Monday, July 23, 2012

Why is Riding Expensive?

The number one question I am asked by prospective clients is, "how much do you charge?"  Now, it's a reasonable question, as everyone has a budget, but I urge people not to use price as the only consideration when selecting a barn and trainer.  While price isn't always an indicator of quality, I would never recommend that anyone select a barn or riding instructor solely because they are the least expensive option.

I understand that the cost of riding does deter some people, and a lot of people, especially beginners, simply don't understand why riding is so expensive, aside from knowing that horses are large animals that are expensive to feed.  I can assure you that it isn't high because I'm trying to gouge clients to get rich.  I am also not trying to justify unreasonably high rates with this blog entry, as mine are in line with average prices in my area.  I do, however, want to explain why reputable, safe facilities like my own are usually not the cheapest options.

Putting aside the cost of purchasing a farm and the countless hours and expense I have invested in my own training with some of the top riders in the country, there are several other reasons why riding at my barn and at other respectable facilities isn't "cheap."

Safe, Quality School Horses are Expensive.  First and foremost, in horseback riding, the horses are the most important part of the equation.  Safe, healthy, sound, well-trained school horses that can patiently accept different riders on them every day are difficult to find and expensive to acquire.  I go to great lengths to find safe, appropriate school horses for my students, and I don't sacrifice soundness, a good mind, or good training for the cheapest option.  While they may not be the fanciest show horses around, they are experienced, well-trained horses with a quiet, safe disposition.  They also have the patience to deal with beginner riders and the athleticism to allow more experienced riders to also learn on them.  They have no vices like regular bucking, rearing, bolting, excessive spooking, or refusing or running out on jumps.  While they aren't the most expensive horses on the planet, they aren't inexpensive to acquire or maintain.

Our school horses work hard and deserve the
best care possible. Here, one of our school horses
is having his legs iced after giving a jumping
lesson to an advanced student.
Proper Horse Care is Expensive.  Properly caring for any horse is expensive, and I don't scrimp on care for any of my horses.  My school horses receive the same quality veterinary, dental, and farrier (hoof) care as my show and pleasure horses, and I wouldn't accept anything less.  My school horses work hard.  They must be well-maintained to stay healthy and sound so they can continue teaching my students to ride for years to come.  They receive all their vaccines on time, have their teeth floated once or twice a year as necessary, see the vet when they have any health or lameness issue, and get regular hoof care.  Those that need shoes get shoes and aren't kept barefoot just because that is less expensive.  Ailments are treated immediately and thoroughly and, if necessary, they get time off to heal an injury or illness.  They are never expected to work when they are lame or sore.  They are fed high-quality hay and grain as necessary and not just whatever is cheapest.  Lesson facilities should not only be places where students learn to ride; they should also be places where students learn proper horse care and horsemanship.  As such, I hold my program to high standards and always keep in mind that my barn should be a model for my students.  Other "good" barns do the same.

My School Horses are Not Overworked.  My barn is not a lesson factory.  I don't teach dozens of large group lessons, and I don't expect my school horses to work for more than 2 lessons per day.  When they do work two lessons in a single day, they are never expected to give back-to-back lessons.  I also arrange it so that they don't have to give two advanced or jumping lessons on the same day.  If one of their lessons is with a more experienced rider, the other will be a lower-intensity beginner lesson.    Lesson barns should have and stick to a school horse policy dictating the amount and intensity of the lessons their horses can do.  There are unfortunately some barns that expect their school horses to give 4 or 5 or more hour-long lessons in a day, sometimes with multiple lessons scheduled back-to-back.  While fit horses can certainly be expected to work hard, expecting a horse to do that many lessons with that many different riders in a single day can take a physical and mental toll on the horse.  I want my school horses to be sound, fit, and willing partners for their riders, not sore and ring sour from being overworked.  I will not sacrifice the physical and mental well-being of my horses simply to make more money per school horse.  Additionally, all of my school horses get at least one day off per week.  This is essential to their physical and mental well-being.

I Ride My School Horses at Least Once a Week.  School horses that are ridden only by beginner and intermediate riders can quickly get sour and develop bad habits.  I school each of my lesson horses once a week to give them a tune-up and to make sure they aren't developing any bad habits.  Yes, this is one less lesson each horse can teach in a week, but it makes sure that the horses are safe and appropriate mounts, so my riders can have the best learning experience.

My School Horses Get Dignified Retirements.   My school horses have a valuable job and work hard for a living.  When the time comes that they can no longer work on the school line, I give them a dignified retirement.  They are never taken to auction and are never sold or put in any position where they could be sold to kill buyers for slaughter.  They aren't shipped off to a cheap facility with questionable care or turned out and expected to live on only pasture with no regular attention or care.  (Note that there are many reputable retirement facilities out there, and I don't knock any barn that sends its retired school horses to a quality retirement farm.)  My schoolies stay here, where they are given proper care and attention for the rest of their lives.  While it is certainly a cheaper option to take them to an auction (where they risk being sold to kill buyers), that is not an option for any of my horses.

My Facility is Not Overcrowded.   I keep the numbers at my barn low for a reason.  First, this makes sure that the horses have enough turnout space and my pastures don't become overgrazed.  Second, this allows me to make sure that every horse gets the time, attention, and care that it needs.

My Facility is Well-Maintained.  A lot goes into keeping horse facilities clean, safe, and well-maintained.  Please note that a good barn does not necessarily need to be "fancy."  Fancy and well-maintained are two separate things.  While they can go hand-in-hand, they don't always.  Properly maintaining horse facilities is both expensive and time-consuming.  The cost of maintaining pastures (bush hogging, fertilizing, over-seeding, spraying for weeds, and applying lime when necessary) can run into the thousands of dollars each year -- and that is assuming we do most of the work ourselves, which we do.  Building and maintaining a ring with excellent footing takes time and expense, as does proper manure and pest management.  Managing biting insects in warmer months is also expensive and time-consuming, but essential for proper sanitation and the health and safety of horses and humans.  Add in repairs and normal wear and tear on the facility, and the cost of upkeep keeps rising.  Additionally, tack, riding gear, and farm vehicles must get proper care and regular maintenance to keep them functional and safe.  While all of these things are expensive, they are also absolutely necessary to maintain a safe, functional facility for our horses and riders.

Fuel is expensive.  I know everyone is sick and tired of hearing about how expensive gasoline and diesel are these days, but the price of fuel directly impacts the cost of keeping horses and maintaining a barn.  My truck, tractor, and 4-wheeler, all of which are necessary to run the farm, all require some type of fuel to run.  The cost of fuel also impacts the cost of even locally-produced hay and grain because the machinery used to produce the feed runs on gasoline and diesel.  It also impacts the cost of veterinary and farrier services because these professionals must travel to farms to provide their services or the horses must be hauled to them. We do as much as we can to cut our fuel costs and conserve fuel, but gasoline and diesel are essential to our business.

Most barns, like my own, try hard to offer affordable services, while still maintaining a high standard of care for their facility and animals.  I completely understand and respect that riding is a luxury and everyone has a budget.  I also want to stress that there are many reputable, responsible barns out there that take the same great pains to keep their facility, their animals, and their riders healthy and safe.  Asking the cost of lessons and/or boarding is certainly a reasonable and very important question to ask when looking for a trainer or a barn.  Just make sure that you also take into consideration the experience of the trainer, the treatment and lifestyle of the barn's horses, the training and temperament of the barn's lesson horses, and the time and attention given to maintaining the farm's facilities when making your decision.  I also always encourage people to visit a prospective lesson barn before committing to a lesson to meet the trainer and see the facility and horses in person.

No comments:

Post a Comment