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Category: Horse Ownership Costs

See how the cost adds up. Summary and detailed month-by-month horse expenses listed and discussed.

Horses and the Housing Crisis

Horses and the Housing Crisis

House for sale signA few years ago we lived in Arizona during the height of the big real estate boom. We saw the price of houses in our neighborhood jump from $150k to over $300k and the desert all around Phoenix developed. It seemed even the least attractive homes in the worst neighborhoods were suddenly very expensive. I couldn’t figure out where all the money was coming from. How could people making $40k a year afford a $300k house in need of a new roof? Years later we have our answer and the “housing crisis” continues. I feel bad for those who had to pay twice what homes were worth, only to have their mortgage payments skyrocket and the value of their houses plummet. But I hadn’t even considered the impact this might have on horses in Arizona until I read an article a few days ago on (the website of the Arizona Republic newspaper).

Though I’m not a fan of E.J. Montini’s controversial political views, his column post “Abandoning houses, horses and history” was well written and eye-opening. Mr. Montini interviewed Holly Marino of the non-profit Horse Rescue of North Scottsdale and discovered that people in the Phoenix area are dropping off and abandoning their horses at an increasing rate. When people can’t pay their mortgages, they can’t pay to feed or board horses. The rescue went from having around a dozen horses to having 60…SIXTY. I know what it costs to feed and maintain three horses but I can’t imagine sixty. They’re struggling to find a way to pay the expenses while looking for good homes for the horses.

The impact of the huge increase in bankruptcies and foreclosures in Arizona extends beyond people to their pets, including horses. I’ll guess it’s a problem in other previously-hot housing markets like Southern California and Florida. It’s sad for the horses and sad for the people, many of whom are probably as close to their horses as we are to ours.

I’ll be traveling to Arizona in the next few months and will try to stop by the Horse Rescue of North Scottsdale to talk with Ms. Marino about it some more.

If you’re close by and would like to help, visit their website (they have a very nice website) for more information. They’re in need of blankets, hay, feed, money and more. Even a small donation of $10 can buy a bag of feed. If you’re not close by, consider helping out your local horse rescue. The housing crisis is impacting communities around the U.S. Most rescues are non-profit and in need of financial and/or physical help.

Damage from runaway horses

Damage from runaway horses

Electric fenceA few days after our horses got loose, we were talking with some friends and discovered that the little runaway scene the other night did actually cause some property damage. The friends that caught our horses for us had a suspicious break in their electric fence. Now there are other ways this can happen but it’s likely our horses ran into it, probably got the shock of their lives and scooted off, wide-eyed and wide awake. They ended up in the front lawn of the house and that was the beginning of them being captured. It’s a good thing our friend’s cows weren’t in that pasture or it could have been a bigger problem. We, of course, offered to pay for the fence repair and it caused no ill-will but it goes to show you horses getting loose can turn out to be a big deal. At least here in Tennessee property damage caused by loose animals in the responsibility of the animal owner. Even car insurance companies will sue animal owners to recoup damage expenses.

We have learned quite a lesson here. Of course we didn’t let them out intentionally and have always been concerned about leaving a gate open but now we triple check!

2007 Southeast Hay Outlook is Bleak

2007 Southeast Hay Outlook is Bleak

Speaking of hay, the word from the hay farmers in east Tennessee is that 2007 is shaping up to be a very bad year for hay. The first harvest of the year was about half it’s normal size and the lack of rain since the first harvest could mean there is no second harvest. In Tennessee, we had a hard freeze well into spring that seems to have slowed the growth of just about everything this season. That’s probably the culprit of the smaller-than-normal first harvest. Local farmers say we’re in the drought end of a 10-year moisture cycle in these parts.

What all of this means for those of us buying hay in east Tennessee is high prices and low availability. Last year feed stores were selling 30-40 pound square bales for up to $5.50 each last winter. I wonder what the price will be this year. If these farmers are correct, the best time to purchase hay is right now. As long as we keep them away from moisture, the bales will easily last and we have the room for it now. We’re planning on stocking up on round bales for winter and square bales for daily roughage. Worse-case scenario, we’ll supplement this winter with bagged alfalfa but I’d rather not do that. If you live in the southeast, this might be a good year to consider building some hay storage.

Luckily the midwest seems to be having a wet summer so you horse owners out there are probably in good shape. Heck, we might be importing hay from you guys this year!

Horse Expense List Updated

Horse Expense List Updated

I just got caught up on our year-to-date horse expense list and chart. 2007 is shaping up to be more expensive for us as horse owners. It looks like the biggest reason for that is because we’re just coming off of the cold months and winter is definitely more expensive for maintaining horses. Last years expense list started in summer. Now that the grass is growing and our horses are spending less time in the barn, our expenses are going down. If it wasn’t for farrier expense in April, our monthly total would have been only $74. But horses (usually) need shoeing!

Here are some expense changes implemented recently:

  • We find ourselves using more wood pellets these days, as it makes our job cleaning stalls each day much easier.
  • We got some good deals on more expensive feed from Purina and now we’re hooked. We really like Omolene and Strategy. I think we’ll stick with Strategy for now, which sells for about $3 more per bag than local feed-store sweet oats. We’ll also be cutting back slightly on the amount of feed we use.
  • We’ll start buying fly parasites again this month (May). We tried them last year and they worked. Today I noticed TONS of flies in the barn. We should have ordered the parasites a little earlier.

On an administrative note, the horse expense list page is looking cluttered to me so I’ll be redesigning it. The information is good, it’s just getting hard to read.

Here’s the updated graph:

2006-2007 Horse Expenses chart

Our 11 month average is $157.

Purina Horse Owners Workshop

Purina Horse Owners Workshop

Purina Horse Owners WorkshopLast week we attended a Purina Horse Owners Workshop presentation at one of our local feed stores here in east Tennessee. Purina seems to put these on annually and we attended a similar presentation last year at a different feed store. The objective for Purina is obvious: convince us to buy Purina brand horse feed. Even though we expected part of the event to be a sales presentation, we were interested in the opportunity to listen in on a question-and-answer session by cowboy and “horse whisperer” Sam Powell.

Sam has been the speaker for both presentations we’ve been to so far and I’m always impressed with his common-sense approach to horses. He advocates observing how horses deal with leadership in nature as an effective means of communicating to your horse that you are the herd leader. His most important point is that with horses, there is always a leader. Every time you meet, a leader is decided. If it’s just you and your horse, and you don’t take the leadership role, he will. There are many ways to subtly show him you’re in charge. For example, Sam suggests that you never just let your horses in and out of the barn – as we do (he says “they’re not cows”). He says to halter your horse each time and lead him in and out. When you’re letting him out, lead him out, remove the halter, then walk away. Your horse should not walk away until you do. When you let him in, lead him to the stall, stop at the door and allow him to walk in while still holding the lead rope. He will turn around to face you; then you can remove the halter and lead rope. (An added benefit to this method is that it makes it much easier to trailer a horse if he’s used to entering a space alone after you’ve stopped in the doorway.)

Sam offers lots of good advice every year. If you have the opportunity to hear him speak, we highly advise it. Check out his schedule at (2019 EDIT: that website is dead so I removed the link. Here is a nice Sam Powell biography, though.).

Purina Horse Owners WorkshopOh, and an excellent barbecue dinner was provided at no charge to participants but you have to RSVP. This year supper included barbecued chicken and all the fixings, as well as a delicious desert. Tasty and filling (thanks Purina, Critter Country and other sponsors!). Product samples and literature were available and enough door prizes were given out that it seems almost everyone won something. Purina handed out special buy-two-get-one-free coupons and other discounts to entice us to buy their brand of feed. So when next year rolls around, if we get news of another Horse Owners Workshop, we’ll definitely be signing up again. It was time well spent.

We’ll write later about how we’ve been using Omolene 100, Purina’s sweet oat blend for “active pleasure horses”. For now, I’ll say we’ve been very pleased with it, even though it is a tad more expensive than the feed store mix. More about all that later.

Have you been to one of these presentations yet? What was your impression?

By the way, we have no connection with Purina or Critter Country and were not paid anything to say nice things about them.

For more information and to see if they have a Horse Owners Workshop near you, visit the Purina website.

The round bale hay experiment – Part 3

The round bale hay experiment – Part 3

Round bale by treeGone. That’s how I’d explain the round bale I mentioned in Part 1 (October 13) and Part 2 (November 21). Our horses totally decimated it and seem offended they actually needed to forage for grass again. But as the weather got colder and the grass in our pasture became less and less, I started realizing that supplemental forage seems like a necessity. We seemed to “get away with it” last year because we bought Valentine in mid-February and prior to that only had a single boarding horse on our 5+ acre pasture. This year is different. We have two permanent horses sharing one pasture of dead or missing grass. So here at the end of the “experiment” I can tell you it has been a total success. $20 worth of hay supplemented our horses forage needs for almost three months (October-January). I don’t expect to get nearly as much time out of the next round bale because our natural forage supply is almost gone.

Based on our experience these past few months, here are some notes I’ve made on round bales:

  • I’m a little concerned that our horses stand in one small area and eat from it all day. Will they get fat this way? I thought horses always wanted to keep moving for safety.
  • I came across an interesting report concerning round bale hay spoilage. The government of Alberta, BC, Canada funded a study of how round bale storage techniques affect spoilage. Although the report was conducted in 1988, the data remains relevant today. The results showed that, with the exception of round bales stored inside, there were no differences in hay spoilage where round bales were stored outside in rows versus wrapped in plastic. Round bales stored outside, according to the study, may lose up to 10% of the hay to spoilage, after 16 months, amazingly. Round bales stored away from the weather experienced no spoilage. For more information, visit the Round Bale Storage Techniques report at the Alberta government website.
  • Although I purchased this last round bale for $20, delivered straight off of the hay baler wagon, I wonder how much price will fluctuate in winter. Supply and demand and all.
  • Delivery was great but there is no hay cutting going on these days so I can’t count on free delivery. I’m sure I could pay for delivery but I have a car hauler trailer and am inclined to save a few bucks and pick it up myself. I wonder if this is a good idea. At 1,000 pounds, how difficult will each be to move around at home, since we don’t have a tractor?
  • Location – the spoilage report mentioned above notwithstanding, I’m still considering putting the new round bale in our old barn out in the pasture. I wonder if I’ll be able to get it in there without the aforementioned uncontrollable 1,000 round bale rolling through our barn and knocking it down. Sure, it would be funny later but barns aren’t cheap.

I made some calls to try and get another round bale, as the grass in our east Tennessee pasture becomes less and less with colder weather. Fortunately, I have a friend who was willing to sell me 2 round bales for $30 total, provided we pick them up. So we picked up two round bales from an open field on 1/12/07 with our F150 and a 16-foot car hauler, which worked nicely. I think we could have pulled three round bales home if we wanted to. “Picked up” means we went to the field and my friend loaded both round bales onto our trailer with a tractor and hay spear.

We brought the round bales home and figured since our pasture is hilly, we’d use that to our advantage. I backed the trailer up with the rear-facing downhill next to a tree and Mikki and I were able to roll off one of the round bales. The horses found this whole process quite interesting!

Horse looking inside truck door

Next, I backed our trailer up to the barn to unload the second round bale. This proved much more difficult. I keep calling these “round” bales but in reality, they’re flat on the bottom from sitting for 6 months. We also didn’t have the downhill advantage. But eventually we unloaded it. Man, I wish we had a tractor.

Round bale on trailer

So now our horses have their faces in the “new” hay every day for most of the day, though they do roam the pasture in-between “meals”. The quality of these round bales looked pretty poor on the outside, with lots of visible mold. Since the bales are in layers (think pecan swirls), the moldy layer was easily unwrapped to reveal the good hay. The inside looked much better. The outside peeled off as we rolled the bale into place. Our horses are picky about their hay and forage so we don’t expect they’ll be interested in any of the moldy hay, as long as there is good hay to be had.

As of today, February 2nd, the first bale in the pasture is almost entirely gone. That’s 3 weeks for $20 ($15 plus gas to get it here). Not bad for winter forage, I suppose. The horses don’t seem to have touched the bale in the old barn for some reason. We might have to push it out.

Knowing how well round bales are working for us, we have a plan for later this year. This summer/early fall when the round bales are plentiful, cheap and not moldy, we’re going to stock up, putting them in the old barn protected from the elements. I’m sold on round bales!

Thanks to David who commented in The round bale hay experiment – Part 2 about using a hay ring, specifically a horse hay ring. Apparently one of these devices reduces the amount of wasted hay by keeping the round bale contained. Horses simply reach their necks over and feed out of the middle. We’re doing some more research on price, etc. and will bring it up in a later post. David says it extends the life of the bale up to a week or more. Sounds good to me, provided the price is reasonable.

Related Posts:
The round bale hay experiment – Part 1
The round bale hay experiment – Part 2
The round bale hay experiment – Part 3 (you are here)
The round bale hay experiment – Part 4
The round bale hay experiment – Part 5

Year-to-date horse expenses

Year-to-date horse expenses

I just updated our horse expense list through October 2006 and pulled together this quick, if un-sexy line chart showing the trend. That big blip in the middle is due to annual vaccinations (I told the horses it hurt me more than it hurt them). With only two more months to go to wrap up 2006 expenses, it’s becoming clear to me that my earlier assertion about horses not costing that much may have been premature. Well, relative to say, a child, they’re not expensive. But relative to a dog, cat or lawn ornament, they are indeed expensive. So if you’re tight on cash and want a nice pet, a dog or cat is much cheaper. If you want a nice lawn or pasture ornament, consider pink flamingos, though I heard that the company that makes them just stopped production so you better snap them up at a yard sale before they move to “collector” status. If you really really like horses and have no qualms about putting off a car payment to buy feed, a horse is right for you and you should run out this weekend and buy the prettiest one you can find. Just kidding about that last part but we all know you’ve thought about it.

2006 horse expenses chart

Year-to-date horse expenses, not including acquisition costs and expenses for February-May (we have yet to estimate those) is $786.

Should you buy a horse?

Should you buy a horse?

Buying a horse

I’m going to try and talk you out of buying a horse. Stay with me…it’s not as bad as it sounds.

If you’re reading our horse blog, you probably fall into one of the categories of either owning your own horse and commiserating with our newbie fumbling or you long to own your own horse someday. Horses aren’t casual recreation purchases for most people. Since there is so much involved in horse ownership, horse owners tend to be pretty fanatical. It’s not like buying an expensive toy, like an RC car or a motorbike. When you don’t want to play with it anymore, you can’t put it away for a few months until you get interested again. So if you REALLY love horses, there is probably nothing I could tell you to convince you that buying a horse isn’t a good idea. On the other hand, if you’re a fence-sitter or are thinking about buying a horse as a gift for someone, maybe this is time for some serious consideration.

Our First Horse should be a real eye-opener for anyone who hasn’t owned a horse before. One of the things we write about the amount of time/work involved. Actually, for one horse, it’s not bad. But you’re going to need to spend at least an hour a day just keeping your horse alive (cleaning a stall, feeding, watering, debugging, medical attention, hugs, etc.). If you want your horse to be more than decoration, you’ll need to occasionally ride it or it will rust (okay, it will get rusty). In my experience, you can’t ignore a horse for a year and then slap a saddle on its back and go for a ride. You have to work the horse and keep it trained, at least with the minimums like giddy-up, whoa and “WHOA!!!”.

Then there is the ongoing expense. If you do the work yourself, it’s not too bad, unless your horse needs medical attention. You’ve probably seen our horse expense list. We spend about $40-$50 a month per horse but one month recently our expenses went up to $173 for one of our horses! Make sure you have some cash tucked away for those months. And keep in mind we have our own barn and pasture. If you don’t live on a property that includes these basic horse accommodations, you’ll either need to either put in horse fencing and plant good pasture grass (if you have the room and are zoned for horses) or board your horse somewhere, which will add significantly to horse ownership expenses.

There are scheduling issues. Although some people leave their horses out in the pasture for days at a time or longer, we bring our horses in daily for some supplemental nutrition via oats and alfalfa pellets and provide fresh water daily. Fresh water is most important and since we don’t own an automatic waterer, we simply must check and refill water containers daily. This means we sometimes do horse work at midnight or later if we go out to see a movie or take a day trip. Anything longer than a day trip means we have to ask someone to mind our horses for us. If you have dogs, you’re probably familiar with this routine. Only you can’t load your horse into the family SUV and take him to a vacation kennel.

Having said all that, I don’t regret for a minute owning a horse, or in our case now, owning horses. However, I do have some pre-purchase suggestions to help make sure buying a horse is the right thing for you:

  1. My best suggestion is to volunteer at a horse barn. Seriously, once you assure the barn owner that you’re not crazy, volunteer to help out daily for a few weeks or a month. Clean out stalls, feed horses, brush them, help with some basic training, but do it every day so you can see how it impacts your schedule. In addition to determining if this hobby is right for you, you’ll also learn valuable lessons on what to do and not to do. You might also make some valuable contacts and learn who to buy from, what are good prices in your area, etc. In fact, some of the best horse deals come from people who haven’t publicized that their horse is for sale.
  2. If you’re not wealthy enough to have an attendant for your horse, volunteer at a veterinary facility or stable where horses are rehabilitated. Your horse might become injured at some point, requiring you to provide rehabilitation services for many months before you can ride it again. Do you have the time, money and patience for this?
  3. Visit your local horse supply stores, such as the feed store, tack shop or farm co-op. Read the bulletin board postings, chat with the employees. You’ll likely walk away with some great information and you’ll need to know these people anyway if you decide to buy a horse.
  4. Consider taking a weekend or longer to volunteer at a horse rescue (we have some listed on our Links page). There are people out there with a passion for rescuing horses from destruction or food slaughter. The horses they work with are often great for casual recreation and are sometimes registered, former racehorses or trail horses. Some are rescued from abuse or neglect. Help out a worthwhile charity, learn about horses and maybe fall in love with a horse.

I probably didn’t talk you out of buying a horse but hopefully, you got some suggestions to help you make a rational decision. Although I don’t recommend it, you could just ignore our advice and go in blind for your own newbie horse ownership adventure. That’s what we did :-).

Shoes or Barefoot?

Shoes or Barefoot?

Horse shoe

There is a huge debate these days about whether to go traditional and put shoes on your horse or leave them au naturel, barefoot and free. After all, horses in the wild don’t have shoes and they do just fine, right? So why do we even shoe them at all?

Domesticated horses do a lot of things that wild horses do not. They bear extra weight; they travel over rougher surfaces, such as asphalt. They work for us, whether in a field, on a trail or in a rodeo arena. It makes sense to give them some extra protection. However, more and more people are coming to believe that horses can do all those things barefoot, and many experts agree. If you practice proper hoof care, have the hooves trimmed regularly, and provide any dietary supplements you, your farrier and your vet decide may be necessary, most horses can go barefoot with no problem.

When we got Valentine, he was shod, except for his right rear where he had lost one (or “thrown a shoe” as they say). That hoof was so nicked up, and he was so sensitive on that foot, that we didn’t think it was a good idea for him to go bare. When we got Moonshine, she was barefoot all around and had been for some time. Her feet were pretty nicked up too, but the previous owner said she hadn’t had a trim for a while. The farrier said her feet looked really good, so we left her barefoot and just had her trimmed.

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Summer Hay Expense

Summer Hay Expense

Summer hay

One of the most important things we’re trying to do with this website is to identify the expenses involved with horse ownership so new horse owners know what to expect. I now know how much we’re spending on hay for our two horses during the summer months. Back on May 22nd of this year, we secured a load of hay that will last until tomorrow, August 22. Here are the facts:

Purchase date: 5/22/06
Quantity: 40 square bales (30 lbs. each)
Cost: $1 per bale/$40 total
Additional expense: $20 gasoline
Total cost without gas: $40
Total cost with gas: $60
Supply longevity: 93 days

Base on those figures, here’s how the hay cost breaks down:

Bales used per day: .43 or 2/5th’s total per day
Cost per day w/o gas: $.43 total or $.22 per horse
Cost per day w/gas: $.66 or $.33 per horse

So that’s pretty good! If only hay cost $1 per bale all year.

Now here’s a little background on this hay purchase. We live in east Tennessee and know someone whose mom has a farm and raises hay. She had some hay from the previous year that was dry and in good shape. Our friend feeds this hay to all of her horses including a pregnant mare who foaled this summer. The hay was $1 a bale partially because it was cut last year and they wanted to make room for the new cutting. We think that the price next time will be more like $2.50 for fresher hay but will detail that expense when we get to it. Our horses ate the older hay for 3 months and seemed fine with it. We didn’t find any mold and it held together nicely.

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