Horse ownership is not something that should be entered into lightly. Sure, horses are great. And, let’s get real, we all love them (that’s why we’re here, right?). But whether or not you should own one is a huge question. Here are some considerations:
Since most of us were, at some point, horse crazy kids, we all had images of horseback riding and horse ownership that looked something like this:
But, let’s get real. More often it looks more like this:
All joking aside, horses — wonderful though they may be — truly are a money and time suck. And entering into horse ownership should not be taken lightly.
Despite having had horses as a very small child (my sister had an Anglo-Arab and I had a Welsh Pony cross, both of which my parents sold by the time I was six), I really didn’t come into horse ownership or horse care until I was an adult. And boy did I get a baptism by fire. My first barn was a total dive. I didn’t know that at the time, so I learned a lot about equine nutrition very early on. And then I started buying Thoroughbreds with a propensity for interesting injuries that required extensive rehabilitation. So, I learned a lot… fast.
Once I seemed to have a handle on all of that, I began working for my equine veterinarian as her tech. That also taught me a lot… fast. I now manage my own boarding barn because, apparently, I am a glutton for punishment.
All of these experiences have been incredibly educational. But they’ve all taught me some very important things about horse ownership and, more importantly, when you should — or should not — take it on.
Therefore, you should NOT get a horse unless:
1. You are willing to sacrifice your mornings, evenings and weekends to treating your injured or ill horse (or unless you’re willing and have the funds to pay someone to do it for you).
I am 100% not kidding about this. I have forgone family vacations and a fair amount of sleep to wrap my horses’ legs, administer antibiotics, clean stalls, irrigate wounds, meet vets, meet farriers, etc. I don’t say this to toot my own horn. This is simply what goes into owning a horse. And, yes, I have boarded my horses. And, no, it is not the barn manager’s job to do these things for me. Sure, I’ve had some help when I was absolutely crunched for time (or, like, my house caught on fire but my horse also had a fractured P1 and had to be treated), but that was few and far between.
Working for the vet, I was always floored and angry when someone refused to drive the 20 minutes to the barn to wrap her horse’s leg or clean her horse’s stall because she was “tired from work.” B*!#, we’re all tired (see above comment about the house fire). You took on the horse, you take care of the horse. The end.
2. You are going to stay up to date on routine care.
Things horses need regularly: farrier care (the longest I EVER go is six weeks, but some can stretch to eight), dentals (checked at least yearly, but some need it more often), vaccinations (at least rabies and tetanus once a year), deworming (maybe only once a year for low shedders, but probably more). These are the very, very basics to keep your horse healthy and you in good standing with your equine professionals. And to be honest, I have never had this be all that one of my horses needs.
3. You are going to call the vet when a problem first presents itself.
This is an extension of #2 and is something I saw time and time again while working with the vet. Owners wouldn’t call the vet because they didn’t feel like they had the funds to do so… until the horse’s situation got so dire that there was nothing much to do without hauling to a specialist, engaging in some pretty extensive treatment, and/or euthanizing. This is one of those times when the adage about being penny wise and pound foolish comes to mind. You rarely will save money by sitting on an emergency. Generally, it only gets worse.
4. You are going to spend time with your horse — or at least check on it — regularly.
I was about to say this is truly mainly for those who board, but let’s get real. Don’t throw your horse in your backyard or neighbor’s field and ignore it. And even if you do board, you still need to go lay eyes and hands on your horse regularly. Sure, the barn staff is feeding on a daily basis (you hope) and checking over your horse for huge injuries (you hope), but you know your horse better than anyone (or should). So you can catch an issue before it becomes a problem. I write this as a barn manager. I do check on the horses under my care twice a day and try to really look them over at least once a day, but I don’t catch everything. And I know I can just look at my own horse standing in the field and know if something is wrong. With boarders’ horses, sometimes it takes a bit longer. Maybe once they aren’t eating or are lame at the walk. These are things that you, as the owner, can catch and address early.
And this is under the best of circumstances. You also need to lay eyes and hands on your horse because if you board, you don’t know what happens at the barn when you’re not there. You don’t know if the horses are getting fed (and fed enough) regularly. You don’t know if your horse is getting its butt kicked up one field and down the other by its pasture mates. You don’t know how the barn staff and other boarders interact with your horse. Unless you are diligent and are your horse’s advocate, you can end up in a pretty bad situation pretty quickly.
5. You are going to care for your horse in sickness and in health.
Okay, so you’re not marrying your horse… but you sort of are. You may have purchased a horse who was an easy keeper, only eats a handful of grain a day, and has never been lame in its life, but if you hold on to it for any significant period of time, that isn’t always going to be the case. For instance, 20% of aged equines get PPID (aka Cushing’s). Horses get arthritis. Horses suffer soft tissue injuries. Horses get stuck in fences. They step on things. These are all very normal, not-at-all-out-of-the-ordinary things. They are absolutely standard in horse care. If you aren’t willing to treat your horse in order to ensure its quality of life, don’t get one.
6. You are going to commit to educating yourself and your horse.
I am amazed when I look back at what I didn’t know when I first embarked on horse ownership as an adult. In retrospect, what the heck was thinking? But here’s the thing, I didn’t stay ignorant (or at least not as ignorant). I’ve worked hard to bettering my horsemanship, increasing my knowledge on equine ailments and treatments, and learning about nutrition. The wonderful and frustrating thing about horses is that they’re always teaching us something as long as we’re willing to learn. It may not be the thing we hoped to learn, but that’s not always for us to decide. And if we don’t commit to learning and bettering ourselves, our horses suffer for it.
7. You have the financial means to support it.
I remember when I first thought about getting a horse, I spoke with the barn manager where I ended up boarding at first (the dive that definitely was a mistake). I asked her how much it would cost to have a horse. She indicated that after the initial purchase price, it was “$350 a month in board, and $35 every six weeks for the farrier.”
Me: That’s it?
Her: That’s it.
Boy, was the joke on me.
That was not it. And it never is. Even when you’re presented with more realistic costs, horses always cost more than you think. There are emergency farrier calls. And vet visits. And ill-fitting tack. And medication. And all the things. So, unless you have a good income and some money set aside, do not get a horse. Being unable to treat your horse properly because you don’t have the funds sucks. And it’s unfair to the horse and, in many cases, inhumane.
This list is by no means all-encompassing. In fact, it does not take into consideration the lessons and training that often come along with horse ownership. And so many other things. But it’s a good start and does address some of the realities of being responsible for a 1000-pound prey animal whose first instinct is to flee at top speeds around, over, and through anything in its path.
If you currently are not in a position to own a horse, that doesn’t mean game over. There are so many opportunities to learn, ride, and be around horses. You can lease or partially lease. You can volunteer at a rescue. There are so many ways to get your horse fix when you’re horseless. But the important thing is not to take on a horse until you’re totally ready and able to do so.