Whenever I mention that we have horses on our farm, I would estimate that at least half of the people I’m talking to say “Yeah, my kid wants a horse.”
Having a horse or pony is a dream for many children – and adults alike. But it’s important to know what you’re getting into before taking the plunge into horse ownership. We’ve been “horse people” for 5 years now, and we’ve learned a lot over the last five years. For the first year or so of owning our first horse, we boarded him at a boarding stable, and we’ve had our horses at home now for nearly four years.
I’m by no means a horse expert (that’s oldest daughter’s area of expertise) but I think we’ve learned enough to share some valuable information that people should consider before they make a decision to buy their first horse.
Here are some things you should consider if you’re thinking about buying a horse for your child.
Horses are Hard Work
Horses require care and cleanup on a somewhat intense level. I’ve never been a farm girl – at least not until four years ago – but I’ve always understood hard work. If you want to buy a horse, you need to be a hard worker. Here are some examples of what you can expect as far as work if you decide to become a horse owner.
Like every other animal in the world, horses poop. and they poop BIG. And they poop LOTS. We have two horses, and about once a week we spend between one and two hours picking up horse poop and hauling to our compost pile. This is dirty, nasty work. If you’re above dirty work, you’ll either have to forego getting a horse or make sure you have the money to hire someone else to do the dirty work.
Pastures do require some maintenance. Certain weeds are noxious to horses and the pastures must be kept relatively weed free. We use an awesome product called GAL Pasture Pro that does a wonderful job of killing only weeds that are dangerous or poisonous to horses. GAL Pasture Pro definitely cuts down on pasture maintenance work, but if you own a horse and keep it at home you’re still going to need to check on your pastures weekly to be sure they’re clear of any dangerous weeds or other items that may have snuck their way into your horses’ eating grounds.
Fence and Shelter Maintenance
There are many options for fencing for horses. You can install a wood fence, a tape fence a PVC fence or any number of other fencing options, but no matter which option you choose, your fence is going to need to be maintained and repaired on occasion.
The same goes for your shelter. In most states, it’s required by law that horse owners have some type of shelter available for their horses at all times. If your land doesn’t have existing fencing and shelter options in place – and even if it does – it’s a good idea to research options thoroughly before making a choice.
Horse Feeding and Grooming
Horses need to be groomed and cared for. They need to be fed. You can cut down on the amount of work you need to do personally at feeding time by using large round bales inside of a hay feeder instead of using small square bales, but that means you’re going to need a Bobcat or other tractor in order to put the round bales into the feeder. Since large round bales can weigh anywhere from 500 to over 1500 pounds, it’s unlikely that you’re going to move those suckers by hand. 🙂
Grooming should be done at least once a week. This means brushing and cleaning their coat, cleaning their feet and cleaning their…ummm….private parts. Yes, horses’ privates need to be cleaned as well. After four years of keeping our horses at home, this procedure still sends me running into the house with nausea. Luckily, our house rule with our girls is “your horse, you care for it.” So I rarely have to deal personally with this…..task.
It’s important that one understands the work level that goes along with horse ownership before making a horse owning dream a reality.
Horse Ownership Requires Knowledge and Education
Horses are BIG animals. Our gelding weighs 1500 pounds. Our mare weighs about 1200 pounds. And, they’re animals, which means they have their own minds and their own decision making process. Horses can be dangerous, even when they’re sweet and well-behaved. Much of the danger of horse ownership comes from owner mistakes, so it’s important to be an educated and well-trained horse owner.
If you’re going to own a horse, it’s important that your child and at least one adult in the house become seriously educated in the ways of horses. Professional lessons are a must – in my humble opinion – and frequent independent study is a must as well.
We have very well-behaved horses. Part of that is consistent training and discipline on our part, and part of that is our horses’ natures. We always, always wear helmets when near the horses. We look for signs that they may be about to move quickly or kick out. We’ve trained ourselves on the ways of horses so that we know well how to stay safe when on and around them, but even with knowledge horses are not risk-free pets.
It’s important that you understand this before you get your child a horse and that you search your heart to make sure you’re committed to education before you go horse shopping. Mentors are a huge help in the area of horse ownership. Find them, appreciate them and learn from them as you work to make your decision about horse ownership and after you own your horse as well.
Horses Cost Money
Yes they do. We, as a frugal family, manage to keep our expenses low compared to many homeowners because we’ve searched and found good providers for hay, grain and veterinary care that do good work at reasonable prices. Here’s a list of expenses you can expect as a homeowner.
Money to purchase the horse or horses.
We paid $1500 for our gelding, but only $450 for our mare as she was a rescue horse
Money for grain and hay.
Small square bales of hay in the Midwest run an average of $3 per bale to $8 per bale, depending on the quality of the hay and the hay provider. With our two horses we go through roughly 225-300 bales of hay per year.
Grain, again depending on the quality and the provider, runs about $15-$25 per 50 pound bag. We spend roughly $400-$500 a year on grain, more if the winter is super cold.
Money for veterinary care
This will vary based on what your local large animal vet charges and what services your horse needs. Some horses need their teeth floated (filed) regularly, some horses never need their teeth floated. Some horse owners need (or choose) different vaccinations than others. Some horses seem to require lots of vet care, others not so much. Some horses get injured a lot, others don’t.
Money for tack and other miscellaneous items
Grooming supplies, salt blocks, fly spray, horse blankets, helmets for riders, reigns and halters, etc. It all adds up. It’s good to be aware of these costs before jumping into horse ownership.
Horses Need Time and Attention
Horses are very social and loving animals. They get attached to their owners and to the other horses around them. They love to be groomed, ridden and otherwise cared for. They have a hard time separating from their owners so it’s important to remember not to get a horse if you’re not committed to its ownership and care.
Should I Board My Horse?
You can board your horse if you don’t live on a property where they allow horses or if you don’t want the constant care. Boarding businesses will make sure your horse is fed and cleaned up after, but you are still responsible for the overall maintenance and care of your horse, vet bills, etc.
We boarded our horse for the first year we had him until we moved out to the country. We found that our horse costs were cut in half when we went from boarding to caring for our horse at home, so that is something to consider.
You may be able to cut down on boarding fees by working at the boarding stable too. We did that for awhile and it’s a huge money saver. As with any business, though, there are good boarding stable facilities and owners, and not so good boarding stable facilities and owners, so if you’re going to board your horse it’s important to check around with others for reviews.
Consider Leasing a Horse
If you’re still not sure if horse ownership is right for you, you may consider leasing a horse from a horse owner. Leasing a horse means you pay a monthly fee to use another person’s horse. By leasing a horse, you can learn more about your commitment level to having your own horse and whether or not horse ownership is right for you. Local stables can get you in touch with those willing to lease out their horses, and you may have some luck checking Craigslist or horse sites such as Equine dot com.
Horse ownership is serious (and expensive) business, so it’s important to research thoroughly before jumping into it. In our experience, though, we’ve found that horse ownership is well worth the time and effort.