10 things you wish you'd known before you got your "free" horse!
10. Aside from the peppermint candies you give as treats (which you acquire for free at Pizza Hut), the buying price of a horse is generally the cheapest thing about horse ownership
9. If the horse has no teeth it does not mean it is young and they haven’t grown in yet
8. The “He’s real quiet with the kids” statement was actually referring to the neighbor kids who come throw apples over the fence; they’ve never actually handled him
7. “He’s a real easy keeper” means you will spend more money repairing fences, replacing stall boards, buying/replacing grazing muzzles, and paying the vet to tube your over-indulgent escape artist horse than you ever would have spent on feed.
6. The “He really loves his work” statement would hold more water if his best friend wasn’t a barn cat named “Work”
5. “Oh, we never have to tie him, we just tack him up in his stall” statement is actually incomplete, the rest of it goes something like: “…because we ran out of places to tie him since he pulled the cemented railroad tie out of the ground.”
4. “We’ve never had to call the vet for him” doesn’t mean he hasn’t been sick but probably does mean he hasn’t had his vaccinations
3. “His last owner? Yeah, she just sort of lost interest in him” Yes, after he bucked her into next Tuesday she did indeed lose interest in the horse nicknamed “Killer”
2. “No, no one’s been on him in a while, we just don’t have time for him” was code for “there isn’t a trainer in the tri-county area who will even come to our barn let alone ride this horse
1. “Yes, he’s really athletic, he could have gone to the National Finals Rodeo” Yes. This is true; he could have gone to the NFR, as a saddle bronc but he was just too rank for that.
Christmas time is near and many little girls (and even boys) are dreaming of waking up Christmas morning to find a horse of their very own under the tree (or perhaps tied out in the back yard). She has filled her school notebooks with horse drawings, has 642 Breyer horse models crowding her bedroom and has read all 20 of the original Black Stallion books at least 146 times. She begs her parents for a horse no less than 14 times a day, has memorized the lines from every horse movie ever created, and dreams of one day racing across the desert on the back of an Arabian Stallion, just like Alec Ramsey and the Black.
Finally, the parents break down and decide to surprise their little angel with a horse of her very own. Unfortunately, they haven’t done their research; after all, a horse is a horse, right? They soon discover some hard truths about little girls and horse ownership. I was that little girl and I did finally get my horse but I had to wait, and wait, and wait, until I had a job and could pay for him myself. If you are thinking of buying a horse for a Christmas present, I have a little friendly advice for you.
Horse Ownership Is NOT a Good First Step: Many little girls lose interest in horses as soon as something better comes along. Most frequently this is boys but it could be a school sport, other extra-curricular activity, cold weather, or just plain loss-of-interest. To find out if your daughter is really ready for a horse, start with riding lessons. Find a good instructor who teaches the student about horsemanship, not just about riding. The student should be responsible for grooming, tacking, untacking and cool out. The ride may be 1 hour but you should plan 2 hours for horse care before and after. If the riding stable does the work for the student, I’d look for another stable.
Other ways for your child to gain experience in horse care include joining 4H, volunteering at a horse rescue or therapeutic riding program, and (this is a great one) earning lesson money by helping out around the barn (cleaning stalls, tack, etc.). If your child sticks with this for a few years and is still eager to perform all parts of horse ownership (not just riding), then you may want to revisit the horse ownership discussion.
Horses are Extraordinarily Expensive: You found a horse for only $200 or better yet, it’s free! As mentioned above, the buying price of the horse is the least of your financial concerns. A healthy horse will cost thousands of dollars a year (horses can live beyond age 30!). Figure $300-$800 a month (depending on your location and amenities) for board. Have your own farm? Great! Now you still get to spend several hundred dollars a month on hay, feed, and bedding PLUS do all the work! Hoof care: $30 (just a trim) -$150 (shoes) or more every 6 weeks. Vaccinations given by a vet: figure $200-300 each visit (can’t forget the barn call!). Dental care: $90-$120 for basic care 1-2 times a year…this can quickly triple or quadruple if there is a dental problem. Deworming is about $6-14 every couple months.
Are you keeping track? This “free” horse is about to cost you $5,000 (very conservative) to $12,000 each year! This does not take into account horse care items like brushes, blankets, saddles, bridles, halters, pads, boots, leg wraps, lead ropes, buckets, feed tubs, water tanks, fence repair, farm maintenance, etc. etc.
Remember, above is an estimate of what a healthy horse will cost you. What if the horse gets sick or worse, has a chronic health problem? My horse was sick last week to the tune of nearly $1000 which is minor compared to some of the other vet bills she’s incurred: Hospitalization for severe colic: $3000, Eye surgery: $2000, 3 years of eye care: $3000, Eye removal (couldn’t save it): $1200…and she is only 10. Many people have bills much, much higher when their horse becomes ill.
Am I trying to scare you? Yes! Horse ownership is a huge financial and emotional commitment and should not be entered into without adequate preparation, planning and knowing what to expect. It is also very rewarding to have a relationship with a special horse. Just please, please know what you are getting into and take advantage of as many “free” or low cost options as you can such as 4H, riding lessons, and volunteering. This is my advice to you. Little Suzy or Timmy can wait. Let them learn some responsibility first and show you they are genuinely interested in and dedicated to the 10-30 year commitment of horse ownership (depending on the age of the horse at the time of purchase). In a future post I will discuss what to do when you decide you are ready to buy a horse (hint: it does NOT involve buying a horse under the age of 8!).
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW, Equine Enthusiast, EAGALA groupie and writer of interesting, educational and entertaining blog posts!