One of the biggest complaints about cutting is that it’s a rich man’s sport. Sure, if you buy the best horse, get the fanciest truck and trailer, have a full time trainer and compete in the triple crown events (not to mention vet fees), it will cost you a pretty penny, even if you do win. But it’s a myth to suggest cutting is only a rich man’s sport.
There are countless cutters around the world who don’t have unlimited means and still get to indulge in their love of the sport. All it takes is some realistic expectations, a bit of planning and the discipline to stick to it.
Yes, it sounds simple, but it’s not always easy to do, mainly because we can be our own worst enemy and our wants often speak louder than our needs. But a bit of common sense, and some extra effort and patience, particularly when looking for the right horse for example, can pay off big.
We spoke to a variety of cutters who have all managed to make cutting affordable for themselves and they have shared their thrifty habits and handy tips here.
When it comes to deciding what shows to go to, those interviewed said they consider a number of factors such as distance from home, how long and expensive the show is and whether friends are going. If friends are going, that means they can split hotel costs and a rental car and of course enjoy their company at the show.
But it pays to do the math. What you think is cheaper may not actually be. Take California-based Jody Gray for instance, she said sometimes it’s cheaper to send the horse with a trainer and then fly in so she doesn’t miss work.
To save money at shows, Carl Wagner said eat before and after the show or go for the dollar menu.
Kathy Humphrey will bring her own food such as a PB& J sandwich and water (not to mention the health savings by avoiding the deep fried menu that’s usually on offer). Humphrey also keeps her show budget in check by only competing locally. Living in Weatherford, TX, she is fortunate to have a good choice of local shows.
MaryBeth Gokee said, “Every show there’s a group… [that likes] to camp out and grill. It’s really fun… saves money and we get to all hang out and have a good time… I also haul one of my friend’s horses for her occasionally and that helps us on gas too.”
If you don’t know someone going to the same show, asking around and even posting on cutting social media groups may help you find another horse needing transport to cut costs.
Michelle Scilacci said she bought a trailer with living quarters so she doesn’t have to pay for hotels and all her meals. It’s also a nice benefit to just already be at the show. She said it makes the show a fun environment when everyone can get together at the end of the day.
When she doesn’t fly, Gray will also travel with a friend and stay in a trailer together and do potlucks. It’s more fun that way. Gray said it’s hard to socialize in a restaurant with 18 people at the table. They’ve also rented a house together so they share a kitchen and keep it fun.
Gray uses weekend and club shows to stay tuned up herself. She said you can’t get show experience in the practice pen. You have to show, sometimes you aren’t as serious in the practice shows, but you have to stay in the show pen, she added.
Some cutters even have side hustles to help pay for their passion.
“I would build hay feeders… for $6 I could build 2 feeders…. I got at least $30 each. I’d sell three or four and that would pay my entry the next morning…” said Wagner.
“I couldn’t afford to leave [my horse] in training and really couldn’t afford lessons even…Johnie Clem would have me come out and him and I would work on her some. To pay what I could for the help, I’d do odd jobs at the barn. Patching holes in the roof, made a bit for him, and worked on his trailer. He told me that he thought anyone that would keep showing up like I did… after getting my butt kicked every time, deserved a little help…” he said.
Seventeen year old 35k Non-Pro hauler, Gavin Clarke, refuses to let his age or lack of full-time income stop him from cutting. This enterprising youth budgets money he made from selling a horse and raises and sells boar goats to pay his entries.
Since a hauler has to hit a lot of shows, Clarke sometimes goes to shows with other trainers if his main trainer, Dylan Meyer, isn’t attending that show. He works out a trade. He helps the trainer at a show in exchange for transport, accommodation and food.
At home, he keeps his mare at his trainer’s barn. He rides his horse before school and after class he grains, blankets and does meds for the rest of the barn. Clarke’s high school is very supportive of his cutting endeavors especially because he is winning the world. The teachers just want him to have his work done when he comes back to school.
Humphrey is also not afraid of hard work. She has three jobs with flexible hours. As a nurse, she can pick up shifts for a few hours here and there. When she had her horse’s hocks injected, she said she would work a few extra hours to pay the vet bill.
Scilacci also got entrepreneurial by repairing sewing machines for added income.
She said to save money she will take the horse home in the off season or set up a reduced training schedule with the trainer.
Gokee also finds ways to cut costs and earn extra income. “I’m blessed to work-off part of my board at a friend’s farm by mowing, helping with chores, and farm-sitting….I work hard and have worked several other jobs in order to finance the shows and any lessons/work I have been able to do ever since I began. I write for magazines, take photos, farm-sit, mow, body-clip horses, do PR and websites for people, do MLS work for a realtor friend, take food to the shows to save and share expenses with friends whenever I can.”
There are also times when not skimping will save you money in the long run and give you peace of mind. All cutters said they never cut costs on veterinary care. As Wagner put it, “ I refuse to go to the show if I don’t think my horse is ready. I work a full time job so the truth is sometimes [my horse] just hasn’t been worked enough before the show. If that’s the case then I stay home…”
Humphrey said it’s crucial her horses are comfortable and sound. She makes sure they get the best hay and supplements and goes to a trusted vet when needed.
Scilacci would not cut corners on a saddle. She said she wouldn’t buy a cheap saddle online, but make sure it fit the horse. She said she believes in investing in the best equipment for her horse. She said it is money well spent to have a top notch barn that is safe and takes the best care of the horses.
Gray sends her horse to the best vet and doesn’t skirt around good rehab. After all, she said, the horses take care of her.
On the often debated question about buying a cheaper horse and training it yourself, Wagner said, “Definitely buy a trained horse!” “Unless you’re wealthy enough to take the risk and are wanting a Futurity or a 4yr old Non Pro horse then it’s a no brainer to buy one already finished. For the average weekend show-person, you can’t pay to get one trained for what you can buy one for. Popular to opinion $15,000 still buys you a dang nice 50K Amateur kind of horse.”
Humphrey said she wanted the experience of raising her own foal. She was there for the first ultrasound showing the mare was pregnant and then when the colt was born. She followed the advice to breed her mare to the best stud she could afford. She said she researched the up and coming stallions and took a chance on them early while the stud fee was still cheap.
She won a Metallic Rebel breeding at a silent auction for a great price. When she bought the Metallic Cat breeding, she didn’t wait until the stallion had won a lot of money and become more expensive.
For Scilacci, buying a horse is less of a risk than breeding. She said you have the opportunity to try so many horses and see what fits you. When you breed one, even if it is out of a great mare and great stud, she said it’s always a gamble. You can pay for a whole year of training only to have the trainer say he won’t make it.
Gray said it’s satisfying breeding and raising your own horse, but it is a gamble. You can spend a lot of money on a trained horse but then you miss the three and four year old years which are really fun. She said it can be hard to find a good horse because no one wants to part with the good ones.
Some of the best lessons in not wasting money have come from doing exactly that. Wagner said he mixed up the dates to the Eastern Nationals and had to drive through the night to get there. He and his horse were tired and sore and not set up to succeed.
Humphrey said her costliest mistake has been not knowing when a horse is no longer working out for her. She loves her animals and said it’s really hard for her to make a logical decision that it is time to sell her horse.
For Scilacci, her most expensive mishap was not having a trainer go horse shopping with her.
Raising a colt out of a bad mom was Gray’s priciest lesson. She said her trainer told her not to but she didn’t listen. She said she would never breed to an inferior mare again. “I will always listen to my trainer, that was the costliest mistake ever. Every time I don’t listen to Monty [Buntin], I make a mistake,” she said.
CPA Mary Michels of Weatherford, TX has a lot of cutting clients. She said it’s important for cutters to be aware of their entire financial picture, not just focus on their current wins or the last horse sale or cattle gain.
“They need to be involved in their financial situation just as much as they do the training of their horses. The more involved they are, then the more educated they are with their finances. It helps them to stay on top of their money and not get surprised when expenses get out of hand at different times during the year,” she said.
She advised cutters to do an annual budget. She also said for any cutters who claim expenses on their tax returns using a Schedule F, to do a business plan complete with their goals and expenses for the year.
The idea of doing an annual budget can be overwhelming. CHTO has created a spreadsheet tailored to cutters that includes all potential income and expenses a competitor could face throughout the year.
Simply go to the list of Tools and Resources in your CHTO member’s dashboard and click on budget. You can then download a copy to your computer and simply enter in your own values and see your complete financial picture for cutting.
Click HERE to go to the link!