Many children dream of finding a sweet pony or their first horse on Christmas morning, but parents need to be aware of the ownership commitment and cost before granting that wish.

"Most first-time owners do not know how to take care of a horse or what will be required in the years to come," said David Christiansen, DVM, assistant clinical professor at the Mississippi State University’s (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine. "Many people don’t realize that horses can live 30 years or more, so the purchase could become a very long-term investment."

Christiansen said the least expensive aspect of owning a horse is the initial purchase of the animal. Ownership expenses include feed, hoof care, veterinary needs, and pasture or stabling. If equine competitions are a consideration, they add another layer of expenses.

"Parents may think horses will teach their children responsibility, but they need to look further down the road. What will happen to the horse when the child grows up or goes to college? With the overpopulation of horses they are harder to sell, especially as they get older," he said.

New owners should give careful consideration to the horse’s future home. If kept mostly in an open pasture, each horse needs two to three acres for adequate grazing. Prepare safe fencing and housing before getting the horse and have it inspected by someone experienced at identifying potential hazards or problems.

Christiansen occasionally consults on potential cases of equine neglect.

"We often find situations where the owner just didn’t know how to care for the animal. Sometimes