Horse Ownership – The True Cost of Owning Your Own Horse – Article 2 of 2

This is Article 2/2.

Horse Dreams – Broken Dreams

The real cost of owning your own horse is not just time and money – you must plan ahead before you buy or you could be without an equine friend. I had my own horses when I was young but due to family issues, my horse had to be sold when I was about 15. For many, many years I yearned to have another equine friend. After sharing a few horses, the craving for my own became too much to bear. Basically, I was going to have my own, no matter what. Five years ago, after looking in the UK, I finally went to Holland with a respected trainer and found a beautiful horse. The only problem was that I didn’t do my List and I was not strictly objective (oh, and I had a 4 month old little girl!) Now, my beautiful 17.3 KWPN Dressage horse is on loan with a view to sale, because I really didn’t have the time or the lifestyle to meet his needs and to fulfil my dream. I spent most of my time moving from one livery yard to the next and mucking out in pitch black darkness. I couldn’t afford my training due to no job and being Mum to little baby girl. My bank balance is still reeling after forking out a small fortune for my horsy habit! So, I am now horseless again and very sad about it too. Writing this has been a little bit cathartic maybe, although, I just want to grab a horsebox and go and pick him up. Just devising my plan for buying the next one, one day. This time, I will do The List before I go horse hunting! Please read on and if you know of anyone about to buy their own, please ask them to read it too!

Look around – Ring around

There is no harm contacting trainers and breeders in the UK who you may not know and asking if they ever go abroad and if they can recommend any yards abroad. But also be careful. It is always better to see any horse with a trusted, able individual who can objectively look at the horse, and you when you try it out. Search the web as there are many horses on line here – even if its simply for research purposes. Best to take a trainer, I think, rather than a vet. A vet will be able to check that the horse is fit but not necessarily whether it is the right horse for the job you want it to do. Do be aware however, that some of the prices you pay abroad will be higher simply because you are from the UK – hence, going with a trusted, well known individual who really knows the true value of horses in today’s market really makes sense. They will charge – but it is better to pay them what they are worth and what the horse is worth, rather than paying over-odds for your equine friend.

Horse dealers?

I have mixed opinions about these. Sometimes, the horses they bring over are the ones that cannot be sold abroad and they are not necessarily quality ones as a result. However, you should visit a few and try out some horses. It is a good experience, will test your nerve a bit and help you establish what you really want and don’t want. If you do go to a dealers yard (and when visiting any prospective sale) ensure it is ridden by someone else first before you go anywhere near it. Watch it in the stable, the yard – how does it react to other people and horses. If it comes out rearing, unless you are particularly daring, I suggest leaving that one alone and perhaps, if you liked it, let it settle in its surroundings for a week before coming back and seeing if it has settled. I think dealer yards are quite unfair places to see horses really, as they are very unsettled by the process so it is difficult to see them at their best. If you do see one and your instinct is good, even if the horse wasn’t, then try it again (and again!). You may be able to loan it for a brief period, or if the yard is within sensible travel distance, perhaps try it out for a week (every day) to see if your instinct is right. Let the dealer know you are interested and they may stave off other prospective purchasers for a week or so. Don’t mess the yards around.

Buying abroad

Many good horses come from abroad so if you are up for the challenge, find a good trainer with contacts abroad and spend a few days looking at horses. Don’t go on your own to any yard – you should always have at least one more opinion. If you can, try and see any horses you like again before you return home and make a decision. Take videos to review when you return home. Well organised yards/studs will have a selection of suitable horses to view. Some yards may charge over odds for their horses, so ensure you have a knowledgeable person with you. I would suggest a 5 stage vetting with blood checks just to be on the safe side. All paperwork will be carried out before the horse is exported and these will be handed to you when he arrives! At the end of the day, any horse is worth what you are willing to pay for it in the end – but don’t pay more than you should, regardless of how lovely he/she is and remember The List!

Sharing or loaning a horse?

Another option is to find a quality horse to loan. I would highly recommend this option if you find the right horse and the right owner. You must have a loan agreement and be honest about what it is you want to do and how long you would expect to keep the horse on loan. Don’t mess the owner around by changing your plans unless you simply had no choice. It is a great way to own a quality horse for a while without having to pay the money up front to purchase, and you could spend a few years getting some excellent experience and training before you do later decide to buy your own. I would recommend it if you can find the right horse and owner.

Sharing

You could also find someone with a good quality horse who needs help. There are very often many owners struggling and needing help. Provided you are realistic and honest about your abilities, look for a good quality horse whose owner needs help (for free!) You can gain invaluable experience and also, it’s a good way to test out your skills and see if you are really ready for ownership. You must be committed – horses need regular attention, even if you are sick, tired and have other commitments. So, I really suggest sharing – particularly if you have been away from horses for a while and are getting back into it, or haven’t owned for a while.

Some sharers are looking for money. Personally, I try to avoid paying and opt for ensuring you are helping with all the horse duties including early morning muck outs, turn outs etc,. If the owner is looking for money instead of help with mucking out etc,. ensure that you are happy with the owner and horse before you hand over any money. Perhaps opt for a 2 week trial before you get involved with handing over any finances. Also, if you are sharing (and loaning) you must respect and pay attention to what the owner asks regarding their horses care, any particular pointers regarding the type of work the horse can/cannot do, etc,. You will quickly be horseless again, possibly out of pocket too, if you blatantly ignore the owners instructions. (I had a sharer who did this and my horse was off for about 4 weeks with blown up tendons because he had been pushed too quickly following time out when I removed his shoes). You will have to learn a large amount of tact and patience when dealing with horse owners (and visa versa) but it is an excellent way to get ‘back in the saddle’ (excuse the pun!)

Trust your instincts

If you are honest with yourself, when you look at a horse, you will have an instinct about it. You may not like the instinctive decision that comes to you, but I urge you to listen to your senses truly on this occasion! If your mind says ‘No’, but your heart says ‘yes please’, listen to your mind, because at the end of the day, owning a horse is not about your heart. It is about your time, your money, your relationships. Heart has to play second fiddle to basic common sense. Particularly, if you don’t want your heart broken later when you realise your equine purchase was really the wrong one! Riding down the centre isle on a beautiful 17hh dark bay Dutch Warmblood is romantic, but he may not be the right one, on this occasion! (Trust me, I know about it – I’ve been there already!) Now, you need to deck you and your horse out with kit and decide where you are going to keep him!

Kitting you and your horse out for the occasion

You must also factor in how much your horse will cost once you get him home. The main cost of a horse is not his purchase, it’s keeping him. Firstly, if you buy a horse locally, chances are he will come with some kit. But, it may not be right for you and it may need replacing soon anyway. If you buy a horse abroad, he is most likely to turn up with a rug and an old lead rope and head collar. That’s it. Kitting out from scratch is expensive: you will need feed buckets; hay nets; grooming kit; bandages; stable rugs; various turnout rugs (goods ones are about £200+ I think); another rug just in case he damages the others; bridles & saddles (can range from £50 – £3000); numnahs, special training aids and equipment; Insurance (normally about 10% of the value of the horse insured, depending on cover required) and of course, livery and shoeing (or foot care if you opt for removing their shoes). If you are bringing a horse from abroad you will need to pay his travel costs (from about £300+ depending) and he should be insured before he leaves on the lorry (although often, the policy has an initial 2 week settling period during which cover is limited).

Make sure you sit down and write a list of what you will need to buy, how much it costs and make sure you have the money in the bank. Particularly, if you need a new saddle, because there are so many saddles and saddle fitters it can be quite mind boggling and a cheap one will not necessarily be a good answer. You sit on the saddle, and the saddle sits on your horses back – so spend a lot of time trying out saddles and find the right one! There are many options including treeless. Worth looking into all options – you should be able to ask a fitter / reseller to bring a selection for you to try out.

Where will you keep your horse – Livery is expensive and not always reliable

One of the biggest issues I have had has been livery. Again, what you require will vary depending on the type of horse you purchase. Make sure that the people who run the yard understand the type of horse you are buying, what you will be doing with him and your needs regarding help and if you are doing DIY, ensure that they won’t mind you being there when you need to access the yard. Some yards can have strict cut off times and if these are too early then getting to your horse could be difficult.

Will stable help, be helpful?

Ensure that any yard helpers will be able to manage your horse effectively. Not everyone is really comfortable with a 17.3hh KWPN warm blood. So, know your horse and ensure that yards are aware of particular habits and methods of behaviour management. If you horse eats rugs make sure that put, in writing, this point (and any others) so that you cannot be held liable for any rugs he eats left by stable help and owners. I was bullied into paying a hefty £100 for a rug even though I had told them to keep rugs away from my horse (he had ripped it to shreds in his stable). Put everything in writing to the yard manager/owner and keep copies.

Managing your horses nutritional needs

It is surprising how many ‘knowledgeable’ yards are oblivious to the amount of food a big horse needs. Regardless of whether a horse is ridden every day or 4 times a week, horses need to munch hay and lots of it (to my mind, ad hoc) – of course, the bigger the horse, the more he is going to eat, especially if grazing is poor. This is particularly relevant for horses boxed for long periods of time. It is better for their gut and it is much better for their mind to keep them occupied and prevent boredom and frustration. There is nothing worse than seeing your prize purchase thoroughly fed up, miserable and frustrated, and be unable to do anything about it (except move him). It is not as easy to find good, safe and happy accommodation for your horse as you might think. An unhappy horse can result in him, through no fault of his own, being given a bad name when all is required is simple respect for his basic equine needs.

Grass Livery

Personally, I would try my utmost to keep a horse at grass, in a safe, well-fenced, appropriately sized field with some equine friends. Even expensive competition horses! This is the ticket to a happy horse – it is natural and enables them to follow their equine instincts and needs. However, some horses from abroad may freak at the concept of a lengthy turnout in a field at the beginning! In these instances, seek professional advice, as I have not had to manage this myself, although I have seen horses ill at ease in a field. The field was small, and whilst other horses were in other paddocks, none were in its own field – perhaps this was part of the issue? My horse was certainly happiest in his field with friends – he was a terrible pacer if he was on his own – it’s not natural for your equine to be void of other equine company and contact. A sniff over a stable wall does not do it for most horses and the constant lack of other equine contact can cause stress. If they are stabled, try to find well thought out stabling which enables horses to see each other with ease. This will fulfill their herding instinct and help to avoid nervous stable pacing and other habits than can develop in a stressed, bored horse.

Found the horse – now what?

Once you have found the right horse, ensure he is thoroughly vetted before buying. Also, when possible visit them a few times for a few extra rides and watch him with his current owners.

Vetting your horse

There are a number of different options ranging from basic check to a 5 Stage Vetting which includes X-rays to check their bone structure and hence, ability to perform. You can also have a blood check to ensure that no illegal substances are being used to hide any sore limbs or injuries. Whichever vetting you choose, ensure it’s carried out by a qualified vet; never use the same one as the owner of your prospective purchase. All horses, by law, have to have a Passport and be vaccinated against Tetanus and Equine Flu (in the UK) so ensure these are up to date (the vet will check this). Horses from abroad will be checked by a vet abroad before being allowed to travel and will arrive with Export papers which you must keep, along with their Passport. These you will be handed by whomever you choose to bring your horse over the channel.

Bringing your horse home

Watching your horse come down the ramps of a horse box (or trailer) is one of the most exciting and exhilarating sights, EVER! After all the waiting, planning and disappointments of horses that weren’t right or didn’t pass the vetting – finally, your equine friend is all yours. Home safely. I am sure you will have quite a lot of apprehension too! Well, now your horse is home, the work really starts!

If you need to bring your horse from abroad, there are a number of quality, professional horse transport companies who regularly bring horses to UK from abroad. They know what they are doing, so use one of these.

Settling In

It will take time for your horse to settle in to his new home. Horses can seem quite different when they arrive at a new yard. Don’t panic! Everything is new and they are sensitive animals so they will pick up on any nerves you have as well! The best approach is patience. Do not think that by next week you will be winning first prize, jumping 4″fences or doing the best piaffe of your life.

Start with what you know – build trust first at ground level

You may need to start at a basic point – do work that you know well, that he knows well and which you will both find easy – build trust. It is worth starting with plenty of ground level, in hand or loose schooling work to build trust and respect for each other. Watch your horse on a lunge (with no gadgets) or even better, provided he is calm and it’s safe, loose school and jump him. Watch how your horse moves and see what he reacts to.

Help him to respect your voice and associate its sound with good, positive reinforcement. Learn to understand and respect his equine voice and needs. Try join-up if you feel it is safe to do so (search the internet and you will find plenty of good advice for this.) Remember, this does involve your being on the ground with a loose horse (or one on a long line) so you must be careful – if you are not sure about this, I would strongly suggest finding a good natural horsemanship trainer who can give you a few lessons and get you on the right tracks. There is something very magical that happens when your horse accepts you and wanders around after you quite happily without being forced or pushed to do so.

Start riding – do what you both find easy at first

Once you have established respect and understanding on ground level, it’s time to get on and start your ridden training. Again, don’t start with the hardest moves and biggest jumps. Spend the first few ridden weeks doing what you know is easy for you both. Build trust now and you will reap the rewards later on. If your horse has travelled he may well be stiff from boxing and if he has come from abroad he will have had quite a long journey. Travelling on the boat is bumpy, so it does no harm to have them checked over by an equine physio on arrival. Don’t feel pressured to ‘show off’ your new horse with impressive new moves and high jumps – ignore the ‘know-it-all’ crowd that will develop each time you are on your new steed.

I really recommend that you have lessons & training as much as possible, particularly when you start riding your new friend. You will save so much time in the long run by getting on the right tracks from the very beginning.

Regular training / lessons

If you only want to plod about then that’s fine – but I would still recommend a few lessons for the first few months to keep you on the right tracks, and then at intervals to keep you in the right direction. If you have bought yourself a quality horse with a view to competing and taking it all quite seriously, and you cannot afford a quality trainer at least every 2-3 weeks – forget it! It’s harsh, but from my experience, without a good trainer every 1-3 weeks you are really wasting your time. Don’t kid yourself about this. Mum teaching you (unless she is a well established, experienced rider in the discipline you are interested in), won’t be enough. This will also help stave of the ‘I know more about it than you’ know-it-alls that a new horse seems to attract!

Everyone ‘knows’ more about your horse than you!

The riding fraternity can be quite cruel – through either envy or sheer ignorance, you will no doubt come across a vast amount of people who will see you with your new steed and be convinced that they know more about it than you. At the beginning, it may well be the case, whilst you build confidence in your new friend and visa versa. But don’t let it undermine you. If you follow basic common sense, build respect for your horse and get a good trainer – you will be the best person to understand your horse/pony (within reason). So don’t let other people grind you down and spoil your time and fun with your horse. This is why finding the right yard, with people who understand and respect you and your horse, is so important. Of course, don’t take this advice as meaning that you ignore all professional help and close the book to advice – but don’t be ground down by others ignorance and envy. It takes time to build a relationship with a new horse and we buy a new horse because we know it will be a challenge – we want the challenge and learning experience it will provide. Assuming you have purchased the right horse for your experience, ability, way of life, and which you can afford to maintain, then it is only a matter of time and patience before all the buttons work (well, most of them – we are speaking about a living, thinking animal at the end of the day!)

Stay open minded to other opinions

At the end of the day, the odd person will say something that is worth noting and learning more about. But don’t be put off by a wealth of ‘I know more about it’ advice. Watch those people with their horses – I am sure you could find plenty to comment about their methods and way of riding. Often, the ones who give the most unconstructive advice are the worst horse-persons, because they think they know it all already.

The wisest person is the one wise enough to know that they don’t know it all!

Watch other’s ride – if you like the way they ride, ask them for advice. If you like the training methods, ask for advice. If you don’t – then, don’t listen to them – just smile and say thank you and walk on by! The essence of any advice should be to the benefit of the horse and your relationship with him.

Routine

Ensure your horse has a good routine for turn out, feed times, bring in etc,. It is a good idea, if you can, to find out exactly what his routine had been before he came to you – try to replicate this as much as you can for the first month and slowly change it to suit your needs once he is settled in. There’s nothing worse than expecting your breakfast & turnout at 7am when it doesn’t come until 9am – especially, if you are in a new home, with new sounds and smells. So, respect his old routine and slowly amend it to suit your needs, if you need to.

What to feed/When to feed

Find out what feed he was on and try to provide the same for the first 6 weeks to ensure he doesn’t get an upset stomach – ensure they have plenty of good quality hay to munch. Introduce new feed and supplements (if any) gradually. You should consider the grazing he was on previously. If he was on limited turnout on poor grass, turning him out all day on rich grass is not a good idea – the sugar can go to their head and you could give them tummy troubles! Build things up slowly. If he is going to be turned out 24/7 then manage it appropriately, including the introduction to new friends to avoid any accidents and injuries. (Remember, the first 2 weeks of your insurance policy are often restricted so you may want to play it very safe for the first few weeks!) A healthy horse does not have to be stuffed full with loads of hard feed – quality hay & grass should be the bulk of their diet, with additional hard feed given in moderation and relevant to their age, work levels, breed and build.

DIY Livery vs Part vs Full Livery

The more time you spend with your horse, the better – and for this reason, DIY is excellent. However, unless you have considerable amount of free time and a stash of money somewhere, then the time you spend looking after him will eat in to the time you have to ride him. Full livery is probably my least favourite option – you virtually hand over the responsibility of your horse to a group of ‘knowledgeable’ staff, pay a small fortune for the honour and then will perhaps, spend a lot of time disagreeing with them about how your horse is looked after.

For me the best option is DIY with help, or Part Livery. Spend as much time doing horsy chores as you can, ensuring that you still have plenty of time and energy to enjoy your horse. I spent more time in the end mucking out, heaving 20 bails of hay every 2 weeks, dragging poo filled wheelbarrows up cracked wooden runners to the muck heap, than I did actually riding my beautiful horse (hence the very important Checklist!)

The only time Full Livery may be a good option is for the first few months while you adjust to your horse – spend all your time grooming, working in hand and then riding, before all the mucking out commences! However, don’t underestimate how fit you can get mucking out – and the fitter you are, the better you will be able to ride! I think Full Livery, all the time, is a bit of a cop-out! Real horse people should have a good hands on approach and the time spent around your horse whilst you poo-pick his stable, walk him to and from his field and give him his feed and hay are not to be underestimated. You want the bond with your horse to be between you and him, not him and all the stable help!

How fit are you?

This probably isn’t something you have thought about. If you have been riding a lot already and mucking out then it really isn’t an issue. But if you have not ridden much and have not been mucking out then the arrival of your horse will be that bit more of a shock! Suggest getting fit as much as possible. Also, consider the work your horse will be requiring and whether you will be able to offer it – perhaps you will need help keeping him exercised a few days a week whilst your aches and pains have time to settle in and disappear!

Explaining Horsey-Love to non- Horsey person – Good Luck!

Given up on this one! I don’t think that any amount of explaining can help a non-horsey person understand why you want to go down to a horse (a smelly animal!) at 6am every morning (and evening) and clean up its poo and pee, and spend all your money on it. They just don’t get it. Even more amusing, try explaining lunging. ” Well, the horse is on a long line and it goes round you in a circle?… UH? What’s the point in that then? Even much more amusing than that is – try explaining Dressage to them! What do you do – go around in circles. Anyone can do that! Don’t horses jump.. why don’t you jump – That’s fun – I’ve seen it on the TV.

For goodness sake, such ignorance! It is unlikely that you will be able to convert most non-horsey people it to the beautiful life of the Horse Lover. We seem to be a distinct type of person!

Further updates to these articles and further articles will be available. Best of luck with your new Horse and I hope you have found these articles interesting and helpful. Let me know… leave a comment!