You don’t need to be rich to ride
It’s often said that buying a horse is the easy part — covering the day-to-day expenses is the hard part.
Lessons are typically an essential part of ongoing expenses, if you’re committed to improving as a rider. So what do you do when the cost of a trainer isn’t always within budget?
Here are three creative ways to save money and still get quality instruction:
- Tag Team
There’s never a shortage of chores to do around a horse barn. Mucking out stalls, cleaning and filling water buckets, prepping grain, coordinating turnout, and exercise riding are just a few examples.
Then there’s the cleaning — things like sweeping the crossties, cleaning the bathroom, hosing down wash racks, and attempting to keep the cobwebs and the dust bunnies at bay. (Where do they keep coming from?!)
Growing up, I worked to ride. (From time to time, I still do!) I used to help our barn manager in exchange for lessons. I loved it!
The experience also rounded out my riding education with horsemanship and horse care skills I’m grateful to have now.
I remember watching the barn manager treat wounds while I handed her tools and supplies, like I was an ER nurse. To this day, I’m able to treat many of my horse’s minor medical issues myself. (Though, for some reason, it still takes me a couple tries to get a polo wrap right.)
I’ll never forget giving my first equine intramuscular (“IM”) shot. The opportunity alone made me go bug-eyed. We traced the magic triangle on my horse’s neck, and I told myself not to screw up. I held my breath the entire time until I pulled back on the plunger and saw there was no blood – phew!
Not surprisingly, many of my childhood barn friends who also worked to ride now have careers in the horse industry. Some are trainers, others are barn managers, one is a vet tech, and another is on the national circuit.
Advice from a trainer:
“The working students who do the best are the ones who want to do anything to help. That means cleaning the bathroom, organizing equipment behind the wall of the arena, and other non-glamourous jobs. They are the ones who are willing to scrub everything for the chance to just catch a horse for the farrier or assist with the occasional wound. They are the ones who are willing to hand walk a rehab horse for 1/2 an hour or to simply sit and watch a colicky horse for hours. They’re the ones who put in the work and make me feel like I should invest my time into them moving forward.”
On the other end of the spectrum, students who did not live and breath the scent of manure, beg to hold a horse just for those extra couple of seconds to spend time with them, or stick it out to nab the hard-to-catch lesson horse in the pasture did not work out in the end.
If barn work doesn’t suit you or your schedule, there are other ways to barter for lessons. For example, what young family doesn’t want free babysitting? That’s almost always a sure way to get regular riding lessons if your trainer has young kids. Parents love knowing their children are with someone they know and trust. (Petsitting is a nice offer, too!)
What if your trainer doesn’t have kids or pets? Maybe look to your biggest supporters and cheerleaders, the ones who are always standing in the arena with you. Sometimes, they can provide goods or services to a trainer to help offset your lessons.
Do you have an uncle who does taxes? An aunt whose dog just had a litter of golden retrievers? Trainers are notorious for hating paperwork, and, in general, horse girls and barn dogs are like peas and carrots!
The point is, get creative about what you have to offer that a trainer would value.
When I transitioned to jumping, my new trainer was a total foodie. Thankfully, my biggest fans – mom and dad – owned a cooking school when I was growing up. Voila!
I had more jumping lessons than I knew what to with because we lavished my trainer with gourmet foods, fine wines, cooking classes, private chef dinners, and even a gourmet culinary adventure to Italy!
Whatever the arrangement, the trades with the best track records are those where the monetary and time agreements are clearly stated and matched dollar for dollar.
Advice from a trainer:
“My advice for any student looking for a trade is to be crystal clear about the parameters (i.e. how many hours they’re willing to work at what “wage”). Make it a dollar-for-dollar exchange instead of a loose agreement with unspoken expectations. The most successful trades I’ve done were the ones that concretely spelled out how much the trade was worth, and we agreed on what training fees that would cover.”
You don’t have to go it alone! If you have a friend or sibling who wants to also offset the cost of their lessons, two people are twice the help of one.
For example, one surefire way to get a work-to-ride opportunity is to offer to work on holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Eve/Day. If you tag team it with a friend, you can split the day into shifts so no one person is burdened with having to work the whole holiday.
Another benefit to tag teaming is oftentimes two people bring complementary skill sets. Plus, you can usually barter for a group lessons vs. private, which is less expensive.
Advice from a trainer:
“I have a couple of sisters that have been at the barn for 10+years. One enjoys doing the paperwork and behind the scenes portion of the ranch work, and the other is all about doctoring. That makes it fun for me to have helpers on both ends of the spectrum. The ‘vet’ helper covers the barn in the summers, and the ‘paperwork’ one has basically run the camp office and coordinated parents since she was 16.”
Get creative. Get in the saddle.
No matter your situation, there are almost always ways to help offset the cost of your riding lessons. Horse Rookie gives you a bunch of ideas when you sign up for their email list, too.
As long as there’s a will, there’s a way!
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- How to Ride a Horse for Beginners (Basics, Safety, Mistakes)
- Horse Photography (Pro Tips, Settings, Editing, Examples)
- How Horses Sleep: A to Zzzz Guide to Equine Rest
- How to be a Star Working Student Equestrian
- How Much Do Horses Cost & How You Can Actually Afford One
- I Want a Horse But Can’t Afford One. Now What?