Keeping any animal is no small feat or piece of responsibility, and that’s especially true of horses. For as much as we love them, let’s be clear – properly keeping and caring for a horse is a massive responsibility, and it isn’t for everyone. If you really love horses, you don’t want them to have to suffer any indignities and inequities that may be caused by not being able to offer them the degree of care and comfort they deserve.
That means being informed, so what exactly do you need to know about buying a horse? If you decide you can care for them, what kind of horse should you buy?
Let’s take a quick look at these and other things you should know before buying a horse.
1. A Quick Overview of the Costs
We cover this more in detail elsewhere, so we’re not going to go too in-depth into this, but let’s start with the fact that horses can cost anywhere from a few hundred to millions of dollars. That’s obviously way too large of a price range to make any kind of realistic assessment of cost, so you’ll want to break things down by breed.
On average, show horses and racehorses tend to be the horses that fetch the highest prices, costing five, six, even seven figures and beyond. Even for more common breeds, however, keeping a horse will cost thousands of dollars. A review by The Rutgers Equine Science Center found that feeding for horses averaged out to around $30 to $200 a month, boarding costs (depending on the amenities and services provided) could cost anywhere from $250 to $1,500 a month, with the total annual cost of maintaining a horse in New Jersey around $10,000.
2. Seasons Matter
That same article gives advice on the best sources for purchasing horses. For both price and ethical reasons, you don’t want to buy horses from just anyone. If you’re wondering “Where can I find the right horse?” you’re not alone, so check reviews of any private seller, and check your County offices for any horses that may be for sale publicly. The selection of horses tends to be better in spring as well as fall, with the latter offering less expensive prices on average because sellers want to get rid of horses so they don’t have to take care of them during the wintertime.
3. Identifying Horses
Have you found an unbelievable price on a rare horse? Well, maybe you shouldn’t believe it. There are plenty of frauds out there, and one of the most important things to know about horse buying is how to spot and separate fakes from authenticity. Licensure and breeding records are essential tools here. If you cannot understand these yourself or are new to horse buying, don’t take chances – take a horse expert with you to survey the horses. This is another essential tip – always inspect horses in person before buying them. You wouldn’t pay thousands of dollars for an apartment sight unseen, and you shouldn’t do the same for a horse that can cost just as much.
One other thing about how you “identify” horses – putting them down as “livestock” can result in tax exemptions in some areas. This can obviously help with offsetting other parts of your horse budget. If you choose to “identify” your horse this way, however, you’ll need to show that it lives and works in an agricultural or other work-based setting.
4. Experience Matters
That previous point ties right into this one, which is that you need to make sure you actually have the expertise to handle any horse you may choose to purchase. Are you ready for a horse? Do you have the responsibility and experience that’s necessary to handle, ride, and take care of one?
While you do not necessarily need a ton of experience to buy a horse, it is nevertheless one of the most important things to consider, especially when choosing among different sizes and breeds.
Are you able to handle a larger horse, or should you opt for a smaller one? Can you keep your balance on stronger, faster horses, and do you even want to try? Or are you looking for less of a racehorse and more of a leisurely trot on a more easy-going horse? After all, the latter are likely to be more affordable, so if you don’t plan on racing a horse or treating it as though it is about to enter a show, you probably don’t need to spring for one that costs tens of thousands of dollars.
That said, no matter what type of horse you buy, you will still need to make sure that you are able to ride it with confidence, which is why it is generally advisable for anyone looking to get into horse riding to take lessons first. Whether these lessons come from someone you know who has horses and can teach you or they are part of a proper course is up to you, but some training before buying a horse is certainly advisable. What’s more, if you do enroll in a horse riding course, doing so in an open one where there is plenty of room to roam and plenty of people to help you is another essential.
5. Horses for Courses, and Courses for Horses
Let’s be real here – horses are not mere “hobbies” to be taken lightly. You don’t have to be a jockey or a cowboy glued to your saddle day in and day out, but if you are going to invest that much money – and in a living creature who must be treated with respect, dignity, and love at that – you’d probably better make sure you have the time to do so.
A couple of hours per week alone won’t cut it if you’re the only person taking care of your horse. That is barely enough for proper riding lessons. Actually saddling up the horse, putting on your equipment, feeding and cleaning up after the horse, and doing everything else that is necessary for its maintenance and wellbeing will take many more hours.
This is why, as mentioned below, the stable and boarding choices you make are extremely important.
6. Food Requirements
This is obviously one of the most important requisites for owning a horse. An adult horse needs to eat, and eat a lot. They typically consume at least 1.5% to 3% of their body weight every day. If you have a 1,000 lb horse, that means that you’ll need to supply them with at least 10 lbs of food every day, which is no small economic or logistical feat.
What’s on the menu for horses? Hay, of course. A bushel of hay can cost as much as $25, and so if you are buying this every single day, that can start to add up fast. That said, a balanced diet is necessary for making sure that your horse is kept as healthy and energized as possible. In addition to hay, you’ll want to feed them nuts, grasses, and the occasional treat.
The more you ride or work your horse, the more frequently you’ll need to feed it, and the greater quantity of food it will require. In addition, you should avoid working horses after large meals. You wouldn’t want to work with an overfull stomach, and neither will your horse, and it can cause digestion issues as well.
7. Shelter Requirements
Where will you be keeping your horse? You can’t just allow it to roam out in the open. Your horse needs shelter, which means renting a stable or boarding facility.
The kind of horse boarding home you choose can have a dramatic impact on your budget as well as the kind of lifestyle your horse enjoys. Basic, Self-Care stables and boarding options are just what they sound like – you take care of and pay for most if not all of the amenities besides the roof over the horse’s head. These types of stables tend to be less expensive, while more comprehensive care stables cover more options for you at a higher rate.
You’ll also want to check reviews to make sure the stable or boarding center is of good quality. How do they handle waste? Are the stables clean? Are there other horses there, and do they look happy? What sort of amenities do the horses receive? What do other owners have to say?
These are all questions that must be answered before you give your horse a happy home.
8. Health and Insurance Requirements
There is nothing more important than the health of your horse, so it is no surprise that this is one of the most complex topics to consider.
You should make sure your horse visits a veterinarian at least twice a year. During these visits, the vet will inspect your horse from top to bottom to make sure that they are in healthy shape. They will also prevent deworming and make sure that your horse does not have any infections. In addition to these biannual visits, you should also take your horse to the vet if they show any sign of unwellness.
Even before you deal with any of that, however, you’ll need to make sure you can find a vet who can deal with a horse in the first place. Not every veterinarian is trained to handle horses, so you will need to make sure you find a capable horse doctor. In addition, you’ll need to make sure that you take out a health insurance plan for your pet. Everything from deworming and dental care to any advanced or emergency medical help your horse may need to survive will cost a fair amount of money. You don’t want to pay that out of pocket, so make sure you are covered with a comprehensive insurance plan.
In addition to a vet, you’ll also want to make sure your horse sees a farrier every six to weights weeks to keep their hooves in good shape.
9. Horse Ages Matter
Just as your degree of experience matters in selecting the right horse for you, the same goes for the horse’s age and experience as well. Horses are generally considered to be in their prime around four years old, assuming they have been trained for a couple of years.
On the flip side, anyone who has seen Fiddler on the Roof knows that, in the opening musical number “Tradition,” Tevye tells us about a man who sold a horse and told the seller “it was six years old when it was really twelve,” resulting in one understandably (and musically) outraged buyer. You don’t want this to happen to you, which is why it’s so important to check the licensure and make sure you have expert help in evaluating the age and health status of the horse. Yes – somewhere between 12 and 15 years old, by contrast, is “senior citizen territory” in horse years. As such, unless you are buying a horse when they are a young foal, you want to try and make sure that they are somewhere between these age extremes. That said, while that buyer might be outraged for the price he paid for an unexpectedly-older horse, that doesn’t mean older horses don’t have their place, either. As long as they aren’t being passed off as younger horses, they are often less expensive, more docile, and well-trained, making them good starter horses. If you have a child who has learned on a pony and you are looking to transition them to a horse, these older, more seasoned ones can be a good choice as long as you understand that they have that extra mileage on their tires (or hooves).
The question of “can you afford a horse” is important, and budgeting is essential. Answering these caretaking questions is all part of that. By doing this, you can make sure you and the horse are as happy as possible and that you are fully prepared to buy the horse of your dreams when you’re finally ready to do so.