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Horses are expensive…. are some tips to save $!

With all of the fall championship horse shows, we’re seeing riders and horses at their very best – turned out with the latest fashions, the shiniest boots, the coolest new helmets and jackets, and (one hopes!) the most beautiful, fit and happy horses. While all that takes time, money, and lots and lots of work by a whole staff of professionals who do it for a living, don’t let the continual emphasis on looks get you down. If your horse is healthy, happy and you are enjoying your barn time by focusing on the little things — you’re doing it right!  Autumn is a not only a good time to see championship equestrian competition, but right at home, it’s also a great time to save a little around the barn. Here’s some helpful hints!

Fall is the best time of year to buy your fly stuff for NEXT summer. Right now, many of the online tack shops are blowing out fly sheets and fly masks at bargain prices — do some shopping and compare prices and pick up a few for next summer. However, I don’t recommend buying fly spray or other chemicals at this time. Unless you have a proper storage place that is not going to have temperature variations usually these lose their potency if they sit for six to eight months in your tack room.

Take a good look at your deworming program and consider a fecal sample/worm count. Dover Saddlery is selling the kits online and my vet also provides the service. It’s a very good way to pinpoint your deworming to avoid using a product that won’t work (wasting money). Again, dewormers are usually priced pretty competitively online so if you need just a few dollars to fill your threshold order to get the free shipping, consider adding a couple of dewormers to the order.

Do you really need a new feed tub, muck tub, pitchfork, mounting block or other large item that will incur shipping fees if you order online? Consider waiting for these items and shopping at the winter trade shows, such as the Horse World Expos, Winter Fairs, etc. It’s often worth your admission price to purchase the larger things (often at show discounts) and take 15 minutes to carry them back to your car to take home,  rather than pay to ship them to your barn.

Check online and in your local horse magazines and periodicals for coupons. Here’s a great source:  Farnam offers monthly coupons, including one for $8.00 on a supplement! Speaking of supplements, shop – shop – shop! A friend of mine alerted me to a hoof supplement that actually contained more active ingredients than a popular top-end hoof supplement brand and it was about one-third less — so never avoid doing the math to see if you can save. Check “Retailmenot” for any coupon codes at any online equine retailer before you push the “pay” button.

We are getting into cooler weather and the grass is losing its nutritional value, so many people are now starting to feed more hay. It’s said that hay wastage often runs 25 percent or more in many stables. Take a good look at your storage, feeding practices, the way the horse eats the hay and where you feed it. I’ve done the math, and it’s actually cheaper for me to feed my horses in the barn in the stalls where I can avoid throwing hay on the ground or having them pull it out of racks outside into the mud. I do incur some more bedding expense but the savings on expensive hay is worth it. Have to feed outside? Consider the very inexpensive slow-feed hay nets and put a rubber mat under the net so that hay doesn’t fall into the dirt. Taking a few more minutes to load a hay net can save you many dollars over the winter! If you buy two, you can load one and leave it in the hayroom in your barn for quick morning feeding if you have to zoom to work – just switch out your empty one and hang the full one and when you get home at night and have more time, refill. I regularly (every other day) sweep up my hay room floor, then sift the hay with a pitchfork to keep the dirt out and put it in a clean wheelbarrow and feed it. If you do this on a regular basis the dropped hay will be fresh; don’t feed musty or moldy hay if its been laying on the floor awhile! Of course the best way to make sure your horse is getting the most from his hay is to make sure his teeth are floated; don’t overlook this very basic horse care item this fall.

Fresh, clean water is about the cheapest and most nutritious thing you can provide your horse. A good quality water tub will save money in the long run when it lasts through all seasons. Consider one that you can easily get a winter water de-icer in safely, yet one that you can clean. I dislike big heavy water tubs I can’t scrub and can’t tip over to clean; instead I’d rather clean more often and fill more often so that way I know they are drinking fresh water every day.

Hey, you’re heading into winter — and it’s almost time for sweaters and jackets and coats and blankets for the horses. If you’re like me, my budget never seems to be big enough for “new” anything. Take a good look at some unusual places like discount stores (Ollie’s, Big Lots, even some Dollar Stores, Walmart, Sam’s Clubs, etc.) for nice looking soft-shell jackets that will function well in the barn — you don’t need to pay $100 for an equine brand when you can find a really similar jacket for less than $30 at a non-horsey store! As for horse blankets, go to your social media! Ask your friends if anyone has something they’d like to sell (or trade) in the size you need and see what they come up with — you’d be surprised how well Facebook works sometimes to help you save money. And of course support your local tack shop, too, check to see what they have on sale and never forget to check the clearance corner. Before you leave, ask if they have an email list or provide any sort of frequent buyer program or coupon discounts or when they have their annual sale. Never hurts to be in the “know” when a good sale comes around.

Tack swap shopping!

Tack swap shopping!

Speaking of local, be on the lookout for local tack swaps and sales usually hosted by equine clubs. These are places to find bargains on used items that you may need but can’t afford to buy new. Consider shopping for your tall boots, soft-good items like blankets and pads, hard-good items like hay racks and tack room furnishings — and sometimes tack. Look carefully at everything used and make sure the condition is safe and do your homework before you go to the tack sale — if you’re looking for a new bridle, for instance, take a look at the catalog prices and qualities. That way if you see a nice used one you can compare the price. Depending upon condition, a used bridle (for instance) should be approximate 50% of the new price. I use that as a base and then examine it to see how good a shape it is in; if they are asking a bit more but it shows very little wear, reins may still have the wax on them, no bit grey on the hook stud ends, it is probably ok to pay up to 25% less than new price. If it has any wear, shows cracking or is a bit brittle, find a better bargain. A good cleaning or conditioning doesn’t always do the trick, and it’ll collect dust in your tack room, too. Condition is everything, that’s why it’s hard to buy used leather tack online, where you can’t feel it and touch it.

Your local farmer’s markets are probably winding down and boarding up for the winter — stop by and see if there are any apple “seconds” (those with spots or bruises) they would sell at a discount or give to you for the horses – this is a great treat as well as being juicy and tasty this time of year.

Now is the time to set up your manure pile for composting over the winter, too — within the guidelines of your nutritional management program (every state in my region has this information usually on the Department of Agriculture website). By spring if you’ve composted correctly you’ll have a good recycled source of fertilizer, or can sell or give away your compost locally for gardeners. I try to find a good level accessible spot that is not going to be wet but your states guidelines often will have laws about where and how manure piles may be set up so check the sources you have before you pick a spot.

Want to do something nice for your horse? Don’t buy those expensive horse treats! Bake your own! Here’s a recipe:

Rugby Cookies:

  • 1 cup uncooked oatmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup shredded carrots or apples
  • 1 ts salt
  • 1 tb sugar
  • 2 tb corn or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup molasses

Mix ingredients in a large bowl in the order they are listed. Make small balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Leave them in the oven until they are cool and they will harden and not crumble!

Enjoy the fall riding weather and stay happy with what you’ve made, created, saved or done yourself!

“Love means attention, which means looking after the things we love. We call this stable management.” — George Morris


— Holly