Friday, October 10, 2008

The elephant in the room...

It's time we had a talk. That talk we'd all like to avoid, about a subject that is making 99% of us very uncomfortable these days: the economy.

One poster wanted me to go into this topic in depth. You know what, I can't. Like many Americans, my knowledge of the financial world and how all of this works is shamefully inadequate and I wouldn't for a minute attempt to opine on all of the root causes of the problem. I know what many of you know - hay and grain and gasoline and veterinary services have rocketed upward in price at an alarming rate, while our salaries have not budged.

I know that a great many people bought homes for themselves and their horses via subprime lenders and adjustable rate mortgages. Basically, an ARM is like a ticking time bomb. It starts out being something you can handle and all is well and then all of a sudden, POW, your mortgage payment doubles. Who can afford that? Well, just about no one. And so the lender gets the house back (not that they want it or know WTF to do with it, but they sure as hell aren't gonna let you live there anymore). And so the people and their animals are out on the street - and it's a hell of a lot easier to find a place for a broke person to sleep than a broke person with ten animals.

I know that even if you're trying to be responsible and know that you can't afford to own a house, finding property to rent where you can have your animals is getting tougher and tougher and those properties that do exist are becoming more and more expensive. Worse yet, a lot of the property owners are losing those properties to foreclosure and suddenly the innocent renter, who paid their rent on time and did nothing wrong, is on the street. Trust me, the bank does not care. It's gotten so bad that one sheriff in Illinois has refused to carry out any more of these types of evictions.

Full care board? Sure, that's out there, and it's getting more and more expensive, too. You can't blame the barn owners - they face the same rising feed and bedding costs. (And stop bitching at them, you boarders. They are not going to Maui with that money. They are merely trying to stay out of foreclosure so that YOU have a place to put YOUR horse. No one gets rich boarding horses.)

Again, few of us have experienced the same astounding leap in our salaries. And most frightening of all, companies are giving in to the financial pressures by cutting their own costs - by cutting our jobs. Jobs that seemed "safe" with solid companies are no longer reliable. A person can be a great employee and still get downsized through no fault of their own, and find nothing else out there. The jobs at their level have disappeared, and Burger King won't hire you if you're overqualified. Meanwhile, the bills keep coming...

So what is the solution, in these scary times? I can't solve the financial crisis and honestly I don't think either of the candidates can, either. I think this is pretty much the hand we're all being dealt and we'd better adapt. I've had to do a lot of thinking about it - it's been a bad year for vet bills with my bunch and clearly I need more money than I have, despite having fewer horses than I did a year ago. The conclusion I've come to is that, unless you're a planner and have savings in the bank and a super stable profession which is unaffected by the economy (which, let's face it, is not typical of horsepeople), we all need to have multiple income streams. Maybe that's a second part-time job. Maybe it's a home based business. Maybe we start offering a service. I just think many of us need something else, something extra, to help ensure we don't wind up in dire straits with our animals in danger if we get the rug yanked out from under us at our main job, or if the ARM fairy smacks us a good one and we wake up to find our mortgage has gone up $600.

One thing that I do know about economics is that bad conditions create new opportunities just as surely as good conditions do. For example, the bankruptcy lawyers and the collections firms have more work than they can handle. If you want a stable and safe career to put hay in your barn, those are two areas to consider. They won't be downsizing. There are also opportunities for side businesses here. More women are going to be going to work out of financial necessity, so if you love the SAHM life, offer child care. A friend of mine is paying her sister $1200 a month to watch her two kids while she works - that's not a bad extra income if you're already at home with yours and you love children. That would keep a dozen horses in good hay in my part of the country!

If you have a horse facility, I think self-care board is going to become super popular even in parts of the country where we haven't seen it before - it's the cheapest way out for someone desperately trying to hang on to their horse through hard times. (I warn you, if you haven't offered it before, it's a bear to oversee - but the demand will definitely be there.)

Another great revenue generator, if you have a facility and enough parking, is the fun show. People still want to have fun in tough times, but they don't have a lot of money. Having a fun show with a flat fee to ride in everything is a great source of quick cash. Order some cheap ribbons and cheap prizes like hoof picks, fly masks, etc. and put on a show. If you do games, you don't even need a judge - just a stopwatch!

Got land? Grow hay. It sure as hell isn't getting any cheaper! Grow your own hay at least...if you're clueless, ask around. Some farmer will do all the work for you for a share of the hay. The split used to be 50/50 - these days it's probably much more for the farmer but who cares, you'll have your own hay! Look at the conditions around you and ask yourself what new business opportunities are being created by them - and then jump on that. Look at the horse world - what do we need? More horses? NO! We need more training, for horses and riders. Offer that instead. Break out those old broodmares and put them into your lesson string. Many of them will be delighted for the attention.

Those are some of my thoughts, and yes, I do have a plan for myself and my own horses after thinking all of this through that I'm really excited about. More to come on that. ;-) If you're a financial expert, by all means, chime in. If you've found that wonderful second income stream in this economy, please share! We all want to be able to keep our horses and keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed, but we simply can't assume that we're going to be able to do that just going to work from 9 to 5 like always.

It's Friday and today's Friday Featured Rescue was privately rescued by a friend of mine. Biff is an eleven year old registered Standardbred gelding who rides and drives and is great on trails. I talked about him before, in this post. The family he's with can't continue leasing him and he's looking for a new job. If you are in the Portland, Oregon area and could use a solid, confidence builder horse, my friend is happy to lease him again to the right situation. He would just be great for someone who has had a bad experience and needs a horse whose reaction to everything is "so what." He'd also be fine for intermediate lessons - the canter still needs work but he'll trot around forever and he's great on the longe line. He is also available for adoption if you fall in love. E-mail me with BIFF in the subject line if you're interested!

Wishing you all a wonderful fall weekend. The colors are amazing out there if you're in a climate where the trees change...go on that trail ride. The yard work will wait!