If you’re asking, “am I ready to buy a horse?”, chances are you know what a huge commitment horse ownership is.
Buying your first horse is a very personal decision, so you need to do more than just ask your coach (although that is a great place to start!).
Instead of a quiz or checklist, let’s look at some things you should consider, such as assessing your horse experience, and being real about your life’s obligations.
How do you know if you’re ready to own a horse? Let’s find out.
Why Do You Want a Horse?
It seems like a simple question, but you’d be surprised how many people pause here.
What will you get out of horse ownership specifically that you can’t get out of lessons or part boarding? You’ll be getting more responsibility and obligation, so make sure there’s an intrinsic value that owning a horse gives you.
How Much Experience Do You Really Have?
Riding the same push-button school horse every week does not make you an accomplished horseperson. Learning everything you can and riding different horses of different levels, temperaments, disciplines, and abilities, does.
You owe it to yourself to have as much exposure to a wealth of diverse horse experiences as possible. Even the experts are always learning, so the greater your thirst for knowledge and experience, the better a horse owner you’ll be.
How Handy Are You in the Stable?
You probably already know, there’s so much more to being a horseperson than just riding. Even if you’re planning to board your horse and have someone else do the mucking and feeding, you should still have a basic level of equine ability.
Can you catch, tack, bathe, and load him? Do you know basic horse first aid? If your vet asks what his temperature is, would you know how to find it? Even if you’re paying someone else to feed him, can you recognize good hay from bad?
Do You Speak Horse?
You don’t need to be a horse whisperer, but you need to know the basics of recognizing warning signs to avoid getting you or your horse hurt.
You should know what to do if he spooks, but you should also understand why he spooks. Understanding how a horse communicates and sees the world is the single best skill a horse owner can have.
Have You Ever Part Boarded or Leased a Horse?
If you’re serious about buying a horse, try part boarding one first. You may find the three rides a week afforded by most part boarding arrangements is enough to fulfill your equestrian needs.
Leasing (where you pay a fee for the horse, plus are responsible for its care and board costs) is a great introduction to the cost of ownership and is an excellent way to get more horse experience under your belt.
Ok, so you’re an experienced rider, a competent horseperson, and have a clear vision of what you want out of ownership. You’ve part boarded or leased, but still aren’t satisfied. If you’ve made it this far, you might be ready to buy.
Before you start shopping, make sure you have what you need to ensure success.
Your horse needs a place to live.
If you plan to board him at a stable, hopefully you’ve been riding there for a while. At the very least, visit the prospective facility to meet the owners and caretakers, plus inspect the facility and condition of the other animals.
If you plan to keep him at home, you’ll be ‘on-call’ indefinitely when it comes to his care – grooming, mucking, feeding, watering, health checks, etc. While it’ll be largely up to you, having a few wise horse people to turn to is a great help.
You’ll need a good vet, a great farrier, and a riding instructor you trust. You’ll be relying on this team to keep you and your horse safe and healthy, and you’ll also want their opinion when it comes to choosing a horse.
Horses cost money (no surprise there) but are also a sizable time commitment.
If you plan to board, choose a place that’s fairly close to you. Anything more than 20-30 minutes from your home or work will probably become a chore after a while.
Don’t forget holidays and travel. If you’re keeping him at home, is there someone who can care for your horse when you’re away?
What’s your job like? Do you have time to ride and care for a horse? Will your employer understand if you need to rush home for a colicky horse, or will you need to choose between your horse and your job?
Even a “cheap” horse isn’t exactly cheap, and the cost of acquisition pales in comparison with the cost of maintenance.
The purchase price includes many “hidden fees”, like:
- The cost of driving out to view different horses.
- Cost of an expert’s time to accompany you.
- The pre-purchase vet exam (this can run upwards of $500 if you include x rays or bloodwork).
- Cost to trailer the horse to your barn. Long hauls are expensive, so try to keep your potential purchases within a day’s drive.
- First/ last month’s board or a security deposit.
- Vaccinations, as required as part of your barn’s biosecurity measures.
- Microchipping and insurance – neither one is a bad idea.
- The “new horse shopping spree”: saddle, bridle, blankets, and other tack.
… and this is all before your inaugural ride.
Every month, you’ll need to budget for board, and lessons. Don’t forget you’ll need to pay the farrier about every 6 weeks. You’ll also need to pay for an annual vet exam, yearly shots, and seasonal wormer. Showing carries its own costs, many of which are fairly expensive.
Horses are notoriously accident-prone animals, so it’s a good idea to either consider insurance or start an emergency fund for if (when) your horse gets sick or hurt.
This is just a basic list of considerations. If your vet doesn’t float teeth, factor in an annual equine dentist appointment, too. Your horse may need an equine massage therapist, acupuncturist, or chiropractor, so be prepared to pay for these to keep your horse working comfortably.
All that being said, we’ve written about many of the ways you can save money owning a horse—hope is not lost!
Horses are a lot like kids. They need time and money, but also emotional resources to care for them properly.
Keeping a horse at home can be a fun family project, or could become the source of bitter disagreements when your partner sees the first hay bill. Make sure the lines of communication are open and honest before you bring a 1,000-pound baby into the mix.
Visiting the barn 5 days a week may put a strain on your non-horsey relationships with your friends, spouse, or children.
What if things don’t go as planned? How will you handle the frustration if the horse regularly comes up lame, sidelining your competitive aspirations and draining your bank account?
When you’re taking lessons or boarding, it’s easy to switch horses. If you own the horse, you either have to find a solution or find the horse a new home.
An Aging Horse
As your horse ages, you may need to make a decision regarding his retirement.
If you have the resources and space to keep him as a pet, or companion horse (or know some kind soul who does), you’re in luck. If not – what’s next? Do you have the funds to board him at a retirement facility? Or will you have to send him to the already overburdened network of animal rescues?
As an owner, you’ll be called upon to make tough decisions regarding your horse’s care.
Horse ownership is a rewarding journey, and the opportunity to form such a close partnership with a member of another species is a benefit unique to horsemanship. The responsibility to make decisions about your horse’s care is all part of the full equine ownership experience.
Owning a horse is, for many, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. If, after reading this, you realize that today’s not the day—fear not! There are plenty of ways to get involved with horses without owning a horse. But if you’ve been riding for years, done your homework, asked your coach, and added up the costs – then yes, you’re ready to buy a horse.
How did you know you were ready to buy a horse? Share your story!