Reprinted with permission from Equine Guelph.
It is often said that if you ask a question to ten horse owners, you will get ten different answers. However, one thing we can all agree upon is that horses are expensive! Affording the initial purchase cost is the least of expenses. Calculating the maintenance over the horses’ lifetime is a more realistic look at a long-term budgeting plan. How much does horse ownership really cost? The short answer is that it depends. There are many variables that come into play when calculating the cost of horse ownership.
Buying a Horse
“How much does a horse cost?” is a frequently asked question, and like many things in the horse world, the answer is highly variable. Horses can cost anywhere from free to millions of dollars. Realistically, one can expect to spend a few thousand dollars to find an appropriate mount, though this price will depend on the market, the type of horse, its intended use, and your location.
The price of the horse is not the only expense you will encounter when horse shopping. Before buying a horse, it is recommended that you have a trusted veterinarian conduct a prepurchase exam. After the examination, the vet will give you an opinion on the horse’s strengths and weaknesses and discuss any potential problems. This exam will cost anywhere from a few hundred to two thousand dollars, depending on the extensiveness of tests your vet performs and whether you decide to take radiographs (X rays).
Remember that you will also have to buy all the necessary supplies for your horse: grooming equipment, tack, blankets (if needed), and medical supplies. The cost of these individual items may seem small, but they quickly add up.
Your horse has routine care needs. If you are boarding at a stable, the monthly bill can range from $300 to $3,000, depending on the services provided. Usually, board includes, food, water, shelter, and basic care — however, you might need to provide extra feed and supplements (including salt), or pay for additional services such as blanketing. Keeping your horse at home can be less expensive than boarding, but you will have to pay to maintain the property and provide your horse with feed, water, and daily care.
Other essentials include routine hoof care by a reputable farrier or trimmer approximately every six weeks. A vaccination schedule should be discussed with your veterinarian for annual core vaccines and others which will depend on your horse’s individual needs and infection control measures recommended for your area. Your horse might also require medication or supplements.
As a horse owner, you will need to learn to expect unexpected costs; your horse does not know when the next pay day is, or whether you’re planning your next vacation. The horse may need immediate veterinary care, board might increase, or the price of hay might suddenly sky rocket. The average horse owner should have a plan to deal with unexpected costs. Common health problems, such as colic, can leave you with thousands of dollars of vet bills. Even relatively minor health problems can become costly. Vet visits, medical supplies, and care costs quickly add up. It is important to always have a plan to deal with unforeseen costs; you might consider creating a horse specific savings account, or purchasing equine insurance.
While it is entirely possible to pay only horse-related expenses, if you intend to ride or drive your horse there will be human costs. Appropriate clothing is a must to stay safe around the barn. You will need a helmet, gloves, breeches or jeans, and a boot or shoe with a low wedge heel. While you need not buy expensive clothing, safety is a must.
You might also seek lessons to learn how to properly ride, drive, or handle your horse. Expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $100 dollars a lesson. If you are planning on showing your horse, be prepared to get out your check book. At the introductory levels, a schooling show will cost about $200 when you add up trailer, coaching, office, and class fees. Show fees increase as one moves up through the levels.
More than Money
Horses take a toll on more than just your wallet; you will need to invest emotional and physical resources, as well as your time. Driving to the barn, grooming, and working your horse can require upwards of two hours each time. For most horse owners this is a three to six day a week commitment. Are you capable of staying up all night with a sick horse, or are you willing to pay somebody else to take on that responsibility? If you get injured by your horse, can you afford to take time off work to heal? Could you handle choosing between expensive surgery or euthanasia if the situation arises? Horse owners often have to make tough decisions that impact more than their bank account.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, the cost of horse ownership has a number of variables. Remember that while you don’t need to buy the trendiest, most expensive products or services, you do have a responsibility to provide your horse with a safe and healthy environment. What works for one horse and owner may not work for another, and the rules of horse ownership are not set in stone. Working with horses can be very rewarding—building athleticism, coordination, dedication, and many life skills—but before deciding your level of involvement, it is important to plan a realistic long-term budget for time and finances.
Download this spreadsheet from Equine Guelph to calculate your costs.