What is it like to own a horse?
Buying a horse

The realities of owning a horse: the good, the ugly and the dirty truth12 min read

There are few things in life that equal a rein-swinging walk to the rhythmic beat of horse hooves lulling you into a calm, meditative mood.

A long trail ride is an excellent stress-reliever that quiets all those little coversations in your mind and puts you firmly back in the present moment.

A good work out with your horse can be exhilarating and more fulfilling than hitting the gym on a good day.

When you take the time to build a strong relationship with your horse, you’ll have a wonderful companion and partner to work with.

Your horse will be eager to work with you and will teach you how to be a better rider – and even a better person.

The calm but assertive way of being, that is required of you to be around and work with horses, will centre your thoughts and help you focus on the essential.

The benefits of having a horse of your own are many

Caring for a horse can make you more reliable, consistent and thorough. Many people learn essential teamwork skills from working with horses and other people around the stables.

The work associated with caring for and riding horses will add to your own fitness; riding, grooming, walking, mucking out, feeding and caring for tack and horse alike is hard work – but never boring.

The structure and routine that is required to take care of a horse can bring order to a chaotic lifestyle and peace to a stressful one.

Owning a horse also comes with many social opportunities; from things like local clubs to national competitions. Getting together with other horse owners and enthusiasts is a great way to share experiences and get new ideas.

There are many functions that bring horse people together – lessons and clinics, local trail riding groups and clubs, shows and competitions and many, many more.

Living a life with horses keeps you busy in many ways and is very fulfilling to people who love nature and animals.

What are the realities of owning a horse?

As rewarding as it is, horse ownership also comes with a lot of responsibilities. Horses take up a lot of your time, energy, worry and – yep, you guessed it – money.

When you have a horse, you can’t just pick up and get away for a spell. You’ll have to make alternate arrangements with stabling, care and riding for the time that you’re gone. Even when you manage to take a vacation, you end up worrying about your four-legged friend the whole time you’re away!

If you’re going to become a horse owner, you’d best get your head around that a lot of your time is going to be spent with your horse. But when you love nature and animals, going to the stables is like a mini-vacay anyway, so it really isn’t bad at all.

If you feel like owning a horse is a bigger commitment than you can or want to make, leasing, part-time leasing and borrowing are excellent ways of getting to have a horse without having to worry about all the care alone.

The dirty jobs

Owning a horse means you need to be ready to get dirty because it brings with it a whole bunch of dirty and physically demanding jobs. Unless, of course, you’re loaded and can pay people to do all the dirty work for you (in which case this doesn’t concern you, lucky you, eh!).

This is especially true if you’re keeping the horse on your own property or if your livery requires for you to do most of the work yourself.

Some of the dirty jobs that merit raised eyebrows from people who don’t know much about horses, include flushing fly eggs from your horse’s eyes and cleaning your stallion’s or gelding’s sheath.

Horses need to be groomed daily and their environment and tack maintained regularly. Stalls need to be mucked out on a daily basis and fields, paddocks, arenas and trails need to be cleared of poo.

Why? Because keeping excrement around forces the horses to walk in it and, this not only makes them dirtier and harder to clean, it subjects them to disease, parasites and infections.

The number one job in disease prevention is to have your horse in a clean environment to reduce exposure to disease and ill health. As unglamorous as this job is, it is cheaper to do the dirty work than it is to pay for treatment for various diseases and infections.

And there’s more…

Other jobs that you will need to consider, especially when keeping a horse on your own property, is carrying fresh water several times a day if there isn’t a system for running water, maintenance of stalls, stables, barns, gates and fences as well as any other work a property and its buildings need regularly.

You also need to make sure that the paddocks your horse stays in are in good condition, have the right kind of grazing with no poisonous plants and have the appropriate footing for your horse – for instance, a muddy paddock can cause mud fever in the hooves.

The total responsibility

Your horse needs to be your priority because he is completely dependant on you for everything from feeding to grooming and exercise.

He needs to be groomed and checked daily, fed several times a day and given plenty of exercise and activity.

If you are not riding your horse he will still need to be taken out for walks, lunged, trained in groundwork, put on a walker and/or get turned out in a paddock or field among other things.

Just like you, your horse will get bored if he’s left without company and things to do all day and will suffer for it. He needs things to do and friends to interact with.

Are you really prepared to go out and ride your horse when the weather is freezing? Are you prepared to exercise him no matter how wet and rainy it gets?

Are you willing to put your own tiredness aside to see that he has what he needs? Hauling yourself out to the stable can be a big ask on days when it’s cold and dark or when you’re not feeling well.

A horse living in a stable needs plenty of exercise to keep healthy and even horses that are turned out 24/7 need to be checked over and groomed once a day and given alternative exercise and/or activity if they are not being ridden.

When you’re buying a horse for your child

If you’re getting a horse for a child you need to be prepared to spend time guiding and supporting the child or spend money making sure that someone else, such as a professional groomer, trainer or other knowledgeable and responsible person can guide, supervise and teach your child in how to grow into a good horse owner.

You should also consider that your child might need help with time management to juggle school, homework, other hobbies and the horse and encouragement to brave all kinds of weather, tiredness and other circumstances to get to the stables to take care of the horse.

As a parent, it will be your job to help your child be a good horse owner. And when you or your child gets sick, you need to make sure that you can arrange for the horse to be taken care of for the time when you cannot do so yourself.

Your horse is always waiting for you to come and take care of him and it is your responsibility to do so.

When buying your child a horse or pony it is advisable to have them take riding lessons for at least a year first.

This way you will be sure that if they are still interested in riding and horses that their interest will not suddenly shift and that they are ready for the shared responsibility of their own horse through leasing or purchasing.

The (considerable) financial commitment

Owning a horse is never cheap, but the smart horse owner minimises costs where possible without compromising the welfare of the animal.

Planning ahead and finding offers and prices from different places is always a good way to pay a fair price for a service or product.

Think carefully about what you can do yourself and what you need to have someone else do for you.

Plan ahead and budget for things such as routine check-ups, livery, feeding, farrier bills, bedding costs, think about how you will arrange care for the horse if you get sick or travel etc.

Save money when you can and put it aside to help pay for unexpected expenses, such as equipment damage, accidents, treatment in case of illness or injury.

You should also consider what you will do in case your horse dies or needs to be put to sleep

Euthanasia, vet visits and disposal of the body all cost money.

If you at some point should run into a situation where you can no longer keep the horse – for reasons such as finances, time, injury etc. – is there a way you can sell or re-home the horse to a good owner?

Or if you want to keep the horse, can you lease it out to someone else?

If you are extremely lucky your horse will not get sick or have any needs for special care, but you can never know what will happen and planning ahead is always the smart thing to do.

Some core areas in horse care are essential to the well being of your horse and should never be cut or compromised:

  • Proper veterinary care should always be provided by a qualified vet. Don’t attempt to diagnose a sick horse yourself and discuss all health-related issues with your vet before making any decisions.
  • Vaccinating and de-worming your horse helps in disease and illness prevention.
  • Regular hoof maintenance; always consult with your farrier and/or vet whether your horse needs shoes on all feet, some feet or whether it needs shoes at all. Don’t remove shoes on your own to cut costs as this could lead to lameness and other hoof problems. Even without shoes, your horse will need to have his hooves trimmed regularly and if you don’t know how to do this correctly, you’ll need a farrier to do it for you.
  • Regular dental checks by a vet or equine dentist to make sure your horse has good teeth.
  • Insurance is recommendable if you are not certain that you can pay an unexpected vet bill in case something happens. Third-party liability insurance is usually legally required as minimum insurance because the owner of a horse is responsible for any damage or injury the horse causes to other people and others’ property – regardless of the owner being negligent or not. Always check the requirements in your area.
  • Repairs and maintenance to the property where horses are kept are vital to ensure the safety of both the horses and people on that property.

When your horse doesn’t agree with you

Depending on how much experience you have with horses, and the kind of horse you end up with, you may end up disagreeing with your horse a lot.

Not being able to do what you wanted with your horse because the horse isn’t suited to it or because your temperaments don’t click, can be incredibly frustrating.

Many a young rider has been reduced to tears over a wilful horse that is difficult to control.

Let any frustration you experience be a trigger for more learning and developing your own eye, skill and patience.

If your horse is grumpy or nasty, always have it checked for pain or illness before writing it off as a disposition issue.

Then look at what kind of a response your own behaviour brings out in the horse – ask yourself: does your horse behave differently with a different handler?

Continuously learn more and train yourself to be a better rider and horsewoman

Continuously invest in training your horse to learn new skills. Before you buy a horse of your own, make sure it’s the right one for you.

Consider other options, such as adopting from a charity or leasing, if you’re not sure what kind of horse suits your needs.

Having a horse (or three) of your own can be the best thing in life if you meet the challenges of responsible horse ownership and provide yourself with ample opportunities to grow.

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