Guide to First-Time Horse Ownership
Adapted from “First Time” Horse Ownership: Selecting Horses and Budgeting Horse Interests, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service publication F-4004 – Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, David W. Freeman, Oklahoma Extension equine specialist, Odell L. Walker, professor emeritus, agricultural economics and Bobby Joe Johnson, unit Extension agriculture agent.
Before buying a horse for the first time, you should consider the following questions:
Like most situations, knowledgeable answers to these and other questions come from research and experience. Some of the more universal decisions to be made have to do with the selection of a horse, location of housing, and how to budget for the costs of horse ownership.
Selecting a Horse
Selecting a horse requires prospective owners to identify their intended horse use, to be able to evaluate horse value, and to be familiar with the different outlets for horse purchase. People own horses for a variety of hobby- and business-related reasons. When surveyed, horse owners indicate several reasons for owning a horse for hobby, including
Your reason for wanting a horse will be the initial guide in determining what type of horse will best meet your needs.
Identifying Horse Uses: Before buying, define the types of activities in which you want to become involved. Common horse activities indicated by Maine horse owners include
It is advisable to attend different horse related activities and observe the requirements for participation. Interacting with horse owners at these activities will help you meet others with similar interests and therefore help you enjoy your horse. This interaction will also clarify which attributes enable a horse to excel in an activity, and may provide a source of horses to buy.
Evaluating Horse Value: Matching up your interests with the necessary attributes of a horse will make your choices clearer. A horse’s attributes result from its physical ability, natural instinct, and behavior developed through training. You may want a horse that safely rides through trails. Others may desire a horse trained for a particular event at horse shows.
A horse’s value is usually a combination of its pedigree, build or “conformation,” and ability to complete desired tasks. Pedigree indicates selective breeding for desired traits (for example, some pedigrees suggest genetic potential for pulling, speed or cutting ability). Strong genetic lines for a desired trait or performance increase horse value, so expect to pay more for the horse if the trait is important to you or the seller. Likewise, certain physical traits are important for show and use. As a result, you can expect to pay more for horses with conformation desirable for an intended purpose. A horse’s ability to perform desired tasks (its training and behavior) usually affects value more than pedigree or conformation. Expect to pay more for a horse already trained to complete a task than one that will require time and expense to reach that point.
Above all, realize that current supply and demand drive the horse market, and what is important to you is probably important to others. High demand and low supply increase horse value. Identifying needs and evaluating a horse’s ability to meet those needs will guard against spending money on needless attributes, or on a horse that does not have the characteristics most important to you.
Sources of Purchase: In general, there are two ways to purchase a horse: at auctions or through a private contract. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Auctions offer several horses for sale, so comparisons of horse value are readily observed. Some auctions offer specific types of horses, such as horses for pulling, racing, showing or breeding. As such, auctions reduce the travel time and cost associated with locating and viewing potential horses. On the other hand, buying by private contract can allow more time to research a horse’s background and ability. Also, a private sale can allow time for a thorough prepurchase examination of the horse’s soundness and health, as well as the arrangement of schedules and forms of payment.
Regardless of where the horse is purchased, it is important to obtain as much information on the current horse market as possible. This may entail as little as visiting with other owners in your locale, or as much as hiring an expert to help locate and purchase a horse for you. Going to shows and sales, attending functions at different clubs and organizations, and visiting with horse owners are ways to increase your knowledge of the horse market before buying.
Decisions on Caring and Housing
Horses are cared for under many different management styles. Some are housed in barns or stables on a full-time basis, whereas others are managed continuously in pastures. As a prospective owner, one of the first decisions to make is where to house the horse. Many owners have the ability to house and care for a horse where they live, whether it be in suburban-type housing, with small acreages zoned for horse use, or large agricultural acreages. On-site housing has many advantages related to convenience of daily horse care and use. This is especially important for those owning horses as part of a youth development project.
Many new owners stable their horses at a commercial facility. Stables provide a variety of services that ease the daily chore of horse care. Also, stabling facilities have the advantage of increased interaction with other owners. Facilities at stables may allow for more horse use than is available with on-site housing (such as a covered arena for use during inclement weather), and many stables have organized horse activities for those boarding horses.
How and where the horse care is provided will have a large impact on the needs for equipment and facilities. This also will affect daily operation costs, such as feed, veterinary care, and farrier services.
Budgeting for the Expense of Horse Ownership
Prospective owners should acquaint themselves with the associated costs of horse ownership before buying, so they can maximize the net benefits sought from horse ownership. The types of costs will vary because of the diversity of horse uses and ways horses are managed. Also, many owners do not include the cost of buying land, because they want to own land regardless of horse interest.
A survey of horse owners in Maine was used to develop a comparison of costs based on stabling, to provide estimates of hobby horse ownership costs. Consider the explanation of the estimated costs when analyzing the cost sheet, because individual values and types of expenses will vary. For example, this particular expense sheet estimates costs for a one-horse operation, based on the costs indicated by survey participants who use their horse for hobby interests, and stable the horse at home, or at a stable for a fee. Owning more than one horse will usually lower the cost per horse, because of the shared facility and equipment costs.
Ownership costs result from owning machinery, equipment, and the horse, and include cash expenses such as insurance, taxes, and interest on borrowed capital. Ownership costs also include allocated costs—costs that are spread over time—such as depreciation and opportunity cost on capital, but these are not included in this chart. Opportunity cost refers to the lost returns from alternative uses of money spent for horse ownership. Many owners do not consider opportunity cost in horse budgets, but they can amount to a huge investment in the horse ownership hobby.
The values presented in this budget are useful in obtaining an estimated average cost of hobby-horse ownership. However, large ranges in costs of individual items are expected for different horse owners. The blank lines in the last column provide space to indicate your individual values. Also, additions or deletions to the list will individualize the budget and make it more applicable to your situation.
Horse Ownership: Costs to Consider
Summary and Conclusions
Most people own horses for hobby interests related to family and youth development, enhancement of the quality of life, or recreation. Several practices will help increase your enjoyment of horse ownership:
|Costs to Keep a Horse|
|Hay* and grain**||$1,211||$1,000|
|Veterinary & Medicine||$485||$300|
|* Hay for 1100 pound horse at 1.5 pounds per cwt per day for 9 months (on pasture the other 3 months)
** Grain for 1100 pound horse at 0.05 pounds per cwt per day
*** Farrier costs for trim only: $50Cost estimates from 2012 survey of Maine equine owners.Survey of 82 horse owners who owned a total of 470 horses.
Average number of horses was 6 per person.
Median number of horses was 3 per person.
Median number of horses is the level at which half the people have fewer horses and half have more horses.
Hobby Horse Ownership: Comparison of Costs Based on Stabling
(1100 pound HORSE – light work)
|Other Costs to Consider||My Costs|
|Initial Ownership Costs|
|Annual Ownership Costs|
|Annual Operating Costs|
|Repair & Maintenance|
|Lime & Fertilizer|
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
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Image Description: teen girl with horse; photo by Edwin Remsberg, USDA