Getting your first horse doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
Owning a horse is a dream many have as a kid, and few get to experience as an adult. Whether you’re 16 or 60, the first time you buy makes for a fun challenge! This article will cover the basics you need to know (and many things you perhaps haven’t even thought of).
It’s essential to prepare for both the day-to-day and the unexpected. You’ll need to buy the basics (like grooming supplies and tack) and set aside money for emergencies. Make sure you have backups for all aspects of your horse’s care, and don’t forget to include regular training or lessons in your schedule. Making friends and building a network is a great way to establish relationships, share chores, and prevent burnout. Most of all, don’t forget to have fun.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Even with proper precautions, your horse will turn up with an injury at some point, so it’s best to be prepared.
No, you can’t wrap your horse in bubble wrap.
But you can budget and save accordingly! Plan all of your monthly expenses, including feed and hay (if not included in your board), routine health care (vet, farrier, dentist), tack, equipment, and lessons. Set aside some money each month for an emergency fund.
How much should you set aside for emergency expenses?
I like to have three months of board and expenses set aside as a general rule. This way, whether I lose my job or my horse turns up lame, I’m not sweating for the extra cash.
If you can, set aside another $5,000 for bigger emergencies, like colic or other injuries that may need surgery. Or, consider equine insurance, including major medical.
Don’t forget about inflation.
No one wants to think about things getting more expensive each year, but it’s an unfortunate reality. Assume all costs will rise by 3% each year (e.g. if board is $500/month this year, assume it could be $515 next year) and plan accordingly.
You found a vet—but do you know who to contact after hours?
Once you’ve found your vet, ask them if they have an after-hours service or phone number. Sometimes, vets group together and combine “on-call” in a certain week. If this is not the case, save the number of the nearest emergency clinic.
Bonus tip: Try not to call after hours unless it’s a true emergency as these calls are always more expensive.
Your horse will get sick or injured at some point—are you prepared?
Horses and injuries go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you own a horse, injuries will come, so prepare while your horse is healthy.
Could you benefit from an equine first aid class?
Absolutely! Many equine injuries require simple, basic care (like cuts, scrapes, abrasions, swelling, etc.). Taking a class (or watching some videos by qualified professionals) can teach you the skills you need to handle the day-to-day bumps and bruises your horse will no doubt acquire.
Companies go out of business. People move. Do you have a network?
Boarding barns can be as bad as pop-up ads on the internet. Some last for the long haul, and others go out of business in less than a year. It pays to have friends in the horse world who can recommend everything from a new barn to a new vet, to what trainer to avoid.
Should I have backups for common services (hay, farrier, boarding, etc.)?
It’d be silly not to. Keep a list of three places in the area you like for all aspects of care. If a supplier goes defunct or your farrier retires, replacing them only takes a simple phone call.
Nature is probably the last thing on your mind with your new horse, but it can be a deadly one. Whether you live in an area with hurricanes, wildfires, or tornadoes, be aware of the potential threats and have a plan in place (or at least make sure your barn does).
What sorts of natural disasters could happen in your area?
Depending on where you live, you could be dealing with earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, fires, floods, or even freak storms. Keep a reliable weather app on your phone and check it regularly.
Does your barn have a plan to react in the case of an emergency?
All barns should have an emergency plan for whatever weather may strike in your area. This is a great question to ask the owner or manager when choosing a place to keep your new horse.
If You’re In Over Your Head…
Unfortunately, “green horse, green rider” is a common issue. Don’t hesitate to ask for help!
Even the gold medalists of the world work with trainers, so there’s no excuse for you not to (OK, except cost).
Whether you’d benefit from a weekly lesson or a monthly tune-up, make sure training (for you and your horse) is a regular part of your schedule.
When you’re planning for your horse expenses, make sure you include a lesson or training budget.
You could also set some money aside for clinics if that’s more your speed.
Get a few quotes from local trainers and set aside enough for one lesson a week. Where I live, that could range from $150 to $800 a month.
When is it time to bring in a trainer?
Best answer? Before you need one. If you wait until you or your horse develops a problem or bad habit, it will be harder to fix. Even if the horse you buy is “finished,” he won’t stay that way without consistent work (and neither will you).
Most Expensive Mistakes
Owning horses comes with a learning curve. Aside from the horse itself, your tack will be the most expensive thing you own. Follow these tips to avoid overspending and to learn where to save money.
Not thrilled with your tack purchases? Here’s what to do.
Whether your new saddle doesn’t fit correctly, you’re not comfortable in it, or you decide to switch disciplines, no fear! Call out a tack fitter to see if your current saddle can be made to work.
For example, if you buy a custom saddle, they have fitters who can make adjustments for free or for a reasonable fee.
If you’re not comfortable in the saddle, find a good consignment shop (like one that allows week-long trials). It may take a while, but you’ll eventually find a saddle that fits you and your horse.
Looking to save some $$$? Start here.
Join a few horsey Facebook groups and post some good pictures of your saddle. You may get lucky and be able to trade with someone. If not, you can always place your saddle for sale in a consignment shop (live or virtual) or post it for sale in a used tack group.
Buying New vs. Buying Quality
Many first-time horse owners think that only expensive saddles are good ones. Fortunately, many brands produce quality saddles for a price that won’t empty your wallet.
With my first horse, I rode, trained, and even competed in a Wintec All Purpose saddle. New, it costs $500-$700, but I got it used for $150.
Especially when you first get a horse, used tack, or a less expensive brand can be a great way to save some money. If things work out, set a little aside each month and save for that brand-new saddle down the road.
Develop a tack-cleaning & conditioning schedule.
Pro tip: develop a cleaning schedule and write it on your calendar. After every ride, wipe your saddle and bridle down with a clean cloth.
If you’re ambitious, you can do a more thorough cleaning once a week. I find that doing a good cleaning (soap and water followed by conditioning) once a month, however, tends to do the trick.
Protect Your Investment
Owning horses is expensive—protect the things that matter.
Equine Insurance: Something to Consider
Bet you didn’t know that you can insure your horse! Insurance isn’t right for every horse or horse ownership situation (if the horse is older, or used mainly for trail rides or light work, it may not be worth the annual expense). It’s worth looking into, however, if your horse is young or was an expensive investment.
Monitor Body Condition Score Regularly
While a healthy horse tends to stay that way, sometimes even the smallest change can cause them to start gaining or losing weight. Check in with your horse’s body condition regularly so you can catch potential problems early. It’s easier (and usually cheaper) the sooner you notice and adjust things as needed.
Most of us love time at the barn, but if you’re falling behind in other life areas (like work), here are some time-saving techniques!
Develop a chore routine
Whether you own property or board somewhere that’s self-care, a routine is a real life-saver. Plan when you’ll feed, turnout, and clean stalls each day. Include bigger chores like picking pastures or hay deliveries every week.
In over your head? Ask for help!
Horse friends are good for more than just gossip! Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend and ask to share chores. If you get burned-out from the care, you won’t want to spend time with your new horse.
Don’t Forget to Have fun!
Yes, owning a horse can be stressful. Don’t forget why you did it! When you feel overwhelmed, spend some quality time grooming and hand-grazing your horse.
Boarding? Get to know your barn-mates
Don’t be afraid to approach your fellow boarders and say hi. Set up group outings to watch a clinic, audit a horse show, go tack-shopping, or even
Keeping horses at home? Connect with your local equine community
Join some horse groups on Facebook and reach out to discover local events and shows. Offer to schedule group outings or horse events, like
Don’t be afraid to give your horse some time off, too.
You don’t want to work full-time, 52 weeks a year and neither does your horse. If you take some time off, whether it’s a long weekend or a ten-day cruise, let your horse have that time off, too. Arrange for them to have as much turnout as possible. They’ll appreciate the mental (and physical) break.
Never stop learning! Setting goals is important.
Whether you dream of being an Olympian or finally crossing that river, have some goals for you and your horse to work towards. Participate in local clinics or fun shows. You can also consider taking regular lessons to keep you and your horse at your best.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Should you be there for routine vet visits and farrier care?
I highly recommend being there for all regular care, even if you have a 9 to 5. Most visits, like biannual vaccinations or farrier work every 6 weeks, happen infrequently enough that you can take a morning (or afternoon) off.
It’s important to build a relationship with the people caring for your horse. These visits are also a great way to build your network and catch up on the latest happenings.
Q: Do you need an equine first aid kit?
Depends. Do you own a horse? All horse owners should have an equine first aid kit. Here are some items to include:
- Clean towels
- Wound cleaner
- Leg wraps
- Bute (ibuprofen for horses)
- Vet wrap
Q: How can you keep things interesting for your horse?
Like people, horses get bored with the same old riding and training routine. Change things up by hacking out in a field, going for a trail ride, or even playing around with a different discipline.
Q: How do you maintain your tack?
Keep it clean. It’s easier to maintain synthetic tack than leather tack (you can hose down the former). If you own leather, wipe it down after every use and do a deep cleaning at least once a month.
Q: What bad habits can horses develop?
Some bad habits include cribbing, weaving, biting, and kicking out. Thankfully, the underlying problem is usually either boredom (not enough exercise, turnout, or time to “be a horse”) or pain.
To prevent bad habits, maximize your horse’s turnout time and include regular groundwork sessions to work on good manners. Your barn manager will thank you!
Owning a horse for the first time is a wonderful thing. You feel like you’re on top of the world. Owning a horse is also a lot of hard work, so make sure you’re prepared for all sides of horse ownership.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- Write Your Own Letter to My Rookie Self
- Media Guide: Young Black Equestrians Podcast
- Braided: A Herd Dynamic (Horse Rookie Diversity Initiative)
- Letter to My Rookie Self: Emily Harris
- Letter to My Rookie Self: Sarah Harris
- Small Business Spotlight: The Positive Equestrian