Money or nothing

I feel like no matter what, having $$$$ is the only way to make it into this sport.

I want to hear everyone’s thoughts

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The culture has changed from back in the day, when poor kids like me kept random horses in barbed wire pastures and rode around bareback unsupervised all day long, then became barn rats to earn money for lessons or work off lessons or got a barn job so they could afford to ride. I feel like these days if a kid had supportive parents even if they had only a little money and really wanted to ride and they already had some sort of base and were old enough to really work hard to earn lessons/rides it might be possible to do that. But I feel like kids these days (Cue grumpy old woman face) don’t understand how to WORK for something or do physical labor unless they’ve grown up on a farm environment. And that environment is a rarity. So perhaps you are right–to ride and SHOW takes money. There are still some backyard horse owners whose kids probably hop on and tool around who are not wealthy at all. The school programs allow some kids a way in who are not wealthy. But again, I don’t see those kids turning into barn rats working off lessons that much either. I think it is impossible pretty much to compete these days at the top of the H/J world without $$$. But there is opportunity to participate for less. Being a motivated DIYer helps. And it takes some
sacrifice, of course.


I just saw this ad that made me think of this thread: "Looking for a working student to help with grooming, turnout, tack cleaning, and barn chores. 4-5 hours per day most days. This is not a riding position nor a paid position… " Later in the ad it says you can get some lessons in exchange for work, but it’s unclear if a horse is provided, and realistically how many lessons can a person take?

So yeah… who is free 20-25 hours a week and can afford to commute to a barn and work for zero pay?

The concept that a person should be honored and grateful to do manual labor for essentially nothing seems unique to the horse world.


It’s nowhere near as black-and-white as “money or nothing.” For example:

What do you mean by “make it” into this sport? There’s a vast difference between “become a proficient horseman” and “represent the US at the Olympics.”

What are your showing aspirations? There is a big difference between being successful on the local circuit and winning on the A/AA circuit or the FEI level.

Where do you live? In some places, yes, horse keeping is $$$$, but in other places it’s only $.

What is the nature of the horse community around you? Access is going to be easier and, in general, cost is going to be lower in communities that have lots of equine activity around than in those have very little (or none).

From my perspective, I am successfully “making it” in this sport without having $$$$, but everyone has their own picture of what “success” means. It’s very likely that others here would not agree with my assessment that I’m successful.


I was one of the lucky ones. I was 18 (almost 12 years ago) and lived at home. Started in a working student position at $400/week 5 days a week with a lesson (valued at $100) ever single day. And got to ride. Mornings were spent grooming, cleaning, etc and afternoon was lesson.

This turned into an assistant position and living on the property with many raises along the way.

Not every trainer provides these opportunities, but they do exist. I definitely think I’d my daughter wants to peruse riding, that’s what she’s going to have to do. I can’t afford for both of us to show and I’ve paid my dues :sweat_smile: now I get to drink wine at the end of a show day.


Elite level participation is very expensive in almost all sports, even ones that might seem to be cheap to organise and run. How much do families spend on soccer when their children are aiming to become top players and professionals? That is just running around a patch of grass kicking a ball but it still costs $$$$ to be at the elite level. I’ve just googled some costs: running a “football academy” is obviously big business for clubs!

I would say that horse sports are generally cheaper outside the USA.


Talent, money/connections, and luck.

To succeed at most anything you need 2 out of the 3. Having all 3 is even improves your odds.

Having 2 out of the 3 or even 3 out of the 3 is still no guarantee of success. But without talent, money/connections, and luck you’re not likely to make it in any competitive endeavor. Horses aren’t that unique in this regard.


Being “successful” on any competitive field is expensive. Look at racing (cars or dirt bikes), mountain biking, gymnastics, snow sports, heck even fishing or curling! The top of those sports, even ‘just locally’, are either sponsored or well funded by a flexible job/connections. It’s very tough for the average person to Make It without lots of money, time, and luck.

The biggest difference between most other sports and horses is you can store a bike or hang up the skis for a year and… stop spending money on them. Horses are remarkably expensive even when just sitting in the yard doing nothing, need tons of specialty equipment, and they’re usually not easy to get off the bill quickly and humanely.

That’s not to say that competition in horse sports hasn’t gotten ridiculously expensive relative to the past. It’s true that for many aspects of the show world, you CAN simply buy yourself success. It’s true that to “make it” in any reasonable sense, you (g) have to be very lucky and/or very comfortable with throwing money away.


There are just not as many horses in the suburbs. Period. That raises the basic cost to ride as well as restricts access to the sport.

In all the years Ive been in the sport, its ALWAYS been relatively expensive compared to the median income. Yeah, board was $40, lessons <$5 including school horse and barns a bike ride away. But minimum wage was around $2 an hour and 12-15k a year was considered a very good salary (with a STEM degree). If it wasn’t for the fact there were horses less then a mile from my house? Would never have gotten into it, my family just could not afford a horse and scrimped to get me limited lessons. Today there are no horses at all in the area let alone public lesson programs.

Far as the young barn rat getting dropped at the barn all day? That’s questionable these days and for excellent reasons. We can’t fix most of this.

BTW, priced Football and Soccer camps for 10 year olds lately? Dancing lessons? Cheer camps?


I think this thread comes at an interesting time with the “Tell me your age…” thread.

There, we see how relatively inexpensive, even when factoring inflation, horses used to be compared to now.

I liken it to listening to “How I Built This.” I listened for example to the episode that spoke with the founder of the women’s sports apparel company Title 9, and she started the story by saying, “Well, I was a single mother living in the Berkeley Hills…” and my brain said, “OK, stop right there. There is nothing you’re going to say to me that’s going to be relevant to me trying to start my own company now in 2020.” (when the episode aired)

The amount of money now you need to even LIVE in the Berkeley Hills is astounding. Much less being able to live there AND start a business out of your garage as a single mother.

That’s how I think about the horse world and money. You can tell me that it’s possible to do it without, you just need to work hard and that it’s always been expensive and that all sports at the top involve money, but there really is no equivalent to this moment, here and now, and how much it costs.


I agree with all of the responses and would also add…

To get better at riding, you have to ride frequently. And to become a truly great rider, you have to ride more than your one, personal horse (I think most would agree). Ideally, the horses you ride should be a sweet spot of a varied nature, not so easy that you only know how to ride one type of horse, but also not crazy to the point that you lose your nerve or have more horse than you can handle at that particular point of your riding journey.

Years ago, it might have been possible (especially if you were lucky enough to live near a local stable, lived on a farm, or had horsey parents) to get that if you didn’t come from the upper middle class, but that’s increasingly rare. Also, because of the demands of school, commuting, urbanization, horse costs have gone up, so there are fewer opportunities to get the needed skills for fairly compensated, genuine assistant/working student positions.

People I know who have gotten them came from at least enough money with supportive parents to at least get a base so they can be a useful paid working student and assistant trainer.

I too see those deluded ads on Facebook pages by trainers asking for “free labor” like @Horsegirl_s_Mom–I think it comes from the bizarre perception that you have to work for the “privilege” of riding if you aren’t wealthy, combined with the knowledge that most people looking for that type of work nowadays don’t have the means to get enough experience to exercise horses. But if they’re basing their business model on hoping to get people to work for free “for the horses,” then I laugh.

All sports require a certain amount of leisure time and disposable income, I agree. But as I sit here after going on my morning run, I will also note that at least for sports like running, it’s much easier to practice on your own without shelling out big bucks. To get saddle time, and the right kind of saddle time, requires a much more significant financial investment or exposure via your parents (say, a trainer’s kid).


People will disagree but yes, you need money. And lots of it.

Get yourself a career that can support you, and you can ride and train as much as you need to, then you can decide whether or not to go pro if you have what it takes.


I heard someone refer to the Adult Amateur Hunters the other day in Ocala as the “Checkbook Olympics”, and honestly, he’s not wrong. There are definitely some underdogs and unicorns, but for the most part, you’re competing against big ticket horses and it’s become a lot more competitive over the years.


Reminds me of watching the young riders at WEF clean stalls for the GM clinic. Maybe it was gold star back in the day? I can’t remembered.

It was like Marie Antoinette playing peasant with her servants. I had big dreams and was mucking stalls and still have dreams of bringing my horse to WEF.


Maybe that aspect caused them to shorten the Horsemastership Clinic from its original 5 days to 3 - the kids (or their parents) couldn’t handle the labor involved for that long! :rofl:



Eventing is turning into this too.

I love that term. New fav.


I busted out laughing. But I’m as guilty as the next… so he’s not wrong.


This has always been an expensive sport but…I played around with an inflation calculator, and even the “fancy” barns I so wanted to ride at as a kid (did the nice, competitive local h/j shows and rateds as well, but didn’t go to FL in the winter or VT in the summer, type barns) charged rates that would be considered lowish end today. This was in the mid to late 90’s, in MD. So not a low COL area of one far outside of “horse country.”

Everything has gotten more expensive relative to income, and that has bled out to the cost of keeping horses.

I will counter though–yes, other pursuits (soccer, dance) cost money to pursue at an elite level, but plenty of those are NOT out of reach for a talented kid with a middle class family. I danced fairly seriously through my teens and into my 20’s and I have two dance acquaintances who are now professional ballerinas with top companies. Paying for classes and getting into elite summer intensives and whatnot took dedication from their families and some money, but it pales in comparison to what horses cost.

I just spoke to one mom who couldn’t swing putting her daughter into our very local, showing on school horses at schooling shows, show team. She said they considered club soccer and that felt pricey…at $1,500 for the whole season for younger kids. Even the “elite” soccer clubs that can pilot a kid to a professional career run at 10kish or so a year on the higher end, from what I’ve heard. That’s not cheap but…I pay more than that annually to board one horse right now, before I pay for lessons/shoes/vet/showing. And not at a high-end barn with a program that will take you to show ring success.


Your post reminds me of a story in Practical Horseman years ago. The reason I bought that particular issue was a story posted on the cover of how to make it in the horse world on a shoestring. The story focused on one person and detailed how her parents were invested in the sport and she was taking lessons with Katie Monahan Prudent and going to all the A shows. (back in those days there were just A shows). I failed to see where the “making it on a shoestring” came in as she had a high dollar horse, lessons with a BNT, and the wherewithal to live the dream. Shoestring my foot!


Same with the bigger AQHA and Paint shows. For some naive reason I thought it’d be different than the world of hunters. Nope. Someone will always be able to afford a fancier horse.