Saddle Up with Beth Eva: So you want to own a Horse? Pt. 1

Photo contributed by Beth Eva

By Beth Eva | Owner of Heartland Ranch

Hi again everyone! Beth Eva of Heartland Ranch Horse Training and Lessons here offering advice to those of you who are considering buying a horse. Whether you’re planning on buying your first horse, have owned horses in the past and are considering buying another, are buying a horse for your child or other family member, or are an experienced horseperson looking to add to your stable, there are some important factors I’d like to discuss that could make for a more enjoyable buying and ownership experience. In this first part I’d like to start by looking at you, the potential new owner of the horse, and in the following segment we’ll look more closely at the horse itself.

So let’s get started with asking a few basic questions, the five W’s; who, what, why, when and where.

Who: who are you? What is your lifestyle? What’s your living situation? These are the essence of the practical limitations that many new horse owners face, sometimes too late, when they are looking to buy a horse. If you’re an office worker with a 9-5 job and live on a small residential property in town and drive a compact car, you’re facing different challenges than the person living on five acres of rural land with no outside job and who drives a pickup. You have to consider how owning a horse fits in with work, family, as well as other hobbies and interests you may have. While owning a horse can be an extremely fun and fulfilling experience, you have to remember it’s not like bringing home a puppy. It’s a serious investment, in both time and finances, and you can’t just keep it in the backyard.

Some of the factors that can play a role in finding the right horse include age of the rider, personal experience with horses, physical abilities and limitations, your ability to transport a horse and even the social circle you’re in. The choice of a horse for a true beginner will be much different than one for an experienced horseperson. The same goes for choosing a horse for a child, an elderly person or someone with serious physical impairment as opposed to a person in their twenties with an athletic background. If you buy a trail horse with limited arena training but don’t have the ability to transport the horse off of the boarding facility property, or if your social circle is primarily Western riders and you purchase a Hunter/Jumper, you could find yourself mismatched with your new companion.

If your lifestyle permits you to ride daily at your convenience, then your relationship with your horse, and often your enjoyment of the time spent with him, will be much different than the individual that has a few hours each weekend to invest in their riding.

Your financial situation also plays a role, as the cost of purchasing a horse is just the start. You have saddle and tack, farrier, feed, health care and possibly board to consider as well. These can add up quickly and vary according to your living situation, experience, the individual horse and it’s use.

What: what kind of horse are you looking for? A kids pony, a sturdy mountain horse or an English arena horse are all very different animals and must be tailored to the intended rider. Are you looking for a particular breed, or color, or size of horse? Be sure what you’re looking for is the correct fit for the person who will be riding the horse or its intended use.

Why: why do you want a horse? What’s the intended use? Some people just want a pasture pet to feed carrots to. Others may want to hit the local trails regularly, while some may want to occasionally participate in events such as Cattle Sorting. Temperament, physical attributes, individual personality, training and experience all play a role in defining what you’re looking for in a horse. Some breeds are better suited to specific tasks and particular uses, but they can vary widely even within each breed. There are people who successfully train Arabians for Western events like like Reining, but that’s not the norm. Arabians are often the preferred horse in Endurance Races, but there are many other breeds that compete as well. So when deciding what kind of horse you want, pay close attention to who will be riding the horse, and match the horse’s age, temperament and experience with that rider. A beginner rider will often benefit from an older, more experienced horse that knows his job well and is more forgiving of mistakes from his rider. For each use, there are particular attributes you look for in a horse. A performance horse needs to be more athletic and sensitive than a trail horse for a child. The horse will need to not only be suitable for the intended use, but also for that particular rider. A green horse and a green rider are a bad combination and spell disaster. You might spend more for a well trained horse, but that horse will most likely be safer and more enjoyable to ride than a green or poorly trained horse. Safety should always be your first priority when choosing a mount.

Most people that I encounter looking to buy a horse want one for trail use, but there are two distinct types of trails, and therefore two different types of horses for that use. There are suburban trails and there are wilderness or mountain trails, each with their own challenges and distinct requirements. On suburban trails the horse may encounter joggers with strollers and dogs on leashes, cars, children, bicycles flying by and various man made obstacles. Wilderness/Mountain trails have fewer people and man made distractions, but they have natural obstacles such as tree falls, water crossings, steep, rocky or otherwise dangerous terrain to navigate. While not impossible, it can be difficult to find a horse that is equally suited to both uses, and common to find a horse well suited to one but not the other. And once again, a horse being well suited to its task is often dependant on who is riding it. It’s vital that you choose a horse that you can safely and effectively achieve your goals on, not a horse that works well for a different level of rider and not for you.

Sometimes lessons are needed by new horse and rider combinations, so they can have help in communicating with each other and get better results, and sometimes the horse will need some additional training to make it the partner you need.

Remember, buy a horse that works for you, as well as its intended purpose.

Where: where are you looking to find your horse, and also, where is the horse to be kept? There are a wealth of internet sites dedicated to the sale of horses, and many others that include horse sales with the other products and services. While sites such as Craigslist are often used successfully to find and purchase horses, another good method is contacting reputable trainers and boarding facilities to spread the word of your search. Horse people commonly associate with other horse people, so word of mouth can help you find what you’re looking for, and often with some good experience and advice thrown in too. Don’t be afraid to seek help with this important decision, and get the input of educated individuals in evaluating both the horse and yourself to get a good equine partner.

Do you have the existing facilities to house and use your horse? Stall, corral, pasture, tack room, round pen and arena? If you have the land, you can invest in building for your horse needs. If you’re lucky enough to have everything you need at your disposal already then you’re way ahead in both time and money. If you don’t have the room or existing structures then you’re looking at paying to board your horse at a reputable facility, which can easily amount to $350 or more per month in addition to normal upkeep and maintenance for your horse. It can be a crucial determining factor in the affordability of ownership, so think ahead on this.

When: when are you planning on making the purchase? Time of the year can affect the cost of the horse, availability and also how much use you can get out of it. In winter, the short days and inclement weather can drastically reduce your available time to ride, unless your situation allows for daytime rides or a lighted and covered arena that keeps daylight and rain from being a problem. There are often more horses listed for sale in the spring and summer, but the prices are commonly higher then as well. In winter you can sometimes get a better deal on the horses available, but you have to balance that with the cost of keeping it until you’ll be able to use it. You’ll need to coordinate your search with where you’ll be keeping the horse and availability of space at the facility, if that’s needed. I suggest you make a timeline of all the considerations to be sure that you buy at the time where your use, boarding and cost make sense for your individual situation.

My best advice when buying a horse is to seek any assistance you need to be sure that you’re buying the right horse for you. There’s very few other activities that you can do daily, whenever your time allows, and that can be so enjoyable and rewarding as owning a horse. There are benefits to personal growth and health benefits from the exercise too. Just do your homework and make sure that buying is the best option before you jump into a purchase. An alternative to buying is leasing a horse, or renting use for hours at a time. Taking riding lessons also allows you to enjoy being on a horse while improving your skills so you’re a more effective rider. If you only want to ride a few times a month or year, rental and lessons should be seriously considered in place of a purchase.

Thank you for taking the time to read this first part of my advice on buying your next horse, and I hope you will read the next installment where we look more closely at the horse and what you should both look for, and avoid.

If you feel uncomfortable making any horse buying decisions, or need any further information on anything I’ve discussed today, then I encourage you to seek the assistance of a qualified trainer or professional such as myself to help you. Please feel free to contact me at 1betheva1@att.net.

Have a blessed day!