It is a truth universally acknowledged that a trained horse lover, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a horse.
That Pride and Prejudice-inspired riff seems altogether fitting here given that horses not only fit her world of gentlemen and ladies but can also at first seem affordable only to them with their “fortunes.” That said, while Austen’s characters may seem rich, they’re often filled with anxiety over their wealth and finances, and that includes the affordability of horses. The Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility, for example, are forced to do without horses while facing financial difficulty. You can imagine why Marianne reacts “with the greatest delight” to the fact “that Willoughby had given her a horse.” Like a modern sports car, a horse wasn’t just a conveyance but a major asset, status symbol, and – unlike Willoughby – something you could trust.
Still, while a lot has changed in two centuries, horses are still a costly expense.
So, just how expensive are different kinds of horses, what kinds of costs do you have to pay to maintain them, and what can you do to get a horse without having to pay a fortune?
Why Do Horses Cost So Much?
There are several factors that make horses cost so much, not the least of which being the prestige they carry. The French word for horse is “cheval,” which is where we get our word “chivalry,” which should give you an idea of where that aura of prestige comes from. Add to that kings and queens being carried in carriages, the Regency world of Austen, the aura of elegance around equestrian sports, and so much more, and it isn’t hard to see why horses are seen as prestigious – and prestige is often pricey.
Then there is the purpose for which you buy the horse. For example, while recreational horses are expensive, horses purchased for breeding can be even costlier still, since the pedigree of the horse matters that much more. You are investing not just in this horse but “future” horses, as it were. If you’re purchasing a show horse, that prestige factor matters again. Horse competitions are meticulous, with every square inch of the horse scrutinized. If you plan on exhibiting a horse for a regional, national, or international competition, you can bet that the price of purchasing and grooming a horse for the big stage will come with big-time costs.
There are around 7.2 million horses in America, of which:
- 3.1 million are used for recreational purposes
- 2.4 million are race or show horses
- 537,000 are employed for agricultural or similar labor
Where you live may also have an impact on the course of horses. Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and South Dakota rank among the most affordable states for raising horses in terms of things such as the cost of food, professional care, renting stable space, and other factors, while Hawaii, California, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland average out to the most expensive. On a related note, if you designate your horse as livestock, you may be eligible for tax deductions, though again, that can vary by state and a number of other factors, so don’t just assume you can ride your horse to Tax Write-Off Land.
An Overview of Average Horse Prices
So just how much does a horse cost on average? According to the University of Maine, the average cost of recreational horses is around $3,000. However, the question of how much does it cost to buy a horse isn’t nearly as easy to answer given how expensive some breeds can be, as demonstrated in our breed breakdown below.
Still, while $3,000 is a pretty sizeable chunk of change, and prestige breeds will be even more expensive, that may not be as costly as you first imagined. Given everything above about prestige, we tend to assume horses are only owned by or affordable for the rich – but according to the American Horse Council, only 28% of American horse owners earn more than $100,000 while half make somewhere between $25,000 and $75,000.
Evaluating Different Horse Breed Prices
That said, averages are just that – average guesses, and there are a great many variables that can raise or lower that cost, and nothing more so than the breed itself. With that in mind, here’s how horse breeds stack up against each other in terms of cost and expectations.
1. Friesian Horse
These horses can vary wildly in price, costing anywhere from $7,000 to $100,000. The most expensive horses are purebreds that are used in show events. Friesians are incredibly elegant and can be very friendly when raised well.
2. American Quarter Horse
Once again, the amount you can expect to pay for these horses can range from a few hundred dollars to as much as $50,000. They are the most versatile horses among equestrians, and are especially prominent in rodeo and racetrack circles. If you are indeed planning to purchase them for that purpose, $25,000 to $50,000 is a more realistic price range, and if they are sold by and to private owners, the cost may be even greater.
That said, these are also popular horses for breeding purposes, and foals can sell for anywhere from four to six figures depending on their backgrounds and racing records.
3. Thoroughbred Horse
These are among the most prized racehorses in the world, and they are priced that way. While you can purchase them for as little as $500, the best specimens can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars or much more, with Green Monkey, a thoroughbred racehorse, selling in 2018 for $16 million.
4. Akhal-Teke Horse
One of the symbols of Turkmenistan, this proud racehorse is one of the rarest breeds in the world, with only a few thousand legitimate options on the market. Those looking to purchase them can expect to pay six figures at least – and, given that price tag, will probably want to get independent certification of the horse’s authenticity.
5. Arabian Horse
One of the oldest and most popular breeds in the world, these horses are quite smart and can be trained to learn all manner of tricks and follow commands flawlessly. Add to that their great speed, endurance, and magnificent beauty and it isn’t hard to see why these are highly prized and can go for anything from $25,000 to $300,000, with a Polish Arabian horse named Pepita going for $1.6 million in 2015.
6. Andalusian Horse
Costing anywhere between $3,000 to $60,000, Andalusian horses are a sight to behold, boasting impressive manes and tails. Common Andalusians are “only” a few thousand dollars, but for one import from Spain itself – as many of the top specimens are – for use in show events, you can expect something closer to the higher end of that price range.
7. Gypsy Vanner Horse
Originally bred in Ireland, these horses have unique spotted coats and are quite calm. They are more affordable than higher-tier options on this list, starting around $4,000.
8. Dutch Warmblood Horse
As the name implies, these horses originally come from the Netherlands. They are fixtures at Olympic events and competitions such as dressage, jumping, and show events. While the least expensive specimens can cost as little as $4,000, most competition-ready Warmbloods can cost tens of thousands or even as much as half a million dollars.
9. Holsteiner Horse
These horses are fixtures in jumping and show events, and as with Andalusians Warmbloods, their price can vary depending on their breeding, training, and if they are raised in America or imported from Europe. At the lower end, they cost around $3,000, while higher-end Holsteiners can cost up to $50,000.
10. Hanoverian Horse
As the name implies, these horses originally hail from the Hanover region of Germany. They are fast, strong, great jumpers, and typically cost around $7,000 to $20,000.
Breaking Down How Much Horses Cost to Keep
First and foremost, there’s the cost of feed. When we say someone “eats like a horse,” we don’t mean they have a petit appetite, and that holds true with the animals themselves. Horses can eat 1.5% to 3% of their own weight every day. If your horse weighs 1,000 lbs, you’re looking at least 10 lbs of hay per day, and a bale of hay can cost as much as $10 to $25. That’s a lot of hay to pay for, and for your horse to be truly healthy and happy, they cannot live on hay alone.
Of course, horses eating food leads to certain “waste byproducts” that need to be cleaned out regularly. Horses can produce as much as 50 lbs of waste per day, and you don’t want to let it sit there. After all, one of Hercules’ Twelve Labors was cleaning out mountains of horse manure from the Augean Stables, which had not been cleaned in years, in a single day. Needless to say you don’t want to have to do that, but even if you remove it regularly, manure management can be costly. Dumpsters for manure disposal can cost anywhere from $55 to over $230, depending on the dumpster’s capacity and how often you need it. Professional manure removal companies can cost hundreds of dollars not just for a single job, but per a few square yards within the job. If you have a lot of horses and open space where they’ve “done their business,” cleaning up that much manure can help those businesses “clean up” financially. Even if it’s just a single horse in a stable, however, that can cost hundreds of dollars every couple weeks.
Speaking of stables, horse boarding is another key component to factor into the total cost of owning a horse. While the average cost of boarding a horse ranges from around $350 to $400 per month. As stated above, that can fluctuate a fair amount depending on where you live, so you’ll want to check stable and horse boarding costs in your state.
That being said, there is a lot of variation around that average depending on what kind of horse boarding you get. Pasture boarding is just what it sounds like, allowing horses to roam free in pastures that are closed off with basic stables for sleeping quarters. This can be less expensive, and cost as little as $150 a month. Even less expensive is Self-Care boarding, which costs about $100 to $200. By contrast, Full Care boarding can cost anywhere from $300 to $700 a month.
However, “Full” versus “Self-Care” is telling. You get what you pay for, and you get more expansive care with the former, which may include portions of the feeding, manure removal, and caretaking costs, whereas with the latter, you typically need to pay for most or all of that yourself.
You’ll also want to consider factors such as horse insurance, along with caretaking costs such as deworming, dental care, vaccinations, and more.
Finally, a horse’s temperament and discipline can affect its price. Horse training can cost hundreds of dollars, and the better trained and behaved the horse, the more you can expect to pay for it, whereas less expensive horses are usually young and inexperienced, a bit tougher to tame, or both.
Where Does That Leave Us?
As you can see, you can’t just boil down the costs of horse ownership to a simple “how much to care for a horse” formula. So, how much does it cost to adopt a horse? As with adopting a child, you need to calculate both the upfront cost as well as long-term costs.
In the former case, you can expect to pay four to six figures for most of the horses above.
You can also expect to pay thousands to feed, house, care for, and otherwise maintain the horse.
On the whole, while the horse itself can cost four to six figures upfront, you may find yourself paying four to five figures in maintenance per year.
However, while you are likely looking at spending tens if not hundreds of thousands on a horse between purchasing and caring for it, selecting less expensive horses that need a good home, choosing more affordable and comprehensive boarding options, and planning ahead can help immensely.
In short, if you’re willing to look past the “Pride and Prejudice” of Prestige Breeds, you can indeed find a horse you’ll love without having to spend “a good fortune.”