by Breanne Hill
Your horse has no idea, does he? Fuel prices are cringe inducing. Grocery prices are on the rise. Even the feed that he stands there casually chewing has come to require a more gourmet budget lately. What is an owner to do?
For horse owners who barrel race, this issue becomes even more complicated. Most competitors thrive on getting out on the road and making their favorite events; however, thanks to the cost of fuel, nothing is expected to be more expensive this summer than traveling.
The good news is, where there is a will in saving money, there is usually a way. The answer is not to give up your favorite hobby, but rather some of your more costly habits.
Following are 10 tips for spending less while hauling during these economically challenging times. These suggestions may not make gas prices any easier to accept, but they can help you worry less about your traveling costs and more about winning that jackpot.
1.) Set goals and a budget
Unless you are a recent lottery winner, you probably use some sort of monthly budget to keep track of your living expenses. As a homeowner, you know to expect a house payment, as a car owner, a car payment. But horse owners—especially weekend warriors—tend to be impulsive when deciding when and where they’re going to compete, and this can equal over spending in the often invisible “sudden horse expenses” budget column.
Financial planners will tell you that goal setting and budgeting are vital if you want to live within your means (in other words, spend what you have instead of what you don’t have). Therefore, before you dust off the gooseneck, it’s a good idea to sit down and write out what you want to accomplish with your horse in the next few months, or even the next year.
Once your goals have been decided, you can then research the events that will help you execute your plan. These are the trips for which you’ll need to budget first.
2.) Support the events that support you
In spite of rising prices, competitors are looking for ways to continue to attend the events they’ve frequented in the past. But, as veteran barrel racer Linda Vick points out, almost everyone is being forced to pick favorites among the races.
“It seems like before, people decided where they were going to go based on the arenas they like or where the ground is good,” Vick says. “Now, we need a bit more justification than that. Now, it’s about convenience and fuel mileage.”
When choosing which events to enter, Vick and others are finding themselves swayed by a helping hand. In other words, they are taking notice of those event producers who are supporting competitors during these trying financial times.
Additionally, by supporting the event producers who are trying to assist you, you will not only save money, but your absence at other events may prompt more race managers to follow suit.
3.) Choose the best lodging available
One of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning a trip is selecting where you’ll rest your head at night. Many of today’s horse owners have horse trailers with living quarters in them. If you possess one of these trailers, utilize it. Hook-up fees are generally much less expensive than hotel rates. Plus, you’re paying for the trailer anyway, right?
Of course, there are some who own a regular camping trailer or mobile home instead of a living quarters trailer. While these items can be fuel burners, if you haul a lot, they will probably still save you money in the long run on lodging.
If staying in any kind of trailer is not an option for you, there is still a major way to save cash and still get some rest—your barrel racing friends.
“I keep all the names of anybody I ever meet at events or any place I ever stay,” says competitor Laura Rogers. “Chances are, I can find someone in an area who is willing to put me up for the night or nights. I’m not too proud to ask for a sofa. And then I’ll ask, ‘Do you have an extra stall for my horse?’”
Many people find themselves in a hotel room when they are traveling. If you do have to make hotel reservations, use exhibitor discounts and coupons when you can, and then take advantage of whatever that hotel offers.
4.) Map your route
Fuel costs have forced most consumers to be on the road as little as possible. Everyone is looking for a way to get from point A to point B using the shortest route, and if you can get all of your errands done in one trip, all the better.
You should run your competitive schedule in much the same way you would an errand route. Pull out that most trusty of tools, the map, and stick a thumbtack in the location of each of the races you put on your schedule. Which races are close to each other or on the same route? If dates correspond, you may be able to hit a couple of events in the same area. You may also find it more cost effective to stay a few extra days in one location that has two events close by rather than drive home and make another trip.
5.) Find some buddies
One of the most popular ways that barrel racers are saving money while hauling this summer is to take advantage of the “buddy system.” The buddy system has one simple adage. Find someone—or a few someones—who want to compete at the races you are going to, use one truck and one trailer to get there and split the cost.
“Chances are you are not the only horse owner with your interests in your area,” champion barrel racer Kassie Mowry says. “A lot of people have discovered people living around the corner from them who want to go to the same races they’re going to.
“They’re having fun traveling together, making a weekend out of it.”
If you’d like to find someone to travel with you, try barrel racing Web sites. There are also some organizations, such as the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, that will provide a contact list of members who will be entering various professional rodeos. Who knows? There might be someone in your area who is going your way.
“I would tell people never to travel with an empty trailer,” Mowry says, “or one horse in a four horse. Fill that trailer up.”
6.) Pack right—and light
While it’s impossible to anticipate every expense you’ll encounter on the road, you should have a basic idea of what you and your horse will need when you’re away from home. Make a list of these items—and pack them.
Travelers incur most of their unexpected expenses by having to buy what they forgot. For horse owners, these products can be more costly than just toothpaste and a hairbrush. Forgotten splint boots and saddle blankets can equal money you don’t have, and nothing is more painful than having to pull out the credit card for something you already have at home.
You should pack carefully for yourself, as well. Make sure you have your boots and clothes for any type of weather you may encounter. This will keep you from having to buy such items as sweaters or short-sleeved shirts from the proverbial tourist trap shop.
Your horse won’t need 10 bales of hay and five bags of grain to get him through a three-day competition. And if you’re gone from home for longer than that, and you travel through any type of climate change, your hay and grain would be worse for wear anyway.
You know how much your horse eats. Pack accordingly, and remember that the extra weight of over packing can result in your vehicle burning more gas.
7.) Maintain your vehicle
Mechanical fact: a vehicle that is well maintained will use less gas than one that is having problems.
With this in mind, make sure your truck or motor home has received its regular oil change, and that it’s functioning smoothly before you set out on any trip. This is something most motorists do anyway, and it will save you money.
You know what else will help you burn less fuel? Properly-inflated tires. Tires that are at their ideal pressure will “float” above the ground. Deflated tires will drag the ground and cause you to use more fuel.
8.) Slow down
One way you can keep that wallet in your pocket a little longer is to simply slow down when driving. In 2006, CNN’s automotive researchers at edmunds.com reported that drivers can get 35 percent better fuel mileage by laying off the gas pedal. Why? Because putting the pedal to the metal pushes more fuel into the engine and keeps it running faster, both of which equal a higher fuel bill for you.
So, instead of slamming on the accelerator at lights and flying past other drivers on the highway, try slowly accelerating and driving at a steady pace between 55 and 60 miles per hour.
Cruise control is also a great way to keep your acceleration at minimum. Set your cruise control at 70 miles per hour on the highway, instead of jumping between 65 and 75. Edmunds.com tried this on a Land Rover at got almost 14 percent better fuel mileage than when not using cruise control.
When that same Land Rover was driven through town using slow stops and slow acceleration, it showed a 35.4 percent increase in fuel mileage.
9.) Eat smart
Your ice chest doesn’t have to be your only food source once you arrive at your destination. There are other ways to eat, enjoy your time and still spend less money.
When away from home, remember that grocery stores are your friends. Buying your food from the local grocery is probably still less expensive than eating out, plus you’ll get more for your dollar. Find out where the people who live in the town that you are visiting shop and go there. Buy items for grilling out (this is a great option for a group of friends) or breakfast items, such as cereal, that will save you money on at least one meal a day.
If you decide you do want to eat out, again, eat where the locals eat. More often than not, the restaurants recommended by hotels or tourism bureaus are the more expensive options. On the other hand, “Mom and Pop” eateries tend to be more affordable—plus they are a great way to explore the culture of a town.
10.) Don’t worry about the “Joneses”
The most powerful and effective tool you can implement to help you save money while traveling is your state of mind.
It’s a fact of life that there will always be someone who has more money than you, someone who is able put her one horse in a six-horse trailer, travel to a race every weekend, stay in a fancy hotel and eat at the best restaurants every night without worrying about the cost. Trying to keep up with a competitor who is working with a larger budget than you are is a losing battle and one that can cost you dearly.
In these economically challenging times, the best move you can make is to recognize what you can do financially, be thankful that you’re able to that and then don’t worry about it. The important thing is that you’re still enjoying a competitive career with your horse and you’re doing it on your own terms.
Breanne Hill is managing editor of Barrel Horse News. E-mail comments on this article to [email protected].