Having had the opportunity to successfully run a horse facility in Central Vermont for nearly 20 years I can tell you honestly and first hand that owning a horse can be a very rewarding and joyful experience when you take the time to arm yourself with some critical basic knowledge before leaping into filling the barn.
Horses are magical creatures with humorous, independent personalities. When cared for and treated properly they will bring many years of enjoyment into your life. Going into the ownership field unprepared, however, can prove disastrous.
If horse ownership is something that you have been considering one of the very first things that you need to do is learn as much about the beautiful beasts as you possibly can. Familiarize yourself with their habits, their needs, their fears. Arm yourself with knowledge of the breed that you are looking towards and you will find a companionship unmatched by any other.
By taking this critical first step and learning all that you possibly can about them before making the actual purchase you will be better prepared to care for the overall needs of the animal as well as ensuring that it’s health – and your own – and general well-being will not suffer due to lack of knowledge. I have seen first hand some horrors that have ensued because the owner “didn’t know the horse would do that”, or “didn’t know the horse needed that”.
You do research on dogs before getting one, why should owning a horse be any different? Because, trust me, when you pair up with the horse that is right and fits you, you will also find an emotional attachment that you were not aware was possible.
So many people have bought their first horse and having not prepared themselves turned what should have been a pleasant experience into something ugly thereby making it their only horse purchase, choosing instead to love them from afar.
Firstly, horses are a huge commitment of your time, of your emotions, and of your finances. Unless you know of other horse people that would be willing to help you out from time I would never recommend owning a horse if you did not have means to care for it properly. The initial financial lay out for the purchase of the animal is merely a fraction of what you will be looking at in terms of ongoing expenses. Add to that a longevity of 35 years or more and — well to put it bluntly, plan on being in for the long haul.
Granted, a number of those expenses will vary depending on how you plan on living with your horse. Do you own land or will you be boarding the horse elsewhere? If you will be using a boarding facility will you be asking for full-care board or opting for self-care boarding? That single decision will give you several variables on just one expense.
If you own land and plan on keeping the horse there do you have enough to sustain it regularly or will you be buying feed as well? Does your land have a water source? An average size horse weighs close to 1000 lbs and will eat up to 20 lbs of quality hay and drink approximately 10 gallons of water per day. Start doing the math on that and it adds up quickly.
Experts calculate that horses will require a minimum of one acre of land each single horse. These same experts highly recommend that the animal is grazed in alternate pasture areas in order to ensure not only a constant grazing area but to keep the land productive as well. With that said you would need a minimum of two acres per head in order to maintain both the animal and the land at optimum.
There are also a number of plants and trees which are toxic to horses. Are you willing to rid the land of those lovely trees in order to protect the horse? The shavings from the black walnut tree will cause a horse to go lame and founder. A toxin in the leaves of the red maple tree destroys red blood cells. The cherry tree and plum tree contain cyanide, which prevent cells from absorbing and using oxygen. (*1) There are others out there so you will want to do your homework before putting your horse in that pasture.
Horses are herd animals and by nature are very social. By keeping a single horse you will be doing a disservice to that animals’ social nature unless you can provide it access to other horses regularly. Perhaps there is a riding club or an events club in the neighborhood that you could sign up for. Can you financially maintain two horses perhaps? Or maybe you should consider that boarding option in order to keep the animal socialized.
Keep in mind that there are upwards of 350 breeds of horse out there. Have you given any thought to which breed may suit you? You will want to do your homework as there are certain idiosyncrasies pertaining to breed as well. Each one has their own little characteristic thing. So read, read, read.
Your horse will need regular foot care for which you will need to secure the services of a quality farrier. No, they are NOT all the same anymore than dentists or doctors are all the same. The usual schedule for equine foot care is typically every 6-8 weeks. The costs for this have many variables, some of which relate to the horse’s age and needs – ie: will the horse require special shoes due to prior foot damage? What the farrier needs to do will also depend on what you use the horse for. Do you ride strictly on a hard surface, sand, or in a pasture? — and yes, all of those little things do matter. One of the most critically responsible things a horse owner can do for their animal is to ensure proper foot care. If your horse has injured feet, you have an injured horse.
Just like your children need a doctor on call your horse will need a veterinarian. They will need certain things regularly like worming, vaccinations, dental work, cuts, etc. I can tell you whoever coined the phrase “As healthy as a horse” had to be joking, because horses are one of the most delicate creatures when it comes to internal health.
Did you know that a horse’s digestive system is designed to only move in one direction (from front to back). Horses cannot throw up. If they attempt to it will cause the stomach to rupture. So, what they eat is extremely important. Feeding them the wrong thing could be a recipe for disaster.
Did you know that a horse breathes ONLY through its nose? Keep a clean length of garden hose hanging nearby for the horse in the event they are in distress and need help. They are not capable of breathing through their mouths. When we get stuffed up and can’t breathe it’s no big deal we just open up and take in air through our mouth. A horse, however, cannot. If their nasal passage swells because of allergies or even snake bite the animal will suffocate. If that should happen you can grab your hose, put some vaseline on it and guide it gently up through a nostril so that he can get air until the vet gets there.
There is so much to learn, so much to tell about horses that I could go on forever. But that is not possible for now. You can find some really good information on the following sites.
Good luck and happy reading.