What's This Going To Cost?

One of the more frequent questions I get from parents is how to go about deciding whether to buy a horse for their child, and if so, how to go about it, when you, as the parent don’t know much more than your child. This article is an excerpt from my radio show dealing with all the issues you need to know.

WHAT ARE THE ANTICIPATED COSTS OF HORSE OWNERSHIP?

In this article I am going to give you the guide to buying a horse for your child.  I will cover everything you need to consider before going down this path.

First, do you need to buy a horse right now?  To find the answer to this question start by getting your child regular riding lessons (at least once a week) with a reputable trainer or instructor. Get used to regimen of the responsibilities required and the commitment necessary from your child to continue this hobby.

Next, join a local horse organization.   The 4-H horse club or local chapter of the Pony Club are good alternatives.  You can get more information about your local 4-H horse clubs by calling your county cooperative extension service.  Both 4-H and Pony Club offer a wealth of opportunities for you and your child to learn about horses and develop their horsemanship and leadership skills in a safe, encouraging environment.

If your child's interest in horses continues and you find the weekly riding lessons aren't enough "horse time" your child wants, consider leasing a horse for six months.  In a lease agreement you pay either a fixed fee or you pay for a portion of the horse expenses in exchange for using the horse to ride frequently.  These leases come in lots of varieties.  Ask the instructor about it.  Often instructors own schooling horses that may be available for you.  Now, just because this is a fun hobby, do not lose your business sense!  You MUST get a lease in writing that sets forth clearly which duties are yours and which are the lessees.  Also, consider the insurance ramifications.  If the horse injures someone else during the lease period, whose insurance coverage does it fall under?  For members on my HRC site, I have several lease agreements that you can look through to familiarize yourself with what to expect in a lease agreement and determine which situation best suits you.

After six months or so, if your child is still hooked on riding, only then should you think about actually buying your own horse.  This is a huge commitment.  It's not like buying a dog.  There is a lot to owning your own horse, whether you keep it on your own property or board it in a stable.  There is a lot to consider.  I'm going to get you started right....if you follow my advice, you can save yourself a lot of headaches!

The first thing to consider is your pocketbook!  Parents always ask me how much they should spend on a horse for their child.  There is not one answer.  It entirely depends on what you want to do.  Buying a top level show horse can cost over six figures!  But, you could possibly find an older, retired, gentle trail horse for $1000 or so.  Remember, your first horse will most likely not be your last!  You can get a "starter horse" that is safe for your child who can help teach your child basic horsemanship skills.  After learning on your first horse, you can move along and acquire a local level show horse.  And, then, if the interest continues, you can get a more competitive show horse.  Show horses can vary tremendously in price...from $4-5000 to into the 6 figures.

Now, one important thing to know is that the initial purchase price of the horse is just the beginning.  You will have ongoing, monthly expenses that you need to expect.  I'm going to list them for you now, roughly in order of the most expensive to the least expensive:

First there is board, lodging.  This can range depending on what you want done.  If you are willing to do the daily work, you can board a horse and pay for only the stall the horse stays in.  That may run only $200 a month.  You, then, would pay for the feed and bedding and YOU would perform the daily routines of cleaning and feeding your horse.  Then there is full board that includes not only the stall but the cost of the feed and bedding and the manual labor to perform the daily tasks.  This would be more in the neighborhood of $400-$600 per month.  Remember...Boarding rates are highly dependent upon the local market in your area.  If you are in an area, for example where you must import your hay, it will be more expensive than if the hay is grown locally.  There are other factors that make the cost of keeping a horse vary from one part of the country to another.  So, you can call around and just ask the different barns in the area what they charge and what that fee includes. And, find a facility that is not too far away.  It is one thing to run your child down to the school ball field for baseball practice.  It is another if you are having to drive an hour and back to take care of your horse.

Lessons are an important part of your child's continuing education of horsemanship. Even if your child already knows how to ride, I would advise that you continue in a lesson program.  You can NEVER know it all....and, having an ongoing relationship with a professional instructor can help your child avoid problems with their horse and promote safe practices in the barn. 

Horses' hooves grow at a rate that will require you to have him reshod about every 6 to 8 weeks.  Assuming he is wearing shoes, at least on the front end, this will cost between $75 and $125 dollars each time.  If any corrective shoeing is required to keep your horse sound, this may be somewhat higher.

With any luck, you will not have any major health problems with your horse.  Assuming you don't, your vet will still need to see your horse every now and then.  Shots are given about twice a year and a de-worming program should be in place approximately every two months.  As you gain some experience, you may be able to purchase the de-wormer and administer that yourself.  But, until then, have the vet do this, so add that into your budget.  But its rather nominal, $30 bucks or so.  The other routine care he will need is having his teeth "floated".  That means having his teeth filed so that sharp edges do not hurt him or cause him bridling problems.  This is usually performed about once a year.  All in all, a typical, normal, healthy horse will cost about $500 per year.  Depending on what you paid for your horse, you can consider purchasing a medical insurance policy that covers surgery in the event it is required.  Because, a horse that undergoes surgery for, say, colic, will cost upwards of $3000 just for the surgery.  Then, aftercare may push that more towards $5000.

When you buy a horse, you will want to get a saddle that fits both the horse and your child.  Otherwise, you will wind up spending more time and money on a sore-backed horse.  A good used kids saddle can be found for a few hundred dollars, but be sure it fits.  Of course, brand new top-end saddles can cost a few thousand dollars.  But, that is certainly NOT necessary and not recommended!  You will also want to purchase a bridle that fits your horse.  You may also want two or three different bits that you will need depending on what your horse's needs are at the time.  All together you can get a decent saddle, saddle pad, bridle and bits for under $750.  That will last as long as your child is a child.  You should not have to buy another saddle until it is outgrown.  Then, there is always another parent looking to buy a good used kids saddle for THEIR child!

You will also need to purchase and keep on hand some equipment that you use on your horse everyday...like grooming supplies, brushes, hoof picks, fly spray, ointments for small injuries, leg wraps, shampoos, blankets and sheets.  Usually in a boarding barn, you will keep your things separate from others.  You may want to purchase a tack trunk to keep your for your things that can be locked, so you are not hauling all this stuff out to the barn each time.   Be sure to ask the professional in the barn for help in getting these things.  He or she probably knows a cheaper source than you do and knows the products that are most preferable. 

If you are on FULL board, the feed and hay will be included in the monthly boarding fee.  But, if you need supplements for your horse due to his specific needs, you may need to purchase them yourself.  If you are required to buy the feed and hay, consult the manager or trainer at the barn and ask their advice about where and what to buy.  Boarding facilities provide bedding for your horse if he is on full board.  If not, you may have to buy straw or bagged shavings.

There always seems to be some unexpected expense that arises.  It is just part of horse ownership.  Your horse gets a cut that needs stitching, he somehow gets his blanket off and chews it to shreds, or something similar.  It's like having kids...it's always something!

Your child may not want to compete at any horse shows.  If not, that is just fine.  Trail riding and hanging in the barn provides a wealth of clean, healthy fun on its own. Some of my fondest memories are building forts in hay loft, trail riding my pony and swimming through the pond.

But, if you child wants to show, you will likely start with local 4-H or Pony Club shows.  Sometimes Kiwanis Clubs put on horse shows in the area for a charity.  Regardless, you will have to pay extra for horse shows:  for the cost to transport your horse to and from the show (range of .50-60 cents per mile), entry fees for the classes you enter ($5-$25), stall fee $25, office fee $15, and you'll have to have the proper outfits that meet the show rules.  If you are lucky, you can borrow the clothes or purchase some from a child who has out grown last years outfit.  There are some very good online sources for this kind of thing.  You may also be required to pay your instructor for their time and assistance while at the show.  Think about it....the instructor takes ten kids to a show, he's got to get horses show-groomed before each class, get the horse warmed up properly before the class enters and then coaching on the rail while your child is competing.  That is a lot more work than just giving a lesson.  So, you should expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 a day for your instructor for a local show.  Obviously that per mile fee can be costly if the show is a long distance away.  And, if the show is two or three days, you will have the added costs of eating out and hotel rates to pay.  Your instructors' fee may be more as well, if the show is a weekend show rather than just a one day show.  Often times, the instructor will prorate her expenses among her clients at a show.  So, be prepared for that as well.

That about covers the foreseeable costs associated with horse ownership.  It may not be the cheapest activity for your child to pick, but the rewards are priceless!  If you have any questions about what I have outlined here, please do not hesitate to contact Horse And Rider Club through our Horse Helpline.