Horses are beautiful, magical creatures! Humans and horses have shared strong bonds for thousands of years. You may have dreamed a long time about owning your own horse, riding through nature, enjoying the thrill of a gallop or a gentle nuzzle of a carrot-seeking nose. Adopting a horse is a wonderful way to make your dream come true, while saving the life of a horse in need at the same time. But hold your horses… before you jump in, there are some important factors to consider. The biggest one may be finances. The reality is that no matter where you live, horse upkeep can be pretty expensive! These tips below were written by an experienced horse person, Donna Warner Coughlin. They describe the various one-time and ongoing costs involved with caring for a horse or pony, so you can create a realistic budget, and be prepared to be able to afford to take care of your new equine friend, before you adopt a horse. Next week, we’ll publish more her commonsense tips for adopting a horse too!
ADOPTING A HORSE – BUDGET ITEMS
ADOPTION COSTS. Adoption fees at a local rescue or shelter can range from $200-2000. Be sure you’re dealing with a not-for-profit, reputable group and then at least you’ll know that money will go straight back into their budget to save another horse, whether from a kill auction (currently there are no slaughter houses in the US, although legislation is pending, but horses are shipped to Canada or Mexico) or possibly a race track, when the horse is no longer able to run or win. The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has mustang rescues (as do private groups), but mustangs truly require a very experienced owner. The funds might be used for vet care or feed–all good causes.
BOARDING. If you don’t have your own barn, you’ll likely have to pay to board the horse at a local barn. Do the homework for what it would cost in your area: Search out local barns that board horses and be sure to visit them to see if they’re clean, friendly and safe–and make sure the horses there look healthy and well cared for. Ask what is included in the monthly boarding fee. Some smaller, private barns will often take in a few boarders to help defray costs. Be sure to ask about when you’re allowed to be there and any other “rules” or restrictions–such as what equipment/tack you can keep there, where and when you can ride, how much turnout time your horse will have (and where), etc. These are also questions for larger boarding barns.
BARN. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have your own property where a horse can live. Horses need shelter. Maybe not a full-fledged barn, but definitely a shed or place where they can get out of the wind, rain/snow or heat of the sun. They need a clean source of water daily that doesn’t freeze. And, perhaps most important, good fencing. You’ll need storage space for hay, grain (rat, mouse and raccoon proof) bedding, blankets, tack and other miscellaneous equipment, too.
COMPANIONSHIP. If you have your own barn, remember that horses are herd animals, so you’ll need to have more than one–though some horses are happy with sheep or goat companions. Perhaps there’s another person who would share the space and the chores, so you won’t have to be there for each feeding.
FEED. Most boarding barns include hay, and basic care like a daily stall cleaning. They may charge extra for grain such as pellets or oats, and of course if you are keeping your horses in your own barn, you’ll have to buy all their hay and feed. If you feed supplements (like minerals and vitamins or over-the-counter remedies for arthritis, etc.) these will be an additional expense. If you have big grassy fields for them to graze in all day every day, those costs can be minimal, but there aren’t many places that have enough year-round grass to avoid this cost all together. Recommended daily hay (or “forage”) allowance is anywhere from 1.5% to 2.5% of a horses body weight, but it depends on the nutrients in the type of hay being fed, the individual horse, and activity level. So a 1300 pound horse not getting any foraged grass might get about 26 pounds of hay a day. A 50-pound bag of pellets might cost $20-$25, and a 50 pound bale of hay might cost $5 and up. Prices vary enormously depending on where you live (and the time of year), so before you adopt a horse, check local feed store prices and/or hay dealers and do the actual math for your budget.
BEDDING. If you keep your horse in a field with a run-in shed, you may not want to use bedding, but horses do appreciate a soft dry spot to lie down. In a barn stall, you’ll need straw, shavings, or sawdust. Shavings can come in bags, and can be stored in a loft or other dry indoor storage space. Bulk bedding is usually delivered by dump truck, so you need a dump-truck accessible storage area that is wind/rain proof, and not too far from your stalls so you or your caretakers can shovel and wheelbarrow it into the stalls.
MANURE REMOVAL. Some communities have dumpsters or brown bins for removing your horses used bedding and manure. Other communities have regulation about if and where you can build a manure pile, how often it has to be hauled away. Both have cost considerations.
TIME AND LABOR. If you do choose to keep your horse at home, it will take you an hour every day or more (if he’s stabled) to care for him. EVERY day, no vacation days for the caretaker! This usually means 2-3 trips to the barn each day–or more. Even horses that are turned out in big fields with plenty of forage and a good water supply should be checked daily. Training and/or riding time is on top of this.
FARRIER. Whether a horse wears shoes or goes barefoot, you’ll need to pay a trimmer or farrier every 6-8 weeks, year ’round. In Southwestern Connecticut, a farrier charges $40 to $50 for a barefoot trim, and a full set of shoes can be up to $300 each visit!
VET. Basic vet costs would include twice a year visits for vaccinations and a brief check-up. Worming schedules vary by how much exposure the horse has had – and will have – to parasites. You do the worming yourself, and your vet can suggest which wormers are appropriate. Call local vets to see what those costs typically run. Few horse owners are lucky enough to only see the vet twice a year–horses are like small kids, accidents waiting to happen, so count on a few other visits. Weekend or emergency calls run more and if surgery is needed, costs can be astronomical. Horse insurance (mortality, loss of use as well as major medical) is also available, but not inexpensive either. A horse dentist should work on your horse’s teeth every 9 to 12 months. And there are smaller expenses like grooming supplies, blankets if you decide they’re necessary, etc.
EQUIPMENT. Equipment can add up, but good quality tack (halter, bridle, saddle, etc.) will last a long time if well cared for. But the basic stuff is only the beginning–visit a local tack shop or check out online saddlery shops to see all the other tempting “accessories.”