Adopting a horse is a big decision, in more ways than one! I grew up riding and caring for horses, with a big lesson/riding barn on one side of my childhood home, a small two-horse barn where we kept our adopted one-eyed pony on the other side. When I was a teenager, we build a small barn of our own in our backyard. We moved the pony in, along with a friend’s horse after that horse, a 3 year old thoroughbred – not a safe amateur’s horse – bucked him off and broke his back. We got professional help with the horse, and although he still occasionally had impressive bucking fits (my mom called him “opinionated”), he became a well-loved member of our family. Although I learned a lot about horse care, when a friend recently asked me about adopting a horse, I had no idea of the logistics of how to find a good match of a horse to adopt, much less how much one would cost! To help others who are thinking about adopting a horse, I asked a horse expert I trust – my mom – for some commonsense tips to consider before adopting a horse. Here is her horse adopting advice.
BEFORE ADOPTING A HORSE: COMMON SENSE TIPS
DECIDE EXACTLY WHAT YOU EXPECT. In other words, why are you doing this? If you hope to ride and haven’t much experience, take lessons at a local barn to see if it’s something you really love. If you just love horses and want to give a needy one a good home, volunteer first at a local rescue to see what’s involved and read up on horse care (there are 100s of books on the subject!) so you know what’s involved. Even a retiree, cute pony or miniature horse that isn’t being ridden takes lots of time and money! But the payback is enormous. It might take a while, but most domesticated horses learn to appreciate the people who care for them. So the rewards are huge.
GET PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. Adopting a horse is nothing like adopting a smaller animal. In general, it’s not a wise thing to do unless you have professional help (to chose the right candidate) or are a very experienced horse person. The best rescues will give sound advice and help make good matches, so that a beginner will be paired up with a quiet, kind, safe horse. But many aren’t equipped to make this assessment.
IT’S A LONG TERM COMMITMENT. Bringing a horse into your life is a lot like getting married; it’s a major commitment of time (and emotion, too. Horses typically live to be in their mid 20s (ponies often live even longer) and once a horse is “aged,” it’s often hard to find him another home–good retirement places for horses can be hard to find and obviously your checkbook will still take a hit every month.
DO THE MATH. No matter where you live, horse upkeep can be pretty expensive–even when the initial adoption cost is low. Board is just the beginning. Most barns include feed (hay and perhaps grain) and basic care, but there are plenty of other recurring expenses, such as blacksmith and vet upkeep. (Jen’s note: this is such a huge part of keeping a horse, we made a whole separate article on How Much Does it Cost to Keep a Horse, click here!)
GET A PRE-PURCHASE EXAM. Find the best local vet (if it’s a very reputable rescue, they will suggest theirs; typically a buyer brings in his/her own veterinarian) and talk to them about what you plan to do with the horse before they come out for the exam. Be sure to be there for the visit. Some horses will be sound enough for trail riding only. A basic set of x-rays is a good investment, often uncovering things that will become problematic as the horse ages or is put into regular work.
ABOVE ALL, BE CAUTIOUS! Not only are you making an enormous financial and emotional commitment, for a novice, there are always safety issues to remember.
Once you’ve done all your homework, make sure you do have a professional or very experienced horse person who can help you when problems arise. And once it’s all in place, HAVE FUN!