UPDATE: a horse on a tight budget
Hello again, and thanks to all for the honest and helpful input from so long ago. I didn't listen to the majority of you and I went ahead and got the horse. And boy, did I get lucky! She is unusually healthy and sturdy, but the fact that I expected this good fortune rather than anticipated more financial and labor-intensive needs was very foolish (given her age and my lack of experience).
To be honest, I did not even ride my mare before I agreed to take her. I made a lot of potentially disastrous decisions, from taking on an older horse in the first place and with minimal experience, to making some unwise financial decisions afterwards. Within about 4 months, I had to begin borrowing money from predatory lenders at very high interest rates, just to pay for my horse's board/ care and grain.
But my luck (or whatever you want to call it) changed, and I began seeing my amazing boyfriend. I hated to even ask but before long I borrowed from him the $700+ I eventually owed the barn.
It became clear I was stuck and jumped into horse ownership too soon. I moved in with my boyfriend at his request, and while happy to join his solid and loving household, I definitely made the move faster than I would have if I had not been struggling so much financially.
At my boyfriend's house I do not pay rent, though I help where I can. Amazingly my non-horsey boyfriend doesn't resent the money I spend on board/ care, grain, supplements and remedies, vaccinations, "extras" (tack, brushes, coat shine spray, etc.) and for the cost to address an injury (more on that in a moment).
Look, I know everyone here loves horses. And I know many of us have budget constraints. But if you do not have *any* extra money each and every month, you won't likely be able to care for a horse ("free" to obtain or not).
I got very, very, very crazy-lucky. Do not expect my luck! Here are some more details: my mare is unusually sturdy and healthy for 24 1/2. But all older horses need some extra care (which costs money). My horse needs senior grain about 3-4 times a week. I pay for the grain and also for the barn owner to give it to her. She gets supplements for a healthy coat, electrolytes (she doesn't drink as much water as she should), arthritis, allergies, and biotin for hoof health. Vaccinations, worming and teeth (which were checked recently) all cost money. Thank goodness I live with someone who helps me to be able to provide what my horse needs!
I still need a bigger veterinary expense reserve, which I am working on. My horse sustained an extensive vulva injury which we first thought was caused by a pasture gelding pretending to be a stallion. It turns out she pretty much impaled herself on a post or branch. She required careful daily treatment for about a week but is doing fine now (some scarring but she can still eliminate normally).
You just never know! And my inexperience could have been a huge problem too. I did take some natural horsemanship lessons (Parelli) but not many due to the expense and because I found more suitable guidance in a new friend who, as it turned out, studied equine science and also trained some quarter horses. This new friend has been a major asset to my horse's care and riding skills, but again- I got insanely lucky to find a person who would devote her time and knowledge to me and my horse!
Furthermore, the barn I board at is very attuned to my horse and even when I am not there, she is in great hands. So you see, I got lucky! It is funny, even though it worked out fine that I got the horse, I see how so many things could have gone wrong. I just wanted to update you all about how nicely it all worked out, but to agree with those who warned me that it takes a lot (money, time, skill) to keep a horse. Proceed with caution! Get things in order before, and not after, you buy a horse. Don't expect my crazy luck!