Three young horses galloping in a row

Before Buying Buying Care Tack Use Woodswell Farm logo - a water well under a tree

Off the Hoof Horsemanship

Before Buying a Horse Part One

Before you start looking for your horse

Should you really own a horse?

Horse Ownership is a way of life and a serious commitment. Many new horse owners find that the expense and time involved is more than they are willing to take from other parts of their lives.

How much spare time do you have?

Horse ownership is a commitment, since someone has to care for it daily.
Everyday chores
Each day the horse needs to be fed and watered. If kept in a stall, the stall must be cleaned. Daily grooming is also recommended.
Special Events
If you plan to compete the horse, you must dedicate many hours of practice and preparation. The competitions themselves can take many weekends away from other parts of your life.
Disasters
Even if you pay someone else to care for the horse, there can be emergencies that will need your attention or that a stable manager will not want to deal with by themselves.

How much do you want to put into a hobby?

Time to feed, clean stalls and maintain the facilities
If you care for the horse yourself, you must plan to feed usually twice a day. This is not just dumping grain in front of the horse, but you must check that he has clean water, enough hay or grass, and look him over for injuries or ill health on a regular basis. If the horse is kept up in a stall, it must be cleaned daily and you must dispose of the manure and soiled bedding.
Whether the horse is kept up or turned out on pasture full or part-time, there will be regular maintenance on the facilities. Time needs to be planned to repair the stall, fences and other areas. Mowing pastures, clearing brush and fertilizing the grass add to the hours that have to be spent on the horse.
Time to groom
Grooming should be done regularly, as much to check over the horse for injuries as to keep it in good condition. Grooming is also valuable for helping you to bonding with your horse.
Time for riding
In between all the other commitments, you will have to take time to ride or use your horse. If you are competing, this can mean long hours of practice and perfecting your skills and the abilities of your horse.
Money
Horses are expensive. As my father used to tell me, "It's not the initial cost, it's the upkeep!" Unlike many other hobbies, a horse will cost you even - or especially - when you are not doing anything with it. He has to eat, his hooves need to be trimmed, he needs routine veterinarian care.
You can save on your own time by paying someone else to care for the horse on a daily basis, but that will make your costs much higher. And it limits your involvement, so if your desire is to take care of a horse, this may not be the right choice.
Legal
Under American law, horses are usually considered an "attractive nuisance" similar to swimming pools. It is your obligation to be sure that other people are not lured into petting, handling or riding your horses and thereby injuring themselves.
On top of all the other expenses, if you keep a horse on your own property, you must notify your liability insurance company. Many companies will no longer provide insurance for "equine property." You will also need to check on local zoning and other regulations involving keeping animals, disposal of wastes and other provisions of the law.
Love
Most of all for many of us horses are a commitment of love. Once you find a horse that you get along with and that satisfies your needs, it is almost impossible to make the decision to sell it or give it away. If you keep the horse its entire life, you will pay the cost in the end of either losing your companion or making the difficult choice so that it will not suffer. This personal cost can be the most expensive of all.

Riding without owning

You can enjoy spending time with horses without ever owning one. There are a lot of ways to do this, depending on the time and money you want to spend, the convenience, and what is available to you.
Renting
If all you want to do with horses is to go for an occasional trail ride, then renting a horse for an afternoon when the mood strikes and the weather is good may be the best choice. Unfortunately, good quality rental stables are less common than they used to be - see my notes on liability insurance above. And it is no fun to go for a ride on an undernourished, sour tempered horse with unsafe equipment.
If you visit a stable intending to ride and the place is run-down and the horses thin, you may want to look for a different way to spend the afternoon!
To locate rental stables, look in the yellow pages under "Stables" and scan the listings for places that include "Rentals" in their descriptions.
Volunteering
In some communities there are opportunities to volunteer to work with horses in one way or another. The local animal rescue may need people to help care for neglected horses, a handicapped riding program may need assistants to groom, feed and lead horses, or a club such as 4-H, Girl or Boy Scouts may need help with horse programs. Situations like this may let you spend time working with horses, though it may not satisfy a wish to ride.
Vacations on horseback
In many parts of the world you can take vacations that involve horses and spend a few days to weeks fully involved with a life of horses. The type of vacation varies widely, from tours of Irish castles with fox hunting to the classic dude ranch experience on a working cattle ranch, to backpacking through the wilderness.
Some travel agencies specialize in equine vacations and they can be tailored to everyone from novice to advanced riders. Be sure you understand the level of riding involved. If you have never ridden at all, it may not be a good idea to commit to weeks of day-long horse rides or to jumping over large stone walls.
Lessons
In many urban and suburban areas, the only practical way to regularly ride is to take lessons on horseback. This can limit the amount of time you actually get to ride. Plus the styles of riding and the quality of horse available may be limited. But it is an excellent way to start riding and to become used to being around and handling horses.
A good riding instructor will not only teach you how to ride in a safe environment, they will also teach you the basics of handling and grooming horses. Many stables accept "working students" that can learn about stable management and more about care of horses by doing chores around the barn in exchange for credit on their lessons.
If you start with lessons and eventually decide to take the step to horse ownership, your riding instructor will likely be happy to help you find a horse that is right for your goals and level of expertise.
Advice for parents of horse crazy kids: I often get calls from parents wanting to buy horses for their horse crazed pre-teenagers. Horses are wonderful way for kids to learn responsibility, self assurance and self control. But most kids out grow their horse phase in a pretty short amount of time.
My advice for the parents has always been to find a lesson stable that will let the kids hang around, learn, and eventually work up to being assigned chores. Since this is putting a lot on the stable owners and riding instructors, the parent will need to shop around for the right place. But a child who sticks with their love of horses after months of mucking out stalls and cleaning water buckets is probably the kind of person that will be a horse owner for the rest of their life.
Leasing
In a some situations a rider my be ready for more than an occasional ride or even regular lessons, but not prepared to make the commitment for ownership. If they are very lucky they may be able to find a horse that the owner does not have time for but is not yet willing to sell. In that case, the two may be able to work out a lease arrangement.
Leasing a horse is a halfway measure - the leasor-owner retains the value and risk while the leasee-rider takes on the responsibilities and gets the enjoyment. The terms of a lease should be clearly specified and I strongly recommend that the agreement be put in writing. Insurance, both health and life, may be required so that in case of catastrophic illness, injury or death, neither the owner or the rider will be held liable.

Do you want a horse career?

"Horse" Schools and Colleges
Professional Organizations