Seven Steps of Horse Ownership: A Beginner's Guide

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Seven Steps to Horse Ownership: A Beginner’s Guide

 by Diana J. Canaday , copy write

          Now more than ever women have the financial resources to realize their childhood dream of owning a horse.  My seven-step plan is intended to give a person with little or no experience with horses the means to determine if the dream is worth the financial commitment.  My plan involves researching the horse industry to gain knowledge that will enable a beginner to make an informed decision about buying a horse.  The plan will also aid the novice in selecting a breed and riding style.

Step 1 - Attend horse shows. 

     Prior to buying a horse, attend local all breed horse shows and other horse related events.  There are more than forty-seven (47) breeds of riding horses, some of which were developed for a particular style of riding.  For instance, the American Saddlebred was developed as a showy riding mount with a high head carriage.  Hence, due to its high head carriage a Saddlebred would make a poor choice as a roping horse.  By watching different events and classes you will get an idea of what riding style and breed suits your preference.

     Horse events are also good places to find people knowledgeable about the local industry.  Equestrians attending the events know the local equine community and generally know of someone with a horse for sale.  Keep mental notes on what you are told for future reference.  This information will save money in the long run, because you will quickly identify those individuals that sell horses that are dangerous.  Therefore, you know not to deal with those unethical persons and avoid the risk of purchasing a problem animal.

            Step 2 - Take riding lessons. 

     Take riding lessons at a stable for one year.  Riding stables are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book, but also ask friends, co-workers and neighbors.  Try a group lesson at first, because this is less expensive than a private lesson.  In addition, the quality of instruction will probably be about the same.  In the Horry County private lessons start at or about $30 an hour.  Since you will need to take a lesson at least once a week, the cost of a month of private lessons is $120.  A group lesson is generally half the price of a private lesson.  Another reason to start in a group lesson is that the first part of learning to ride is grooming, leading and saddling.  Later, when you’re more experienced, change to private lessons to focus on your riding performance.

                           Step 3 - Evaluate the local market. 

     While taking lessons, you should begin to evaluate the local market.  There are three (3) types of expenses incurred during a quest to purchase a horse: the initial investment, monthly stabling (also known as boarding), and variable expenses. 

     The initial investment includes the price of an animal and tack (saddle, bridle, brushes, etc.).  Once purchased, where are you going to keep your horse?  At your home or at a stable? 

     Hence, the second expense involves its monthly upkeep like board and feeding.   The variable expenses, which are shoeing and worming, occur at regular intervals throughout the year. For price comparisons, look in the local newspaper and horse magazines.  These sources list advertisements for board and horses for sale.  The ads will also give you an idea of how much money you will need to invest in the purchase. Next visit the feed store to check prices on feed, such as hay and grain.  A bail of hay is around $2.00 for a forty (40) pound bale during the summer, but in the dead of winter can climb to $3.50 a bale.  Stabling is another expense.           

   At Circle H Stables, we charge $300 a month for natural board where a full board facility can cost you up to $550 per month.  In general, there are four (4) types of boarding: full, natural, partial and pasture.   Full board is the most expensive, because it includes the cost of a stall, feed and stall cleaning.   Natural board is when the horse is on pasture and the stable brings the horse in to feed and get out of bad weather.  Partial board can be as minimal as a stall.  Pasture board is when the horse is out in a field, often with other horses, which means you run the risk of injury to your animal.  If you have a show horse, then pasture board is out, because you need to keep the animal’s coat in excellent condition for showing and to avoid potential injury.

     The resources you collect will also give you a general impression of the horse market.  You will get an idea of what breeds are being sold and at what price range.  The better quality horses and popular breeds have higher price tags.  This is also a good time to determine if you want a seasoned veteran (i.e. older and experienced) versus a fixer upper (i.e. needs training).  I recommend a seasoned veteran (older and experienced) for a beginner.  The money you save on the initial investment of an untrained horse will be eaten up by the cost of sending the animal to a trainer for three (3) months. 

     Five (5) years ago, I had my horse trained in West Virginia.  It cost me about $350 a month for the training and $250 for the board bill.  Hence, my monthly cost was $600.  Of course, prices will vary in each region and with each trainer.  In addition, sending the animal to a professional trainer is no guarantee that it will be ready for anything. 

     Finally, a younger horse is not predictable and settle as a seasoned veteran.  A young horse is more likely to hurt you accidentally because it is afraid or doesn’t know how to act with people.  For instance, a friend of mine raises horses.  One of the babies wanted to play with her and kicked her in the hand.  The baby, although playing, broke three fingers of her left hand.    An older horse is less likely to cause injury leading to hospitalization and large doctor bills.  In short, a young horse can cost you much more pain and suffering than an older horse ever will.   

                                       Step 4 - Develop a Savings Plan. 

     Now that you know the approximate price range of the quality of horse you are looking for, it is time to develop a savings plan.  The plan should take into account the initial investment and the cost of monthly upkeep.  Look objectively at your finances to determine if there are areas of spending you can cut, like eating out everyday for lunch.  I know of a family who eats macaroni and cheese three nights a week in order to have their horses.  Think objectively.  What are you willing to sacrifice to attain and maintain your equine companion? 

     Even if you have extra money lying around, horses are not the best investment.  If you lose your initial passion for the hobby, then try to sell your horse.  You may find that the demand for horses is down because of the weather.  You will end up losing money rather than making money, because you will never recoup the cost of board.  In addition, the equipment and tack you purchased have a resale value of 30-50% of the purchase price.  Therefore, if you bought a $500 saddle, the most you may be able to sell it for is $250.           

It should be noted that the resale value is dependent on the brand of the saddle, so you may get more for a higher quality saddle.  Finally, it is not easy to liquidate your investment in a short time period.   It takes time and effort to sell a horse and it could be up to five (5) or six (6) months before you attract a buyer.  In the mean time you are shelling out $350-$450 a month for stabling.


                                                 Step 5 - Lease. 

     If though your budgeting process you find that funds are available and you still want to purchase a horse, then this is the time to lease a horse.  A lease is a limited commitment.  Often riding stables are willing to lease lesson horses for a three (3) or four (4) months.  Through this trial period you will get a better idea of the time and money necessary to invest in the care for an equine companion.


                                                            Step 6 - Evaluate Your Desire

     After the lease period, take some time to evaluate your lease experience.  How much bang did you getting for your buck?  Did you enjoy the time you spent at the barn exercising your horse or cleaning its stall?  Or was the experience a drain on your time and finances?  If you began to dread the barn and the horse, then buying one may not be the best hobby for you.  On the other hand, if you couldn’t wait to get to the barn and work with your horse, regardless of the weather, then this may be the hobby for you.


                                                                        Step 7 - Shop Around   

     If you thoroughly enjoyed your leased steed, this is a good time to start shopping for one.  First, make a list of things you want and how much you are willing to pay.  The top of the list should start with the riding discipline.  Next, should come the preferred breed, size and level of training.  Then list things like age, gender, and color. 

     Now is the time to grab the ad section of the local newspaper and begin calling sellers.  Your list will aid you in asking questions and eliminating animals that don’t fit your criteria.  This tool helps you to save time, because you will not waste time looking at a horse that doesn’t have the qualities in your checklist. 

     Generally speaking the best time to buy a horse is in the winter months of January through February.  Most sellers will take less because they don’t want the cost of feeding the animal expensive hay and grain.


     In conclusion, following this plan will give you two (2) years to save money and educate yourself about the equine market.  This plan sets you up for success, because you will have a clear understanding of what you want, what you are buying and of the hidden costs involved in your new hobby.

      At Circle H Stables we specialize in horses for beginners.   Call for a personal appointment to check out the wonderful, friendly horses!