Thursday, August 25, 2011

Equine Excerpts- "FREE Horses are NEVER free" Part 1- Basic Care and Costs

If you have owned horses for any length of time then you are already nodding your head or at the very least rolling your eyes because you know "Free horses are never free". Over the years I have seen the changes in the horse industry and it usually booms and declines with our economy as many of you in the horse business know.  I have seen huge horse operations that were showing at the national level shut down due to the decline in client base and people holding onto their money. Large well known operations who are turned into the authorities because their horses have been neglected to point of starvation and death. This is real folks and it is a REAL ISSUE. This particular blog will be a series due to the multiple facets of the "FREE" horse.

I will go on record now as saying there are some really nice "FREE" horses available on the market right now due to the economy. With that being said, if you have never owned a horse, cared for a horse, have only ridden a horse at a hack line stable or at your grandparents in the summer--- STEER CLEAR OF THE FREE HORSE!!!!! unless you have a credible horse savvy person helping you locate one. There now I have said it.


What most people who have never owned a horse don't realize is... HORSES are not DOGS. They are large 1000lbs creatures who require lots of care and maintenance. Horses are not meant to live on a 1/4 acre of land in your back yard, nor can they just live on grass in this 1/4 acre. I know most of you who will read this are already horse owners and have been for years. If you are new to the horse world and wish to own your own horse please I beg you to continue reading this blog.

It might just give you the insight you need to succeed.

One of my dear clients once told me that when he talks to a potential new horse owner he tells them " If you can put $350.00 in a savings account for a year and not dip into this fund for any reason what so ever then you can afford to own a horse" That is $4200.00 for the year.  Now this figure he came up with is in direct relation to what board costs, farrier costs, and routine vet care in his area.  I tend to think if you are boarding a horse this is on the low end of the scale and does not take into account any Emergency Vet care, supplements, or equipment you will need, nor does it take into account if you are keeping your horse at home and the maintenance to your horses living arrangements. This is just for routine monthly care of your horse. There are two ways main ways in which to care for you horse. Board at a facility or Keep your horse at home. I will touch on both of these and give you a brief rundown of what to expect. I say brief because like many horse people who have been in the industry for years I could write a book on each.


1. Paying your horses board bill every month is not optional. It should come second right after your mortgage or rent. If you struggle each month to pay your mortgage and utilities then you can't afford to own a horse. (Farm owners pay their help, grain/hay suppliers, and routine farm maintenance out of your horses BOARD MONEY) They are running a business not a half-way house for horses, nor do they do it "just out of the goodness of their heart".
           - Full board  $250.00- $550.00 or more depending on your geographic location.
               * Generally includes: Grain, Quality Hay, Water, Shelter and or Stall, Turn Out with safe fencing 
               * Full board generally does NOT include: extra feed supplements, worming program, farrier or vet visits. These are separate costs and should be budgeted accordingly.
               * You are also paying for their knowledge about horses and their time. Investigate facilities and get references. Do your homework.

               The above is just a brief look at what the average costs are at a boarding facility. Later in my blog I will give you a range of prices for different items that are part of your horses routine care.


The following will give you an idea of what basics you will need to keep your horse at home. Again this is not the all inclusive list but it will give you an idea of what you will need to get started.

1. BARN AND SHELTER: For every one horse you have at home you should have 1-2 acres of pasture per horse. Preferably 2 acres of pasture with sewn grass and at least a 3 sided shelter if you do not have a barn. If you do not have that much property be prepared to feed hay all year long.

2. FENCING: electric, woven horse fence, wooded fencing, rubber fencing, pvc fencing are all acceptable forms of fence. BARBED WIRE IS NOT SAFE HORSE FENCING!
    - Be prepared to fix fence often. Horses while beautiful creatures will lean on, chew on, kick at, run through, and generally test the boundaries of a fence. "The grass is always greener on the outside of a fence"
    - Be prepared to catch your horse when it escapes. Non-horse neighbors are generally intolerant of your horse trampling their gardens or yard. It is guaranteed that your horse will escape when it is the MOST inconvenient for you.

3. FEEDING- Be prepared to feed your horse in the dark, rain, snow, ice, and extreme weather. They don't care what the weather is. They are hungry.  Even if you are not a morning person your horse still expects to be fed. If you do not feed your horse properly there is a 100% chance you will be catching your horse out of your neighbors garden (reference to 2. Fencing above)
    - Be prepared to provide fresh clean unfrozen water every day. They can't eat ice. If your horse does not stay hydrated they will colic. Horses on average will drink 15-25 gallons of water a day.
    - Be prepared for fluctuating grain and hay prices. These prices can fluctuate drastically even within a months time depending on the weather, gas and grain commodity prices. (see average grain and hay prices below)
    - Be prepared and have a plan to haul your horse to the vet before you need it. Some vets will come to you for routine care, but for greater emergencies you will have to haul your horse to them. HAVE A PLAN BEFORE YOU NEED IT!!! I can't stress this enough.
    -LEARN what trees, bushes and plants are poisoness to your horse. There are many that will be fatal.
    -LEARN horse first aid. If the site of blood or the thought of giving your horse a shot turns your stomach then you shouldn't keep your horse at home. It is not a case of "If it happens, but when". Horses can get hurt on seemingly nothing. Cuts, gashes, abrasions, hives, swelling are all a part of horse ownership.
    -LEARN what is normal for your horse. Every horse is different. If you pay attention to your horses daily routine then you will be able to spot changes in behavior which could mean the difference between a normal vet call and an extremely expensive vet call.

    -Hoof Care: THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL- Horses hooves need to be trimmed every 5-8 weeks as a general rule of thumb. There are exceptions to this of course but this is a good basic average. Find a good farrier. Don't expect your farrier to train your horse to stand still while he tries to trim or shoe. It is your job to pick up, clean and inspect your horses feet every time you ride and several times a week if not everyday even if you are not riding.
    -Worming schedule: Discuss with your vet a good worming rotation that is right for your horse in your geographical location. The rotation can be anywhere from 4 to 12 times a year or even daily depending on your horses needs. CONSULT your vet.
    - Vaccinations and Coggins: If you can't afford vaccinations and a coggins test every year for your horse you should not own one. Consult your vet to see what vaccinations are needed in your area.

6. VACATIONS: This is something people do not think about at all when they think keeping a horse at home will be "NEAT". If you go out of town you must have someone horse savvy and dependable to care for your horse while you are gone.

The above does not cover all the facets of horse ownership but does cover some of the basics. Below is a list of some of the items I have mentioned above that are all apart of routine care.

1. 50lbs bag of grain  $9.00-$20.00 (depending on the needs of your horse this may last a week to two weeks) horses should never eat more than 5lbs of grain at one feeding. Feed at least two meals a day or break the meals down into smaller 3-4 meals a day fed a minimum of 5 hours apart and 10-12 hours if it is just two meals.
2. Bale of Hay  $2.50-$9.00 a bale (depends of type of hay and the quality, you get what you pay for) A  horse can eat 10-20% of it's body weight in roughage a day it needs a minimum of 10%. That's alot of hay per day if you don't have a good pasture source.
3. Farrier visits (the horseshoer guy for those of you who are not familiar with the term farrier)  $35.00-$125.00 per visit depending on the type of trimming and/or shoes you get. Can my horse go barefoot? Can it just get front shoes? Does it have to have shoes all the way around?  Does my horse need special shoes to stay sound? These are questions you need to know the answers to. Ask a professional or very knowledgeable horse person to help or you could end up with a lame horse.
4. Worming. $5.00-$15.00 for each worming depending on the rotation and type of worming.
5. Supplements $20.00- ?? EXPENSIVE  again consult a professional. Good quality hay and feed can prevent some supplements, however there are horses that must have supplements to stay healthy and sound. Do you own one of these horses?
6. Routine Vet Care. This can vary greatly depending on the vet and the area in which you live. Plan on $100.00-$200.00 or more per vet visit. One to two times a year. This does not include emergency visits.

I hope this helps those of you that are considering horse ownership. If you are already a horse person and know people that are considering horse ownership for the first time please feel free to send them my blog.

****Please note this blog does not cover all the facets of horse ownership or the costs associated with it. It is meant as a reference for beginning horse owners who are doing their research to get a basic cost idea of what horse ownership entails.**** 

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