Photo by Alix Coleman.
Seeing your tiny tyke look up in awe at her first pony will fill any parent’s heart. Helping a young rider live her dream of riding at the Devon Horse Show may empty that same parent’s wallet.
Most parents have no idea of the costs for the care and feeding of a horse and rider, plus the surcharge for reaching a competitive level. Certainly, costs are not the first thoughts that proud parents have when their child (here’s hoping it’s only one) shares her Devon dream. Floods of emotions and thoughts of trophies should supplant budgets.
The good news first: Your child can qualify for Devon on a $10k horse whose mane you’ve learned to braid and you’ve driven there in a used trailer. Upsets can happen, and you, too, can have a dream … of making the movie, The Miracle in the Dixon Oval.
But at some point, a parent starts a mental list—or several spreadsheets—with some of the known costs—not to be confused with the unknown, unusual and unexpected. We talked with several parents about their experiences and wanted to share what we learned.
You need at least one, and the purchase price can range from about $10k (the cost to breed Derby winner California Chrome was $10k, after all) up to seven figures (what do you think Jessica Springsteen rides? She’s a rock star’s daughter and among the top-ranked riders).
Does leasing sound better? See if the dream endures … beyond the first month or two. Leasing can still top $1k per month and can run much more, depending on how experienced the horse is. Maybe you’ll get lucky—thoughts of California Chrome again.
Rule of thumb: winners cost more. Often much more.
Boarding and Grooming
Now you need a barn, which generally charges monthly fees. Or build your own? But that plan adds the costs of buying land and a farm. Using your trainer’s barn (more on the trainer later) costs something, but saves trailering the horse back and forth for lessons.
And there’s horse feed, which is not cheap—you’re feeding an equestrian athlete weighing more than a couple of sumo wrestlers. Plan about $1k per month for room and board.
Add more for grooming supplies —shampoo, special tail mane conditioner, polish for painting hooves (really!)—-and replacing horseshoes every five weeks on a four-legged pet that has no idea how much horseshoes cost. Plus brushes, hoof picks and more. Estimate $250 per month. And add on clipping, done before the winter “indoor” season and as expensive as a visit to a high-end human salon.
Medical Care and Insurance
Your vet will visit three to six times in an uneventful year, while the dentist comes twice. Major medical (covering colic) and life insurance for the horse can run around $7k per year; it’s based on the horse’s value—another plus for the budget horse option. You can buy disability insurance, but most don’t. It’s too expensive, which will give you pause if you think about why that’s so.
Tack and More
Start with things like saddle, saddle pads, bridle, bits, halter, leg wraps, grooming tote, tack trunks, feeding buckets … whew! Say $2500? Now sit down.
Luckily, most of this lasts a few years. Plus you can buy some of it used, reconditioned or at swaps. Preferably not from Hermès. Unluckily, there are always more things you need, like fly sheets and masks in summer, blankets in winter, coolers for walking—special things for every season and occasion.
For everyday riding, your darling needs a helmet, boots, britches and whatever else all the girls at the barn are wearing that year. These do wear out. And the rider grows.
Clothes for the ring are another chapter of this story: think special jackets for warm and cold weather, two pairs of boots, a few pairs of britches, shirts, helmet, gloves, stock tie and pin (preferably an antique). About $1500 for the outfit. Update as needed, though the styles are classic, so that’s a plus. Oh, and the horse may need special tack for the ring.
Remember, we prepared you for this earlier. Fees are based on experience, ranging from around $50 per lesson to $500 for a monthly rate and continuing year round. Trainers get mileage for trailering the horse to shows (more on this coming up), plus additional fees for services at the shows, based on how much they do—number of events, extra coaching, prep for the course, critique after the run. Trainers put in long hours! Were those fees less than you expected?
Costs for Qualifying Shows
This is a big category. To ride at Devon, riders must qualify by earning points at local, regional or national horse shows—each year.
One dad shared that his daughter rode in about 20 horse shows this prior year in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Florida. And then the horse was injured. That might have ended the Devon dream for 2015. Luckily, this dad had a spare horse. (Quickly double most of the costs outlined above in your head.)
So, what are the costs for each horse show? And since Devon takes points from the rider’s top 15 shows from April 1 to March 30, you may want to schedule an extra show or so to ensure qualifying for the hunter classes—equitation is less stringent, so more chances for savings. But, there’s that pesky multiplication for the number of shows you enter. And the number of days at each show.
For each horse show, plan for entry fees, and coaching/trainer fees (see above), plus grooming charges, like braiding the mane and the tail, and rebraiding as needed—which means daily—for about $150.
Then there’s food, transportation and lodging for horse, rider and entourage. For each horse there are separate entry fees, bedding fees and night watch fees. You’ll skip the night watch fees? Then you didn’t hear the story from a Virginia show where a horse’s tail was cut off at night by a rival’s owner. Trust me, that trainer always hires a night watch now!
Add trailering fees or initial costs to buy a horse trailer ($15k) and a truck or van strong enough to pull it fully loaded (a bit more). Not to mention souvenirs, shopping and junk food costs incurred while parents spend 14-hour days watching 40 minutes of riding.
On the Plus Side
Many shows have cash prizes, so subtract your winnings. That should help. Once your rider starts winning.
More important, parents wax nostalgic about the trips together with their fledgling riders. Despite rising in the dark on Saturday mornings and heading for rings that are cold and wet or hot and dusty, parents remember the sound of their child’s name being announced, the look of concentration before her event, the growing mastery of a complex skill and the concept of healthy competition, of lessons learned handling defeat and triumph with equal grace. Life lessons, all.
And then, Ivy League colleges recruit for their equestrian teams. So another dream lives. And a new budget begins.
Many thanks to the horse mothers, fathers and owners who shared their fond memories with us. They all thought this was money well spent.