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First of all, congratulations on considering buying (or having already bought) your first horse. The horse world and sport are indeed a unique passion that gives many riders worldwide an escape from the stressors of the everyday world. It is also a great way to meet new friends and spend more time in nature.
The horse ownership journey involves learning many new skills that will come with ups and downs. Before buying your new horse, read our seven step-by-step guides to becoming a successful first-time owner. Whether you want to trail ride and play around with your horse or have vast goals of competing and showing, this list applies to all first-time horse owners.
1. Decide What Breed of Horse You Want
Step one is to decide what type of horse you want and need. If you are a complete beginner, it is probably a good idea to look at older horses who have ‘been there, done that,’ as they are less likely to spook and more forgiving to an unbalanced, inexperienced rider. A green horse can quickly start with bad habits if an amateur rider accidentally teaches that it can get away with it. Generally, a young or inexperienced horse should only be trained by experienced owners or with the help of a good instructor. To be safe, it’s best to always ask for a short trial period before buying your new horse to ensure it’s a good fit. It would be best to consider which breed you want, as certain breeds are more suitable for specific disciplines. Draft horses are great beginner horses as they are calm, gentle giants and perfect for anyone who wants to go on trail rides. A quarter horse or Andalusian horse might be a better fit if you want to ride western. For jumping or dressage, you may want to look at warm-blood horse breeds such as Hanoverian, Oldenburg, and Holsteiner.
2. Create A Budget
Firstly, it is essential to understand that the initial cost of buying a horse is only the beginning of being a part of this expensive hobby. Horse ownership has many associated costs, so it’s essential to consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse and any unexpected vet bills, etc.
We recommend that first-time horse buyers sit down and make a budget for the purchase price and horse owners’ costs such as Horse board, horse feed, farrier, vet, worming, riding lessons, horse tack, horse hauling, horse dentistry, and more. As a general rule, the daily operation costs will look similar as follows:
- Horse Purchase Price: This varies a lot and is anything from $1000-$100,000
- Horse Board: $300-$1200/Month (Depending on where you live)
- Farrier: $60-$200 Every six weeks (Shoes cost more than just a trim)
- Dentist: $200-$400/Year
- Horse Feed: Hay is usually included in the Boarding cost. Extra Grain/Supplement $100-$200/Month
- Deworming: $50-$100/Year
- Horse Tack: One-time cost of approximately $1000 (if you buy used)
- Unexpected Costs: (vet bills, etc) $1500
- Horse Hauling & Showing: This varies for each discipline and state, so do your research if you are looking to show your horse, too
Try to find reputable breeders for the breed you are after. Remember that performance increases horse value, so if you don’t care about buying a show horse, you should be able to find a decent-value horse under $10,000.
There are also a range of horse rescue organizations where you pay an adoption fee. At Stabletalk, we rescued this baby thoroughbred from slaughter in August 2023. The photo shows a 5-week difference after being cared for and given suitable feed and vet care. Saving a horse is probably not the best option for a new horse owner, as you don’t know what you get, and you won’t see the horse’s background and potential health issues.
3. Find a Boarding Facility
The next step is to find an affordable and friendly boarding facility near you (unless you live on a farm with your land). Things to look out for at boarding facilities include: will the horse get daily turnouts? Do they get fresh water daily? Is stall cleaning and feeding included? What are the riding arenas like – are they dragged and watered daily? Any access to trails? Is it within your budget? Is there a good trainer on site?
A great boarding facility should meet your needs within a 40-minute drive (if you want to go out daily). If you own your property with stables and pastures, then congratulations! Please note that keeping horses at home is a lot of work, so make sure you have the time and are up for the task before you commit to buying horses.
4. Book A Pre-purchase Exam
A horse can have many hidden health issues from previous injuries, so hiring a vet to perform a PPE (Pre-Purchase Exam) before buying a new horse is essential. A PPE is a vet check that usually involves a one-day overall examination of the horse to determine whether it is likely healthy enough for its intended use. Please note that veterinarians can only advise you on the results, and there are no guarantees for its future health.
The veterinarian is usually hired by the buyer (yourself), and you need to make the vet aware of your goals with the horse and what you want to do with it. As a new owner, the last thing you want to do is rush into the purchase and end up with a horse needing ongoing veterinary care. It’s also important to understand that no horse is perfect, and minor health problems might appear in the PPE, so use common sense and discuss with your vet whether it will be a problem or not.
Common Problems that tend to be ‘Easily Fixed’:
- Bite marks from other horses in the field
- Lower body weight than desired
- Sharp teeth (one visit to the dentist will fix this)
- Small spots of rain rot in the coat
Common and More Serious Problems:
- Kissing Spines
- Bowed Tendon (common in off-the-track racehorses)
The vet will usually perform a physical examine its body, the horses hooves, and teeth, followed by X-rays sound of the legs. The exam will also include seeing the horse move in all gaits in both directions. Blood is sometimes drawn, too, if there is a reason to, but it is usually not part of a standard PPE.
5. Sign a Bill of Sale
By law, a bill of sale must be signed for all horse sales in most states; if you don’t have your lawyer to draft one, you can download one for free here. The bill of sale must be signed by both the buyer and the seller (and any agents) and act as proof of horse purchase. Make sure you also get any papers for the horse. The bill of sale will also help you if you need to take the previous owner to court or if they try to ‘steal’ the horseback. This sounds a bit wild, but these things do happen! So ensure you stay on the right side of the law by having all your paperwork in order at the time of the sale.
6. Buy Suitable Horse Tack
Once you have decided on your new dream horse, it’s time to shop for horse supplies! Your local tack shop should have everything you need, but we also recommend looking for used tack as a saddle is a significant purchase, and you can find many used saddles in perfect condition at half the price. Saddles are usually made of quality leather and will last for many years. New horse tack you may need:
- FOR THE HORSE: Bridle, Fully Mounted Saddle, Saddle Pad, horse brush, hoof pick, mane and tail comb, halter and lead rope, lunge line, fly spray, some antibacterial ointment (to treat minor cuts), horse shampoo
- FOR THE RIDER: Riding boots (anything with a heel), Horse riding helmet, horse riding pants, riding gloves, body protector
- STABLE SUPPLIES: Hay, grains, feeding pan, water bucket, Lunge whip (your local stable should supply all of these), pine shavings, stable fork
7. Hire a Professional Instructor
Once your new horse arrives at your local barn, investing in riding lessons is a good idea. Even if your horse is an angel with a calm personality, you will set yourself up for success with regular lessons as a beginner horse owner. Horseback riding becomes even more fun when you learn new skills every week and have someone on the ground teaching you regularly. In the United States, riders are often ‘in a program’ with their horses with 2-5 weekly lessons. In Europe, however, lessons tend to be only one day per week. Its all about preference and there is no right or wrong, we do recommend at a minimum of 1 day per week in the beginning when you get to know your horse.
8. Have Fun!
The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy your new hobby. Take your horse to the beach, sign up for local shows, go trail riding, find new barn friends, and enjoy a lifetime of happy horse ownership. It’s truly a unique hobby that gives me so much joy. Your horse is lucky to have found a good home. Research has shown that spending time with horses can decrease stress, reduce anger, cure depression, and lower blood pressure, and you get to spend time in nature and exercise simultaneously!
9. Beware: Things to Lookout For As a First-Time Horse Owner
- Some barns can be full of spoiled kids or toxic people. Remember, there are friendly barns. Take your time finding the perfect one.
- Listen to your gut feeling; if something feels off, don’t proceed with the purchase.
- Getting to know a horse takes time, so don’t stress if you doubt your decision the first few weeks; growing a bond with your horse takes time.
- Ask the previous owner for testimonials from previous buyers – Many horse sellers are not trustworthy, so also always do a thorough PPE
- Please don’t feed your horse too much of a sugary diet (for example, too much alfalfa hay) as this can make them very high energy and more difficult to handle
- Caring for and riding your horse daily is a big commitment, so remember that if you get overwhelmed and need help, there are always people who would love to help and ride your horse for free. You could also half-lease it out, which helps with costs and gives you more time!