The Debt Free Equestrian: Success in the Show Ring & in Your Budget

With the costs of going to a horse show seemingly mounting every year, is it possible to stick to a show schedule while staying debt-free? Meagan DeLisle argues yes.

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.

Owning a horse while you’re fighting to get out of debt is hard. Competing a horse while you’re fighting to get out of debt is harder. Show expenses rack up and something new always seems to pop up out of nowhere. I knew when I purchased my horse that my intention was to show and work my way up through the levels, but when my goal to become debt free became equally as important I knew there was going to have to be compromise.

That’s the problem, most equestrians do not like to compromise — especially when it comes to expenses related to their horse.

And in some areas, you shouldn’t. You should never sacrifice quality care in exchange for a little savings, but that is where you have to put your big girl/boy undies on and make tough decisions, because there ARE things you can cut/reduce/save on but you won’t WANT to. Making those decisions are the true reflection of a disciplined equestrian.

Showing is one of those areas you can toy around with in your budget. By selecting which shows you want to attend and preparing for them in advance, you won’t be hit with any accidental tack shop splurges along the way.

Expected Expenses (and the Unexpected)

When I sat down to make this list for the first time last year, I almost wanted to throw up. Every time I walked away from the pen and paper, something else popped up into my mind that needed to be factored in. Here are a few of the obvious and not-so-obvious that you should take the time to research.

  • Class fees
  • Office fee
  • Medic fee
  • Schooling fee
  • Coaching fee
  • Trailering fee
  • Stall (for yourself and a split for the tack stall)
  • Shavings
  • Hotel (for yourself and a split for your coach)
  • Food
  • Horse care expenses
  • Braiding/banding/show prep
  • Emergency vet visits
  • Emergency farrier visits

The list goes on and on. I only recently added emergency vet and farrier onto my list to add into my horse showing budget after Joey tossed a shoe at our last show and I had to pay the on-call farrier a whopping $125 for him to be shod (compared to the $65 I pay normally at home). The unexpected may not happen every time, but it will happen and thankfully I had a little extra cash in my envelope that day to help me cover that expense.

Seriously dude, you’re cute and all but please keep your shoes on UNTIL we get home so that we don’t get hit that that on call farrier bill again… Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Speaking of envelopes, let’s delve into that idea a little bit.

The idea of the envelope system is an old one that the almighty financial guru Dave Ramsey preaches to his listeners that I soaked up like a sponge. By dividing all your money up into separate envelopes, you regulate how much you can and can’t spend in that area. Immediately I knew that the only way I could afford to show was by ensuring I didn’t over spend when I got there — which is easy to do.

With all of the vendors and extras that are set up at shows, its too easy to add a division you didn’t originally plan and find yourself in a pinch. I am a “spur of the moment” decision maker and often fell victim to this mentality when at shows.

So I was on board with the envelope idea. Yes, I get crazy looks from the show staff because I pay for EVERYTHING in cash, but watching my money dwindle away keeps me a bit more humble about the fact that I can afford to show.

And when I say I could afford to show — I really couldn’t.

Not on my base income, that is. Thankfully our household income has gone up here recently but when I first started this program I found myself so invested into becoming debt-free that all my spare money was being tossed at bills, leaving me with pennies left to spare.

Easy enough, I’ll just find some supplemental income. It sounds easy when you say it, but I am an equestrian so I know the exact complaint each and every one of you reading this are going to have; “but if I get a second job, I will never have time for my horse!” How do I know this is true? Because I was that same person in the beginning of this journey.

Trust me, I know busy. If you look up busy in the dictionary, there is a photo of me beside with an ever-increasing odometer on my now paid-for car. Prior to our move I woke up every morning and drove one hour west to work, then on Tuesday and Thursdays I drove one hour north to my barn to ride, followed by one hour south to get back home. Pile on not one but two side jobs and you will find that I am lucky to find some time to squeeze in a meal or two here and there.

While showing horses is a HUGE part of my life, my main priority will always be my husband and family. Of course, as I am a natural animal hoarder our family has continued to grow from two dogs and a cat to three dogs and two cats… oops. Photo by Norman Swafford Photography

Yet, I do it and I have time to ride and be a semi-decent wife, daughter, and dog mom. You just have to balance your workload. For me, I found side jobs I could do from home and a lot of equestrians are having success in remote positions or direct marketing sales. If you go on Indeed’s website you can search their thousands of job listings for part time work from home employment, most of which you can set your own schedule for. This is your gold mine as a equestrian in need of some extra cash.

So now when I venture off to shows, it is only on the income that I bring in from my side gigs. How much I get to show depends on how hard I hustle. I use the opportunities presented by my additional employment as a challenge and try to out-earn what I made the month before. When you are hungry and passionate for something, your opportunities are endless.

So… now what?

So you have some money saved and you have been on fire with bringing in extra income, but now what is the next step? For me, I sat down with my barn and looked at our show schedule for the year and determined WAY ahead of time which shows I wanted to attend and made up a mock expense sheet for each one. Some of the shows, like the one day shows, are much cheaper which allowed me to stash the leftover money from that month for the following month which might have a more expensive show. Being able to have an idea on what my upcoming costs were helped drive me forward to bring in as much supplemental income as I could so I didn’t have to pull out of a show for financial reasons.

Showing is definitely what makes me happy, but pulling out of a horse show because my finances are out of line DOES NOT make me happy. Having my cash on hand in an envelope where I can slowly watch it dwindle away definitely holds me more accountable for what I spend while at a show. Photo by Candy Jackson

If you are showing on the rated circuit and you have goals you want to meet such as qualifying for a certain end of the year show or award, plan your show schedule around those classes first. Then, if you later find that you have the additional funds to attend additional shows or enter additional classes you aren’t compromising your goals for the experience.

Sure, I may not get to stop at the tack store every time we go somewhere but I think the trade is worth it. I get to travel with my barn and compete with my best four-legged friend, which is a massive reward for all of the hard work I have put in. And the best part? I don’t go home from every show and continually peek at my mobile bank account in hopes that the show office won’t cash my check until my next pay check comes in.

I am free from worry while doing the thing I love most.

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