Top tips to save you money on your horse bills

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The Year of the Horse - 2014 Lucky Money note.

The cost of keeping a horse is increasing all the time. Here are some ways to save some cash without cutting corners.

Rising costs have seen us all tightening our belts as the economy slows. Perhaps it’s time to look at a little girth-tightening, too.

It seems just about everything needed to keep our equine friends is getting dearer by the day. Inflation is on course for a 20-year high and interest rates remain at eye-watering levels.

Worse still, crops that once fed horses are being replaced by bio-diesel alternatives around the globe.

It’s time for canny horse owners to step up to the plate! While ordinary wage earners are busy counting their blocks of cheese from upcoming tax cuts, horse owners are dealing in a very different currency.

There are plenty of ways you can save some cash without compromising the health or wellbeing of your horses:

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Big is best: Buy your feed in bulk

Get together with your friends and buy bulk feed. Feed by the pallet-load can work out a whole lot cheaper. Shop around for the best price once you’ve talked to your friends and got your quantities sorted. If it’s perishable, be sure you can get through your share before the use-by date.

Such savings are not just limited to bagged feeds. Molasses, for example, is much cheaper if you buy it by the 200-litre drum, but be warned: they weigh about 250kg. Your farm centre will use a forklift to get it on your trailer. Empty it straight from the drum on your trailer into ten 20-litre buckets supplied by your various friends. It should work out about $25 a bucket. What are you paying now? Probably twice that.

And never cut corners on feed quality. Poor feed will have poor nutritional value, so where’s the saving?

Buy your winter feed early before it gets too costly

We all know that hay and other forage-based feed can double or treble in price during a long and cold winter, or after a poor growing season. Hay which would have cost you $500 in the summer may end up costing $1000 or $1500 in the winter. What if you don’t have the cash for a summer buy-up? Even if you borrow the $500, the interest in paying it back over a year will work out to be a fraction of the winter cost. If you buy enough and end up with a surplus, you can even sell it later in the winter to offset your own hay bill. That’s capitalism at its finest! What if you don’t have suitable storage? Perhaps a neighbour will let you use a corner of their hay shed. There’s no harm in asking.

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Can I repair that cover?

Everyone enjoys seeing their horses turned out in new cover, but is the old one really that bad? Little nicks in rugs are easily repaired with a hot-melt glue gun and the cost of more major repairs by your local canvas-worker or saddler will pale against the price of a new one. Waterproofing of old covers can be restored with off-the-shelf waterproofing agents that can either be sprayed or brushed on. Different products are used for synthetic and canvas covers. Remember, you can always use an under-rug to increase warmth.

» Horse covers: the ultimate guide

Don’t cut corners

Be wary of trying to save money on vets, farriers, dentists and the like. It will nearly always be false economy. Keeping your horses healthy and well-fed will always pay off in the long-run. One way you can save money is to organise a group of horses for a visit by the likes of a farrier or dentist. If you can get a group of six together for, say, an annual dental examination, you’ll be able to negotiate to get a sharper rate.

Ask for a price first for, say, half a dozen horses, so you can convince your friends it’s a good idea. Make an afternoon of it, with coffees all round and a cheap bikkie or two on offer. With fuel prices rising, make sure no one empties an oil well driving there.

» The cost of keeping a horse

Surprisingly, Western saddle makers know little about English saddles and English saddlers know little about Western saddles, neither knows much about Australian saddles.

Care for that gear!

Well-maintained gear will last longer and save you cash. Keep gear clean and your leather tack well-conditioned. Why not spend a wet and wintry afternoon giving your gear a clean-up and an oiling? You might be surprised how much more you’ll like it once you’ve restored some of its former glory.

Why not run a swap meet?

Most of us accumulate gear we rarely or never use. It will slowly deteriorate if its only job is to take up space in your tack shed. Why not organise a swap-meet with your buddies and see what unfolds? Different-sized covers can be swapped, or you might just find that French snaffle you’ve been looking for.

Don’t just limit it to horse gear. What about that riding jacket gathering dust, or those jodhpurs in the bottom of a drawer?

Take along a little cash in case you need to buy it instead of swap for it. Don’t forget to clean up your gear first to make it look as good as possible. If there are no takers, advertise it for sale. You’ll not only be earning some cash, but getting rid of some clutter.

Share transport costs

Are you intending to travel to an event with a spare berth in your float? Why not take a nearby friend’s horse as well and share the cost? Remember, this is not about saving your friend some cash, but about saving you both some money. Agree on a fair price that means your costs are partially offset, and your friend gets there cheaper than “going it alone”. Let’s save the planet one event at a time.

Share horse-sitting duties

Do you pay someone to come in to care for your horses when you’re away? Why not do a deal with a friend to look after each other’s horses when either of you are away? Just be sure it’s a two-way street.

» Caring for horses while on holiday

Make it, don’t buy it

You don’t have to source every single product from a retailer. Books and the internet are full of simple recipes for all manner of things, from baby-oil-based coat enhancers to anti-dandruff shampoos and fly repellents. Be wary of anything to be given internally and don’t be afraid to mix up a small batch to see if the recipe works as intended. The savings don’t end there. For example, white vinegar is great for cleaning up mouldy leather tack and will deliver a killer blow to the mould spores. Why not Google it before you buy it?

Shop around

It’s not about buying “budget” for everything you need. Think about what you’re likely to want over coming months – feed, wormers, supplements, or gear – and keep an eye out for sharp deals. Talk to your friends. Perhaps they know of a cheaper product that will do a job just as well as a name brand. If you have some spare cash, why not buy next year’s winter covers during the end-of-season clear-out? Why not opt for second hand? You can source some great quality used gear at great prices.

Put your name on your gear

Label your gear to prevent it from "walking".
Label your gear to prevent it from “walking”.

How often do your lead ropes, halters, brushes and so on go walkabout at shows and the like? People don’t so much steal them, as accidentally take them on permanent loan. They cost money to replace so do a little “branding” to increase their chances of eventually becoming a family heirloom.

» Horse security – protect your riding gear and horses

Don’t use too much – of anything!

There’s simply not enough of the Ebenezer Scrooge in us these days. Our grandparents were much more frugal, because they couldn’t afford to be wasteful. You can greatly extend the life of just about anything, from a bottle of horse shampoo to hoof conditioner, simply by being sensible and careful about how much you use. The same goes for feed. Why not get out the scales and do a little research to be sure you’re not wasting money by over-feeding your horses? The last thing the world needs is another paddock potato.

Recycle!

An old and unsalvageable cover went in the rubbish the other week – but not before all the serviceable leather straps and buckles were carefully removed. If another cover needs to go in for repair, there’s a few dollars to be saved by providing a suitable “spare part”. Covers that can no longer be made waterproof might make suitable stable rugs. Similarly, save good used horseshoes. You might need a replacement one day. While you’re at it, why not compost your horse manure? If you don’t want it for your own garden, you’ll find many more takers for composted manure than the fresh stuff. People might even pay you for it.

Don't take water for granted in an emergency: It may not be flowing so freely in a disaster.

Save water

Use an adjustable nozzle on your hoses to reduce the amount you use. It will not only save water, but also cash if you live in areas where you pay for what you use. While talking water, isn’t it time you put new washers in those leaky trough ballcocks? If you can hold the right end of a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, you’re in business. Be sure to buy the new washers first.

Hammer out those problems

Grab a hammer and wire-cutters and a take a leisurely afternoon walk around your fences. You’ll be surprised how many nails and stray bits of wire are just waiting for the opportunity to tear a hole in your expensive horse covers – or your horse!.


Winter grass is valuable

There are two things you can do with your winter grass: feed it to your horses or let them trample it into the mud. Can you keep your horses off pasture when it’s wet? If not, move your electric breaks little and often to ensure your horses eat as much of the grass as possible. The more they eat, the less supplemental feed you’ll need to buy.

» Winter care of the horse
» Handling horses on a small acreage

Make your fertiliser count

Fertiliser is in demand and prices are at record levels. Don’t waste it by guessing what your soil needs. Pay for a soil test and apply only what’s required. Remember that any deficiency in the soil will result in a similar deficiency in the grass, and hence in your horse’s diet.

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