Budgeting Other

Cost of Owning a Horse: 2020 Expense Report Summary

Written by Horse Rookie

How much do horses cost? Here’s my answer for 2020.

It’s hard to believe two years have passed since I started tracking my monthly horse expenses and publishing the results. These reports have held me accountable, helped me make spending decisions, and given much-needed transparency to the real cost of horse ownership. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along!

Looking back on 2020, it’s clear that even a small number of horse health issues can impact the budget in a big way.

(If you’re new, make sure to read the “reminders” section here for background on my finances.)

OK, let’s get into it!

2020 in a Nutshell

I headed into 2020 with a full year of budgeting insights. My $1,000 / month spending goal (after adjustments like bartering) still felt pretty attainable, so I decided to keep the same budget number for 2020.

Competing at a few local shows was part of my plan, as was participating in as many riding clinics as I could. Given that, I expected my “Events” and “Education” buckets to see a bump. 

As it turned out, though, 2020 had other plans. A pandemic, popped splint, and hoof issues flipped my budget on its head.

The chart below shows my monthly horse expenses — without taking any trades into account. In other words, this is the “actual value” of what I spent on my horse throughout the year.

Once again, my most expensive month was November ($2,874.46). My least expensive month was July ($805.35).

2020 expense summary

January – December 2020

As mentioned, my goal was to spend $1,000 or less in out-of-pocket horse expenses each month.

The next chart shows that I only met that goal 5 of 12 months — a 42% success rate. That’s down from 75% in 2019. [Insert crying emoji.]

Annually, I came in $195 over budget for each month, on average.


January – December 2020

I’d hoped to report that I’d won the lottery during 2020, but no luck there. I’m still a single, self-employed horse owner paying her own way in the horse world. That’s why I rely heavily on trades, whether that’s bartering for marketing, clinic management, or social media services. Strategic bartering is a win-win, and it keeps more money in my pockets.

The following chart overlays the total value of my expenses with what I bartered and ultimately paid out-of-pocket.

Without trades, the only month I would’ve landed within budget was July. Let that underscore the value of getting creative with how you offset expenses.

actual vs barter

January – December 2020

You may be wondering, where does all this money go anyway? That’s why I tracked my spending across 9 categories. The chart below shows the value of expenses by category throughout the year. 

This year, Health was the greatest portion of my annual spending at $5,486.23.

Runners up were education at $4,282.50 and stabling at $3,690.00.


January – December 2020

This all begs the question, do I really need to spend this much to own a horse? The short answer is no. 

If I needed to quickly reduce my horse-related spending, it would be possible. The next chart shows what I would’ve spent if I only did “the essentials” — gear, health, stabling, and travel.

Theoretically, I could have lowered the annual value of my horse costs to $13,475.40.


January – December 2020

As you can tell from all the numbers, though, I place a high value on things like education (e.g. clinics, lessons). So a big piece of the pie still goes to improving myself as a rider.

The following chart shows my 2020 annual spending by percentage/category. 

Health is the biggest slice of the pie at 27%, closely followed by education at 21.1%. 

spending percentages

January – December 2020

Now that you’ve got a better sense of the year in review, I’ll provide more context by spending category.

Cost of Owning a Horse in 2020

EDUCATION = $4,282.50 (30.8% decrease from 2019)

  • Due to COVID, our boarding facility wasn’t able to hold all the clinics we originally planned. That meant fewer months being able to barter clinic management services for board. Luckily, we were still able to host a good number of clinics — a saving grace for my budget.
  • I’m a multi-discipline rider with one horse, which means he really pulls his weight when it comes to lessons. From jumping to dressage, reining to cutting, historically he’s done it all. This year, though, his leg injury made me rethink whether I wanted to continue asking him to do everything. In the end, I decided not to jump him anymore and instead borrow friends’ horses for my jumping lessons. This way, I can continue doing all the activities I enjoy without putting 100% of the lesson/clinic burden on my horse. 
  • Given how many events cancelled this year, and how little we were able to be out and about, the personal value of lessons and clinics skyrocketed for me. These activities helped keep me sane and reach goals during a tough year.

If you’re taking lessons (or about to start), check out our 13 best horseback riding boots for lessons.

HEALTH/HORSE CARE = $5,486.23 (20.4% increase from 2019)

  • This was my horse’s most challenging year from a health perspective. He popped a splint in the Spring and was on paddock/field rest for about six months. That meant way more vet care expenses (e.g. x-rays, lameness exams, anti-inflammatories) than usual.
  • Plus, he still needed his maintenance chiropractic adjustments, farrier work, supplements, and hock injections — even if I wasn’t able to ride.
  • Health expenses aren’t something I can usually trade for (with the exception of some bodywork), so any injuries directly impact my budgeting bottom line.

FUN = $727.02 (450% increase from 2019)

  • I have to chuckle seeing a 450% increase in “Fun” during a year that felt anything but fun.
  • A good chunk of this came from buying gifts for my dear friend, who lovingly let my horse recover at her farm after his leg injury. Spoiling her was a small way to show gratitude for her kindness!
  • Plus, I decided to splurge on some professional horse portraits, and I have zero regrets.

EVENTS = $0.00 (100% decrease from 2019)

  • We didn’t go anywhere this year… #thankscovid.

GEAR = $2,281.54 (36.6% increase from 2019)

INSURANCE = $1,846.36 (8% decrease from 2019)

  • If you follow along with my reports, you know I started the year with liability insurance, mortality, major medical, truck, horse trailer, and roadside assistance plans.
  • Mid-year, I sold my horse trailer and was able to discontinue my trailer insurance and roadside assistance policies.
  • I’m still trying to sell my truck and get rid of that expense, too. I simply didn’t use my rig enough to justify keeping it.

STABLING = $3,690.00 (33% decrease from 2019)

  • This expense is typically consistent month-to-month, and my boarding cost includes my horse’s group paddock, turnout, deworming, and access to all our riding facilities.
  • Being a boarder also entitles me to a discount on lessons, so that’s helpful.
  • This year, though, my horse stayed offsite at a friend’s to recover from his leg injury — that meant a few months where I didn’t need to pay my normal boarding costs.

TRAVEL = $2,017.63 (48% increase from 2019)

  • My barn “commute” is an average and is calculated by taking the IRS mileage rate for 2020 (58 cents) x 4 visits per week x 4 weeks per month.
  • This category saw a bump due to a cracked truck windshield in January and a new battery, wiper blades, and oil change in February.

OTHER = $0.00 (100% decrease from 2019)

  • I didn’t end up having any expenses in this category for 2020. 

TOTAL (Before Adjustments) = $20,331.28 (6.65% decrease from 2019)

GRAND TOTAL (After Adjustments) = $10,679.68 >>> $14,328.18

(Over annual budget by $2,328.18 and a 34% increase from 2019)

Money Well Spent

What am I particularly glad I spent money on in 2020?

  • Lessons: I would take lessons every day of my life, that’s how much I love investing in knowledge and becoming a better rider. This year, more than ever, lessons (and clinics) gave me something to look forward to each week.
  • Farrier: Do I wish my horse could go barefoot and be less expensive? Sure. But I was very grateful to have such a talented farrier after the popped splint and hoof injury. He was able to talk me through what recovery would look like and adjust his shoeing approach to keep my gelding sound once he went back into work.
  • Ovation Tyra Riding Coat: Most of my barn coats were bought second-hand. After all, they get pretty beat up and dirty. This winter, though, I invested in an amazing coat that I’m now obsessed with.
ovation tyra

Click to see the Ovation Tyra at Amazon

  • Weaver Smart Cinch: After noticing my mohair western cinch could pinch my horse’s hair when tightened, I invested in the Weaver Smart Cinch (felt lined version). It is so comfy for my horse, tightens smoothly, and is super durable.
  • Horse Blanket ID Tags: This purchase by no means broke the bank, so I don’t know why I waited so long. All my blankets, liners, and coolers now have these custom tags from Etsy. Now our barn staff can easily tell which items belong to my horse, and what weight each layer is, too.
  • Rain Slicker: After spending a February weekend soaked to the bone and freezing in Arizona (Arizona, guys!), I knew I needed a real rain slicker that could handle the worst weather. I got the Pack-a-Roo Duster from Outback Trading when I got back from this trip. I’m so glad not to end up in that situation again.
soaked in the rain

If only I’d bought a real slicker sooner…

  • Photo Shoot: I have very few professional photos of my gelding, and I knew I would regret missing out when a photographer came to our barn this winter. How handsome is he?!
black background horse photography

Photo by Rachel Spaid Photography

Wonder how expensive horses are where you live? We break down the average horse cost in all 50 states

Buyer’s Remorse

What do I regret spending money on in 2020?

  • Truck: Though I did manage to sell my trailer, I’m still ending the year with my truck. I’d hoped it would be sold by now, but I’m committed to finding a buyer in the next month or two. I’m tired of paying for insurance and repairs on a vehicle I rarely use.
  • Jump Saddle: This item falls more in the “somewhat happy, somewhat regretful” category. At the time I bought it, I planned to keep jumping my horse and needed a saddle that fit us both better. Now that he’s not jumping though, I feel like that money could’ve been better used elsewhere. 
  • Insurance: One of the first things I did after buying my AQHA gelding was invest in horse insurance. It’s a sizable expense (9% of my annual spending), and sadly the popped splint injury was just shy of the threshold for reimbursement. That leaves me feeling a bit meh about why I pay for insurance at all. But, in the event that something really bad happens (knock on all the wood everywhere), I know I’ll be glad to have it.

Tips for Reining in Expenses (Pun Intended)

How could you save some money?

  • Barter, barter, barter: Periodically trading for things like board and lessons helps lower my bills a lot. Bartering is what allows me to take 3 lessons per week and ride in so many clinics. If you want to get 7 ideas for how you can trade for some of your expenses, subscribe to our email list!
  • Watch for price drops: If you have a product you use often, keep an eye out for sales on Amazon or in your local tack stores. Apps like Honey can help you do this automatically by applying coupon codes and checking prices for you. Click here to try Honey for free.
  • Compare costs before you buy: Most of the time, I make my horse-related purchases on Amazon. I love the selection, 2-day Prime shipping option, and competitive prices.

Financial unpredictability is part of the game with horse ownership, and you need to be prepared for expenses to fluctuate hundreds (or more) dollars each month. Looking back on all of my 2020 spending, I’m more aware than ever just how expensive horses are to own and why so many people find other ways to get their horse fixes.

Hope you enjoyed the past 12 months of expense reports. I’m excited to continue tracking my costs in 2021, so watch for January’s report next month.

Happy Trails!

P.S. If you hate buyer’s remorse too, check out our Horse Rookie Must Haves on Amazon for equestrian gear that’s worth every penny!

P.P.S. Buying your first horse? Check out 60 Questions to Ask When Buying the Horse of Your Dreams and our Beginner’s Guide to the Best Equine Insurance

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About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!