The start of the New Year marks the time to recalibrate my annual horse budget, evaluate my goals for the year, and establish a schedule that balances work and riding. Time and money are perpetually in limited supply, but I've gotten efficient over the years. From managing my feed program (quality vs. quantity improves equine health and minimizes waste), to embracing the barefoot movement, to maintaining my horses' wellness and soundness (reduced vet bills), I'm able to do a lot with my six horses and stay within my budget.
Unfortunately, circumstances beyond my control often dictate my course of action. For the past six-plus years, the price of fuel has greatly impacted my ability to pursue riding to the degree that I would like to. I don't travel around the country with my horses like I used to. I've adapted to planning training rides closer to home, opting out of some horse camping trips and being selective about the endurance rides I go to. I'm sure this is the same for many horses owners.
That seems to be changing for the better. As I write this, the CBS Evening News is reporting that the price of oil has dropped for a record 108 consecutive days, and the national average for a gallon of gasoline is $2.14. Gasbuddy.com posts stations in the Midwest with prices as low as $1.61. Of course, California still has the highest prices in the U.S. The highest-priced gas in the 48 states can be found in San Francisco--$2.66 per gallon.
Diesel is still higher, of course. (Do you remember when diesel used to be cheaper than regular gas?) My local gas station in Calistoga has the best deal for diesel, for $2.75. Not cheap, however, I can still vividly recall the summer of 2008, when the national average for diesel peaked at $4.25 per gallon and the price tipped over $5.00 per gallon here in California. Ouch!
The falling gas prices are liberating, because my horse activities are strongly dictated by the price of diesel.
As I plan my competition schedule for this year, I am putting rides on the calendar that I haven’t in the past due to the high cost of diesel. Now, when I peruse the AERC ride calendar, I can set the search criteria for rides in the Pacific South, Northwest and Southwest, in addition to West Region rides. This is the first time in years that I've considered rides outside my own region. If gas prices continue to fall, I'll be able to go farther and do more with my horses.
For example, at the end of February, Hubby Barry and I will go to the 20 Mule Team Ride (one of our favorites) in Ridgecrest, Ca. It’s an 8-hour drive to get there. Afterwards, we plan to continue on to Arizona with the horses and spend two weeks riding in desert. Then we will drive south to Sonoita for the Old Pueblo Pioneer ride. From there, we’ll make our way home. This entire trip is 1,900 miles. The fuel cost for the trip will be about $500. That’s a bargain for the two-week horse vacation we've talked about taking for three years. We have a trip to Colorado planned for mid-June, and if the price of gas continues to decline then we will certainly drive.
Hubby filled up the Land Yacht for $135.00. That's a bargain considering we've paid as much as $240 for 50 gallons of diesel.
As gas prices fall, more Americans go on vacation. For those of us who drive gas-guzzling diesel trucks to pull our horse trailers, these dropping prices mean we can go farther and more frequently than we have been able to for years. There is much talk about the decline in entries for AERC rides. I've always felt that this was due in part to escalating fuel prices. I know this has certainly impacted the number of rides I attended. I hope to see more people out on the trail enjoying their horses and going to endurance rides while falling gas prices give everyone more opportunities to do so.