Are you dreaming your very first horse, but are worried about the cost of it? Let me start by saying, you’re not alone! This is where most of us horse-crazed people start out. And horse ownership can be incredibly fulfilling, but it is a considerable financial commitment. And worrying about paying the bills to afford your horse, is not a place where you want to be as an owner.
The good news is that there are a lot of options to be around horses and getting your horse fix even if you can’t afford a horse of your own. If you’ve got no money to spend on a horse or lesson whatsoever, but want to be around horses, I recommend finding a stable where you can volunteer. This can be tricky, though, because you do need to know what you’re doing when you’re around horses.
Every stable has their own conventions and ways of doing things, which you’ll learn as you spend time working at the stable, but the day-to-day tasks remain relatively similar. If you’ve got no experience with horses or stables at all, you’ll need to find someone who’s willing to take the time to teach you. Not all stables will accommodate a volunteer, so be prepared to look until you find the right one for you.
When you do have some kind of a budget to get into equestrian activities, starting with lessons is a great place to learn about horses. Now, riding isn’t the cheapest hobby around, so you’ll want to make sure to find a stable and teacher/trainer that is a good fit for you.
Taking lessons is an important investment, especially if you want to eventually have a horse of your own. Developing your riding skills will not only make your riding more enjoyable, it also opens up more options when buying a horse. The more skilled you are as rider and horse handler, the more flexibility you’ll have in selecting the right horse for you. Even after you do have your own horse, taking regular lessons is a great way to challenge yourself as a rider.
While you’re taking lessons, it’s a good time to start building your network. Having a good network within the equestrian community in your area is invaluable, because it provides you with information, insights and even off-market opportunities when it comes to buying a horse. Join riding clubs, horse associations, and connect with other horse owners and instructors.
Once you’ve got good riding and horse handling skills, and feel ready to take on the responsibility of a horse, consider loaning one before buying. There are many different kinds of horse sharing contract models, that will give you an idea of what the full responsibility of a horse will be like. Read more about horse leasing options here.
Once you’re ready, buy the best horse for your money.
When it comes to choosing your horse, opt for the best-trained and most experienced horse that fits your budget. While it might be tempting to save money by purchasing a less experienced or less trained horse, remember the old adage, “If you don’t pay for it now, you’ll pay for it later”.
It’s often more cost-effective to invest upfront in a well-trained horse rather than deal with training and behaviour issues down the road. You’ll want a horse that leads well, loads and trailers well, is accustomed to being ridden alone and used to different kinds of environment.
Make sure to get your horse checked out by the vet before you buy, so that you get a healthy and sound horse. Take an experienced horse person with you, if you’re not sure what kind of horse is good for you.
When you’re on a budget, you could consider a breed that’s considered an easy keeper. This means a kind of horse that’s evolved to survive on less food, such as a Mustang or Shetland Pony. Smaller horses and ponies eat relatively less than large horses, so also consider size. It’s also worth noting that for the price and upkeep cost of one large horse, you may be able to afford two little ponies, so if you’re more interested in driving than riding, that’s something to consider when you’re crunching numbers.
Another thing to consider when managing your costs, is the type of stabling you get for your horse. The more you’re willing to do yourself, the less money it will cost you — though it will cost you more time and effort, so make sure you can accommodate that.
If you live in a drier climate and have a farrier knowledgable in barefoot horses, you may consider having your horse barefoot. Just know that having a barefoot horse has benefits and challenges, so don’t transition a shod horse into an unshod horse (which takes weeks to do correctly) simply to save on farrier costs. A barefoot horse is not exempt from farrier visits, because the hooves still need to be trimmed about every 6-8 weeks even without shoes.
If you don’t do a lot of strenuous riding, you can also save on feed. A horse’s main diet is made up of low-sugar hay. Many horse owners feed supplements because they do a lot of demanding performance riding or because they compete. The kind of extra feeds and supplements your horse is going to require will depend on what you want to do with your horse.
My personal experience is that feed is not the right place to skimp. Feeding your horse the right kind of hay (low in sugar) and good quality supplements, will save you from a lot of nutritional and metabolic issues down the line. Your horse’s heritage will affect how sensitive he is to different types of feeds; easy keepers have evolved to make the most of relatively poorer nutrition and can get fat and sick very quickly on grass or hay that is full of sugars.
Buy as much tack used as possible.
In addition to considering the breed, feed and stabling options of your horse, buying a lot of tack second-hand is an excellent way to save money. But even with second-hand tack, make sure it fits your horse. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a lot of secondary issues caused by poorly fitting tack or improper equipment.
Because horses’ bodies are constantly changing as we exercise them more or less, or change disciplines, there’s a lot of second-hand tack available online, at boarding stables, as well as through trainers and fitters. When you get a saddle fitter to come out and check your horse’s saddle, you can make sure to mention that you want to buy used as much as possible. Fitters see a lot of horses and have large networks full of people buying and selling tack.
If you want to buy a trailer, buying a used one is a good idea because trailers will lose value quickly. Just like a car, the trailer will start depreciating in value as soon as you drive it off the lot, so never ever buy a trailer with the intent to resell it. There are plenty of old trailers that are well-maintained and just as good as newer ones.
Once you’ve got tack and equipment, take good care of it. Like I said, horses are constantly changing and needing new tack, so taking good care of your tack will ensure you can sell it forward once you don’t need it any more and avoid having to store a lot of things that you don’t use.
Horse related side-hustles you can do to earn some extra cash.
These are some ideas of what you could do as a small side-gig to make some extra money to help out with expenses.
1. Offer to help out around your barn/stable.
Stables need a lot of maintenance and yard work. Checking and fixing fences, general maintenance of buildings, mowing lawns, doing gardening, cleaning shared spaces, feeding horses and many more things are regular chores. Depending on the kind of stabling contract you’ve got, you can offer to pitch in and potentially get a lower fee.
You can also offer your fellow boarders to help out with their horses. A lot of horse owners are pressed for time, and will gladly accept help with their horse. Bringing them in from the pasture, feeding, cleaning the stall, grooming the horse, and holding the horse for the vet or farrier are all things you can either do as a trade (they’ll do it for your horse when you can’t do it and vice versa) or you can charge a small fee. You’ll definitely find takers around the time they’re going on vacation!
Cleaning and conditioning tack is another side-hustle that requires minimal supplies. Learn the leather basics and use a quality cleaner and conditioner to return your clients’ leather goods in beautiful condition. A lot of horse owners prefer having someone else handle this task, and it’s a task you can do while watching TV. Washing rugs and saddle pads is another thing you could offer to do.
If you’re handy with tools and have knowledge of how horse tack and equipment is put together, you can offer repair and maintenance services. Just make sure that you do know how to fix the tack properly. Big repairs are usually best done by a professional.
These tasks can provide quick cash, and you’ll also get a workout while earning money. You can post ads at your barn or advertise your services in your local equestrian community.
2. Learn to braid and clip horses.
If you have the skill or are willing to learn, you can offer braiding and clipping services. Horse owners often prefer to pay experienced people for braiding before shows or clipping during different seasons. You can hone your skills on your own horse before offering your services to others. During show and competition seasons this can be a great little business.
3. Start a blog or micro-blog.
This isn’t something that makes money right away, but if you’re willing to put in the work for a blog or growing a social media account, you can make some extra money from ads, partnerships, subscriptions or sponsors. You can start a social account or blog about your own horse and what you’re learning and doing. Keep in mind that building an audience takes time and dedication, so this is definitely not a quick solution.
4. Become a groom at shows and competitions.
If you have a flexible schedule or time off during horse show seasons, consider becoming a groom. Good grooms are in demand, and this role allows you to earn extra cash while being surrounded by horses. Some people even turn grooming into a full-time profession.
5. Work at horse shows.
You usually start out at horse shows as a volunteer, but getting your foot in the door and building your network can lead to paid work at horse shows. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done at a horse show, so if you’ve got some skills that are useful or are not afraid of hard work, go ask if you can help out!
6. Become an exercise rider.
Busy horse owners will be glad to have help with exercising their horses. You’ll need to have good riding skills to offer to do this to others. I’d also include groundwork in this, as horses massively benefit from regular groundwork.
7. Baby sit or pet sit at the barn.
If you’ve got horse owners or riders coming to your barn, you can offer to watch kids and pets while the adult goes riding. As a mum, I can attest that having convenient child and pet sitting services comes in handy when I’ve got a lesson.
If you’ve got smaller or calmer horses suitable for kids, you could offer to take them out for a short hack if they’re old enough. You can also offer to walk dogs while your clients ride.
8. Offer to take pictures or video.
If you’re good with a camera, offer your services to horse owners for capturing special moments, such as horse shows, training sessions, or portraits with the horse. High-quality images and videos can be in demand among horse owners for framing or even social media.
9. Sell home-made horse treats or grooming products.
If you enjoy baking or crafting, you can make and sell home-made horse treats or grooming products. Natural, home-made products are often appreciated by horse owners who want the best for their animals. Be sure to use appropriate materials that are safe for horses.
10. Offer horse transport services.
If you have a suitable vehicle and trailer (and licence!), offer horse transport services to owners who need to move their horses to shows, veterinary appointments, or new barns. Ensure you comply with all safety regulations and have insurance and make sure the owner does.
11. Equestrian art and crafts.
If you have artistic talents, create and sell horse-themed art, crafts, or jewellery. You can sell your creations at local horse shows, online marketplaces, or through social media. If you know how to make horse tack, you can make custom horse tack for owners who want to use them in photo shoots and cosplays.
12. Social media management.
Offer your social media management services to horse-related businesses, such as barns, trainers, or equine product brands. Many businesses need help with maintaining a strong online presence and are too busy or don’t know how to run a successful social account.
13. Do equine event planning.
If you’re great at organising events, offer to plan and coordinate horse-related events, such as clinics, seminars, or horse shows. Charge fees for your event planning services.
14. Horse barn sitting.
Even busy horse property owners need time off! Being well-versed in how to run a stable or a farm will allow you to offer farm-sitting services for horse owners who need someone to watch over their entire property, including horses and other animals, while they’re away. You’ll need to reserve enough time to get the rundown of how to take care of the property while you’re in charge, so make sure you coordinate with the owners well in advance.
When you’re thinking of a side-hustle for some extra income, assess your skills, interests, and available resources to find one that suits you. Research the demand for your chosen service within your local equestrian community to maximize your income potential and make sure you’ve got the necessary insurance.