First of all let me say that I think horses are the most majestic, loyal, loving, therapeutic creatures, God has put on this earth! Now for the reality check; they are expensive. They are not expensive to buy per se, but they definitely will cost you some cash on a monthly basis.
If you have never owned a horse here are some things you may want to think about before you dive in. Finding a horse that is right for you is very important. If you or one of your children is taking lessons you may think all horses act like this wonderful lesson horse you are riding around in the arena. Not all horses will be as quiet or compliant as most lesson horses. Riding in a safe environment like an arena, is totally different than being out on a trail. There are all kinds of horse eating monsters out in the open! Horses are flight animals and they tend to run first, and try to figure out what that dark object, or that thing that flew by, was later. I have known far too many people that get in over their heads when it comes to choosing a horse. Please, take a friend or a trainer that knows your skill level to help you find a horse that will be a good match. The worst feeling in the world is to buy a horse and to be terrified to ride it. If you get hurt riding, it can take a very long time to get over that mentally. Some never do, and then the horse just sits in a paddock and becomes a very expensive lawn ornament. I am not trying to discourage you from buying a horse; just try to choose the right one!
Are you planning on keeping your horse at home, or will you be boarding him out? Boarding can be easier, but it is not cheap. You should look around, and talk to some boarding facilities in your area. If you have never boarded before, talk to someone who has, so they can guide you on some essential questions to ask the person in charge, such as: Will the horses get daily turn out, even if it rains or snows? Many facilities won't turn horses out in these conditions, and in my opinion, horses need to be out as much as possible. Lightning storms or below zero and windy, that is a different story. Most horses do quite well if they have a run in, or have a suitable blanket. (At what temperature should you blanket a horse is another thing that many horse people do not agree upon). So ask if they will get blanketed when conditions are bad, do they get fly sprayed (be sure to ask if there are additional fees for these things), how many hours a day will they be out, and how many feedings a day will they get? If you go to a boarding facility and they tell you the horse will get hay twice a day, run, (unless they are on pasture). Horses in the wild eat 18 out of 24 hours a day! Horses that do not get enough to eat are prone to colic, and can pick up bad habits from being bored. Ulcers are another concern for horses that do not have enough in their bellies. Are you looking for a show barn, or a laid back stable where there is no drama? Do you want trails, or is an arena important for you to have? These are a few things you will want to think about when you look at a facility. Get some recommendations from people who board there, or better yet, who have boarded there. This can help you get a feel for what type of setting you can expect at the facility.
If you decide you want to keep your horse at your home this is another whole ball game! If you have an existing barn, wonderful, if not it would be a good idea to get some books on building one. Things you may not have even considered such as building to block the North wind, where will your hay storage be, what types of stalls should you build, are you going to get rubber mats? Horses love to chew any unprotected surfaces, metal edging on exposed areas is a good way to go if you don't want to be replacing boards every few years (or sooner). If you have more than one horse should you put metal rods in a window between stalls, or just have a half wall to divide the horses? This could depend on how well the horses get along. Do they fight over food, or try to bite each other? Horses have been known to try to jump a wall that is too low; they can get hung up and injured. Some horses get agitated if they can't see their buddy, in this case a way for them to see each other should be considered. Horses are herd animals and need a buddy. If you are not going to have two horses you should consider a goat, sheep, or even a cow for company. A problem that you may encounter by having two horses is that unless you always have someone to ride with, leaving one horse at home may be an issue. Horses do get "Buddy sour" and unless you know how to deal with this it could be more of a problem than having a pal like a goat or sheep, etc.
Where will you get your hay? Friends with horses should be able to give you the names of some people with good quality hay. Other things to think about, is your water source easily accessible, especially in winter, where and what kind of grain should you feed, if any. (This is another whole topic for discussion)! Checking your property for toxic plants is very important. They can be deadly if eaten by your horse. If you want to go away who will take care of your horse? Your horse needs care seven days a week, whether you are sick, or would just like to go on vacation. You will need someone that is responsible, who will be able to tell if there is something wrong with your horse, and know whether it is necessary to call a vet to look at him.
In a nut shell, some average monthly costs to think about before you buy your horse: hay, the range right now is around $5-$6 a bale, grain $20 per bag, farrier every six to eight weeks, $40-$120. Horses need their teeth floated once, sometimes twice a year, $55 to over $100, spring shots around $200 per horse.
Boarding can run anywhere from $300 to $600, or more, depending on what amenities the facility has! Remember; stables provide feed, turnout, water, mucking out your stall, and usually will blanket your horse.
Do you feel totally overwhelmed? I did when I brought my first horse home. I thought for sure I would kill him not knowing how to care for him properly. Read everything you can get your hands on and ask horse knowledgeable friends to teach you. Just realize that you can line up five different horse people and you will get ten different answers! Do some research on hay, grain, bedding, farrier, and how much pet sitting will cost. This can help you decide which way to go as far as whether taking your horse home or boarding is the way to go.
Donna Mori is a certified instructor/natural horsemanship trainer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.