We all have our spending black holes: those things into which we pour money just for love and pleasure, and never expect a financial return. When money can fuel our passion, it is money well spent (as long as this doesn’t cause us to go into debt).
For some people the black hole is a boat. For others it’s travel. For me it is a horse.
When my daughter, Gabrielle, was in elementary school, she took weekly riding lessons. Many people, whose teenaged daughters caught the horse bug, told me, “Just you wait. Someday you’ll buy a horse.” And I uttered those famous last words, “We’ll figure out how my daughter can ride without buying a horse.”
Eight years later I bought a horse.
Like my daughter, I love horses. But, I was determined I would not fall into the black hole of horse ownership. Horses eat a lot of food. They need shoes. Their stalls need to be cleaned regularly. They need to be groomed. They get sick or injure themselves. And, if the horse should colic, there is potential for expensive surgery. As much as I love the creatures, I had no plans to watch my money disappear down the horse drain.
It was my husband who changed my mind. While he isn’t fond of equines and is more careful than I with money, he is quite fond of our daughter. We had been half-leasing a horse for her at a local stable. That horse became lame and needed several months of stall rest. This would have left Gabrielle with no horse to ride over the summer and unable to participate in shows. We could have searched for another horse to lease, but my husband convinced me otherwise. “She has earned her own horse,” he said. “Gabrielle has shown us she is dedicated and serious about this sport.” For the past four years, she had gone to the stable every day after school to ride and help with chores. She cares for the horses, takes regular lessons, and works diligently on improving her skills. She uses money she earns from babysitting and other odd jobs to purchase supplies and pay for shows. My husband was right. Gabrielle had earned a horse of her own.
Before I completely agreed to expend the money, however, I did my research. I wanted to know in advance what I could expect to pay each month for board, farrier, and well-horse vet visits. I got quotes on horse insurance. With this information, my husband and I reexamined our budget. We met with our financial advisor to make sure we were not putting our retirement or Gabrielle’s college in jeopardy. Our advisor helped us look at our expenses and find a way to afford a 1200 pound animal. As a family we had to make choices. Spending less on vacations was one decision we made. Gabrielle decided to forgo a private driver’s education course and wait several months until she could take it for free at school. I also wanted my child to understand the cost of owning a horse. She pays a modest amount toward monthly board.
Last July we bought Leo. He is a ten-year-old Thoroughbred gelding who didn’t make it as a race horse. Leo, however, has found his calling as a dressage horse. He is eager to please and learns quickly. Under the instruction of their trainer, Gabrielle and Leo have become a team. They are learning complex dressage movements, steadily advancing their skills.
They are bonding. Just a few weeks ago I noticed a new thing. Gabrielle was standing next to Leo. He had his neck wrapped around her as if in a hug. Witnessing this special relationship made me realize having Leo in our family is worth every penny.