What to Know Before Buying Your First Horse
An Aspiring First-Time Horse Owner’s Checklist
Updated August 29, 2023
If you’re hooked on riding and never feel as happy as you do when you’re in the saddle or spending time at the barn, the thought of owning your first horse has probably crossed your mind. Although, horse ownership may seem somewhat overwhelming as you’ll be responsible for many aspects of an animal that may live into his 30s.
As an aspiring first-time horse owner, there are a lot of questions you need to ask yourself before making this significant commitment. The steps to horse ownership should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint. It’s also important to keep in mind that no equestrian is ever finished learning when it comes to horses.
Whether you’ve just started taking lessons or are already a barn rat, go through this checklist of questions to ask yourself before deciding if ownership is right for you.
Are You Ready to Own Your First Horse?
While you may love horses and have wanted a pony of your own for a long time, it’s crucial to determine if now is the best time for you to take the plunge. If it’s not, that’s OK. There are plenty of way you can still enjoy horses. No matter your age or experience, being mentally prepared for the responsibility of horse ownership is the first step. Here are some key questions to consider:
- Why do you want to own a horse? What do you hope to gain from ownership that you can’t get from taking lessons or leasing?
- Are you willing to put in the necessary time every day to care for and ride your horse? Horses are a huge time commitment and may keep you from other responsibilities, such as school, work, or relationships.
- Are you ready for a long-term commitment? Horses can live decades, so this horse may be with you through many different stages of your life.
- Are you prepared for hard work, sweat, and potentially some tears? There can be a lot of elbow grease involved in caring for a horse such as feeding, cleaning, and riding. Horses are also very fragile animals, so it’s important to ask yourself if you’re mentally able to handle the possibility of things going wrong.
Knowledge and Hands-on Experience
Having a basis for what a normal, healthy horse’s daily life entails is essential before you consider ownership.
- Do you have hands-on experience caring for a horse? Lending a hand at your riding stable is a great way to gain experience with grooming, barn chores, and other aspects of basic horse care. You must know how to read a horse’s body language (movement of the ears, flaring of the nostrils, swishing of the tail, stomping, etc.) and be able to communicate with them effectively.
- Have you ever leased a horse? A quarter, half, or full lease gives you the opportunity to consistently ride and spend time caring for one horse over the course of several months, a year, or longer. This can be a great option before buying or an alternative to ownership.
- Are you interested in becoming a working student? Working students have varied responsibilities around the barn, including cleaning stalls, managing feed and supplements, grooming, tacking up, and training horses, and maintaining the arena footing. Working in this capacity can expose you to horses of different breeds, ages, backgrounds, personalities, and disciplines. This can help you learn what you like and don’t like without having to commit.
What You Should Know About Equine Health Before Owning a Horse
Unfortunately, many horses are accident-prone. First time horse owners need to have a baseline knowledge in these aspects of equine health:
- Basics of equine nutrition. You need to understand the role of forage and grain in your potential horse’s diet, as well as his vitamin, mineral, and protein requirements. You must also consider his lifestyle and physical demands, and how those factors influence his diet.
- How to take a horse’s vital signs.
- How to body condition score and understand what is too thin versus overweight.
- Be able to recognize the signs of common equine medical conditions, such as colic, ulcers, and hoof abscesses.
If you’re uncertain about any of these, your veterinarian is always an excellent resource. You can also browse through SmartPak’s Horse Health Library to find videos, articles, and step-by-step guides on horse care, health conditions, skin and coat, lameness, the GI tract, hooves, and more.
Video on What to Know Before Owning a Horse
Support in the Equine Community
It takes a village to care for a horse! Having access to knowledgeable and trustworthy people in the equine industry is vital for first-time horse owners. These professionals can help guide you as you learn more about your horse and his general care.
- Make sure you have a trusted, licensed veterinarian in your area. This veterinarian may conduct a pre-purchase exam on prospective horses at your request. It’s also wise to determine where your closest equine hospital is located.
- You’ll need a reliable hoof care professional or farrier to call for regular (and unexpected) trimming and shoeing.
- Do you have a trainer? Having a trainer you’re comfortable with and who knows your strengths and weaknesses is extremely helpful in finding a horse that’s right for you.
- Are you able to connect with other riders of your discipline? Having a community, whether at local barns or online, of fellow equestrians you can learn tips and new training techniques from will make it easier and more fun for you!
Your Riding Discipline, Goals, and Wishlist
It is perfectly fine for your interests to change as you grow and develop as an equestrian, but knowing which style of riding you prefer, at least in the short-term, is important before buying a horse.
- Do you ride English or Western?
- Are you interested in trying a different riding style or participating in multiple disciplines?
- Do you want to compete or are you more of a pleasure rider?
- What is your current skill level and how much more advanced do you hope to be in a year? How about in 5 years?
- What qualities are most important to you in a horse? Breed, age, height, color, athletic ability, and personality are all factors to consider.
Make a list of what your ideal horse would be (your unicorn, per se). While you may not be able to find a horse that checks off every box, keeping your priorities top of mind will make horse shopping a smoother process.
The Financial Commitment
Believe it or not, the initial purchase price is often the least expensive part of owning a horse. It’s crucial to have a firm understanding of your budget to help you determine if ownership is financially feasible, and what the potential living situation would be for your horse. Consider these aspects of horse ownership’s financial commitment:
Boarding costs range significantly depending on where you live. Most boarding facilities offer various monthly care options, which may help you plan for expenses.
Full board generally includes cleaned stalls with fresh shavings, turnout, hay, grain, and putting on blankets or boots. Pasture boarding (depending on your location) can be a budget-friendly option if you have time to visit and care for your horse daily.
Always make sure to ask about additional fees. Some barns charge blanketing, deworming, and turnout fees in addition to the monthly boarding fee. Check out this article on questions to ask a new boarding barn for a detailed list.
If you plan to work with a trainer, make sure to budget for additional training fees. If you’re experienced enough to train the horse on your own, it might be a good idea to invest in clinics or workshops to get new sets of eyes on your horse every so often.
Showing and Travel
If you aspire to compete regionally or across the country, you need to factor in the costs of shows and travel involved. The types of fees charged at horse shows can be seemingly endless: hauling, entries, stall rental, administrative, parking, electric hookups, association membership, etc.
If you can’t afford a trailer or aren’t comfortable with hauling, you’ll also need budget for travel options—whether your trainer is willing to help or if working with a shipper is a better option.
Once you’ve purchased a horse, you must also budget for dental exams, vaccinations, insurance, and a parasite control program. Farm calls can be expensive, and if your new horse gets sick or injured, those vet bills can add up quickly.
Costs of Tack and Supplies
Depending on how long you’ve been riding or working with horses, the facility in which you plan on boarding, and your new horse’s conformation and specific needs, you may need to purchase different tack or barn equipment.
Day-to-day items like a halter and lead rope, grooming brushes, and an equine first aid kit are just a few of the essential products you’ll need for your horse’s regular care. You also need to budget for riding clothes like boots, a helmet, jeans or breeches, as well as tack, such as a bridle, saddle, polos, etc.
Items like blankets, coolers, or fly sheets may also be worth considering in your budget, dependent on your area’s climate and potential horse’s needs.