So You Want to Own a Horse…
There is a lot more involved in owning a horse than most people realize. There is a much bigger time and financial commitment than owning any other kind of pet. You are asking a 1000 lb. animal, with a high flight instinct, to trust you and rely on you for their wellbeing. Their needs are as diverse as they are and upkeep is expensive. Here are a few guidelines to take into consideration BEFORE you buy:
Take Riding Lessons
Take lessons from a reputable trainer in the riding discipline you intend to pursue. Ideally, the trainer should require you to participate in the care of your lesson mount. Learn how to groom, tack, bathe, and handle the horse in your charge. If the lesson program usually tacks and un-tacks the horses for their clients offer to come early or stay late to assist in the process. Most people find this extra time spent to be a rewarding experience. You learn more about the horse, gain confidence, get a chance to connect with them on a different level and see how they are feeling that day. Also, keep in mind that not all lessons have to involve riding, there is so much more to learn in horsemanship. Don’t be afraid to ask your trainer for a lesson in grooming, tack cleaning, leg wrapping, lunging, long lining, clipping, first aid, the list goes on and on.
Leasing a horse can be a good way to get your feet wet, or dirty as the case may be when it comes to horses. There are many types of arrangements possible: You can lease a tried and true lesson horse from your trainer, a horse that is boarded where you ride, or even one at a horse rescue. These are great places to start because your support system in already in place to answer questions or lend a helping hand. Leases can vary from a set fee per month based on the number of days you ride, to taking over all the expenses for the horse including or excluding vet bills and shoeing. Make sure the lease is in writing and that both parties are clear on the expectations. Sometimes schedules can get complicated when sharing a horse but don’t let it stop you from this alterative. Communicate with the horse owner about any changes in your schedule, the horse’s behavior or health and it will go a long way to both parties satisfaction.
Enlist Your Trainer’s Expertise
Ask your trainer what you should be looking for in a horse. The best advice I ever got was, “Buy the most well trained horse you can afford.” Seems simple, but it’s very easy to get off track and let your emotions lead the way. A well trained horse may be a little older and an excellent teacher. You know that 3 year-old fancy thing with the flowing mane, snorting and blowing around the pasture or round pen, skip it! Yes, I know, “But he’s so pretty.” Don’t fall into the trap. More first time horse owners buy horses that are “green,” meaning they have little to no training, and end up in over their heads. They get sucked in because “they love a black horse” and the cheap price tag can be very tempting. Usually a horse is inexpensive for a reason: It’s young, lacks training, or has emotional or physical issues. Green horse and green rider are usually not a good combination unless you are both in full training, even that can be dicey. You will end up afraid of the horse and/or spending a great deal of money to have a trainer put many hours of training on him. You and your horse can end up frustrated, fearful, or worse yet, injured. In the end the horse ends up for sale again and chances are you will not recoup your money. Unless you are a very experienced rider you should consider a well-trained horse. Ask your trainer to look at horses with you. Yes, you will have to pay them for their time and expertise. But there is nothing more valuable than a second opinion. You can drag your trainer to go see every potential horse or only your top picks. You should ride any good prospect twice anyway to make sure you feel the same after a good nights sleep.
Ok, so you took lessons, and maybe even leased a horse and have not been swayed by the time commitment. Are you ready financially to give your horse the best care? What prospective owners don't often realize is that it’s not the cost of the horse that drains the pocket book, it’s the upkeep! Costs to consider are: boarding (monthly), shoeing/trimming (every 6 weeks), worming (every 3 months), vaccinations (twice a year), training, lessons, grooming supplies, blankets, wraps/boots, tack, first aid supplies, and the inevitable vet bills. Did I mention horses have a knack for getting into trouble? Hung up in the fence, tangled in their blanket, cast in their stall, a cut here, a bite there. Not to mention colic, respiratory infections, and whole host of other things that can lead to expensive vet bills. Have you considered insurance on your horse?
Perhaps you think you are going to keep your horse at your property to save on board. Think again, it may save you a tad, but it will be a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of your monthly expenses. Even if you are already set up for horses on your property you still have to pay for feed and bedding. Horses are hard on facilities too. Broken fences, chewed on wood, erosion control, and clean up all take time and money. My point is, be prepared and carefully consider all the costs involved.
Is it worth it?
Hopefully, after reading this you have a better idea if horse ownership is a good idea for you or could be in the future after some careful planning. It can be an awesome adventure, but I’m a realist, and have seen too many horses owned by neglectful owners. Some of these owners are not intentionally neglectful, just uneducated in horsemanship. I have boarded horses and have had them on my own property. There are positive and negatives to both but in the end it’s the love of the horse and pride in caring for it the best I can that makes it all worth it. So read books on horsemanship, volunteer at your local stable or rescue, take lessons, lease a horse. Get involved and learn before you buy. The horse you purchase deserves the best!