Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Horse Ownership Challenges

So, as I warn you guys over and over again, this blog is basically my personal mouthpiece on horse ownership and horses in general. I've been riding and caring for horses for 15 years, and apparently that makes me an expert. Recently, as we've had some boarder turn over in my barn, I've been witness to some really interesting... theories... on horse ownership. This is also known as someone went and bought a horse, and they don't even know how to put a halter on, much less ride or handle a 1,000+ lb animal safely.

There is a saying in horses that most people don't need a $25,000 horse - they need a $1,000 horse and $24,000 in lessons.

And I agree.

I took lessons at a variety of stables from the age of 8 - 16, when we finally purchased my first horse. At the point of that purchase, I had taken said horse from a skinny abused horse no one wanted to ride and had  done all of her retraining to make her one of the nicer horses at the barn. Find a trainer you like, you can trust and who runs a good facility - I'll lay out some tips for choosing a lesson barn in another post. If you are a green, or new rider looking at buying a horse, or have just purchased one, I'll ask you to think this decisions through really well.

Horses live for 25+ years in most cases, and as long as they are yours under ownership, they are your responsibility. This means you need to account for many years of the following:

- Boarding costs or daily checks if the horse is on your property.

Many horses can live comfortably in a field with shelter, hay/weed-free pasture and fresh water, but others may need a stall to protect them from the elements. Trees do not count as acceptable shelter in my opinion.

- Hay, water and, usually, some type of feed.

Horses have base nutritional needs that often cannot be met on pasture or hay alone. Ration balancers are available to give the horse the nutrition they need, or there is a variety of horse feed brands and types for horses who do not gain or maintain weight as well as others. Horses also need fresh, clean water, a fiber source like hay or pasture and most feeds will suggest offering your horse a source of salt for their consumption.

- Routine and emergency vet care

Horses need vaccinations each year, and also require a coggins test to be out and about with other horses at shows or in parks for trail rides. This prevents them from passing dangerous diseases to other horses and prevents them from becoming ill or dying because of one of those illnesses. Horses also need their teeth floated periodically to ensure that they can eat, chew and wear a bit comfortably for riding. If their teeth do not get ground down, horses can die of starvation because they cannot chew and process food. Teeth grow the horses's whole lives, but do sometimes slow down in older age - this is usually a yearly expense, with normal routine vet visits being twice a year. Emergency care should also be accounted for if your horse becomes injured or ill.

- Farrier work and other maintenance

Horses hooves also grow their entire lives, and need to be trimmed by a qualified farrier approximately every 6-8 weeks. Horses spend 90% of their lives standing or walking on those hooves, so they need to be kept at a comfortable length to prevent injury and ensure the horse is comfortable. Some horses may need shoes, while others do not, but shoes do present other potential issues and raise the cost, so unless your horse needs them due to excess wear on their feet, or soreness when ridden, try to stick with a bare foot. Other maintenance includes deworming every 8 weeks or as needed per your vet's assessment, hoof picking and generally looking the horse over for injuries and illness. Some horses have sensitive skin and develop fungus or other skin ailments which will need treatment and care, while others may pick up injuries in their pastures that can be attended to by their owner.

Horses may also need a winter blanket when temps turn cold, if they are skinny or don't grow enough hair to stay warm. Horses can be susceptible to cold winds, rain or heavy wet snow, all of which can compromise their ability to stay warm, even if an outdoor shelter/windbreak is provided. If you ride them in the winter, it's your job to ensure that the hair your saddle and bridle smooshes down is fluffed back up, and your horse is returned to his paddock or pasture dry and well prepared to protect himself from the elements. Many breeds are not endowed with acceptable winter coats for Minnesota winters, and my personal horses require several different weights of blanket to battle the temps.

- Lessons, tack, etc.

If you're a new rider, a few lessons AT THE LEAST should be in your budget. While some riders pride themselves on doing all of their training themselves, lessons will help you learn to ride your horse as well as maintain basic care and handling of your horse. Most people ride with tack, which needs to be properly fitted and in good repair. Seriously - find a trainer, and have them assist you when going through the process. Illfitting tack can lead to behavior issues, bucking, rearing and other dangerous behaviors, even if your horse is a saint. Many students take their trainer with them when purchasing the horse, as well, to ensure the animal is appropriate for your needs. While I LOVE spewing horsey information on the internet, I am a bear at the barn and do not appreciate being guilted into helping some weeping new horse owner whose horse got a little pushy or did something naughty. Get the help you need, but don't expect it to be given without a price in most cases.

Then you get into things like transportation, shows or trail riding passes, emergency vet bills, etc. etc. etc....

Now that I've done the fear tactics, I can tell you horses are amazing. They are rewarding, and help define you as a person. They are my four legged children and best friends. We have the most wonderful adventures together, and together, my horses give me wings to fly and do the sport I love. Horse people are often just as fantastic as their horses. Horses save lives and are fantastic therapists for all - having them in your life is a gift.

Just think about how much you want them in your life, and if you can afford it, first. 

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