SO . You Want to Own a Horse? Are You Sure?

You have dreams of racing across the hills with the wind whipping at you, and the excitement boiling up inside to the point that you overflow with the sheer joy of living. You want the freedom to go anywhere and do anything, at any speed through any obstacle. You want to race the waves on the beach and have the water spray hit you like a dozen needles, exciting your skin to the point that you can hardly stand the delight that you feel in sharing such wonderful moments with another being.

Do you sit in old barns and inhale deeply, just to enjoy the pungent odor of horses, and think, "I'm in heaven." Does newly cut hay give you chills and thrill you nose. Do your friends and family think you have really lost it, or gone off the deep end, because you have suddenly developed a fence fetish? Do you look at all that open green grass and think it's such a waste because it is not fenced with some gorgeous horse grazing on it. Has pastoral become your middle name?

So you have to have a horse. The bug has bitten you and you can't seem to recover from the need. You watch every horse program on the off channels on cable. You even find yourself watching bad old Westerns just to see what horses they rode. You are right, you've got it, you are truly ill, and you won't get over that nagging hole in the pit of your stomach until you share your life with a horse. And believe me, it is not just a want . it becomes an all-engrossing need. You have two choices at this point, very extensive, long-term psychological counseling, or get a horse. They cost about the same, so you choose.

>From the days that early man climbed on that very first horse, an innate bond was formed that has come down through the ages. Horses fill a need in people and vice versa. What so many don't understand is that horses feel that need too. Do you really believe that you could control 800 to 1200 pounds of feet and teeth and strong muscles, if they didn't feel the need also? Horses do for you, listen to you, commiserate with you, and respond to you only because they want to and they allow it, not because you make them.

So, you're hooked. You know you have to have, you just want to know how, why, what, where, when, and of course, the all-important, how much. It is at this point that it becomes very complicated. There are some very important questions that you have to ask yourself, before jumping off the deep end. Too many get bitten by the need, and rush right out and buy the first horse they see, from the first old guy they meet, because "Oh, he is so-o-o-o pretty!!!?" Big mistake! Huge mistake!!! One that could really bite you badly!! Buying a horse is a process. Take it step by step. When you were first learning to swim, did you run down and jump into the deep end when no one was there to help fish you out if you started to drown? If the answer is yes, then you are on your own, more power to you, and happy trails.

If the answer is no, then put the reins on, put your thinking cap on, and do some RESEARCH! The actual cost of a horse is the least amount of money that you are going to spend in owning a horse. First you need to find a horse that fits your budget and your needs, and maybe a few wants too. Be realistic in determining what you really need and what you just want in a horse. You will discover that compromise is the most important word in pricing a new horse. Remember, pretty costs, color costs, and training costs. Overall, quality costs. A lot!

However, from the other side of the fence, think of it this way. How much enjoyment are you going to get out of owning and riding your own horse? How long are you planning on keeping him or her? If you are only planning on keeping a horse for a year, then a $10,000 horse is a little steep to pay. But if you are planning on keeping this horse for the next 10 or 15 years, then $10,000 amortized over 10 or 15 years is only $1000 to $667 per year to have that continuous enjoyment. Are you spending $1000 a year on your own entertainment and your kid's entertainment? What is healthier for you and your family? Sitting in front of the TV, one trip to Disney World, or 10 years with a loving horse that will take you anywhere you want to go, and throw in the physical exercise in the bargain. For all of you couch potatoes who hate to go to the gym to exercise, join the rest of us out here that have discovered that a horse is a lot more fun than a gym, and you get the same amount of positive effects. You get to be outside, breath the real air, rather than conditioned air, you can get away from it all, and relieve tremendous amounts of stress, all by getting on the back of a horse. It is great therapy and great exercise.

But before you buy a horse, you really need to look at your monthly commitments and determine if you want to cut back on something else to have a horse. There is nothing worse than buying that wonderful horse and then not being able to feed and care for it. If you have your own property with grass, it will help your monthly expenses. If not then you better check the boarding stables in your area, to determine what it will cost just to house and feed your horse. Depending on the area that you are in, full board can run from $250 a month to $1,000 a month. So do some research first. Don't just call the barns, go look at them. If they are dirty, acrid smelling, tons of flies, then look elsewhere. Meet the manager of the barn; find out what other boarders there think of the accommodations. Would you spend the night in this barn? Think about it. There may come a day that you have to if you have a sick horse.

Next, you have to have tack to ride your horse, supplies to groom your horse, and sprays to keep the flies and other insects off him. All of this costs money. Check to see what the tack you want or need is going to cost before you jump into the deep end and own a horse. Then there are the maintenance costs. Every horse will need to have his teeth checked once a year to see if they need floated. You will need Coggins or similar test for Equine Infections Anemia, pulled once a year. At least once per year and sometimes twice per year you will need vaccinations. Every horse needs to be wormed and feet trimmed or shod every two months. Then there are the emergency veterinarian calls. All of this needs to be taken into account before you buy a horse. Are you ready and willing to pay what it costs to own a horse?

OK, now that you have determined that you are ready and you are going into horse ownership with your eyes wide open, are you going to stay around the barn where your horse lives, or are you going to need a truck and trailer to take him other places? You might want to check this out first too, because this is a major expense. Trailers are like cars, you can buy the used Pontiac down the street or you can lust after the Mercedes. Again, it is all what you want versus what you can afford. Remember, eyes wide open, budget informed, husband or wife agrees to the agenda.

There is nothing worse that buying a horse and not taking proper care of it. You cannot imagine the number of horses that we see on a daily basis that are abandoned, neglected, and unwanted, just because the newness wore off, and the reality of the work and the cost set in. If after reading this you are not sure that you can afford a horse, then DON'T BUY ONE!!!! I can't emphasize this enough.

Think very seriously about why you want a horse. If it is a life long dream, and the need is there, and you are prepared for the reality, then research and buy the best you can. If you are buying a horse because the kids have expressed a moderate interest in horses, then don't buy one. Take them for riding lessons and see if the interest wanes before you make the commitment. Run some scenarios in your mind before you buy. Are you still going to want this horse when it is raining cats and dogs, and you have to slog your way to the barn? How about if there is a blizzard outside and you are going to have to carry hot water to and from the barn just to provide water. Horses cannot go without water no matter what the temperature is or the weather conditions are outside, and horses drink 5 to 10 gallons of water each and every day per horse.

I have met people at both extremes of this question. I have one lady who has panic attacks if she is gone out of town for four days and anxiety separation pains at being away from her boys for that long. Then there are the people who live right next door to their horses and haven't seen them in 9 months and they are starving for both food and attention. Think about what type of owner you are going to be. Horses are TOTALLY dependent on YOU for everything they need to survive and to be healthy. That includes their mental health. A horse can get separation anxiety also if he doesn't see you very often. Horses will give you incredible joy and satisfaction, affection and love, and they will give it generously and honorably. There is nothing in this world quite like the bond that you build with a horse. It is not like a cat or a dog. Horses are unique. They become a part of your soul.

The bottom line of this exercise is how do you feel about caring for a horse. At least 70% of the time that you spend with a horse is on the ground, not on his back. If the barn work feels more like play than work, then you are ready for a horse. If it is a chore that you just have to do and don't enjoy, then skip buying one and go rent one for the day. You and the horses will be happier in the long run.

(Excerpted from The Paso Fino Handbook: A Guide to Buying and Owning Your First Paso Fino, by Jennie Williams, Paradise Paso Finos)

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Updated: October 2005.