Let's Get Fiscal - by Richard Zwirn

It hit hardest at the supermarket, when I noticed that a pound of carrots, our horses’ favorite treat, cost $1.49.

While not an economist, it was clear that these are difficult fiscal times. Costs for just about all goods and services have risen dramatically. A few years ago, a five-pound bag of carrots could be purchased for the same price. It seems like many in our industry, including this breeding farm owner, should be wondering if the “Sport of Kings” is beyond their means, as our sale horses certainly aren’t bringing five times what they had been over this relatively short period of time.

What’s a small farm to do?

Normal cost-cutting measures like turning off lights, shopping for the best price, lowering the thermostat, hanging the laundry, buying only what you need, carpooling, shutting out drafts, and being creative with leftovers can only do so much.

Thus, by thinking “outside the box,” we’ve thought of a few additional, slightly more inventive ideas:

• Use leaves for bedding. With straw and wood shavings so expensive, we figured there were certainly enough leaves raked annually on our property to provide serious cost savings. Turns out that the maple leaves we have are poisonous to horses.

• Barter for services. Sounds good in principle—until one has to spend a day assisting a vet or farrier repeatedly administering shots or applying shoes to a headstrong stallion or unwilling yearling.

• Put the kids to work. They are fast learners, lithe, full of energy, and eager to please. But too much time with chores might sabotage good grades—and future chances for meaningful college scholarships.

• Repair things without costly service charges. We have tried to rely on our limited technical abilities and lots of duct tape, bungee cords, instant weld, and recycled florist buckets and tires. Alas, since the day the bailing twine holding together my tractor hood caught fire, I’ve thought twice about this tactic.

• Then, there were the two goats we considered adopting…you know, to keep down the brush and weeds that are so time-consuming to rid. We soon learned that escaped goats munching in neighbors’ yards and waddling on nearby roads do not endear you within the community.

Not only were these attempts at frugality not very successful, but the idea that writing this would provide comedic relief has even proved fruitless.

The reality is that there is no easy answer. Prices for sweet feed, corn oil, fuel, hay, labor, insurance, and heating oil continue to climb. Only those in the sport with deep pockets will be unaffected. Along with the red ink, the anxiety and stress levels may only increase as well. But we love our horses, and it wouldn’t be fair to them to “cut corners.”

We must do more with less if we are to avoid becoming “horse poor.” Things such as keeping closer tabs on our horses to avoid catastrophic vet expenses, meeting equine nutritional needs without expensive supplements, negotiating smartly for stallion seasons, focusing on quality versus quantity, raking up clean hay/straw more carefully in order to re-use, and shelving the temptation to expand until we either have a veritable sale topper or horse manure becomes a viable fuel alternative in the near future.

Maybe the market will correct itself. Maybe racetrack slots will be the answer. Maybe one of our horses will turn out to be a nice one. While we aim to remain hopeful, open-minded, financially responsible, and in good humor, we work harder. Oftentimes while mucking out a stall or tacking up a horse, I hear my Great Depression-era grandparents’ voices echoing in my head: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I find this timeless adage more relevant than the current generation’s contrasting mantra, “Don’t worry, be happy.” We persevere with cautious optimism, clearly cognizant of the challenges that lie ahead.

If it gets much worse, however, we may one day be gazing out our window at our pastures, and instead of horses grazing, there will be carrots growing.

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