Owning a horse is a dream many have. But if you’re planning to turn that dream into a reality, there are some things you should know first. For example, do you know about all of the costs associated with owning a horse? How about the questions you’ll ask when choosing a boarding stable or riding instructor? Do you know what to do if your horse injures itself? Below are 20 things to know before buying your first horse. 

Before you buy, know your goals. 

If your goal is to have your own trail companion, then you’re not likely to go shopping for an imported jumper prospect. If you’re a beginning rider, then a young, green Thoroughbred is not likely to fit the bill. Before you begin your horse search, spend some time thinking about exactly what it is you want. Don’t be afraid to pass up the horses you know aren’t right for you or your goals. Don’t worry if the search for the perfect horse takes longer than you might have hoped. 

Don’t buy the first horse you see. 

“Don’t buy the first horse you see” — this old adage is not a cliché. Buying a horse is a big decision. Even if the first horse you see actually is the right horse for you, don’t finalize the purchase without looking at a few others. Compare and sleep on it. You won’t be sorry. 

A pre-purchase vet check can save you a ton of money (and a whole bunch of heartache). 

Before you hand over your hard-earned money, it’s in your best interest to have a vet look over your potential new horse. For every seller who will offer to cover the cost of the vet check himself, there is another hoping you won’t notice that slight swelling or subtle limp. A thorough vet check will include a head-to-toe examination by the vet, a Coggins test (a simple blood test that checks for Equine Infectious Anemia), a check for flexion, and anything else the buyer might be concerned about. The vet check might even include an x-ray, something that is especially important for a horse that’s intended for jumping or other intense competition. The cost of a vet check varies, but averages about $300.   

Every horse has a story.

Since you probably aren’t purchasing a freshly weaned foal, it’s important to remember that every horse has a story. Sometimes, you get lucky and can find out about a horse’s extensive background from its previous owner. In many other circumstances, the horse has been shuffled around and has never had someone bond with him completely. In either scenario, understand that it may take some time to learn about your new horse. Don’t be frustrated if he spooks at the sight of a dog — perhaps he was chased once. If he doesn’t understand a certain command you give him, it’s likely he has never learned it. 

Buying the horse is the cheap part.

The sale price of a horse varies dramatically. A trail horse might cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000, depending upon things like the horse’s age and experience. On the other hand, a competition-ready Quarter Horse or Hanoverian can be had for upwards of $10,000. Of course, livestock auctions often yield young, off-track Thoroughbreds for $500. However much you choose to spend on a horse, know this: buying the horse is the cheap part. 

The costs pile up, and never stop.   

Horses are living things, and need constant maintenance. Some of that expensive maintenance includes: 

    • Boarding: $150 per month, minimum.
      Expect to pay more if your horse needs a stall or daily turnout, if you live in a more expensive area, or if you choose to board at a show barn with myriad arenas and other other handy facilities.
    • Farriers: $75 — $100, every 6-8 weeks.
      A horse’s hooves grow constantly, and healthy feet equal a healthy horse. Depending on how fast your horse’s hooves grow, you’ll need to schedule farrier services every six to eight weeks.
    • Vet Fees: Unlimited.
      At the very least, your horse will need vaccines every year and its teeth filed every about every three years (more frequently for older horses). Horses also twist their knees, bow tendons, sustain cuts and gashes, get abscesses on their feet, colic, and just about anything else you can think of.
    • Training and Lessons: $200+ per month for riding lessons; $500+ per month for training.
      Lessons are important for a rider who is still learning or who shows regularly. Whether you choose to take group lessons or private, once a week or twice a month, expect riding lessons to set you back about $200 per month. Similarly, horses which are young or especially energetic benefit from training programs. Depending on the type of training a horse is receiving, training programs can cost a horse owner $500 or more per month.

Owning a horse means owning a whole bunch of stuff.

It’s not enough to just own a horse. You’ll need a saddle, bridle, saddle pad, and helmet for riding. Grooming supplies are many and include brushes, a hoof pick, fly spray, and towels. Come winter, your horse will need a warm blanket, while summertime requires a fly mask and maybe a fly sheet. Other equine accessories include riding breeches, polo wraps, proper footwear, a halter and lead rope, a lunge rope, and catalogs full of other equipment. 

Being a horse owner isn’t a part-time hobby.

Being the sole owner of a horse means being its sole caregiver, too. Be prepared to commit 10-20 hours per week to your horse. Horses should be groomed daily, and exercised (ridden or lunged) 4-5 times per week. If your horse lives on your property, or if your boarding facility doesn’t offer it, you may also need to feed your horse twice per day and clean its stall daily.  

Opinions in the horse world are a dime a dozen. 

One of the first things you will learn in the horse world is that everyone has an opinion about how something should get done. Perfect your diplomatic smile and nod, thank the person trying to help, and then get back to doing whatever works best for you and your horse. 

Still, don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

Of course, riding and horse ownership is a learning process, and you’ll likely always have a question. As you meet your fellow equestrians, you’ll likely separate mere acquaintances from those you like and trust. Go to these people when you have questions, and always be open to learning something new. Chances are it won’t be long before someone is asking you for your opinion. 

Not every horse thrives on the same diet. 

Will you feed your horse grass hay or alfalfa? Does she need a grain supplement? Horses don’t all thrive on the same type of diet. The type of food that’s right for one horse may not be right for another. For example, alfalfa can make some horses “hot,” or overly energetic. If this is the response your horse has to alfalfa, perhaps a different type of hay is necessary. There are a ton of articles online that discuss the different benefits of various food types, although a veterinarian or more experienced horse person is also a good resource.   

Stall or pasture? It depends on the horse! 

Similarly, not every type of living space is right for every horse. Some horses, and especially those with lots of energy or who are not exercised frequently enough, go so stir crazy in their stalls that they’re at risk of injury. For these horses, a pasture or large paddock might be a better choice. Alternatively, a very submissive horse who allows more dominant horses to push him away from his food, might fare better in a stall. 

Not all boarding facilities are created equal. 

Just like you wouldn’t look at one single place before deciding to move yourself in, it’s best to check out a few potential boarding facilities before choosing a home for your horse. While some facilities consist of the bare minimum (perhaps a barn, some paddocks, and an arena), others are made up of lots of stalls, multiple pastures, arenas both indoor and out, and maybe a hacking-out trail or two. Here are a few questions to ask before signing a boarding contract:

    • Is is a show barn? If you don’t want to show, will it bother you being around those who do?
    • Does the barn offer the facilities you are most interested in using (jumps, barrels, trails, etc.)
    • What is the state of the facility? Does it look well-maintained and safe for horses and riders?
    • What are the other boarders like? Are they your age? Do they tend to be cliquey, or welcoming to all?  

No two trainers are the same either.  

Choosing a trainer for riding lessons is another important decision you’ll have to make as a horse owner. Before you choose, consider a specific trainer’s background and expertise. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense to hire a hunter/jumper trainer if your ultimate goal is to barrel race. Once you narrow down your list of potential teachers, ask if you can sit in on a couple of their lessons. Do they start the lesson promptly? Do you like their teaching style? Does the student work the whole lesson? If, after a lesson or two, you decide a trainer is not the best fit, don’t be afraid to move on to another. 

Showing is not a requirement of owning a horse.

It may seem like everyone in the horse world is constantly preparing for that next big show, but showing is not a requirement of owning a horse. There are plenty of people out there who ride simply for the pleasure of it. There are even some who own a horse, but never ride. 

Learn to expect the unexpected. 

“Expect the unexpected” should be the motto of every person who spends time around horses. There will be days when your horse doesn’t feel like cooperating. Sometimes, the tree they’ve passed a hundred times will suddenly be terrifying. You may get to the barn to find your horse has broken out in hives, or worse yet, acquired a limp. The best thing you can do is refrain from panicking — for your sake and your horse’s.

If your frustrations are based on your horse’s behavior, don’t push it. We all have bad days. Simply re-focus your horse to do something easy and end your day on a positive note. If the unexpected is something more serious, have in your phone the number of 2-3 vets you trust. An emergency fund for any incurred vet fees may also provide some peace of mind. 

Brush up on basic first aid. 

When you buy your horse, it may also be worth investing in a first aid guide for horses. For example, did you know that a hoof abscess is best treated with a daily soak in epsom salt? Or that a cold water bath could greatly benefit a bit of swelling? Did you know that a colicky horse should be kept moving while waiting for the vet? Not every injury merits an expensive call to the vet, and a handy guide and bit of knowledge can go a long way to treating a basic wound or ailment.  

You will get hurt. 

It’s well known amongst equestrians: you’re not a real rider until you’ve taken a tumble and gotten back on the horse. Horses are big, fast, and dangerous, and injury goes with the territory. Follow the typical safety rules (ex: Let the horse know when you’re walking behind him) and wear the necessary protective gear while riding, so that any injury that is incurred is hopefully minor.

Losing your best friend is inevitable. 

Before you take on the love of a horse, it’s important to realize that the time will come when you will need to say goodbye to your best friend. Whether you’re selling your horse on to a new home, or saying goodbye more permanently, knowing any decision you’re making is for the best will make things much easier. While some losses are surprising and others unexpected, it’s okay to grieve. 

There is no bond quite like that of horse and rider. 

A horse is more than just something you own. A horse is a dependent, a teammate, a best friend. You will make myriad memories with your horse, and in so many ways, no one will understand you better than your equine companion. Owning a horse is a constant learning process, but if there is one thing to know before buying your first horse, it is this: there is no bond like that of a person and their horse.