There are two types of people who own horses. Those with money. And the rest of us. I’ve been an impoverished horse owner since I saved up and bought my own pony aged 15 (it took me two years of working, first in a green grocers after school and then in an old people’s home but I did it!) and I’ve been looking for ways to keep costs down ever since.
When we lived in the UK, like most people, I kept my horse in a livery yard. I mucked out for other owners to keep the costs down and when the kids came along, they came with me whatever the weather. I remember tying my eldest to a tree with a lunge line when she started walking (and was thus hell bent on walking off to explore the main road) and lots of soggy snow suits and muddy wellies, but they survived! Like most livery yards in the south east, turnout was at best limited and at worst non existent. It sounds stupid now but as everyone kept their horses in 24/7, I never really questioned whether this was the right thing to do.
Fast forward to our arrival in France and a (sadly rented!) property with 4 hectares and an old stone building with an entrance open to the field. My highly strung thoroughbred mare changed personality overnight and became a seaside donkey. Hmm. Maybe horses are better off with the freedom to decide when they want to be in and when they want to be out…
Of course this is the case and these days most people are trying very hard to provide their equines with an environment that is as ‘natural’ as possible. And as someone who doesn’t have a huge amount of cash to throw at it, I thought I’d share my tips for keeping your horse naturally on a budget.
We have one hectare of land which is just about enough for one horse. For the last few years we’ve had two grazing it so careful management is key. Track systems are becoming very popular and work well if you only have a small area of land. We haven’t installed one (I think Mr H would throttle me if I asked him to re-do the fencing) but we have chopped it into three sections meaning we can close bits off to allow the grass to regenerate. We were also lucky enough to have an existing outbuilding which has been converted into an extremely large stable. It had previously been used as storage and there were three different floor levels. The long suffering husband broke the concrete up and dug it out. We then left it as an earth floor which was fine until it rained and I arrived one morning to find my poor mare paddling around. Saintly husband then proceeded to dig drainage channels and kept doing it until we got it right and we had a floor which stayed dry. Ish. So I decided we needed bedding. Anything other than straw is really expensive in France but I love using woodchips so my superstar husband went and asked the local wood yard. They keep us supplied with massive sacks of dry fluffy woodchips entirely FOC and I now have an extremely happy horse who has such a deep bed that he’s convinced he’s back in a racing yard.
Having no concrete floor means mucking out is a doddle. I simply pick up the poos and the wet stuff decomposes over time. It never smells even in the height of the summer and is by far the easiest system I have ever had to muck out. There was a second doorway backing onto the field so my happy horse can wander in and out at will, avoiding flies or torrential rain depending on the season. This also means that when I get back from work in the winter and it is cold, wet and dark, he’s already put himself ‘to bed’ and just needs to be fed. Makes my life a lot easier and his a lot happier!
I bought a huge (brand new) water butt from le bon coin at a very reasonable price and as a result, filling water buckets is easy (it’s right next to the stable door) and I’m no longer paying for water which is a significant cost when you are on a meter.
While hay and grazing are generally cheaper in France than the UK, feed and accessories are often more expensive. Feed buckets are a good example - generally pricey and rubbish quality - but you can find really durable rubber buckets meant for mixing mortar in your local builders merchants. I can’t remember how much I paid but it wasn’t much and they have lasted for years.
It’s also often very difficult to find good quality feed (there are two places ‘near’ me but both are over an hour’s drive away!), so if you’re a horse owner in France, I suggest you check out Thunderbrook horse feeds who deliver to a wide range of areas and are expanding their delivery routes all the time. Thunderbrook products contain no fillers, just high quality ingredients, so the feeding rate is lower and they can often work out cheaper to feed. You can find out more here. Decathlon do excellent Himalayan salt licks which are really reasonably priced at €3.50 - I’m convinced it’s a pricing error so always end up buying loads when I go - just in case!
Keeping your horse healthy and happy doesn’t have to cost a fortune and if you can make things run as easily as possible, you and your horse will be happier.