By: Makena Vass
The picture of a perfect equestrian: a tall, slender rider in a sleek, clean polo and pearly white breeches. The boots are tall, stopping just before her knee, glinting in the sunlight from their shiny essence. Her hair is tucked back, not a strand out of place. Her helmet has been polished recently; it gleams. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that she is rich.
Horseback riding is overpriced. Riders have to choose between a social life and their horse life, spending their days slaving away for the purpose of their horse or hanging out with friends. Or in some horrible cases, horses suffer in place of the people, left to die in a field because the rent comes before the horse. Or people become so obsessed with making money in the sport that they forget to acknowledge the horse’s well-being. Being a rider has never been easy, and with the ever-increasing prices of riding, it’s not going to get any easier.
For a healthy horse, it can cost close to 4,000 dollars a year. And that’s without the initial payment, which can range from 500 dollars to 5,000 dollars for a family pet type horse. However, the horses seen at the Olympics and World Equestrian Games, can cost around 40,000 dollars.
The horse costs a lot, but so does the gear. Breeches aren’t cheap, around 100 dollars a pair. Boots can reach close to 1,000 dollars, and a show shirt and jacket can cost about 200 dollars together. With all the expenses, it’s no wonder that several equestrians work multiple jobs. Specifically, Aaron Barber, an amateur event rider, said in an interview said that he almost always has three to four jobs just to keep him and his horse afloat.
With all the expenses, it’s easy to see why money is the top priority at the racetrack. People who have bought into the horse don’t want to breakeven, they want a big profit, and because of that, the horse’s performance is put above the horse’s safety.
In 2004, Gail Ruffu stole a racehorse. She had trained the horse herself using drug-free methods, which was something she took pride in. At what point does someone have to advertise themselves as ‘drug-free’? Shouldn’t that be a given? Unfortunately, that was not the case. Ruffu stole the horse because his owners had been using drugs on him to get him to run faster. The owner saw future dollar signs as he bought drugs to be given to the horse. His only drive was money and not the well-being of the horse. He forgot that horses are living, breathing thing that shouldn’t be forced into a plagued life from drugs, but the last thing the owner wanted was to run low on money, so he turned to drugs to make the horse run through injuries, including an injury to the horse’s leg. Eventually, the horse-enthusiasts desire for money can turn dark and become solely for the rider’s benefit while the horse is pushed aside.
While Gail Ruffu managed to save the horse from a terrible fate, many horses are not as lucky. A lot of people buy horses as pets, but once they realize how expensive they are, the horses are left to starve and die of a lack of care. A lot of the time, the people who buy the horses are good people who love horses, but unlike wealthy racehorse owners, they do not make a profit. When the money runs dry, so does the care for the horse. At Days End Farm, a horse rescue in Maryland, Quest, a small pony, was put in a barn for ten years. The manure was feet high. Quest’s ribs were poking out his sides, and his hooves had grown so long that they curled upward toward his knees. There were two other horses in the barn with him and sadly, one of them had to be euthanized. All because their owner had run dry of money and couldn’t afford to care for the horses. Often, people don’t like to let other’s know that they are poor. In today’s society, being poor is viewed as being weak. No one wants to be seen as weak so they hide their poverty and suffer in place of it. Sometimes, though, people are not the only ones suffering, the horses suffer too.
Big, famous riders are a rare breed. They have to have money and talent. The problem is, most riders have the talent, but not the money. A number of amateurs are being bought out and the ones that haven’t been bought out are working like dogs to keep afloat. For example, the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida is one of the biggest equestrian events of the year. A huge number of top riders go there to ride and show off their horses. But to compete there for one week can cost as much as 4,00 dollars, well over a hobby rider’s budget. A lot of amateur riders never get the chance to attempt the higher levels because of the price, which deprives the sport of many good riders.
Horseback riding is a sport for the rich, but it doesn’t have to be that way. No one wants to see horses suffering because of money and no one wants to stay stagnant in their riding abilities. The high cost of riding hurts everyone involved.