I can tell you how much hay they eat, warn you about vet bills and farrier visits. There are many articles and books written about equine economics, but the first truth anyone with horses learns is that owning a horse is nowhere near simple math.
I know talking about money is rude, or at least uncomfortable. Still, I’m endlessly curious. Money is a vehicle that carries dreams and wishes into the real world; simple math done on a spiritual obstacle course.
Lottery winners and philosophers tell us that money doesn’t buy happiness. Words that are foolish and flat when compared to the vast return we get from a puppy’s adoption fee. Or your first horse. Money has a concrete value but we always have to reconcile that literal value with our personal feeling of abundance or lack.
Let’s begin here: if we were somehow required to have a bank account to cover any issues that might come up in the future in the lives of our animal companions, most of us could barely afford one cat. So this is where the magic comes in. It isn’t obvious divine intervention; hay bales don’t multiply in a loaves-and-fishes miracle. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable, like the truck doesn’t break down or a few months go by without emergency vet calls.
Just when you get comfortable, money goes worthless. It can purchase a horse, but it has never been able to buy relationship and skill in the saddle. Horses are the great equalizer; you can’t buy the ride. Or the other priceless things: freedom, friendship, and self-esteem.
If money is a vehicle, it’s still up to us to steer it. One horsewoman complains bitterly about the cost of her farrier and always asks for a discount. She also drives a brand new red sports car; I notice the tires are good. I met a man who admitted that he’d spent $40,000. on surgery for his dog’s brain injury. He was so sad about losing the dog, not the money. Some of us have brand new trucks and skinny horses. Some of us need a larger geriatric pen, while others switch horses in and out every year. It’s investment and return. Are you horse rich or horse poor?
In my case, I knew the costs early. I’d paid for my horse with babysitting money as a kid. After I left home, I was responsible. I waited, counting every dollar and every miserable day, until I was… well, stable. I knew the costs of keeping a horse as well as the costs of living without one. I had a plan and a budget. And six months after bringing my new horse home, my husband filed for divorce. Surprise! Game on.
It can all feel like chaos. Do your very best, yet all the plans, prayers, and affirmations won’t hold if the universe has a different lesson in mind. The only thing you can count on is money will be an ingredient that kind of disaster every time. Then, against the odds, the truest blessings in life come right after the very worst days. It’s like money in the bank.
When I look around my circle of friends not everyone is where they thought they would be financially. Life happens: health issues develop, work changes, relationships crash, and we’ve already re-invented ourselves more than once. Life throws us a few curve-balls but even then, past the whining and bragging and wishing, it’s easy to know a person’s true priority. It’s as clear as a check register. We put our money where our heart is.
How do I budget? Sometimes I have to make hard decisions. I always know that I can’t afford catastrophic surgery. Spending several thousand dollars on one animal isn’t possible if it endangers the well-being of the whole herd. I’ve been lucky with that side, the Universe knows my budget and doesn’t push me too hard. I’ve learned to trust that.
I think the first thing I ever charged was a vet bill and I’m usually paying off one animal bill or another. At this point, it’s nostalgic.
We all agree it’s about quality of life and that’s what we celebrate here. There are always a few seniors who are frail. It isn’t a crime to get old and when it’s time, I’m happy to ease their way. Financial debt has become part of the mourning process. Everything heals in time, money and hearts.
Keeping horses gets more expensive each year and the days of a rural culture with horses grazing in the pasture are fading. I’d hate it if horses became a hobby only for the wealthy and I fear that people like me with lives in the middle, will become even more challenged. If the day comes that horses aren’t around to save horse-crazy little girls and give them wings, it would be a very sad time. So I’ll hold to this little farm and pay my blessings forward.
Am I on the road to becoming that crazy cat lady, only different? A crazy horsewoman with a full barn and gnarled hands perpetually gripping a muck fork? I hope so. I can’t put a dollar value on the particular smell of a horse’s mane, or the warmth of a donkey pressing his head to my back, or the sound of dog paws following along. In the end, it’s easy to live the dream. You just give up everything else.
But money remains a mystery to me. It’s somehow attached to the Circle of Life because I’ve heard the two of them whispering together. If money is a vehicle, then as far as I can tell, I’ve always had outside help turning the wheel.
“How much does a horse cost?” I’d say they cost everything you have.
“Do you have to be rich to own one?” No, that comes later.