BY STEPHANIE RUFF
Let’s face it—even when costs are considered reasonable, owning horses is expensive. Depending on your location and discipline, it can range from “spending some discretionary income” to “what in the world do you do to be able to afford that?”
Being a professional in the horse business is not for the weak. It is expensive, and to take your game up a notch you may need to move to an affluent area. But is the cost increase worth it? What are the pros and cons of running a business and keeping expenses reasonable for clients versus moving to an area where you can charge almost anything?
Board and training fees are as varied as the options: full board, partial board, pasture board, dry stall, extras included, extras ala carte, training, lessons, full turnout, partial turnout, grooming, tacking…the list goes on and on. Variables can make it difficult to compare regions when trying to decide if a move will be profitable.
Generally speaking, full stall board in rural/small towns can run from $300 to $600 per month. Compare that to board in highly desirable horse areas like Wellington, Fla. or southern California where board alone can easily start at $1,000/month in the off-season. Of course, with those costs come conveniences of show facilities and high quality vets and farriers being close by. Living in the country often means traveling further to shows and fewer choices of vets and farriers, but offers more economical hay and feed prices as there are local suppliers.
As a professional, how do you balance location, costs, clients and personal/professional goals?
The best place to start is to have an honest conversation with yourself as to your goals and expectations. Do you want to be among the upper echelon? Do you have Olympic aspirations? Or do you love teaching and don’t care if your clients want to show or not?
Chances are you can make a living in a rural part of the country with clients who have a desire to learn, but may only want to show locally. You can find some steady horses, pay fair prices and enjoy your profession. On the down side, you will possibly be a one-person show. There may be some barn staff, but you will likely be doing a lot of grooming, tacking, cleaning, and caring for horses yourself. Of course, there can be top tier show barns in remote areas, but it involves extra traveling to shows and more complicated logistics.
In contrast, if you want to be tops in your sport, compete against the best, train with the best, and ride/show international quality horses, you may need to go somewhere that supports that. The costs and the pressure that go with it can be extreme. The upside is that you will likely find a full staff of grooms, barn staff and working students nearby, but your clients may have much higher expectations and demands. In addition, being close to everything means land (and everything else) is expensive. Your own cost of living in an upscale, urban area will be much higher than that of a rural one. You have to look at the entire budget for your animals, yourself, and (if you have one) your family.
No matter the path you choose, being a professional in the horse business is mostly a labor of love. Having a satisfying career while making an honest living is tough, but doable. Determine your personal and professional goals and then evaluate your area to see if it can meet them. If so, great. If not, consider making a plan to move somewhere that can take you where you want to go.