A few years ago, Jillian Carr, a longtime competitive rider and horse owner from St. Albert, Alta., decided she wanted a horse. But not just any horse. She had her sights set on a two-year-old beauty called Show Me the Money.
But, as it turned out, the animal did anything but.
Within a year after Ms. Carr imported the burgeoning superstar from the United States, the horse was diagnosed with navicular syndrome, a painful medical condition that causes a bone set deep inside the hoof to disintegrate. Soon Ms. Carr was shelling out $380 a month to the farrier for special gel hoof pads, and she paid vet bills every six to eight weeks for monitoring the horse’s progress.
Eventually she shipped Show Me the Money to Texas, where she paid $30,000 in training there to make her horse more comfortable, but by then it was too late. The show horse – which she’d originally hoped to import and sell in Canada – would never compete.
“She cost me a lot of money,” says Ms. Carr, now an associate advisor for Riverview Insurance Solutions, who works primarily with veterinarians in the Edmonton area, many of whom own horses themselves. “Investing in horses is like buying a stock or mutual fund in a really volatile market. Some people win and some people lose. That’s the reality,” she says.
Ms. Carr is the first to admit that while making money is rarely what drives people into the equestrian lifestyle – a deep love of animals and camaraderie among riders usually draws them in as kids – it is no secret that horse riding isn’t exactly an inexpensive hobby or sport.
Aside from the cost of buying the animal, which varies widely from the low thousands to tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars, riding lessons range between $30 and $150 each, if taught by an experienced trainer with credentials, while boarding runs $300 and $3,000 per month. Owners also face maintenance costs including vet bills, supplements, feed, blanketing, horseshoes and trimming. In addition, helmets, clothes, boots, grooming and riding equipment can all can run to about $10,000 annually.
And that doesn’t include competition fees, which can run to several hundred dollars. At the most elite levels, the children of the wealthiest are among the highest profile competitors. The daughters of tech titans Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, as well as musician Bruce Springsteen and actor Tom Selleck, compete in show jumping. And members of royal families are also involved in riding. Britain’s Princess Anne, for example, competed in the Olympics, as did her daughter.
Or if you want to ship a horse from the United States or Europe by air, specially equipped planes contain a handful of stalls at a cost of at least $10,000 per stall, per flight.
“Honestly, buying the horse is the most inexpensive part of it,” Ms. Carr explains, saying back when she was competing at a high level she once bought a custom-made saddle for $7,000. “Anything that has the word ‘horse’ attached to it, you can add a lot of zeros.”
Not that you necessarily have to spend that kind of money if, say, your children or grandchildren simply want to take lessons once a week.
“Not everyone has to own a horse,” says Kristy House, manager of welfare and industry development for Equestrian Canada in Ottawa. “There are very economical ways to get involved in horses.”
For instance, it’s possible to lease horses and have access to them for half the time or a quarter of the time, depending on how many other people are leasing the same animal. Ms. House says there are also co-op situations. To lessen the financial load, riders help out with stable chores a couple of times a week.
This kind of working arrangement may actually be a good idea for children even if a family has the wealth to afford more expensive, hands-off boarding and training options. Caring for an animal builds empathy and a connection to other living creatures that could help offset an entitled outlook born of an affluent upbringing.
Ellicia Edgar, owner of Valleyfield Farm, a high-end breeding and training facility in Stony Plain, Alta., started taking riding lessons when she was 9 and worked in stables as a teen.
“I don’t think there’s anything better for children than to work with animals, horses in particular,” she says. “It’ll keep your kids in the barn rather than the malls and getting into trouble.”
In some cases, the equestrian world also puts children – and their parents – in touch with well-to-do families with the means to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for horses and riding. Ms. Carr’s father was a financial advisor before he retired, and she remembers spending summers and going for dinners with some of the province’s most prominent oil and gas families, who were also into horses.
“It’s a good network for professionals and business owners. Yes, you’re spending money on it, no question. But you meet some really interesting and successful people, too,” she explains.
It was horses that initially introduced Ann Laing, an Alberta government director, to the family years ago. While her parents paid for Ms. Laing – now married to Ms. Carr’s brother – and her sister to ride as children, when she turned 18, she was expected to pay her own way.
Today she does what she can to make riding more economical. For instance, when travelling to shows in Canada and the United States, she doesn’t pay the $1,500-plus fee to send her horse in a trailer. Instead, she invested in her own trailer and truck and drives them herself. She also brings her own hay.
“Buying a bale of hay here costs $5. Buying a bale of hay at a horse show can be $15, ” she explains.
Her love of horses even had an effect on her professional career. She says she purposefully went to university with an eye on a career that would pay her a good enough income just so she could afford to continue to live the equestrian lifestyle and be near horses. She rides after work and most of her vacation days are used for travelling to horse competition shows. She saves up money to purchase new horses, or for a $5,000 saddle she has her eye on for competitions.
Ms. Laing knows how crazy this all sounds, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There is nothing as satisfying as riding a horse and competing. You can’t replicate it,” she says. “I would continue to pay this ridiculous amount of money every time to be able to compete in this sport.”