I love The Walking Dead. The tension, angst, anxiety each episode is palpable. Another zombie or threat is always right around every corner. You can kill a few, but there’s always more out there, getting closer and closer. Recently it hit me: that’s what debt feels like. Specifically, horse debt.
Zombies as a metaphor for debt—that’s what owning horses feels like. Next month’s bills always fast approaching and lurking around the corner.
Horse lovers pour blood, sweat, tears and most of their money into their animals. Time, passion and emotions are ensnared. Yet, every day we encounter people who simply do not understand why we do it. They judge and complain that it costs too much, and often they are right. And yet, we still do it.
What It Really Costs
Without the promise of reimbursement, here’s what a lesson program might pay for up front to stay operational for its students: board, farrier, hay, worming, vaccinations, supplements, truck and trailer payments and maintenance, tack for all horses, and a wide range of spare equipment of various sizes to fit each student. Add on a Comprehensive General Liability Insurance Policy, which is a must. These are just the quantifiable set-up costs before a student puts one foot in a stirrup.
There is a part of the equestrian experience that is unquantifiable, however. It does not show up in an invoice but it too has a value for which one should be compensated. You are receiving someone else’s knowledge, experience, attention to detail, professional education, certifications and degrees; someone else’s long term commitment to horse ownership that allows you to begin your adventure.
It’s a system designed for your convenience. It may cost hundreds of dollars per horse (depending on your location), but essentially allows you to stroll up to a lesson, get what you want out of it, and return home with no commitment.
Later on, when you have decided to purchase or own a horse, it does not stop there. Before you purchase consider the degree of care you desire when you do decide to take on the commitment of horse ownership.
Time or Money?
Let’s break owners down into two types: those who care about their time, and those who care about their money.
When you care primarily about your time, because it is valuable and limited, you might pass the care of your horse(s) onto someone else. Maybe it comes included with board or training at your stable, or you hire a groom to do individualized care and exercising. Well guess what? Their time is also valuable and limited.
When you care about your money, you’ll invest more time into horse care and can do much of it yourself. Each person chooses which level of care they’ll provide to their horses; choose the one that you’re able to reasonably commit to long term, which hopefully is also in the horse’s best interest.
“Expensive” doesn’t always mean “better”, nor does “cheap” necessarily mean “bad”. You can pay for specialized care and be disappointed in the result, or you can pay next-to-nothing and get Gold Star treatment. Every barn is different. Find the one that suits your needs, expectations and budget. Be willing to pay for what you need.
Choosing an Instructor
The overhead for being a riding instructor is comparable to having commercial office space, and yet, we laugh when someone wants “attorney rates” for their instruction.
“They’re paying Penthouse Prices for their horse operation, can’t they ask for a reasonable reimbursement rate?”
An instructor or care provider’s hourly rate should reflect what they can reasonably work with when lessons or training are slow that month. And they hope they end up with a little extra to put away in case of injury, vet bills or rehab.
How YOU Can Help!
This is an industry that does not survive on loyalty; it survives despite impulsivity. A student can pull out whenever they like and go elsewhere, but expenses remain. Customer service is imperative in this business. A little loyalty goes a long long way.
Mutual respect and understanding from both sides deserves discussion. One location might be pricey, but maybe they provide good, honest work and you’re happy with the results. You like their horses, who are appropriately shod and in good body condition. Support these small operations if you’re happy with the set up, especially if you can afford to, and know they can’t afford to lose you as a student. Be mindful of the overhead costs and keep it operational for yourself and future students. Hopefully you’ll also trust their judgment on the horses they offer you and the pace at which you progress through lessons.
Word of mouth referrals go a long way. Help out your favorite instructors by leaving good reviews on social media, for example.
If you’re a student, be a quality student. Don’t make things uncomfortable over money. If you get good vibes and like what they offer, pay what they’re asking. If you don’t get a good vibe, keep looking. Resist haggling over the price as they’re most likely not profiting from your lesson. At best they might be breaking even. Your patronage is appreciated and wanted, and everyone should get what they want and need out of the arrangement.
Choose an instructor based on what they can do for you and your riding goals. Please don’t choose one based strictly on price. Likewise, select horse care providers and management services that appropriately reflect your philosophies and standards of care.
Horses are an expensive yet unbelievably fulfilling, dangerous and thrilling sport.
And worth every penny.