Should you buy a horse?

Buying a HorseI’m going to try and talk you out of buying a horse. Stay with me…it’s not as bad as it sounds.

If you’re reading our horse blog, you probably fall into one of the category of either owning your own horse and commiserating with our newbie fumbling or you long to own your own horse someday. Horses aren’t casual recreation purchases for most people. Since there is so much involved in horse ownership, horse owners tend to be pretty fanatical. It’s not like buying an expensive toy, like an RC car or a motorbike. When you don’t want to play with it anymore, you can’t put it away for a few months until you get interested again. So if you REALLY love horses, there is probably nothing I could tell you to convince you that buying a horse isn’t a good idea. On the otherhand, if you’re a fence sitter or are thinking about buying a horse as a gift for someone, maybe this is time for some serious consideration.

Our First Horse should be a real eye opener for anyone who hasn’t owned a horse before. One of the things we write about the amount of time/work involved. Actually for one horse, it’s not bad. But you’re going to need to spend at least an hour a day just keeping your horse alive (cleaning a stall, feeding, watering, debugging, medical attention, hugs, etc.). If you want your horse to be more than decoration, you’ll need to occasionally ride it or it will rust (okay, it will get rusty). In my experience you can’t ignore a horse for a year and then slap a saddle on its back and go for a ride. You have to work the horse and keep it trained, at least with the minimums like giddy-up, whoa and “WHOA!!!”.

Then there is the ongoing expense. If you do the work yourself, it’s not too bad, unless your horse needs medical attention. You’ve probably seen our horse expense list. We spend about $40-$50 a month per horse but one month recently our expenses went up to $173 for one of our horses! Make sure you have some cash tucked away for those months. And keep in mind we have our own barn and pasture. If you don’t live on property that includes these basic horse accommodations, you’ll either need to either put in horse fencing and plant good pasture grass (if you have the room and are zoned for horses) or board your horse somewhere, which will add significantly to horse ownership expenses.

There are scheduling issues. Although some people leave their horses out in pasture for days at a time or longer, we bring our horses in daily for some supplemental nutrition via oats and alfalfa pellets and provide fresh water daily. Fresh water is most important and since we don’t own an automatic waterer, we simply must check and refill water containers daily. This means we sometimes do horse work at midnight or later if we go out to see a movie or take a day trip. Anything longer than a day trip means we have to ask someone to mind our horses for us. If you have dogs, you’re probably familiar with this routine. Only you can’t load your horse into the family SUV and take him to a vacation kennel.
Having said all that, I don’t regret for a minute owning a horse, or in our case now, owning horses. However I do have some pre-purchase suggestions to help make sure buying a horse is the right thing for you:

  1. My best suggestion is to volunteer at a horse barn. Seriously, once you assure the barn owner that you’re not crazy, volunteer to help out daily for a few weeks or a month. Clean out stalls, feed horses, brush them, help with some basic training, but do it every day so you can see how it impacts your schedule. In addition to determining if this hobby is right for you, you’ll also learn valuable lessons on what to do and not to do. You might also make some valuable contacts and learn who to buy from, what are good prices in your area, etc. In fact, some of the best horse deals come from people who haven’t publicized that their horse is for sale.
  2. If you’re not wealthy enough to have an attendant for your horse, volunteer at a veterinary facility or stable where horses are rehabilitated. Your horse might become injured at some point, requiring you to provide rehabilitation services for many months before you can ride it again. Do you have the time, money and patience for this?
  3. Visit your local horse supply stores, such as the feed store, tack shop or farm co-op. Read the bulletin board postings, chat with the employees. You’ll likely walk away with some great information and you’ll need to know these people anyway if you decide to buy a horse.
  4. Consider taking a weekend or longer to volunteer at a horse rescue (we have some listed on our Links page). There are people out there with a passion for rescuing horses from destruction or food slaughter. The horses they work with are often great for casual recreation and are sometimes registered, former race horses or trail horses. Some are rescued from abuse or neglect. Help out a worthwhile charity, learn about horses and maybe fall in love with a horse.

I probably didn’t talk you out of buying a horse but hopefully you got some suggestions to help you make a rational decision. Although I don’t recommend it, you could just ignore our advice and go in blind for your own newbie horse ownership adventure. That’s what we did :-).

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