposes?
  • Do you have your own facilities where the horse can stay and the funds for your expenses such as feed, shavings, supplements, facility maintenance, etc.?
  • If not, have you found a facility at which to board your horse that you can afford in addition to your own expenses each month while still having extra funds for saving and spending?
  • Have you looked into insurance options and discussed whether or not you will be purchasing insurance for your horse?
  • Have you reached out to your local veterinarian and blacksmith to estimate what your basic costs (Coggins, vaccinations, teeth floating, lameness exam, farrier work, corrective shoeing, etc.) might be like?

If you answered no to any of these questions, I highly recommend pressing the pause button on your dream and taking a step back. Jumping into horse ownership feels romantic and dreamlike but it requires a lot of work and financial dedication to keep you afloat.

Unfortunately, now may not be the time for you to own a horse — but does that mean the world is over? No! There are plenty of lesson horses who need adoring riders and I found great success in sticking to anyone who owned horses like a leech during my period of horselessness. Photo by Monie Brehmer

As much as I LOVE horses, I will NEVER go into debt for one. I recently saw a young woman post on a Facebook page inquiring what all she needed for her first horse and I was appalled by the number of people who encouraged her to obtain a credit card for emergencies. You should never rely on a credit card as your “insurance” for when bad things happen. Being self-insured by having a stash of funds for the things that pop up unplanned is the best way to keep yourself financially intact when owning a horse — take it from someone who has experienced this first hand.

When you want to purchase a horse, your whole heart hurts and it feels like it will never mend until you have that horse in the barn where you can see it every day. The last thing you need to do is make a rushed decision to fill that hole and find yourself drowning under the responsibility.

Of course, I am going to advise you to become debt-free aside from your home prior to purchasing a horse, but many of you would balk at that (and I didn’t do it that way either! But that was my pre-financial stability stage and I struggled through the entire debt free process because of the additional costs of my horse). If you choose to not entertain the thought of putting off your equine dreams until your debts are zero, then I highly encourage you to save up the full purchase price of your horse plus three months of expenses prior to making that investment.

Scan over your budget and add up all of your current monthly expenses and subtract them from your income. Then subtract your expected monthly equine expenses from that money. If your budget comes to zero with no money left to save or throw at your debts, you either have a budget issue or an income issue. Find some ways to tweak a few categories in your budget or find some ways for additional income so that you can still stash cash away while paying your own bills and your horse’s bills.

Equine expenses are sneaky and can add up, especially if you are showing. Be broad in your budget. It is better to over budget and have leftover funds than to under budget and not be able to make your payments. Photo by Cassie Zimmerman

And remember, just because it isn’t happening now doesn’t mean it will never happen. I never in my life thought I would be able to save what I am saving now thanks to being debt-free, yet here I am. The positive thing about this journey and having to potentially wait to get a horse is that your passion will fuel you to push through the tough times.

You can do this and you will be thankful that you did. Fight like heck and make it happen.

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