By Maddy Butcher
You buy a horse.
In these days of Instant Gratification, it can be as simple as that. No one will stop you.
But do you deserve it?
Three professionals recently weighed in on what they say is the distinct privilege of horse ownership. Here, they discuss the crucial elements required before you bring home this big, yet fragile animal.
In brief, you need space, money, smarts, and a learn-aholic attitude.
Ideally, one should have between one to two acres per horse. Space allows the horse to move, a necessity for its digestion, physiology, and overall well-being.
Research continues to show that stalling and isolating horses invites a myriad of problems: social, behavioral, hoof-related, colic-related,
“What the hell are you doing putting your horse in a 10 x 10 stall?” asked Dr. Rebecca Gimenez, president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. “That cannot be your plan.”
If you do have limited space (say, a 100 x 100 feet), manure management is essential in order to limit to your horses’ exposure to parasites. In other words, small paddocks need to be picked clean daily. Horses should not eat and poop in the same space.
“There is a health benefit to having more land,” said Dr. Kate Schoenhals, of South Mountain Equine in Bluffdale, Utah.
One should have at least a rudimentary education in the nutrition, handling, wellness, as well as emergency care and procedures.
- Can you identify colic symptoms?
- Can you take your horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration rate?
- Can you make seasonal and weather-related adjustments to routines as your horse’s needs change?
Anything but a confident “Yes” to these questions indicates you’re not ready to own a horse.
“I wish there was a Gold Standard for education,” said Dr. Schoenhals, referring to a level of aptitude owners should acquire before bringing horses home.
Many of us learn from our family, friends, and mentors. There are also more formal options including 4H, Pony Club, equine science programs, and vet tech programs.
“Your responsibilities extend beyond providing food and water,” said Gimenez, who has a PhD in animal physiolody. “Continuing education is important. I still read horse resources.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
“I really enjoy clients who want to be educated,” said Dr. Rachel Flaherty, owner of Back Cove Equine Veterinary Care.
But be wary of using the Internet to style your own education and as a perpetual Do It Yourself resource.
“It’s a dangerous and very useful tool,” said Schoenhals, who recalled a client wanting to inject a horse’s tumor with the aromatic resin, frankincense. “I actually appreciate the people who over-call. I’d rather that than not call because they’re not sure.”
Be prepared to open your wallet.
Estimates vary, but unless you have several thousand dollars to spend per horse per year, leave horse ownership to others. As much as we might like to think so, this is NOT an Equal Opportunity arena.
“I like to tell people they’re going to spend $5,000 for your first horse in that first year,” said Gimenez. “It doesn’t matter if that horse is at home or being boarded.”
Typical preventive care, including vaccinations, dental care, farrier work, fecal egg counts paired with possible worming, can total more than $500 per horse annually.
On top of that, it’s a good idea to set aside a set amount for emergencies, at least $1,500 per horse, say the experts.
“Talking about the “what if’s” is a great thing to do,” said Flaherty. “Then you’re not making decisions in the moment, when you’re freaking out and emotional.
Most agree that acquiring and breeding equines need to be considered responsibilities for the long haul.
“It should be a commitment for a lifetime,” said Schoenhals.
As your horses age, added Flaherty, consider its aging wellness and end of life plan. “Start thinking about things as the horse gets older. Get the plan going.”