One of the first things to think about when looking to purchase a horse or pony is the initial cost. Unfortunately, many do not look any further until it’s too late and the newest member of the family is standing in the yard! Before that point, you need to consider all the costs involved in keeping a member of the equine family.
Most often, the horse or pony will have to be boarded at a barn. The cost of this can vary tremendously. Also, what the board covers can vary from just pasture board to full care, clean stalls, all feed included, etc. If you are keeping the horse at home, or boarding at a facility that does not provide full board, there is the cost of good nutrition, which will consist of good grazing and/or hay, feed, and in some cases water. A horse should gain most of his nutrition from grass or hay, so you will need to make sure these are of good quality as horses can not derive any nutrients out of old, mature grass, weeds, hay, etc. Not to mention that there are several serious conditions that can result from moldy, dusty or rotten hay. Feed, if needed, should also be good quality, and should be fresh and mold-free. Clean water needs to be in constant supply; a full-grown horse can easily drink 10-20 gallons a day.
Then there are veterinary costs, which can run easily over a hundred dollars a year for just routine care. If your horse becomes injured or sick, emergency vet trips can add up quickly! Many horses also must be shod if they are ridden regularly, or ridden on hard, rocky ground. This must be done every 6-8 weeks for most horses and can vary in cost depending on where you live.
And of course, if you have a horse, you also have to have lead ropes, halters, grooming equipment, a bridle, a saddle, and all the other things a true horse addict craves – 20 different brushes, at least 4 different colored hoof picks, a bright shiny brass nameplate for the stall, and other things too numerous to list here. (But don’t worry, parents; your child will have at least half of them listed on their next Christmas list!)
The second thing to consider is safety, both of horse and rider. This is especially true if you have children. In many ways, horses and kids are remarkably similar. For instance, if there is a sharp object within a mile of them, they will find it, play with it, and end up getting hurt with it. Your fencing and pasture, stalls, paddocks, etc. must be checked for safety hazards and routinely maintained.
When putting both the children and the horses in the same area, certain precautions should be taken. Consider this: You are combining a thousand or so pound animal whose first instinct to anything new or different is often to fight or flee, with a much slower, much less coordinated, and much lighter critter! When your child goes riding, or even out in the pasture with the horse, make sure they have on good shoes – not sandals or barefoot. This will reduce injury to the foot if they get stepped on. Also, when riding, make sure your child has an approved riding helmet on. There are several brands now that make lightweight, vented and inexpensive helmets. Bicycle helmets will not protect your child properly if they should fall from the horse or get stepped on. The helmet should be worn every time they ride; even the best babysitting horse in the world can trip, fall, or spook when you least expect it!
A few other things that should be considered and are highly recommended are making sure your child wears long pants and boots with a heel when riding, and always wear a tucked in shirt. The pants will protect the legs from pinches from the saddle, as well as providing a layer of protection between your child’s skin and any objects they may have close encounters with. The shirt should be worn for the same reason, and tucked in so that it can not get caught on anything should the child leave the saddle – if they are going to fall, you want them to fall clear. Boots with a good heel on them will help keep the child’s foot from slipping into the stirrup where the foot can then get hung.
Not sure you and your child are ready for horse ownership? Try some half-way steps. Find a good, reputable riding camp for your child or have them take riding lessons on someone else’s horse. Allow your child to help out a friend in caring for their horses or to get a “job” at a local stables in return for lessons and experience. Give your local veterinarian a call and set up an appointment to let your child hear straight from the doctor what they would need to know when owning a horse. Better yet, have your vet speak at your child’s school and share that information with other horse crazy kids! But most importantly, let your child dream, because you never know when those dreams just might start coming true!