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One-Time Costs of Owning a Horse

By: Galadriel Billington

10:28AM Apr 8, 2004

When you buy a horse, you aren't just buying a pet animal. Typically you buy a horse because you are going to ride him as well as care for him. In order to handle, ride, and take appropriate care of a horse, you need a lot more than just the horse.

I'm going to list the bare essentials here. If you're like most horse owners, you're going to want to buy all sorts of wonderful toys for your horse: the latest purple halter, a new gel-filled girth, fuzzies for the halter, and so on--the costs listed here are NOT really representative of what the average horse owner spends!

Also, remember, though these are called "one-time costs," they will need replacing if they break, wear out, or you use them up (first aid supplies, especially).

Even if your horse is on full board (that is, you pay someone else to take care of him), you still need a few supplies for his care. First of all, you will need a halter and lead rope. I usually have at least one extra halter and lead rope; when one breaks, you often are in the middle of something and don't have time to run out and buy a new one.

Another instance in which you don't have time to run out and get supplies is when your horse gets into a scrape. Whether he's got a minor cut or a gaping wound, you need to take care of it NOW. It is important to have a health care kit on hand for instances like this. Here is a list of health care supplies in my first aid kit.

You may want a blanket for your horse. Many horses are fine without them, and I have not included blankets in the tally below.

Okay, you can lead your horse around and you can tend to his health. You'd also like to ride him, right? You'll want to groom him before you tack him up. You'll need a hoof pick, a curry comb, probably a hard brush and a soft brush. You might want a mane and tail comb; I use an inexpensive hairbrush with plastic bristles for the mane and tail. You'll also probably need fly repellent if you want to ride without your horse twitching and stomping.

Before you even think about getting on, please be sure to have a riding helmet that fits well and is ASTM/SEI Certified. Please wear your helmet, with the harness fastened, Every Time, Every Ride.

You should also have a shoe with a hard toe (in case you get stepped on), and with a good heel (so your foot doesn't slip through the stirrup).

Unless you plan to always ride bareback with a halter (it can be done), you should probably get a saddle and bridle. You will also need a saddle pad, girth, and a bit. English saddles sometimes do not come with stirrups or stirrup leathers, and you'll need those too; sometimes bridles don't come with reins, so make sure you know what you're getting. It can be tricky to choose a saddle or to choose the bit. Be careful; make sure everything you buy fits your horse well and is appropriate for both of you.

I myself usually have several bridles and bits on hand, but that's not necessary. It is a good idea to have at least one spare saddle pad; if you want to ride but your saddle pad is still damp from last time, it will be uncomfortable for your horse.

If you're going to be working your horse very hard, you might want protective boots for his legs. This is optional and based on the kind of riding you do. A lot of galloping, jumping, or sudden turns should probably call for boots. Splint-type boots and polo wraps help protect against impacts, like knocking a leg; Sports Medicine-type boots (SMB-type) provide tendon and ligament support. If your horse has strong legs, he may not need anything at all. For more discussion of this, see my article on boots and wraps.

If you're going to take your horse anywhere in a trailer, you should have shipping boots and a head bumper. These will protect your horse while he is travelling.

As in other estimates, remember that these figures can vary a great deal based on where you are and what prices are like in your region.
ownership costs

The prices I've listed here for saddles, bridles, and bits are probably not what any individual horse owner pays. If you sit, and wait, and scour the used tack stores and websites and eBay, you may be able to find good used or even new tack for these prices. But if you're wanting to buy it all at the same time you buy your horse, you probably won't find many such good deals on good tack. Be very, very wary of any tack that sells for such prices new; it's probably stiff, badly made, more prone to break...and will be very uncomfortable for the horse. A cheap saddle can cause permanent damage to your horse's back; a badly made tree can cause him considerable pain. Pain from badly made or badly fitting tack can make your horse resist or even develop bad habits such as bucking or rearing. See the articles on Saddle Fitting for more information about buying quality tack and making sure that it fits well.

Be aware that if you do not board your horse out, you will need to provide a few more supplies.
  • You will need buckets for feed and water, and a storage bin for his feed (metal is best, to keep the rodents out).

  • Storage: You'll need a place to keep the feed, to store hay, and also a place to store your tack. If you have a barn, this can serve as both storage and shelter.

  • If you do not have a barn, you should provide a shelter of some sort that he can get into when the weather is foul. You should always be sure that the fences are very secure; maintaining these can be expensive. (It is however less expensive to keep them in good repair throughout, than to try to fix a lot of problems at once.)

In addition to supplies you need to provide if you keep your horse at home, remember that you will need to care for him. You should feed him twice a day, and also check to make sure that he is in good shape (not injured, sick, or otherwise acting unusually). If you go out of town, you need to arrange for someone to check on him, and feed and water him.

If you have one horse kept alone, you should probably give serious thought to providing him with a companion of some kind. Horses are herd animals, and become insecure if they do not have company at all times. (A person who visits sometimes is usually not enough; he needs someone with him all of the time.) Even a neighbor's horse that he can see over the fence will provide him some security, but even better is a playmate in his own pasture.
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.