Choosing the Right Horse for Your Lifestyle

Owning a horse can be expensive. There has long been a saying among horse owners that it's easy to get a horse--keeping it is the tough part! After all, the purchase is a single expenditure of money that sets the stage for many future outlays for feed, farrier, veterinarian, board...the list goes on.

Horse ownership can also mean a change in lifestyle. A longtime friend and now ranching partner delights in telling people how my wife and I totally changed his family's existence. He was a happy suburban dweller when his 13-year-old daughter came to our place for a short visit and wound up staying all summer.

In addition to being a newspaperman at the time, I was heavily into training horses during the evenings and on weekends. As a result, the girl was exposed to horses every waking moment. She loved it, and convinced her dad that she had to have a horse of her own. He finally agreed, and we found one that suited her.

However, that immediately created a problem. They couldn't house the horse in their garage in suburbia. They had to find a place to board it. Ultimately, because of that initial horse, the house in suburbia was sold and a place in the country was purchased.

Then other members of the family became interested in trail riding, so more horses were added. We began trail riding in the West as a group, and our mutual dream of having a ranch to raise cattle and horses led to the partnership we have today. All of this happened because a 13-year-old girl fell in love with horses.

My friend was fortunate when his daughter talked him into buying her a horse. He could afford it. After years of hard work, his business was finally burgeoning, and he had the capital to spend.

Not everyone is that fortunate. But, even if your means are limited, it does not mean that having a horse to ride on a regular basis is out of the question. You just might have to take a more creative or innovative approach to horse ownership. Here are some approaches that can work. Each will be presented with its positive aspects, along with some of the negatives.

Individual Ownership, Horse Kept at Home

Positive Aspects--The horse is yours and you are the one who makes all of the decisions. You do not have to worry about sharing rides or adjusting schedules, and you don't have to worry about someone else disagreeing with you on the horse's care.

Negative Aspects--First, there is the matter of your horse housing facility. Purchasing enough land in modern-day America to have room for a stable and pasture or corral can be very expensive, and it isn't just the land that costs money. You will need an adequate barn or shelter, and good fencing is a must if you are to prevent the horse from straying and/or becoming injured.

Horse ownership also brings a special responsibility for care 365 days a year, not just the days you want to go riding. This means that if you head off somewhere on a vacation without the horse, arrangements will have to made for someone to feed and care for it. Also, you will have to provide all of the necessary supplies and equipment, including feed, bedding (if the horse is stalled), tack, grooming equipment, stall cleaning tools, etc.

There is also the responsibility of remembering to have your horse's feet trimmed or shod regularly, to make certain that he is immunized against diseases that are common in your area, and to seek professional help if and when the horse becomes ill or injured. The other downside is that you are solely responsible for footing all of the bills, as opposed to splitting them as in a shared ownership situation.

Own the Horse, But Board Him at a Stable

Positive Aspects--If you have your horse at a boarding stable, many of the home stabling responsibilities are negated. Someone else will make sure that the horse has water and feed 365 days a year, and he likely will be placed on the stable's regular deworming and immunization schedule. Many stables also have a farrier regularly scheduled, so you wouldn't have to worry about planning for or attending to farrier care. Many stables also have riding rings or arenas where you can work your horse, and a number of them have outdoor riding trails.

Even if you have to pay for the feed or bedding separately from the board, many boarding stables arrange for the delivery, so you just pay for it without having to schedule delivery. This is a significant convenience for some.

Negative Aspects--A prime negative can be cost. This will vary, depending on location and the type of services offered. If you desire a top barn, a box stall, an indoor riding arena, and someone else to be responsible for the horse's total well-being, the cost could run into hundreds of dollars per month. If you want the stable to train or exercise the horse for you, the cost will escalate accordingly.

On the other hand, there are stables where you can help with the cleaning and daily chores and have your labor credited against your board bill.

Another negative is the inability to do with your horse what you want, when you want. The stable, to protect itself and its clients, will likely have rules as to when you are welcome there and when you aren't; when and where you can exercise the horse; when and where you can trail ride, etc.

Pasture Board

Positive Aspects--Good grass is perhaps the cheapest--and best--feed your horse can eat. By renting pasture space, at least during the summer months, you can cut down on overhead costs a good deal. Normally, pasture rental will be far cheaper than having the horse kept in a stall at a boarding facility.

Negative Aspects--Some rental pastures are surrounded by shoddy fences that invite injury. There also is the matter of other horses in a communal setting--horses will establish an immediate pecking order. If the horse which is number one in the pecking order is overly aggressive, your horse could be on the receiving end of damaging bites and kicks.

If your horse happens to be hard to catch, a large, open pasture can be an invitation for him to successfully evade you whenever you want to ride. This can take the pleasure out of ownership in a big hurry. There is also some risk to a person's well-being when you head into a pasture full of horses carrying a bucket of grain so that you can catch your mount. You could find yourself in the middle of a biting and kicking melee as the horses crowd in for a taste of grain.

In some areas, you can rent pasture space on a year-round basis, but you are required to furnish your own feed. If there are individual feeding stations, this is no problem, other than you being responsible for providing the feed and being available to feed your horse each day. However, if you furnish the feed and the horses are fed communally, there is always the chance that your horse, if it is on the bottom of the pecking order, will be short-changed while horses higher up the ladder feast to their heart's content.

Owning a Horse in a Partnership

Positive Aspects--The prime positive with this ownership approach is that you cut your costs in half. You only have to pay half of the purchase price, so perhaps a better horse can be bought. You pay half of the maintenance and care costs instead of the whole. If you board the horse, you only pay half, so perhaps there will be more latitude in picking a nicer boarding facility.

You also have someone with whom to share the very special experience of owning a horse.

Negative Aspects--While sharing something very special can be a positive, it can also be a negative. You must pick your partner very carefully. It should be a special friend that you know very well and understand. Owning a living, breathing animal in partnership is far different than owning an inanimate object, such as a boat. There is the potential for disagreement concerning care, maintenance, and tack or other necessary equipment. And, there can also be the potential problem of splitting up riding time to both partners' satisfaction. Entering into a horse-owning partnership is something that should be approached very cautiously.

Leasing a Horse

Positive Aspects--The prime positive is you don't have to make a serious outlay of cash to have a horse which is yours to use for at least a limited time frame.

Negative Aspects--Sometimes the quality of horses offered for lease is not the highest. Another potential negative involves the type of agreement you might be required to sign. It is something that should be read with care. For example, who is responsible if the horse is injured or dies? Under some contracts, you could wind up paying for a dead horse. In some cases, you might have to provide your own tack and grooming equipment, while in others these might be provided by the owner.

Renting a Horse by the Hour

Positive Aspects--You avoid all of the problems involved with ownership and leasing. You simply pay a fee for the hours you spend aboard the horse at a stable, and are not responsible for purchasing or maintaining any tack or other equipment. Someone else feeds and cares for the horse and is responsible if it becomes ill or is injured. All you do is ride.

Negative Aspects--Not all rental horses are of the highest caliber and some, because they are ridden by a variety of individuals with varying skills, are sullen and difficult to handle. You might also be forced to ride a variety of horses. This can be both a positive and negative. The positive is that you can learn about, and enjoy, different horses. The negative is that you might not have an opportunity to form a bond with any one horse, which is an important part of the pleasure of riding.

Whatever your situation, take a hard look at the negatives before making a move. The positives normally are simple and easy. Just make sure that you can live with the negative aspects. If you are a true horse lover, you will find a way.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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