I can remember the first time that I really grasped the value of $20. I was 10 years old and had stumbled across the Breyer model of King Javalina. He was a bay Quarter Horse gelding, and was my dream horse come true in model horse form. He cost just over $20 (yes, this was many years ago!). I saved and saved for that model horse, and became my pride and joy – my very first Breyer.

It seems fitting that it was a horse that first defined my perception of money, as they’ve become the defining factor of it so many times since. I measured the cost of riding lessons ($40 back then!) in terms of Breyers, and when I got my first part-time job, I interpreted the hourly rate by how many hours I’d have to work in order to be able to pay for a lesson.

My parents had always told me that horses were expensive (and that’s why I couldn’t have one as a child), but I don’t think I really understood it until I found out that board at the stable where I rode was $400 per month. Face-to-face with that large sum, I understood what my parents’ concerns were. That was 20 Breyers a month. That was a lot of saving for my then-12-year-old self. And that wasn’t including farrier bills, vet bills, tack, supplies, and the million other random expenses that go hand-in-hand with horse ownership.

Somewhere between high school and college, I started to measure money according to riding lessons, and then according to monthly board costs. I became a horse owner, weighed job salaries against how much was left after covering my mare’s bills, and got my first taste of emergency vet bills. Gradually, horses changed how I viewed money.

Equine economics don’t always make a whole lot of sense. I’ll pinch pennies when it comes to purchasing clothes for my own wardrobe, but I’ll shell out hundreds of dollars for the farrier without blinking an eye. The same is true of grocery shopping; a $4 box of cereal seems outlandish, but a $20 bag of grain is no problem. My saddle cost more than my horse did. And yet, this all makes sense to me.

With time, I found that a bill for $100 no longer became the frightening thing that would have sent my high school or college self into a panic. In fact, I hardly react to what I have come to see as a small amount of money. Bills for $400 or $500? They’re regular monthly occurrences when you have horses. Plus, when you’ve had vet bills that came in at over $1,000, it changes what you consider a serious financial hit.

I’m not rich. I own horses, so I can also confidently say that I’ll never be rich. But I am lucky. I’m able to work multiple jobs to afford my horse habit, so those large bills don’t panic me when they do come in. Now I frame money according to things like saddles, a month’s worth of feed, and an upcoming vet bill.

Sometimes, when I’m doing night check, I take a few minutes to stand in the barn and look around. Back when I weighed money in Breyers, I never imagined I’d be lucky enough to have a horse of my own one day. I remember how badly my parents wanted to be able to buy me a horse, and I understand how they simply couldn’t afford to. Knowing how far I’ve come, and being able to understand the true value behind this privilege, whether I measure it in Breyers, board bills, or something else entirely? It makes it all the more special.