Good horses don't come cheap. If you're in the market for a horse, you may be checking out newspaper ads, equine forums on the Internet, your state's agricultural bulletin, notices on tack and feed stores or livestock auctions – all in search of the right horse at a good price.
Depending on the animal's breeding, health, age, size and ability, a recreational riding horse can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to many thousands. The initial cost of the horse, however, is only the beginning.
"Many times, the purchase price of a horse is small compared to the amount of money you'll need to spend on his care," says Dr. Julie Lucas, an equine veterinarian in Wauconda, Ill. "If this will be your first horse, you should go in knowing about all of the routine maintenance costs before you buy the animal."
Expenses vary, depending on where you live, how you plan to house your horse and whether or not you'll be showing. When you add it all up, you can easily spend $10,000 a year (or more) to keep your new horse healthy and happy. Here is a general idea of the kinds of expenses you'll encounter. Of course, amounts will vary tremendously, in particular as a function of the region you live in and the type of board you demand.
Boarding Your Horse
If you have enough land, you may be able to keep your horse on your own property. Most people, however, board their horses at a barn. Some barns offer only a stall and pasture: You do the work, caring for the horse and cleaning out the stall. At a full-service barn, grooming, feeding and cleaning are all done for you, and the feed and hay are included in the price. Use of a horse trailer, turning your horse out, training, cleaning your tack or other services may also be included in the monthly fee. Depending on the location and the services offered, boarding costs usually range from $3,000 to $12,000 annually.
For example, in many parts of the country, $250 per month ($3,000 per year) will only pay for "rough board," i.e. taking care of the stalls and turnout yourself. For $660 per month ($8,000 per year), you can expect a place with an indoor arena and nice facilities.
With the addition of training, the sky is the limit, but $1,000 per month ($12,000 per year) is realistic. This board should also include access to an indoor arena, beautiful trails and/or other sophisticated services. Layup barns that provide a number of rehabilitative and exercise facilities can easily exceed $1,000 per month. Many barns charge item by item for additional services, such as blanketing, holding the horse for the vet, night checks, leg wraps, so make sure you know what these cost.
Veterinary costs usually run between $200 and $300 a year for routine care, providing the horse stays healthy. This pays for two annual vaccinations, the cost of de-worming every six to eight weeks, and having your horse's teeth floated (rasped) once a year.
It's interesting that equine vets, unlike their small animal counterparts, cannot usually perform a routine examination of every horse each time they give shots. This is due to the fact that there are so many horses to see on a routine vaccination/deworming/floating teeth day. Therefore, they are also not charging for this service as they do in small animals practice. So it is not possible to compare the routine costs between a horse and dog, for instance.
Two of the most common veterinary calls, colic and lameness, can bring you an additional $150 to $250 per visit, including minor medications. If the colic or lameness workup is extensive, be prepared to spend $750 to $1,000 easily. Better to get medical insurance because it only goes up from there for proper care of a serious problem.
You'll have to pay a farrier to trim and reset the shoes on your horse's hooves every six to eight weeks. Expect to pay between $100 and $400 annually at a minimum. If there are new or corrective shoes to deal with, you might expect the farrier to charge more like $100 for each reset, and that starts to add up to $800 to $900 a year.
Tack and Equipment
You'll need grooming equipment and tack: a saddle, a bridle and a saddle pad; other supplies may include a horse blanket if you live in a chilly climate. Tack and equipment will cost you $500 at the low end and all the way up to $10,000 or more at the high end. If you plan to show your horse, you could end up spending even more. Most competitive riders maintain at least two sets of tack: a moderately-priced bridle for everyday riding and a more expensive bridle for showing.
Plan on a riding lesson once a week from a reputable instructor throughout the first year – at least – that you own your horse. Some horsemen recommend starting lessons a year or two before you purchase your horse. Weekly lessons cost, on average, anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 a year. Of course, if you are taking intermittent lessons, for example, at the more advanced stage of dressage training, you may pay considerably more per lesson, but the annual amount will be about the same with a few exceptions.
Plan to buy clothes specifically designed for riding. Riding gear can cost you $150 at the low end (for a pair of decent boots) to $5,000 or more if you plan on showing.
You'll need mortality insurance – which pays when your horse dies – and medical insurance (to cover unexpected accidents or illnesses). Premium costs for mortality insurance usually run about four percent of the insured value of the horse, so if your horse is valued at $3,000, you would pay $120 annually. Medical insurance usually costs another $150 per year.
The Whole Tab
If you add this all up, you might be surprised at how expensive it can be. The average costs would be about $11,000 per year. To recap, each year it would cost about $100 for clothes, $1,750 for riding, $7,500 for board, $250 for routine veterinary care, $300 for farrier care and $350 for mortality and medical insurance (for a horse valued at $5,000). It is clear that for the healthy horse, the board will be the biggest expense. If you're not going with "rough board," make sure you're getting all you can for that money and lay the expenses out so you can see the big picture before you commit.