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The Hidden Costs of Horse Ownership

Before committing to owning a horse, make sure you're prepared for the unexpected expenses.

By Leslie Potter | September 2012

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From the Pages of
From the Pages of Horses USA
When buying your first horse, you can spend as much or as little as you like. On the low end, a savvy searcher can find inexpensive or even free horses in the online classifieds. On the high end, well, the sky is truly the limit. However, experienced horse owners know that the purchase price is no indication of how much money you will end up spending during your horse’s lifetime. That first check you write before bringing your new horse home is just the tip of the iceberg.

Horse eating grain
Growing horses, seniors, horses in training and hard-keepers may need supplemental feed beyond just hay and grass. Photo: Leslie Potter
Feed
Horses eat grass, and grass is everywhere, so feeding should be cheap, right? While it is true that many horses do fine on pasture alone during the summer, you’ll need to have at least one grassy acre per horse to adequately meet their caloric needs. That will probably necessitate extra acres to allow rotation when one area becomes overgrazed. Even with adequate grass, you will need to feed hay from late fall through early spring, and possibly in the summer if your region experiences drought conditions.

Hay prices are affected by lots of outside factors, which makes it difficult to budget this expense ahead of time. An especially dry or rainy season can ruin a hay crop, which leads to a reduced supply and higher prices. When the price of gas jumps, so does the price of hay because the expenses involved in cutting and delivering the hay will rise. Furthermore, buying the cheapest hay you can find is not a good idea. Hay that is too dusty, moldy or low-quality won’t provide your horse with adequate nutrition, and can even make him sick.

If you have a young, very active or senior horse, you will need to budget for additional feed beyond hay and pasture. Horses that are still growing and adult horses with a heavy workload will require concentrates, such as a pelleted feed or grain. Some senior horses have trouble keeping weight on due to age-related dental problems and may need to get at least part of their forage in the form of hay pellets or cubes, which are easier to chew and digest. Specially formulated senior feeds provide additional calories for older horses that are hard keepers.

Because hay prices vary considerably from region to region, check with local feed dealers or ask other horse owners in your area what they pay for hay to gauge how much you can expect to spend.

Hoof Care
All horses need to see the farrier every six to eight weeks, regardless of whether they wear shoes or go barefoot. Regular trims help to keep your horse comfortable and prevent lameness. Your farrier may even be able to help spot hoof and leg issues before they become major problems.

Farrier costs vary, from $25 for a barefoot horse’s trim in some regions to hundreds of dollars each visit for horses with therapeutic shoeing. Some farriers specialize in certain breeds or disciplines, so look for one who is experienced with the kind of horse you own. Ask area horse owners for recommendations and inquire about rates. Attempting to stretch out the time between farrier visits to save money will only lead to damaged hooves or even lameness, and possibly a veterinary bill that makes your farrier’s rate look like pocket change.

Veterinary Care
In a perfect world, you will only see your vet once or twice a year when she comes to administer vaccinations and provide a general wellness exam. In reality, your horse will probably get into a situation that you can’t handle without veterinary attention at least once in your life together.

Horse Vet
You will have at least one vet visit annually for vaccinations and a general wellness exam, but be prepared to have your vet out for unexpected situations during your years as a horse owner. Photo: Leslie Potter
Many horses, even those that have consistent care and are typically healthy, will experience an episode of colic during their life. Not every incident will require veterinary treatment, but you don’t want to take a "wait and see” approach to calling the vet. Every second is precious in beginning the appropriate treatment. Waiting an hour or two can be the difference between a simple house call from the vet and an after hours emergency, not to mention pain and suffering for your horse.

Seemingly less dramatic medical issues still warrant a call to the vet. Eye injuries should never be left untreated, as even a minor scrape can turn into an infection and lead to the loss of an eye. Lacerations that go deeper than skin level or are located in a sensitive area, like a joint, often require veterinary attention to heal properly. A moderate lameness that doesn’t go away on its own also warrants professional treatment.

As a horse owner, you’ll hope for the best but must prepare for the worst. Keeping an emergency fund for your horse is an essential part of responsible horse ownership. You don’t want to be faced with having to forgo essential veterinary care because you can’t afford it. Some vets will accept credit cards or work out a payment plan in the event of a large bill. Consult with your vet before an emergency occurs so you’ll know ahead of time what your options are.

Plan to spend $100 to $300 per year for normal preventative care, such as annual vaccinations and dental exams. And keep at least a few hundred dollars in your veterinary emergency fund. Decide now how much you’d be willing to spend in the event of a catastrophic illness or injury, and have that amount tucked away.

You can purchase equine insurance that will help cover major expenses such as colic surgery. However, insurance companies typically only cover younger horses. Insurance can cost several hundred dollars each year.

Miscellaneous Costs

  • Horse-sitting: Unless you board your horse at a full-care facility, you’ll need to be prepared to pay a horse sitter when you go out of town. While you may be able to pay the neighbor’s kid a few bucks to come over and feed your cat once a day, you need someone who is comfortable around horses and knowledgeable about their care to check on your farm while you’re away. If you have horse-owning neighbors, see if you can work out an arrangement where you care for one another’s horses. Otherwise, be prepared to pay an experienced horse caretaker to look after your animals, both for their benefit and for your own peace of mind.

  • Lessons: If you’re thinking about getting a horse, you probably have a fair amount of riding experience under your belt. However, don’t rule out the possibility of taking lessons after you have your own mount. An experienced instructor can be invaluable in helping you develop an under-saddle rapport with your horse or work through any challenges that may arise. You don’t necessarily need a weekly lesson, but plan on spending a bit of cash every month or so in order to become the rider your horse deserves.

  • Equipment and Clothing: Once you have a horse in your life, you’ll discover there are a plethora of assorted items that suddenly become essentials. Beyond the major purchases, such as a saddle and bridle, you’ll need to buy grooming tools, fly control products, basic first-aid supplies, and a seemingly endless list of other small items. Don’t forget about your needs as a rider too. You don’t have to purchase the latest in equestrian fashions, but when you’re riding regularly, you’ll want a good pair of boots, a few pairs of comfortable riding pants, and an ASTM/SEI certified helmet.

  • Trail ride
    Horse shows, group trail rides and clinics are a few of the activities you'll want to try once you're a horse owner--and they're going to cost extra money. Photo: Leslie Potter
    Shows and Outings: You want a horse so that you can enjoy him, so make sure you can afford the basic expenses and still have a little fun money left over. Right now, riding around the backyard or your boarding stable’s arenas may seem like all you could ever want, but once you’re a horse owner, you’ll discover endless possibilities. Group trail rides, local fun shows, clinics and parades are just some of the things you can do with your new horse. Of course, these activities require gas money for trailering, entry fees and possibly stabling costs. While you can certainly be a happy horse owner without ever leaving the farm, you may find you enjoy doing new things with your horse and your fellow equestrians. Keep that in mind when mapping out your budget.

Becoming a horse owner is not a step to be taken lightly. You don’t have to be rich to be a good horse owner, but you’ll enjoy your horse more if you know you can afford to give him the best care possible.

Further Reading
Your First Horse Resources
Horse Cost Calculator
Gear up for Horse Ownership

is the Senior Associate Web Editor of HorseChannel.com and has been signing her paycheck over to her horse for the past 10 years. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex


This article originally appeared in the 2013 issue of Your New Horse. Click here to view the most recent issue.

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Reader Comments

Samantha    Miami, FL

10/24/2014 4:50:29 AM

Down in Miami, a decent bale cost $23 on a good day, you can't get a trim for under $30, vet bills are high. A bandage change is $80, and teeth floating is $175. A lot more people need to see this. As an active member of the SFSPCA I'm tired of people not realizing this and than starving and dumping their horses.

Linda    Cerritos, CA

10/14/2014 8:00:36 PM

The vet costs are too low. Just shots alone will run you $200+ a year. Add in teeth and sheath cleaning and you are talking $200-400. If you have an emergency, all bets are off. Hay costs $18 a bale in California and shoe trims start here at $45, not $25.

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