04, September, 2019

Last week I had someone say that it only cost them £35 a week to keep their horse at home. I’m really sorry, I’m sure that was what the person believed was true, but it is utter bollocks. It is absolutely impossible for that to be true. The real cost is likely to be almost five times that amount.

Before I go on, this blog has to come with a warning. The facts are not pleasant to face. Most amateurs never do the maths, and indeed very few professionals will know exactly what their outgoings are, even on a cash basis, let alone factoring in opportunity cost and time. If that is you, then think very carefully before reading on as to do so may trigger a response that you find difficult to assimilate. If you’re one of the many whose partners, parents, accountants and friends complain about the money you spend on your horses then do not, whatever you do, let them read this as below is the irrefutable proof that you are as privileged and spoilt as they say you are.

The costs that follow are assuming a regular amateur situation, your normal low-level competition horse with no higher maintenance requirements.

Let’s start with basic livery – the cost of your stable and yard facilities and their day to day maintenance. Oh, I know that you own your own – that it’s ‘free’ to you. But is it really? At some stage you (or someone else) had to pay money for the land, build the stables, put up fences, possibly put in an arena. That money costs money – you can’t use it anywhere else and you probably are paying or have paid a mortgage on it and handed over interest to a bank instead of receiving a return if you’d invested it elsewhere. Or you can look at it another way – if you weren’t keeping Noddy there, you’d be able to rent the stable to someone else to use, which is the definition of opportunity cost – what one option costs you in terms of not being able to do the other option simultaneously. Basic DIY livery is around £40. Having your horses kept at home is probably costing you a whole lot more that that. A quick google search finds the cheapest property I can find with very basic stabling for 3 horses and a very ordinary arena (no accommodation) will set you back £160,000. Put that in a mortgage calculator at 3.5% and over a 25 year term and it comes back at £63/horse/week. That does not factor in any cost or labour for maintaining fields, fertiliser, reseeding, mucking out, fencing repairs, stable repairs, arena surface maintenance or replacement, driveway repairs… all those ongoing costs of owning an equestrian property. We’ll be kind here and just put £40 into the spreadsheet as that is what you might be able to charge an outsider to use your stable.

Next is feed. While you may be fortunate and be able to graze out in summer, you will need to feed hay while the horse is in the stable and over winter you will need to provide all their forage requirements from another source. We’ll be generous here and say that for 6 months you only need to supplement half their forage needs. An average horse being 500kg means their average weekly requirement is 500 x 1.5% x 7 = 52.5kg over the year. Assuming you’re happy to pay £5/20kg bale for meadow rather than forking out up to £20 a bale for top quality timothy hay, and you’re looking at £13 and change for basic forage. And before you tell me you get hay ‘free’ off the land you own, go back to the previous paragraph and look at what it really costs you – do you pay someone to cut & bale? Or do you own the equipment yourself? What did that cost to buy & maintain? What about upkeep and fuel and time sat going around in circles… factor it in.

Unfortunately forage alone in the U.K. does not provide the nutrients required for health, so even if you don’t want or need more energy, you’ll need to add a basic balancer to the mix. These vary in quality, but a middle of the road option will set you back around £5.50 a week. If you do ask more from your horse in terms of fitness and performance the sky is the limit with hard feed. We’re presuming here that Noddy goes out to fun rides, maybe events at BE80 or does affiliated dressage at Novice level or showjumps around the 1m classes so he’ll need something, but nothing too fancy. Budget around £14 for a basic non heating, non starch feed.

I’m not going to go into supplements here, because that’s where the crazy people live. Everyone will have something they swear is absolutely necessary and something that they think everyone else wastes their money on. Plus supplements are nearly always considered an optional extra. But if you do feed supplements, and you really want to know what Noddy costs, calculate your own amount now.

If you think these feed prices are excessive, then you might like to take a look at my numbers. My forage is either top quality timothy or haylage – £35/week. My balancer & feed are premium to give my horses the best nutrition and the highest energy to perform upper level dressage - £9.50 & £42/week respectively. Everything gets an Omega 3 oil, plus Epiitalis Forte gel (of course) – so that adds another £15 per horse per week. Believe me, when it comes to upper level riders, my feeding programme is simple and my supplement list very short.

What about bedding? It’s a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question really as there is so much variation. We’ll ignore the set up costs for now. I’ve yet to be able to get away with just half a bale of shavings a day, but we’ll pretend that Noddy is the cleanest horse on the planet and say £25/week for shavings and about £15 for straw if he’s not the type to eat it all…

So where are we at? £40 for stable, £13 for forage, £19.50 for balancer & hard feed, £15 for bedding. That’s £87.50 for the most basic of care. Sorry, we’re not finished yet, because this is where the fun really begins, and where the costs really rise. It’s the time factor. Who mucks out? Who feeds? Who turns out? Brings them in? Changes rugs? Who picks the paddocks? Who sweeps the yard? Chances are it’s you, and chances are you’ll say that is free. But is it? At a minimum you’ll be spending an average of 45 minutes a horse a day on the yard. Even if you calculate your time as only being worth £15/hour (and if you own a horse, you probably are paid a lot more than that) that’s £80 a week of your time. At the very least.

There are so many more costs to having your horse at home and your own facilities, costs that need to be covered by a yard owner at the local livery – equipment like rakes, brooms, shovels, wheelbarrows, ATV’s, trailers, fuel, utilities, security, insurance. The list is endless. The point of this blog is not to put you off or to scare you (well, maybe a little), the point is to make you aware that if you think you are saving money by keeping your horse at home, that you’re not. There are many reasons for having your horse at home, but cost is not one. Also, I’d like to give you pause the next time you baulk at the cost of full livery. It’s not expensive. In fact, I don’t know how the vast majority are breaking even.

Horse being ridden into the stables

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