Taking care of horses can be an incredible hobby and it’s something that more than a million folks in the United States do. But having a horse takes time, energy, and money; with these animals having an average lifespan of 25-30 years, owning a horse is often a decades-long commitment. There are plenty of things that every owner regularly needs to do to keep their horse happy and healthy, like grooming, mucking out stalls, feeding, having vet visits, and more. Here are some things to know about having a horse.
What Do Horses Need?
There are many things that this animal requires but at the bare minimum, a horse needs:
- A pasture that’s free from hazards like holes, rusty machinery, and posionous plants
- Regular access to clean water, appropriate food, and supplements (particularly salt)
- Hoof maintenance and regular grooming
- Veterinary visits
- Shelter from terrible weather and shade during the summer
- A dry and clean area to lie down
- Companions, like another horse or other ungulate animals
Like any domesticated animal, horses need an appropriate shelter space and access to the outside, particularly to a pasture so they can graze throughout the day. Something like a stall in a barn or a run-in shelter is often what’s needed for horses so that they can be protected from terrible weather or predators like mountain lions.
Horses also have their own set of nutritional needs that owners will need to be mindful of. The exact diet of an individual horse will need to take their age, weight, activity level, and other factors into consideration but generally, horses need water, fiber, energy nutrients (carbs and fats), vitamins, and minerals (particularly salt). These animals are herbivores that actually eat small amounts of food over long periods of time and they can easily spend most of the day eating pasture grass and tender plants or hay. Grains, like oats, (but not brans like wheat) are particularly good for horses and offer the much-needed fiber that they need. Treats like carrots and apples can be great to offer to horses but shouldn’t be the bulk of what they’re eating on a regular basis.
There are many owners that decide to simply board their horse at a stable or horse facility for all sorts of reasons. Many horse farms offer, for example, to maintain the daily care of their clients’ horses for a monthly fee, which helps free owners from having to check in on their horse every single day (particularly helpful if they don’t live right next to the barn!). There are a few types of boarding facilities that offer different options and each type offers slightly different services, which allows for horse owners to often find a place that works best for them.
Pasture boarding is when your horse remains in a pasture every day. There are usually no stalls but there still should be a shelter of some sort in the pasture for your horse to access at all times. On the other hand, stall boarding is when the horses have their own stalls that they spend each night in. In these facilities, horses can spend the day out in a pasture but this type of boarding does typically include daily feeding and stall cleaning.
Horse-related chores will depend on where a horse is living. For those with the land and proper shelter, the work will solely fall on them. This includes daily tasks like feeding, cleaning and refilling water troughs, checking for any injuries, mucking out any shelter or stall, and any barn maintenance.
If a horse is boarded, facilities often offer self-care, partial care, or full care boarding for owners to decide how involved they’re able to be. Self-care boarding is a great option for someone with the time to do daily, weekly, and monthly chores for their horse but just don’t have their own land or facility. Partial care is a little less hands-on for the owner, as the chores are divided up between them and the facility. Full care, as you might imagine, is when the horse is completely taken care of by the facility.
Farrier and Veterinary Visits
Did you know that a horse’s hooves are made from the same protein that forms human hair and fingernails? Keratin that’s found in living creatures like horses and humans has a tendency to grow, which means that a horse will need to have its hooves regularly trimmed. That’s where a farrier comes in. A farrier is a skilled and trained craftsman that has received training in both blacksmithing and hoof/horse anatomy. These professionals are the ones you call to trim and/or shoe your horse on a regular basis. Without regular hoof trimming, a horse or any ungulate would eventually have overgrown hooves that make walking painful. It could also lead to possible foot and leg problems.
For folks with dogs, cats, or other small mammals, going to the vet is a very different experience than having a vet visit for a horse. Large animal vets primarily work with livestock like horses, sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle, as these animals often have different needs and medical conditions than dogs or cats. But like our canine and feline friends, horses still need annual vet visits to make sure they’re healthy.
Costs of Having a Horse
There’s really no exact number for how much a horse costs, both for the animal itself and for regular care. The cost varies so much, like how old the horse is, what breed they are, their lineage, or if you’re boarding or having the horse live on your property. It also depends on where you live and why you have a horse. Do you want to go trail riding? Or maybe compete in events? With either of those activities, there are going to be costs like equipment, training/lessons, competition fees, and travel.
The different types of boarding and care previously mentioned, for example, is one way that costs can vary. While you won’t have to pay for someone to care for your horse if you have the land for them, you’ll still have costs like a mortgage, feed, supplements, blankets, buckets, troughs, maintenance projects, horse trailers, lead ropes, halters, and so much more. All of those things that horses need start to quickly add up. There are some estimates that suggest horses can cost you $8,000-10,000 a year within the United States.
Plus, unexpected events can, unfortunately, happen and these events usually bring more costs. Your horse could get ill or injured, which would add to your regular veterinary bills and could also mean adding supplements to their diet, physical therapy to their day, or other added expenses. A drought or other bad weather events could easily ruin your pasture or drive up feed costs. Having an additional ‘rainy day’ fund can make these expensive events a little easier to handle.
All of this information barely scratches the surface on the care that horses need on a regular basis and doesn’t even cover how to groom, exercise, or train them! Horses are wonderful animals that humans have coexisted with for millennia but they have their own set of needs. If you want to have a horse, there are so many things to know before buying one, particularly that having one is an investment of both your time and money. Like any animal, horses can be incredible and there are so many benefits to having one in your life. Knowing the commitment that horses require can make sure that you go into the situation armed with the information and knowledge you need to be the best owner you can be.
Have you ever owned a horse before? Or even just ridden one? Let me know in the comments!