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Keeping a horse on a graduate school stipend in the USA: is it possible?

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    Keeping a horse on a graduate school stipend in the USA: is it possible?

    I'm currently an undergraduate that works approximately 30hrs a week and goes to school full time. Due to being so busy with work and trying to just keep myself afloat, I sent my horse home to live with my parents for the last two years of my undergraduate career. I really miss riding, and was hoping that when I move on to graduate school that my stipend will be enough to cover board for my mare in addition to my living expenses (plus, my parents don't want to pay for her for another 5-6 years anyways). However, a lot of the schools I'm applying to (Georgetown, John Hopkins, etc) are located in cities, and keeping a horse while living in the city on a graduate stipend (~30k/year, little less after fees) is starting to seem daunting. Does anyone have tips for keeping a horse through graduate school? (Especially if you went to said school in a big city?) I'm not against living out of the city and commuting to school, but commutes of 1hr+ seem daunting as well.
    *I would also like to note that my mare is not a good candidate for leasing out to help mitigate cost.

    I lived on my grad stipend at Hopkins about 25 years ago. I managed but most of the other students had more cushion of family money than I did. It was tight but all I did for 5 years was study.

    At the time I wasn't riding. Goucher is the "sister college" to Hopkins and has a riding program plus a shuttle bus from Hopkins. I regret now that I didn't try to take weekly lessons up there. I could have managed that financially and timewise.

    No way could I have kept my own horse on a grad student stipend in Maryland. I couldn't even afford to run a car. And the programs that hand out stipends expect you to work 24/7. They own you.

    I sent my horse to pasture retirement when I was in 2nd year university and didn't ride again until I got a tenure track job.

    Unless you have a big financial cushion I would not recommend trying to keep a horse in grad school. However you might find riding lessons in unexpected places.


      I didn't know you were also a Hopkins grad, Scribbler.

      The nice thing about Hopkins is that you have some very horsey areas under an hour away (sans traffic). If you can figure out the transportation part, you can easily figure out a way to get your horse fix on the cheap in a manner that works with your schedule and doesn't necessarily entail boarding your own mare. Plenty of farms need help. There's a lot of people who will be willing to arrange a part lease or lessons in exchange for a few hours work on the weekend or similar. If you don't want to work off rides, you can find lessons fairly affordably if you aren't looking for upper level caliber instructors. If you're a game rider who is not intimidated by green horse antics, there are always people seeking "free" training (as if it's some privilege to train their horse for free).

      I think Georgetown is a little tougher because traffic is worse and the high land values extend further out from the city. My understanding is you have to drive quite a distance before you hit those middle class type horse people willing to barter. But I'm also not as familiar with that area, so I could be totally wrong-- would be interested to see what locals have to say.
      Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


        Original Poster

        Originally posted by Texarkana View Post

        The nice thing about Hopkins is that you have some very horsey areas under an hour away (sans traffic). If you can figure out the transportation part, you can easily figure out a way to get your horse fix on the cheap in a manner that works with your schedule and doesn't necessarily entail boarding your own mare. Plenty of farms need help. There's a lot of people who will be willing to arrange a part lease or lessons in exchange for a few hours work on the weekend or similar. If you don't want to work off rides, you can find lessons fairly affordably if you aren't looking for upper level caliber instructors. If you're a game rider who is not intimidated by green horse antics, there are always people seeking "free" training (as if it's some privilege to train their horse for free).
        I have a car so transportation isn't really the problem. I guess I've just been hoping for some miracle solution that lets me keep my mare


          It would not be impossible to find a work-in-exchange-for-board situation in northern Baltimore county, Harford county, western Cecil county. I worked off my board in that area through most of my early 20s, granted this was 15+ years ago.

          But I'd be leery of recommending that type of commitment before you know your schedule, demands, and other living expenses. It may be too much.

          So a miracle solution may be out there, but I'd hold off getting your hopes up until you have a better picture of what the next few years will look like.
          Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


            I rented a dilapidated old farmhouse and kept my horse with me during grad school (in Indiana). No way could I have afforded to board, but I could afford to keep my horse with me in a crappy place.


              I have no idea of what your area looks like but here I ha e heard of a few situations where you board and live on premises (barn loft, or cottage dwelling type dwelling on the farm) at a reduced rate in exchange for labor.

              Just an idea...


                I did that (just about) at Cornell 15 years ago. I'm not sure you could do that now. And I chose that PhD program in part because Horsing would be possible in a way that it would not be if I attended an urban university.

                I think you will need either full care as a grad student, or you will need to live and work on the farm where your horse is. But grad school with a stipend is more than a 40-hour-a-week job. I don't think that partial care or commuting will work well.

                That said, this might be one time in your life that you borrow money. If you spent, say, $8K/year feeding your mare, you wouldn't rack up an insane amount of debt. I'd try to borrow that from family or see if the 'rents would get a line of equity on their house before I took on student loan debt. There are lots of reasons for being smart about choosing your lender. I can elaborate if you want. But I would borrow to keep my horse for at least some of those years in grad school before I'd essentially shelve her and your riding career for 7 years. You and she cannot get back that time at any price. If she just gets older and not more rideable, you will still have to pension her out (while you are starting to build your career-- another hard time) and never have gotten to enjoy a full riding life with her. Plus, I think your horse might be a much-needed break from grad school life and pressure. My gelding was that way for me.

                I had worked hard to get to grad school. I worked hard to get to him to the start of his show career (I had bred him from an OTTB and done all the riding myself). So I don't regret being really poor and going into some debt to have him with me and to do some modest showing while I was in school. He helped make that a great chapter of my life.
                The armchair saddler
                Politically Pro-Cat


                  Possible? Yes.

                  Probable? No. Particularly if you do your grad program in a high density, urban area (like the Northeast Corridor).

                  We started riding late in life while living in Silver Spring, MD in the late '80s. In those days there were a number of options within a reasonable time from our house. In that are don't think miles, think minutes. Last time were up there and in contact with some old riding acquaintances the world was very different. Our commute to the barn was just about 40 min. on most days. Today it would be well over an hour. And more than half the places we knew about were gone.

                  If you end up at someplace outside a major urban area you've got a shot at maybe keeping your horse. If not, then the odds are really against you. Not zero, but very much not in your favor.

                  Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raa, Uma Paixo


                    Can you find a good program in a more rural area?

                    I know quite a few grad students with horses in my northern Indiana university town. rent is super cheap and cheap board can be had. But not so feasible in the DC area, frankly, where board is twice as expensive, unless you work it off or something.


                      Being a grad student is nothing like being an undergrad.

                      Grad student-dom is the last bastion of legal indentured servitude.....the professor you work for owns you 24/7/365.....or think they do. And the higher their & the university's academic/research profile, the more arrogant they are about it.

                      My advisor called me asking why I was at my parent's home during winter break. I had just finished taking 3 courses, teaching 2 and doing research. I told him it was my parent's 30th wedding anniversary and I would be back at the university on Dec. 26. He backed off.....but that didn't quit making him a jerk. This is the same prof who withheld signing someone's dissertation until the student performed 3 more experiments and finished writing a paper.

                      Maybe things have changed in 40 years.....but I wouldn't hold my breath. Last week I was talking to a colleague about his (more recent) experience at Stanford. He said he went to the prof's office with a list of 20 questions about a technical problem. The prof said, "You have 15 minutes." After discussing the first question, the student was dismissed.
                      Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.
                      Alfred A. Montapert


                        I wouldn't try it unless you can afford to pay full board at a good farm where they provide quality care, so it doesn't matter if you don't show up for a week or more. For most people, grad school is a much more serious endeavor than undergrad. It's much more demanding of your time and effort.

                        If you're going to be in a more rural part of the country, it probably increases the odds of being able to juggle (and fund) a horse. But, you're talking about a part of the country where things are expensive and the commute to wherever your horse is will almost certainly be longer. So, yeah, possible, but not probable.
                        "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything
                        that's even remotely true."

                        Homer Simpson


                          Originally posted by Annie53642 View Post

                          I have a car so transportation isn't really the problem. I guess I've just been hoping for some miracle solution that lets me keep my mare

                          Having the car is not the problem, it’s how long you have to spend in said car to get a simple short distance in a ridiculously long period of time.
                          When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                          The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                            For the first two years of my grad program with the course work, I basically didn't look up from my books for the 8 months of the school year, then I taught in summer semester.

                            In my field you research alone so the next 3 years had more alone time. I was able to start back into fitness programs. If one was in a collaborative field like the sciences yes, I think you would be more tied to office hours in a lab.

                            Almost eeryone in my program lived within a couple of miles of campus which also made it easier to get to department events. One exception was a young married couple where the husband was in law school at Georgetown and they lived halfway between on the rail corridor I think. Like all universities in urban areas on campus parking was limited and expensive. I lived a mile away and would not have driven to campus if I had a car. Anyhow living on a derelict horse property outside city limits might be possible in more rural situations. But probably not in the big urban schools because of rush hour traffic, difficulty parking on campus, and expectations everyone lives close by.

                            I cannot imagine doing a working student or work for board barter in the first two years of my program.

                            As I said before I wouldn't recommend this unless you had a big financial cushion and could do full board and run a car too. Myself I would not recommend getting into debt to take a horse to graduate school, but opinions could vary on that. I would also not recommend getting into debt to buy a horse.



                              I could have maybe got it done it in Ann Arbor, although it was a small barn, less than $400 for pasture board, 15 minutes from campus. But I had one or multiple room mates. And no car payment. And a lab with a pretty standard 9-5 expectation. Even on a half lease, I bought a lot of ramen just to buy a saddle or hit a show.

                              In Philly, there's no way. Even on my post-doc salary. Managed a half lease, and even then, I was getting to the barn at 7:30 and getting home just before 10. Most campuses don't let grad students park within walking distance, U of M I had to bus in, even from the parking lot they offered me (for $). And Philly I either had to pay $$$ to get a parking permit somewhere within a mile of my building, or else take the train. So I had a 45 min commute home before even getting to drive 45 minutes to the barn. I managed no roommate but I had a husband overseas so this was on dual income, even.

                              Plus it's really going to depend on your program. Since mine was lab work, it depended on the lab culture - most of mine really expected 8 or 9 to 5 or 6. Yet some I knew didn't care, which could be better if you could ride in the morning and commute in during non rush hours. But if you have to TA or whatever, that's going to be a set schedule.


                                I forgot about parking in DC metro area. Place to park the car can often be be a financial liability that blindsides you. Ends up costing you more time and money then you thought you’d be saving by having the car. Might be cheaper to Uber or rent one a couple of days a week then bring one.
                                When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                                The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                                  I can not give much insight into the cost side, but I would be cautious about the time commitment.

                                  Decades ago I took my horse with me for my first semester as an undergrad in western Mass. My parents paid my room board and tuition, but I had to pay for the horse. I got a job mucking stalls at the barn to pay the horse's board.

                                  The horse went home at the end of the first semester, Basically I had time to do only TWO of
                                  College work
                                  Barn work

                                  So I rarely got to ride.

                                  Once he went home, I was able to ride in classes at one of the other area colleges, without the additional time commitment.

                                  In grad school, in North Carolina, (where I was a teaching assistant) I connected with the local Pony Club, and found several people who wanted their horses exercised. So I got to ride, without having to pay/work off board.

                                  chief feeder and mucker for Music, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now). Spy is gone. April 15, 1982 to Jan 10, 2019.


                                    There are some things that are pretty universal about graduate programs (e.g. time management challenges, risk of anxiety/mental health challenges, job market concerns), but I'd be careful about generalizing too much from any of the individual experiences reported here. Grad school experiences depend a lot on funding, local housing/community, advising relationships, research design. You're going to face different challenges than any of us can warn you about, and different than what you might anticipate if you extrapolate from the undergrad experience.

                                    When I was in grad school my Ph.D. stipend (earned by part-time TA or RA jobs) did not cover my basic costs of living, let alone a horse. Granted, I was in one of the most expensive metro areas in the country, but my stipend wouldn't have covered rent, food, utilities, and books even in a median cost of living locale. Even when you factor in inflation, the $30k/yr you expect to receive in the programs you are applying to compares somewhat favorably to my base stipend... But where the math starts to look less encouraging is when you factor in the off-campus job that allowed me to afford a horse (and the car expenses required to get between barn and campus). I earned far more than my stipend by working off-campus as a barn manager, and I was damn lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to land that job. During times when the university income was spotty (e.g. TA jobs lost or income diminished as a result of low enrollment), it was very tenuous. Without the off campus work it would have been a non-starter.

                                    The time management question is a big part of it. I was able to commute away from the city center, cram in both on-campus work and off-campus work, get my dissertation research done, and still have time to ride multiple horses per day. Burning the candle that hard at both ends isn't for everyone but it worked for me at the time. The trade-off was that I spent a year longer on the dissertation than I would have needed had I not been working 30+ hours/week off campus and riding multiple horses per day. I pretty much burned myself out doing it, and went into postdoc life (where the true misery of indentured academic servitude was revealed to me) in worse health and a worse frame of mind than I would have if I'd done grad school in a more traditional way.

                                    It also strained my relationship with my Ph.D. advisor. I got counseled that taking a job off-campus was a sign that I wasn't committed enough to my research and wouldn't survive the academic job market (this from someone who I needed recommendation letters from!), and I was told that I should never talk about horses on campus because a true scholar doesn't have time for hobbies, especially something as frivolous as horseback riding. Part of that comes down to the personality of my advisor and the nature of my relationship with him. However, that is not the only place where I've observed some pretty intense judgment about work-life balance and what the personal cost of a Ph.D. should be, so be forewarned that it can impact how you are seen by colleagues.

                                    Like mvp, for me having my horse and not giving up that time together made grad school a better experience than it would have been without horses. Worth it. But for me it took the stars aligning just right w.r.t. off campus work and a whole lot of grueling work to make it happen. I don't know that I could say in good faith that it's worthwhile or even possible for every equestrian grad student.


                                      I brought one horse to law school with me at Penn, and bought a second during my third year. I lived in center city Philly and commuted about 35 minutes to the barn.

                                      That said, I believe I was living on a bit more than you will be. I had the maximum amount of loan/scholarship money allowed per year, plus an income of $30k per summer.


                                        Lots of good input which I think boils down to "it depends". It depends on the program and location you choose.

                                        I went to grad school 40 years ago, and because I was not so involved in all the other stuff that goes along with undergrad college life, I actually found it much more manageable and less stressful academically than undergrad. I put the hours in, but I never felt like a slave or indentured servant to the prof - but I was in a field where they were happy to get grad students, and entry into the programs in that field was not particularly competitive. But times have changed...

                                        There are many, many universities located in rural areas where you may be able to keep a horse very close and very cheaply - possibly even on campus. But if those universities don't offer what you want in a graduate program, you'll need to make a decision about priorities in the grad school phase of your life.