Thursday, February 21, 2013

Enough is enough

I think the essence of responsible horse ownership is the desire to learn more. 

All of the owners and riders that I really respect have one thing in common: They read. They don’t necessarily take the advice of every book, article or blog post, but they do take an active interest.

Owning horses (like raising children?) is in some ways an act of absolute futility. You can pour money into proper food, lodging, exercise, equipment and education, and still not have the outcome you expect. To some degree, they are born with talents and personalities that you can shape—but you can only go so far. There is an armature under the clay that can’t be changed. We can build and build on the surface, but the core is untouchable.

Genius horse helps with camera.

In many ways, a horse is like one of those old-timey supercomputers. He is covered in switches, levers, dials and buttons. Each time you adjust one, the others are almost guaranteed to shift.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I find myself looking for ways to economize, and I come up with limited possibilities. Everything that I do with Blue—his very existence, really—costs money.

What I pay for board would have been astronomical by Walla Walla standards, but is actually pretty reasonable locally. 

If I moved Blue to a cheaper barn, I might lose the large stalls or daily turnout. Maybe I’d end up with a smaller arena or no arena at all. In that case, I would be able to ride one day per week. Are four rides a month worth what I pay in board? Would four rides a month give my horse a varied, pleasurable life? Would it keep him fit?

If I switched to partial care, I would have to find time to clean my own stall and arrange my own hay supply. Do I want to do that on my own time? How would that affect my free time for riding? Would I condition less because of barn chore fatigue? Would Blue's health decrease because I choose the wrong hay or do a poor job on the stall?

If I moved Blue to somewhere closer to town (to save gas on my “horse commute”), I would have to give up onsite trail access and large, interesting turnouts. That would mean hauling somewhere to ride outdoors. Would I still be saving gas if I had to tow the trailer out to the mountains to condition?

Granted, the commute looks pretty good.
If I change my feed regime to cut out supplemental vitamins, minerals and fats, Blue might not be physically able to perform in the way I want him to.

Ditto for cutting back on vet and farrier expenses.

If I cut back on going to rides, I decrease my own enjoyment and sense of purpose. If I am not competing, then why condition? If I’m not conditioning, then why ride at all? Would my enjoyment of Blue as “just a pet” be that much greater than my enjoyment of a dog or a mountain bike? (I’d still be nurturing an animal and hurtling through forested trails—with the added bonus that Brian could come too.)

Why ride when you can run?

These thoughts and feelings are complicated by the (humblebrag!) fact that I absolutely CAN afford to just keep doing what I’m doing. Having the horse is not a hardship. I mean, maybe if we wanted to buy a giant house or vacation in Europe twice a year… but it’s not like Blue is keeping me from buying groceries. (Seriously, look at me. Blue would probably prefer it if I bought fewer groceries.)

No, this isn’t about saving money as much as it is about imposing limits. I need to find a point that I can call “enough.” Because all of this reading that I do just makes me think that I could (and should) be doing more. More time riding; more turnout; more expensive, personalized diet; more chiro and massage; more holistic medicine; bigger, better truck and trailer; my own property; lessons and training… and it could go on and on.

I was talking with Sarah the other night about how having a horse felt when we were kids. My first horse, Gazab, saw a farrier a couple times a year, if that. He saw the vet even less. We gave him all of his shots ourselves and I think we floated his teeth once. The saddle was a freebie we got from a friend of the family. We did not talk about fit for horse or rider. The bit was a grazing bit that came with the $20 bridle from the local feed store. We fed 12% sweet feed and cattle-grade alfalfa. 

It was fine. It was what my parents could afford. It was enough. 

Sarah felt the same way about her childhood, jumping a fat, elderly arabian mare bareback over logs on the back 40. We both are experiencing a certain amount of equestrian lifestyle creep as we change our interests: me from casual trail riding to endurance, her from casual trail riding to dressage.

Now “enough” just keeps getting bigger and further away. The more I read and learn, the more advantages I want to give to this horse.

Surely everyone who reads this blog has experienced this feeling. So how do you choose how to spend your "horse money" and "horse time"? Where do you cut corners? What activities do you sit out?

Where have you drawn the limits in your horse life?

Have you been in a situation recently where you've finally had to say... Enough Is Enough?


  1. Setting limits.....not one of my strong points I'm afraid! This is a great post and the theme applies to so much (besides just horses).

    I'm currently attempting to become more of a minimalist. Unfortunately, I find it much easier to be a minimalist in every day life than in my "horse life"!

    I too struggle with the desire to provide every advantage I can to my horse. While its easy to pass up shopping for clothes, buying new electronics, jewelry- all things I do enjoy, I have a real hard time not spending on Cartman.

    He has more blankets than I do coats:)

    I do have a chiro adust him, probably two or three times a year. He gets his teeth done by an equine dentist. I pay extra to have the best farrier work on him. He gets a Smartpak every day (Farrier's Formula and Missing Link).

    I pay a trainer to ride him once a week in the winter. This has the added bonus of better training for the horse, which makes him more enjoyable for me, and helps me fit more conditioning in in the winter when I'm stuck at the lab.

    The other horses get the necessities- good quality hay, grain as needed, shots, trims.

    I try to remind myself that horses have done very well without all the "extras" for years. I doubt Man O' War ever saw a chiropractor or an Adequan shot but he managed to amass quite a nice record in one of the most demanding horse sports there is.

    Having access to shelter and turn out is one thing I won't skimp on. I've boarded in the past and if you have a situation where your horse is cared for well and gets turn out I would stay there, for sure.

    I have had to say enough is enough, just last year when I decided to euthanize my mare with the hoof keratoma. The primary concern was her quality of life- but also a factor was the insane amount of time and money I had put into caring for a her. It was taking away from the others.

    I don't think I could go the dog/mtn. bike route myself. Horses are a lifestyle for me, even if I didn't ride I'd still keep them. Keeps me out of trouble:)

    1. Amen, sister. Shoes, purses, jewelry... basically all the nice girly stuff... I barely buy anymore. I also go minimalist on other things, maybe to my detriment. I see the vet more than the doctor. My horse has had half a dozen professional massages since I got him… I have only had one in my entire life. :)

      He also goes through shoes faster than I do.

      “I doubt Man O' War ever saw a chiropractor or an Adequan shot but he managed to amass quite a nice record in one of the most demanding horse sports there is.” SUCH A GREAT COMMENT!

      I was listening the other night to a story on This American Life about pet insurance, and they were talking about the “stop treatment” point that most people have for their animals. It’s that number in the back of your mind that you wouldn’t go past in the event of a vet emergency.

      What was interesting was how they used it is a comparison point for what’s wrong with the human health insurance system. Basically, there is no “stop treatment” point with people you love in a life-and-death situation, so doctors/hospitals can charge whatever they want. Vets can’t do that, so the pet insurance system is actually affordable. It was something to think about, anyway. (I am not saying I am in favor of euthanizing sick people, it was just a really interesting thought experiment for me since I work in health care.)

      Blue is not insured, and my “stop treatment” number is fairly low. Essentially, it is the cost of buying a suitable replacement. I know that sounds cold-hearted, but I wanted to get something written down so that Brian and the barn owner would know what to do in the event that I was physically or emotionally unable to make the call myself.

      I think the choice you made wit your mare was really brave. I’m sure it was a really hard decision—one that I’ve never had to make myself.

  2. Oh, I totally hear you. Especially on training for rides being central to my enjoyment of horses. It's funny; I didn't get into endurance until I'd been riding maybe two years, but it's a monster that's taken over everything. I really barely want to ride at all unless I've got a training schedule going.

    And yes, what's "enough" for my endurance horse? I feel bad that she doesn't get blanketed (not that she needs or wants them) or gets to see the chiro more (not that she moves better after) or gets regular visits from the saddle fitter (it's Western, and it fits ok; what's the guy gonna do?)

    My compromise is to keep Miss D at a moderately expensive place with moderate but hilly trail access that's moderately close to our house. There's nothing great about it, except the level of care she receives (phenomenal!) but it's what works this year.

    1. It sounds to me like you have a good setup. All things in moderation, just as they should be!

      I am totally goal-oriented in pretty much every aspect of my life. Training for endurance has given me goals for my riding, which I really didn’t have before. Essentially, it brought a sense of purpose to what I was doing… and simultaneously made it easier to justify my ever-rising expenses.