In the six years I've been riding, and the year I've been a member of this forum, I've seen many people eagerly buy their first horse. Sadly, the majority of those cases wind up less than romantic from people getting over horsed, getting hurt; or simply they find out that they don't have enough time, experience, or money to take care of their horse. For the sake of horse lovers and horses everywhere, I feel obliged to give a guideline for first time horse owners to help set them up for success!
Horses are beautiful, elegant, and powerful creatures. For thousands of years they have inspired awe in humans. During the early domestication of horses, only the nobility had the resources to own these beautiful creatures for sport. As the centuries went on, and horses were used more for work and transportation, the "commoners" got a chance at horse ownership. Since the creation and wide spread use of the car, horses today are almost solely used for leisure and sport. While horses are still "pets" of the higher class citizens, most anybody can own a horse today, and for the crazy horse lover, it seems like a dream come true.
However, horse ownership is a long term commitment that is NOT
to be taken lightly. Horses require a huge amount of time and money to take care of. Not only that, but horses are unpredictable animals, and can be extremely dangerous even to the most experienced of horse owners. For these reasons, there are some things every first time horse owner should know and consider before picking out their first horse.
Before you start looking at purchasing a horse, you need to ask yourself if you have the time and money to care for a horse.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners estimated that the minimum
cost to properly care for a horse for 1 (one) year excluding vet, board and farrier costs
is $1,800. If you add in vet, farrier, and board (if applicable), your annual cost for caring for your horse can easily reach $5,000. A general rule of thumb, if you can't afford to comfortably take $3,000 out of your yearly income, plus keep a minimum of $2,000 in a savings account in case your horse needs emergency vet care, you aren't financially ready to own a horse.
Taking care of a horse will require you to sacrifice at least an hour of your time every day. This time includes the basics of horse care: feeding, grooming, and cleaning his/her stall. If you have a ride-able horse, you will have to regularly ride it (about 3-6 times a week). This can add an additional 5-20 hours of work per week to your routine. (This number can depend on the type and amount of riding you do.) Spending this much time with your horse will mean you won't have as much time to go out with your friends, or relax and watch television when you get home from work.
If you can't find the time horse care requires, it isn't exactly a deal breaker. If you board your horse, the barn manager may be able to feed your horse and clean his/her stall which would save you some time and trips to the stable. If you have the finances to do so, you can find a barn that grooms, exersizes, and even tacks your horse as your on your way to the barn. This type of board usually runs into the thousands of dollars a month, and adds a considerable amount of money to your annual bill.
If you find that your time and money are in order, my next best advice to you is to wait at least six months before you go out and buy a horse. During this time, I would highly recommend that you take riding lessons (especially if you have little to no experience handling and riding horses). Riding lessons will give you a safe environment to learn proper horsemanship and gain confidence on the ground and in the saddle. If you choose to take lessons, take a tour of a few stables before choosing one. Here are a few things to look for in a good lesson stable:
- An curteous, patient lesson instructor
- The lessons will help you reach your riding goals (Don't go to a strictly dressage barn if your passion is barrel racing)
- Fair prices
- Healthy horses (The horses should have shiny coats, have no bones showing, and be bright and alert)
- A clean stable and arena (no manure piled up in stalls, aisle ways clear of nails and other hazards, good lighting, etc.)
- Happy students (If you see some students, ask them how they like taking lessons there, how long they've been taking them there, how they like the instructor, etc.)
Also during these six months, start reading up on horse care. Go to your local library and check out some books on horse illnesses, horse nutrition, and basic horse first aid. The internet is also a great place to get some knowledge on these topics, but remember to take things with a grain of salt. (Not to mention The Horse Forum is a great place to get answers to your questions and get advice and answers from knowledgeable horsemen
) Another thing to be doing during this time is to start saving your money for purchasing your horse and
the equipment you'll need for your horse.
So it's been six months, and you're still wanting a horse as badly as ever, its time to start your search. Before you go out to look at a horse, you need to have some things in order:
- What will the main purpose of your horse be? Do you want a calm, surefooted trail horse, or are you looking for a show ready dressage horse?
- Set a price range for the horse you're looking for, but leave a little wiggle room. Also, be realistic about your price range. You won't find a fully trained successful show jumper for $500. And be sure to make sure you have some money left to buy your horse's tack and other supplies.
- Make a list of everything you want in this horse on paper. (Color, age, training, breed, gender, temperment, etc.) Take this list and prioritize it. If you must have a particular quality in a horse, mark it with an M (must have). If you would prefer a horse with a quality, mark it with a P (prefer). If a quality really isn't that important, but you would like it (such as color), mark it with a B (bonus). Doing this will help you focus your horse search, and may help you choose between two horses.
- Write out a list of questions to ask the horse seller. Doing so will make sure you don't forget to ask an important question.
If this is your first time buying a horse, I HIGHLY
recommend you find a trusted, experienced horseman to take horse hunting with you. They will be able to pick up on things a novice horseman may miss, that can give insights to a horse's personality. They can also ride the horse before you, and let you know if its safe for you to take a test ride.
If you can't find an experienced horseman to go with you, here are some things to do/consider when you go to look at a horse:
- Pay attention to the horse's attitude. (Look for vigorous tail swishing, pinned ears, stomping feet, etc.) If a horse has a bad attitude, it may be difficult to handle and/or ride.
- Look for a horse with good ground manners. A horse that pushes its handler, kicks, rears, or bites is an unsafe horse, and is not for the novice horseman. This is also an indicator a horse could have bad manners under saddle.
- Have the owner ride the horse first. Have the owner make the horse walk, trot, canter, back, and show any special training the horse may have. If the owner refuses to ride the horse, or is hesitant, do not ride the horse. Get an experienced horseman to ride it before you do.
- When you go to test ride the horse, always always ALWAYS wear a helmet!!!
- Visit and ride the horse a couple of times before buying. Is the horse behaving just as well as it did the first time? Do you get along with the horse? Could you build a bond with this horse?
- Once you have found "the one", have a vet perform a Pre-Purchase exam. This exam will tell you if there are any pre-exsisting conditions the horse may have that could hinder his/her performance and require medical attention.
When looking for a horse, DO NOT:
- Don't buy your first horse from an auction. It is extremely difficult to pick out the "gems" at an auction. You will have no knowledge of a horse's background, and you will have no chance to ride the horse before you buy. Personally, I think its great to save horses from slaughter, but you need to gain a vast amount of experience with horses before you go willy nilly buying one from an auction.
- Don't buy a green horse. Green horses have very little training on them, and they require lots of training by an experienced horseman to make them beginner safe. If you do buy a green horse, expect to pay big for the training.
Once you buy a horse, you will need to buy some equipment for your horse:
- Halter and lead
- Saddle pad/Blanket
- First aid kit
- Grooming kit
(I will make a second post that includes some very helpful threads other Horse Forum members have made on selecting bits, fitting saddles, etc.)
Finally, you will have questions about your horse. Keep the numbers of some knowledgeable horseman (including your vet and farrier) handy in case you need some emergency advice. If your just curious about nutrition, horse training, or horse health; you can find tons of information in books and online.
If you decide horse ownership is right for you, feel extremely lucky and priveliged to own such a beautiful creature. Good luck in your horse search, be safe, and most importantly, have fun!
A knack for horses