A recent Facebook poll revealed that 78 percent of participating Barrel Horse News readers spend more than $2,500 a year on entry fees and traveling to barrel races. In some cases, individuals claimed to spend “way more” than that amount. Meanwhile, 9 percent of readers say they keep their event spending to between $500 and $1,500 a year, 8 percent stay in the $1,500 to $2,500 range, and the remaining 5 percent live out their competitive dreams on less than $500 a year.
While every barrel racer would love to be able to travel to as many barrel races as she wants and not have to think about money, few are blessed with the resources to do so. The recent recession has even taken some riders completely off the road and left them with no idea of when they’ll once again be able to fire up their rigs.
Doug Emerson, founder of Profitable Horseman—a Web site and newsletter dedicated to helping horse owners with financial business decisions—acknowledges that this is a rough financial time for many in the industry, but he also insists that anyone who is able to keep and feed at least one horse can find a way to continue competing.
“Everybody’s options are either to make more money or spend less when they’re in a cash crunch,” Emerson says. “Maybe you don’t have the option of making more money through your work, but there are ways to turn your horse endeavors into a little extra spending money, if you’re willing to be organized and dedicated.”
Emerson recommends the following nine options to help you rev up your earnings potential and get back to where you’d like to be, competitively speaking.
1. Plan your races now
When it comes to saving money, never underestimate the power of a calendar and permanent marker. Most riders have an idea of the races they’d like to attend every year, but Emerson says many have an “I’ll-wait-and-see-if-I-have-the money-when-the-time-comes” attitude, and this can mess them up both mentally and financially.
“The first thing you need to do when you’re trying to get back on the road more regularly is to get a calendar and plan now the races you’d like to attend in the next year,” Emerson explains. “Physically write the event name on your calendar, so that instead of just dreams, those events become actual goals.”
If you were accustomed to a packed event schedule before you had to cut back or stop running, you will still probably have to lower your expectations and schedule fewer races while you get back into the swing of things. However, at least you are giving yourself the chance to race.
“You may end up with less events to go to,” Emerson says, “but by establishing your goals now for the future, you are imprinting the idea that you will continue racing, instead of the idea that you might continue racing.”
Planning ahead will also enable you to research entry fees and travel costs, so you have a goal amount of money to save, as well. And it will give you something that you won’t be able to put a price on—hope that you don’t have to stop doing what you love and motivation to put in the work to get it done.
“It’s very easy to get down when you feel broke,” Emerson says, “but setting up your life through a calendar can give you something to concentrate on besides feeling sorry for yourself.”
2. Budget and compare
Writing down information can help when you plan your competitive schedule, and it can help you put an actual, concrete amount on your monthly expenses. A person who is good at pinching pennies generally knows every dollar that comes in and out of her household for items such as food and utility bills. This theory should also apply to barn management.
“You need to ask yourself if you really know exactly what you’re spending every month,” Emerson says. “You’ve got to keep a handle on your monthly costs of horse ownership.”
According to Emerson, the best way to do this is to keep a written record of expenses.
“Most people know they should write out their monthly budget,” he says, “but they don’t because it just feels like one more chore. But it is always wise to know where your money is going.”
Charting expenses will allow you to see the areas of your horse life in which you can save cash. For example, if you’re spending an extreme amount of money on horse feed, you’ll know you need to shop prices for a better deal.
“As a general rule, people who have had to cut back are budgeting,” Emerson says. “They are shopping feed prices and hay prices for the best deal. If you’re not shopping prices, you should be.
“Most of the time, it’s worth paying for quality when it comes to hay and feed, but there are still choices that can be made among the good, respected brands for the same type of feed.”
3. Keep a “cookie jar”
Did you have a piggy bank when you were younger? Remember how it felt to pop the stopper out and realize you accumulated more money than you expected?
Emerson recommends an adult version of a piggy bank or cookie jar for those who are trying to save extra money.
“It could physically be a jar or something that can hold spare change and folding money, or it can be a bank account that is earmarked specifically for your barrel racing needs,” he says. “Think of it sort of like a Christmas account that you begin putting money in right now because the money won’t be there in the future if you’re not blessed with cash to begin with.”
Money has a mysterious way of always finding a place to go, and if you don’t point it in the right direction, it will end up paying for the most immediate need you have. In other words, it’s almost impossible to accidentally save for areas of your life that might be considered a “luxury” when you’re financially strapped.
“Put your spare change, or even if you have extra folding money every once in a while, in that jar or bank account,” Emerson says. “Get it in there and know it’s there.
“You’d be surprised how much $5 or $10 here and there adds up. It begins to build momentum, and you find yourself thinking, ‘Gosh, I’ve got $150 stashed, and it’s only March. I’m at least on my way to financing part of my travel costs for later in the year or next year.’”
4. Sell your surplus
Generally speaking, most horse owners tend to keep more tack and equipment than they really need. It’s nice to have choices, but when money is tight, Emerson is a proponent of selling excess saddles, bridles and even riding clothes.
“Just thinking of my barn and what my wife and I have, we’re like a surplus tack store,” he says. “There are, of course, things that you want to hang on to, but it never hurts to clean out your house and barn, and maybe even have a barn sale to generate a little bit of extra cash.
“It’s easy and usually not expensive to take out a classified ad for these things too.”
Ridding your barn of excess equipment can also signify a new start for you and your horse. And if you’re able to continue your competitive career, who knows? There’s always the chance you’ll win a new saddle to replace your former secondary one.
5. Make the most of good horses
Just as owners tend to have excess tack, they also usually have one more horse than they realistically need. While the obvious choice in lean times is to sell extra horses, some owners choose to fight to keep their equine family intact.
There is, however, a way to turn this emotional decision into a financially feasible one—all while keeping ownership of your good horses.
“If you have a nice second horse, you can always arrange to lease it to someone who could enjoy it,” Emerson says. “This might give a young person or a beginner the opportunity to learn the sport or give someone who can no longer compete with his or her own horse, the chance to keep riding.”
It’s not unusual for barrel racers to loan horses to those who need them for free. This is a nice gesture, but it can also turn into a financial burden for someone who is already struggling financially.
“On average, just owning a horse can cost more than $2,000 a year,” Emerson explains. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask someone else who is benefiting from the horse to help you out with those costs.”
Leasing and liability laws can vary from state to state, but one thing all states have in common is legal recognition of a written agreement. Get your expectations in writing and make sure both you and the person who is leasing your horse sign on the dotted line.
6. Become a paid mentor
There are hundreds of barrel racing newcomers, youth and less experienced riders who are looking for teachers to help them grown in the sport. If you’re experienced, have a good reputation and are a people person, you might consider becoming a paid mentor to someone who is eager to learn.
“If you know a person who needs some coaching and training advice, you can help them learn, take them on the road and pass off some of the travel expenses as your payment,” Emerson says.
Day rates for training services vary greatly, so splitting fuel and travel costs is a handy way to make sure both your bank account and your student get the most from the experience.
What’s more, leasing your extra horse to the person you are mentoring has double the benefits. Not only are you positively contributing to the career of a new barrel racer, your horse remains under your supervision on the road.
7. Find a travel buddy
This is one money-saving suggestion that barrel racers have taken advantage of for years. After you’ve chosen the races you’d like to attend, find out which of your friends, or other barrel racers in your area, will also be entering those same events, and then agree to travel together.
“You’d be amazed by how much money you save by sharing lodging and fuel costs,” Emerson says. “Those are often some of the biggest expenses incurred when traveling.”
The secret to having a successful travel buddy relationship is to know ahead of time that you’ll get along with the person you’ll be riding with, and make sure it’s well known that you will be splitting costs down the middle.
8. Take advantage of advantages
A good number of races will feature host hotels—places to stay that offer a discount to those who are entered in the event. If you’re not taking advantage of these offers, do so.
The same applies to association memberships that can help you save money. For example, a membership to the American Quarter Horse Association can nab you a discount on roadside services should you break down while traveling. And, according to Emerson, some states’ Farm Bureau memberships include 10-20 percent off lodging rates.
“For example, my Farm Bureau has a discount program on America’s Choice hotels,” he says. “Last year when I was traveling, I saved about $100 by using that discount card for my hotel rooms.”
Knowing the benefits of all your memberships may also ensure that your savings pay for the memberships themselves.
9. Get a sponsor
Sponsors aren’t just for the professional barrel racer anymore. Local barrel racers are also dipping their toes into the sponsorship pool by presenting themselves in a positive light and asking for help from hometown businesses.
“A lot of people are intimidated by the thought of asking for a sponsorship,” Emerson says, “but if you’re a good rider with a good reputation, you shouldn’t be scared.”
One of the most useful—and free—ways to solicit sponsorships is to use Facebook. Create a business page on the site where you can post information about your barrel racing career, as well as pictures and videos.
“A Facebook page can be so easy to start,” Emerson says, “and essentially your posts become blog entries. It’s not as tough as it sounds. Your first entry could explain who you are and what you’re working toward.”
You can then direct local businesses, such as feed and tack stores, to your page. If they like what they see, you just may find yourself with a sponsor or two to help you pay your way to races.