I Changed My Career So That I Could Afford to Ride the Way I Want

I Changed My Career So That I Could Afford to Ride the Way I Want

Money can be awkward to talk about, but it’s a big part of participating in the sport. We all have to navigate our careers, finances, and how much we spend on horses, so why shouldn’t we talk about it?

Welcome to our new series about how careers and money impact our relationship with horses and riding. We polled amateur riders on their thoughts and feelings about money, their spending habits, and how horses fit in to their lifestyle.

Want to weigh in? Go here to contribute to our Horse Cents series.

Name: Kate F.
Age: 29
Location: Pensacola, FL
Number of Horses: 1
Family Setup: Engaged, No Kids

Job: Chemical Engineer in Specialty Chemicals Industry
Current Salary: $100,000 USD

Monthly Horse Related Expenses: I spend $750 for stall board, $300 for 4 lessons, and $250 for shoes. When I get my paycheck, I first take out retirement, taxes, health insurance, student loans, and housing, then pay for required horse expenses (board/shoes/etc.). After that, I have about $1000 to save for taxable investments, shows, new tack, or vacation.

Do you ever feel guilty about how much you spend on horses and riding? No, I don’t. Horses are my life and give me the purpose to get up at 5 am and go to work every day so I can be in the saddle before dark. My desire to ride and compete has always fueled my career ambitions. I have always made my spending philosophy clear to my significant others and I think that is key. I’ve also shaped my career so that I can cover my own horse related expenses. It’s not the lifestyle for everyone and of course has been a point of disagreement in past relationships, but I am very grateful to have finally found a partner who understands my passion and wants to see me succeed in all my dreams. I’m really glad I waited for that!

How do horses exist in your life right now?

I currently own one horse, a 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. I try to ride 5 days a week, as weather and my work schedule permits, and compete every other month in a USDF recognized show. He is at third level now, but my goal is to compete with him at Grand Prix. I board at a wonderful barn, where they truly don’t charge me enough for the quality of the facilities and service (not that I’m complaining)!

What’s your job history?

Before I became an engineer, I graduated college with a Psychology degree. I had an agreement with my parents that if I achieved a full-tuition scholarship, I could use my college savings to bring my horse. I did not have money to compete as an undergraduate but spent those four years training with USDF Gold Medalist and working with client horses. When I finished school, I began working at a competitive eventing barn for an impressive $10/hour. My parents supported me for the first six months out of school, but I quickly realized that it was financially infeasible to provide myself safe housing, transportation, food, retirement savings, and health insurance, let alone a horse! I realized that to achieve the financial security I wanted, I needed to look outside of horse world.

The following spring, I re-enrolled in school as a Chemical Engineering major. Around this time, my horse sustained a significant injury that required downtime and rehab. My trainer helped me find a lessee who would help with veterinary bills in exchange for a free-lease once he recovered. This was a challenging time, as I had never taken a year off from riding before.

After my first year of engineering school, I was accepted into a prestigious internship program with an Oil & Gas company which offered compensation of about $20k per summer. This income, along with the $30k in student loans I took each year, allowed me to bring my horse home. Perhaps not the best financial decision, but I believe the chance to ride after class each day truly strengthened my resolve and pushed me through the difficult coursework.

When I graduated engineering school, I looked all over the country for different positions and companies. I took a three-tiered approach in my decision: salary, flexibility, and driving distance to Wellington. I accepted a job with a starting compensation of about $95k and have grown it steadily over the following years.

How did your relationship with horses and riding change as your career progressed?

The biggest challenge is time. More money is always great, I would love more horses and the chance to compete a full season at Global, but even then, I don’t have that kind of vacation time. Most of my work is on large-scale capital projects or troubleshooting at our manufacturing facilities, so it requires a lot of face to face interaction with my team and isn’t well suited for working remotely. One major perk is that I’m allowed to work flexible hours during the week. During the winter months, I work 6 AM – 3PM, so there’s still light when I arrive at the barn.

I also travel for work about one week per month. My trainer will school my horse while I’m gone, but that usually uses up my coaching budget. I’m very grateful to have an income that allows me to afford competitive riding, but at a certain point, time is the saddle is more valuable then an extra paycheck.

I bought my current second horse a year ago at the same time I sold my older one to a young rider. He belonged to my trainer, who had purchased him as her next Grand Prix prospect but didn’t have the time to bring him up the levels. As her long-time student and friend, she offered him to me at $31k. I was making about $97k at the time but was focused on pay-off student loans and didn’t have the all of cash on-hand. I made easily the dumbest financial decision of my life and took a personal loan for half of the sum. Afterwards, I went into full debt reduction mode and paid it off. No competing, no travel, a true rice & beans lifestyle!

It’s never too late to make a radical shift - whether it’s a change in career, mentality on budgeting, or finding a side hustle - and when you’re willing to put in the work, the money will follow.

Does money limit your riding?

It does, and it doesn’t. I am very fortunate to have a career which allows me to ride and compete. While it would be amazing to have a billion dollars, I believe in my heart that with enough drive and tenacity, we as riders can be successful. Our desire to participate in this sport inspires a passion that is seldom seen in other realms of life. It’s never too late to make a radical shift - whether it’s a change in career, mentality on budgeting, or finding a side hustle - and when you’re willing to put in the work, the money will follow.

What is your spending philosophy?

Always pay yourself first! It’s so easy to find places to spend hard-earned cash. Put money first into retirement, investments, and a high yielding savings account. I had to change my mentality that a paycheck wasn’t my spending budget. We all know with horses that accidents and setbacks are an inevitability. It gives such incredible peace of mind to have a designated savings account to cover unplanned veterinary expenses or truck maintenance.

Also avoiding consumer debt is a major rule of thumb. The best truck, trailer, or saddle is the one you own, not the one you owe money on. Taking a high interest personal loan was my biggest mistake, and one I’ll never repeat. I think of interest in the number of lessons, shows, or sparkly browbands I could have purchased if I had saved my money instead!

Read this next: This 35-Year-Old Nurse, Mom of Three Feels Guilty About Her Horse Expenses

Illustration by Estee Prada.