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 into their lifestyle.
Want to contribute to this series? Go here.
Name: Emily W
Number of Horses: 1
Family Setup: Married, No Kids
Job: Reference & Research Librarian for a large law firm in Toronto.
Current Salary: $68,000 CAD
Monthly Horse Related Expenses: About half or slightly more than half - this is just to cover expenses. On months when I compete, I am dipping into my savings. After all my bills are paid, I usually have around $500 left over. All of that goes into my savings. Some of that will go towards horse shows and the rest saved for a down payment on a house one day.
Do you ever feel guilty about how much you spend on horses and riding?
Constantly. My husband makes substantially more than I do and he covers most of our living expenses. I chip in half of our rent each month, but aside from that he covers it all. He does this so that I can afford to keep a horse and ride. If we ever eat out, he pays. If we ever travel, he pays. I am always on a tight budget because of riding. He is so extremely kind and understanding, but I know it seems outrageous to him sometimes.
He doesn’t have a similar passion - he golfs, he plays some rec league sports, but nothing that would compare to horses. I always think of all the things we could be doing if I didn’t have my horse. We could own our own home by now, for sure. But the way things are that likely won’t happen for many years, if ever. Toronto real estate is insane. We could travel a lot more than we do, but we can’t because of my commitment to my horse.
It’s not even always the money that makes me feel guilty, it’s the time. I’m always at the farm. We don’t go away on long weekends because I always have to book a show to judge to make some extra money. I’m too tired by the time I get home from the farm most weekends to want to go out at night. Don’t get me wrong, my husband isn’t making me feel guilty, he is extremely supportive. But I know it gets to him sometimes. Guilt is a funny thing.
How do horses exist in your life right now?
Right now, I am lucky enough to own one horse. After my “forever horse” passed away two years ago, I spent a while pulling myself together, riding a ton for other people and part boarding for a summer. About a year ago I was able to scrape together enough money and confidence to buy a coming 4 year old from a local, reputable breeder. I keep him at a boarding/training facility with trainers I’ve been with for almost the last 10 years. This barn competes on the A Circuit, so showing options are expensive. Board isn’t cheap by any means, but it also isn’t anywhere near the most expensive in the area.
I keep my lessons and training rides to a max of 4 or 5 per month to keep things affordable. That means I’ve done most of the work on my horse myself, slowing the process significantly but also making it more meaningful. I have to commute out of downtown Toronto to get to the farm, so I ride around 4 days per week.
We spent the last year getting to know each other and getting him going - he was “going” when I bought him, if you are lackadaisical enough to qualify going as wiggly, with no certain pace or rhythm, and all while gazing longingly as his bird friends. Showing was not an option last summer, I simply didn’t have the budget after buying him.
What’s your job history?
I graduated from grad school with my Masters of Information in 2016. I started working full time right away for the Ontario Government as a Law Librarian for the government. To start, I was making around $55,000. I was riding at this time, but I was being supported by my parents. They were still paying the board on my horse, I paid additional expenses such as lessons, shows, etc.
Over the next few years I changed positions within the Library a few times and ended up making around $59000. During this time, my horse passed away. I was lucky enough to be the go to ammy exercise rider at the farm, so I rode for free for about a year. I also part boarded a horse the summer after my guy passed, to be able to do some showing. The part board fee was very reasonable and again my parents pitched in.
In October 2018, I left the government for a private law firm and my salary increased. I didn’t leave my old job solely on the basis of salary, but it was certainly an important factor. I bought my new horse with my own savings - based on the fact that my parents had paid for my education and I entered the work force debt free - this is a lot easier to do in Canada as our tuition fees don’t even compare to US tuition. My parents continued to pitch in a small amount each month for the first little while after buying my horse. Since then, I have been on my own.
I want to be clear that when I entered the “professional workforce” after graduating, it was hardly the first time I worked. I have had a part time job since I was 13. I worked in libraries after school for minimum wage all the way through high-school. I continued working in libraries throughout my undergrad and grad degrees.
When I was doing my masters, I was in school full time, riding 5 days a week and working 25-30 hours a week at 3 different part time library jobs. In the summers during my undergrad, I was the working student on the farm where I still ride. I moved into my camper every May and lived and worked there until September. I worked off all of my showing and training expenses. My parents footed the rest of the bills and I used my savings from the library to feed myself for the summer and contribute to show bills. I continued working for the farm throughout the school year while in undergrad. The farm was a 3 hour commute from where I was in school. I would go to school and work at the Library Monday-Thursday, leave Thursday afternoon, drive 3 hours, ride Thursday night and then work for the farm Friday-Sunday. I did this for 3 years. It was the only way I could afford to ride at that level.
For the past few years I have been working for a local tack store during their bi-annual warehouse sales and during the Royal Winter Fair. They bring on outside staff for those big events and a friend of mine got me in. After working for them for the sale, Royal, etc., I am allowed to book a shopping time at which I qualify for the employee discount. I only buy horsey things from this store during these shops each year, if possible.
Currently, I work full time for the firm, but I also have a sidehustle: I judge schooling shows. I aim to judge at least one show each month. I make about $250/300 per show. Every little bit helps. I also occasionally muck stalls on the weekends where everyone is at the show and the barn manager at home needs help. I get free lessons in return. I haven't had a day off in months.
How did your relationship with horses and riding change as your career progressed?
I’ve been very lucky to have a job where I work from 8am-4pm. I rarely ever have to stay late and I don’t ever have to work weekends, etc. My salary has been slowly but steadily increasing - however, so have costs. Around the same time I started my new job, board increased at the farm and there went my new monthly income. The biggest thing that changed once I was out of school was commute time. I did my Masters in Toronto and was largely able to control my schedule. I would leave mornings open for riding to avoid traffic, have class all afternoon and then work at a part time job in the evenings til midnight.
Now that I work 8-4, traffic getting out of the city and to the farm is a nightmare. If the commute wasn’t a factor, I would ride every night. As it is now, I ride 2-3 nights a week and weekends. It’s all I can take, the driving makes me nuts and takes forever. I leave for the farm around 5pm - I have to take a streetcar home after work - and I’m usually home by 10pm. That’s not a sustainable thing to do every night when you have to be up again at 6:30am. Soon, the firm is going to let me start working from home one day a week and I’m hoping that will alleviate some of the commuting pains at least one night each week.
Does money limit your riding?
Absolutely, hands down.
Money has always been a limiting factor. My parents were solidly middle class and did very well for themselves. But their income didn’t even come close to what would be needed to support me riding at the level I wanted to. So, I worked and we tried the best we could, but we were always scrimping and limited by money.
When I do get to the show, I know that I have to keep my expectations realistic. Most of the people there show frequently and won’t be as rusty as I am. Their horses will do a professional division during the week so they will be better schooled for their amateur on the weekend. I often compete in divisions that don’t qualify for the Royal - the 3’ Amateur Owners, the 3’3 Amateurs, etc. - because I know more people like me will be in those divisions - the ones toughing it out, not the privileged that don’t know how hard the work can be.
I see these people at the horse show all week and I think to myself, when do they work? Don’t they have to make a living? Who is paying all those bills? It can be extremely frustrating. I am by no means God's gift to equestrian, but I can hold my own in a good crowd. I always wonder where I would be now if money wasn’t a factor growing up, and if money weren’t a factor now.
Today, if money were not an issue, I would be competing far more frequently. I would be able to take more lessons and both my own and my horse’s education would be farther along. And I wouldn’t be so tired. I work all the time - at my job, at my numerous side jobs, at riding, at being a good team player for my family (laundry, groceries, etc. still need to be done, even when I work 7 days a week). I’m exhausted. How much better would I be at riding or at life in general if I weren’t so tired.
What is your spending philosophy?
I just don’t spend money outside of horses and bills. I rarely go out to eat without my husband, and when I do I try to order a cheap salad. I always pack a lunch for work and make coffee in the firm kitchen. I pack food for the farm on the weekends. I only buy clothes when absolutely necessary and when there is a sale. I buy all my horsey items on my discount shopping times. I do everything that I can to save the little bits here and there so that I will have money for horses.
Illustration by Estee Prada.