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There are a number of factors to consider when getting a horse:
Before you begin to answer these questions, it is important to reflect if now is indeed the right time to even get a horse.
A horse comes with more on-going costs than any other animal that you may decide to take on. But it is not only the financial implications of getting a horse that need to be seriously considered. It is also its physical needs, the mental and emotional wellbeing of the horse, as well as the time that you need to commit to this highly social animal that you should reflect upon before making any decision.
Horses can live up to 30 years, so this will not be a short-term commitment. There is not a large buyer’s market for second-hand horses, especially given all the stringent factors related to its care, as mentioned above. Thus you may not find it that easy to rehome a horse should you decide a few months or years later that this was not the right decision for you.
For all these reasons, it is extremely important that you seriously consider your long-term plans and prospects, as well as your future income potential, before you stable your very own steed.
Unlike many pets, you are unlikely to be able to keep your horse at your home, unless you live on a farm or have ample grounds with a structure that could be converted into a barn. Hence what you will need is a boarding stable, ideally one that has sufficient space for your horse to move around, to hay, and to toilet, and also has sufficient grounds to allow your horse to be put out to pasture. Depending on whether you decide to maintain your horse and the stable yourself – feeding and grooming your horse, turning him out and bringing him back in, mucking out the stable on a regular basis, and providing fresh hay – or if you require assistance from those that run the stable, the rental cost could be anywhere between £50 to £200 a week.
The paddock or field should be well maintained and safe, so it should be regularly cleared of droppings and weeds, and with no plants that might be poisonous to a horse. There should be fresh, clean water available, along with shelter from bad weather and strong winds. Smooth wire fencing is better than wooden fences that could be chewed over time. Barbed wire fencing should be avoided altogether. The wire fence on the perimeter and between grazing areas should be kept taut and the posts should all be secure. Horses are grazing animals that would ordinarily walk up to 20 miles a day in the wild, so ample grazing space should be provided. They are also herd animals, so it is important that they are not left isolated. Getting to know the other residents and ensuring there would be ample opportunity for companionship for your horse is something to discuss with the owners of the stables before coming to an agreement.
Whichever stables you settle on, it is important that you make firm arrangements about where and how you will be keeping your horse before you purchase the animal. Equally, the size and type of horse that you acquire will factor into the size and nature of stabling that it will require, so this is something you will need to have cemented in your mind by this time, as well.
For more detail regarding a horse’s space requirements, please review the information on our page covering ‘Stable Maintenance’.
A horse requires a great deal of attention, and you won’t be able to outsource all the tasks to the stable hands, especially if you want to build a bond with your special steed. After all, why get a horse if you don’t plan to spend time with him? Most likely your horse won’t be living at your home, around the corner, or even up the same road as you, so it may require travel at least two to three times a week to visit him.
These visits will include spending time with him, both in the stable and on the field. It may include riding out, walking out, or simply sitting in the field with him while he grazes. It will require providing opportunities for your horse to engage in social and solitary play (yes, horses engage in such activities; why else would we have coined the term ‘horseplay’?). Regardless how you spend that time, your horse will still need to be exercised daily. A routine of training, including longeing, may be necessary to build both trust and respect between you and your horse, which are the cornerstones for any healthy relationship.
A minimum of half an hour or longer should also be set aside for grooming after each exercise session. No horse should be turned in without a proper brush down or a more extensive groom, depending on his level of exertion.
As has already been noted, horses come at a cost, and it’s not only the asking price of the horse that you will have to dig deep in your pocket for. You will also need to fork out for tack (bit, bridle, halter, saddle, and stirrups), stable tools, bedding, and grooming equipment, such as brushes, combs, and hoof picks. While all these are one-off costs, like your horse, they tend so come at a cost, and so they too will need to be maintained.
Recurring costs can also add up. As already discussed, a boarding stable can charge anywhere between £50 to £200 a week, and so this translates to between £2,400 and £7,200 a year. You will then need to consider the daily supply of hay and straw, feed and supplements, veterinary and dental fees, and the cost of a farrier. Altogether, you could be looking at a recurring cost of £6,000 to £12,000 a year.
As your horse ages, so too will there be more need for veterinary support, perhaps even physical therapy, and so your costs may increase with a diminished return in the pleasure of riding him. But no horse should ever be abandoned or sold for slaughter, especially one with whom you have built up a.meaningful relationship. So please give some thought to caring for a horse that is no longer sound enough to ride due to age or injury, and plan ahead for those costs, as well.
Having given it due consideration and balanced your heart with your head (and your bank account), you’ve now decided to move forward and get a horse.
By having reflected thoroughly on your decision, you’ve already shown yourself as ready to be a caring and responsible owner.
But now the question remains: What type of horse would best suit your needs and abilities? One way to find out is to ride a range of different horse, and once you have found one with whom you feel comfortable to then familiarise yourself with that type and breed,
There are far more important aspects to consider when acquiring a horse than to base it solely on its look. Nevertheless, it is worth noting the range of colours and markings that are associated with horses.
The horses displayed above show a range of coat colours. Moving from top left to bottom right, they are:
© aceptphoto & Vladyslav Horoshevych / courtesy of Shutterstock.com
There are three basic types of facial markings on a horse, as can be seen in the above image. From left to right:
© Anastasija Popova / courtesy of Shutterstock.com
A horse may also have white leg markings. When the white extends up the cannon – as seen above and to the left – it is known as a stocking, whereas if it only extends up to the fetlock – as seen to the above right – it is known as a sock.
We each have different ideas as to what is appealing, but whatever it may be for you, ensuring that you get a horse of the right type, breed and temperament, and whose energy requirements matches your own, is far more important than basing a decision on coat colour or markings.
It is generally recommended that those looking to acquire their first horse should consider an older equine – one that is in its late teens to early twenties – as these tend to be more reliable and will require less training. Most older horses that have no underlying health issues and have been well looked after are still able to enjoy regular recreational rides and will give those new to riding the opportunity to sharpen their skills.
Having honed their horse riding abilities, riders can then consider acquiring a younger steed, being in a better position to train and develop that horse and to have the eye and experience to spot a problem before it develops.
The added benefit in acquiring an older horse is that you will be giving it a new lease of life. Expert riders tend to work their horses every day and as a result generally prefer younger horses who can sustain such daily exertions, hence they will routinely swap out their older horses as they start to slow down. Sourcing a horse in this manner will give you the opportunity to meet with the previous owner, to learn from them about that horse’s individual requirements, as well as any quirks that it might have developed. Don’t be taken aback if the previous owner should enquire as to your own experience and motivation for getting a horse. After all, they should be just as keen to ensure that they are matching their beloved horse to its prospective new owner as you are about matching the horse to your needs.
© Callipso / courtesy of Shutterstock.com
The term ‘breed’ relates to a horse’s bloodline and the degree to which its true-breeding characteristics have been sustained over a number of generations. Those whose bloodlines have been recorded with a breed registry are deemed to be ‘purebred’. There are currently over 300 breeds of horses in the world, the most notable being the Arabian, the Thoroughbred, the Andalusian, the Morgan, the Clydesdale, and the Quarter Horse, to name but a few.
Horses are also defined according to ‘type’, which is divided between heavy horses, light horses, and ponies, and is based on their build. Heavy horses tend to have large bodies and short, stocky legs with big hooves, and their ears tend to be small in relation to their large heads. Light horses have narrow bodies, slim legs, and with their ears more in proportion to their slender heads. Finally, ponies have a deeper body compared to light horses and with shorter legs in relation to their height.
© natvatu, otsphoto, & Lenkadan / courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Finally, a distinction is made according to so-called ‘hot’, ‘cold’, and ‘warmbloods’,which is a way by which different breeds are grouped according to their temperament. Hotbloods are those lighter horses that tend to be more nervous or energetic than other equines. Coldbloods refer to the heavy draught horses of Europe, who tend to have a docile temperament and are easy to handle despite their great size and strength. Warmbloods were derived through the cross breeding of hotbloods with coldbloods in order to produce horses that were more athletic than coldbloods and yet calmer than their hot-blooded counterparts. They are used primarily for riding and driving, and because of their less flight disposition are generally preferred by the riding enthusiast. Warmbloods include many of the more popular breeds, such as the Cob, Mustang, and Hanoverian Horse.
Hotbloods are generally considered too flighty and nervous for novice riders, and so it would be advised to look to the warmbloods – eg the Cob, Morgan, and Quarter Horse – or draft crossbreeds – eg the Clydesdale, Shire, and Percheron – all of whom are more likely to be even-tempered and more forgiving.
Ponies – being as they are less than 152cm high – are particularly popular for children. The Welsh, Shetland, and Quarter Pony are all generally considered safe mounts, although in every instance it is recommended that the animal has been sufficiently trained before embarking on such activity.
Different types and breeds will affect the way in which a rider will sit and ride, owing to their distinct movements due to the length of their back in relation to the size of their gait. Riding a short-backed Cob will most likely result in a slight bounce in the saddle compared to a long-backed Thoroughbred, and forcing one’s body into a position to counteract this natural motion may set up tension between the horse and rider. It is therefore important to try out a range of mounts to see which best suits you before settling on a particular breed or type of horse.
Let’s first establish the correct terms for the sex and age of each horse, as there are quite a few. An intact male is referred to as a stallion, while a neutered male is called a gelding. A female horse is a mare, and her newborn is termed a foal. Thenceforth she is known as a dam to that foal (or its female parent). A young horse is referred to as a foal up to one year of age, after which the male is called a colt and the female a filly, and these terms are retained until the horse is three to four years of age. Confused yet?
A mare goes into estrus (or heat) monthly from Spring through to Fall, and this can occur every few weeks. During this time she may become sensitive and uncomfortable, and so display a bit of a stubborn streak. At this time, stallions may also require extra handling, especially if such a mare in estrus were to pass by. For these reasons, it is generally recommended that stallions and mares be the preserve of more experienced handlers, and that novices should only consider the more mild-mannered geldings, who even so may still retain some ‘studdish’ behaviour, the degree to which would be dependent on when they were castrated.
© Angela Luchianluc / courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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Horses can be sourced through a breeder, an auction house, from a shelter or animal rescue, or from an advert placed by its current owner or a vendor. Those that are inexperienced in horsemanship or who have never owned a horse should probably avoid the audition houses, where purchases are generally final and you won’t have an opportunity to take the horse out for a ride. Wherever you do source your horse from, it would be best to source locally so that you the opportunity for multiple visits. It will also allow you to do proper checks on references that should be provided. References that could be provided include that of a reputable equine vet, the local farrier, or the boarding stable where the horse is currently kept.
As previously stated, we would always recommend that you only consider a slightly older horse to begin with, certainly no younger than one in its late teens, as you will be giving him a new lease on life, with ample time to bond and share activities while not having to be burdened with regular training and development.
A horse’s teeth can be used as a good indicator of age. The cutting edge of a horse’s incisor teeth becomes worn down as it ages, revealing a different cross-section, which can help you age the horse up until around 8 years of age. The older the horse, the more angled its front teeth will be. When the horse reaches around 10 years of age, a dark or brownish groove known as Galvayne’s groove appears at the gum line in the upper corner incisor teeth, and gradually grows all the way down to the bottom, before it starts to disappear again from the top. The groove reaches about halfway down at 15 years of age, and all the way down at 20 years of age. By the age of 25 years of age, the groove will have retreated to the bottom half of the tooth and be completely gone by the time the horse reaches 30 years of age.
Galvayne’s groove does not always advance and retreat at equal measure for incisors on each side of the mouth, and so an average of the two should be taken to ascertain a horse’s true age. But be aware that this should only be used as a guide-line, for there are many factors – be they breed-related, dietary, or environmental – that may impact the development of a horse’s teeth.
When speaking to the owner or vendor, enquire as to how long the seller has owned the horse, why they are looking to sell him, and where they got him from. Confirm his type and breed status, whether he has been registered, or if he is eligible for registration. Finally, ensure that the seller is willing to provide a written and fully signed contract explaining in detail the circumstances under which the horse may be returned and that you are happy with those conditions. Next, we will cover in more detail the necessary questions to ask and what to look out for when you are selecting a horse.
You’ve looked in your local shelter or rescue group, visited a registered and reputable breeder, perhaps even approached a vendor or a private owner, and there’s one horse that has captured your eye, your heart, and your attention. So what steps can you take to gauge whether this particular animal is the right one for you?
In order to properly gauge a horse, you will need to visit him. This is especially so when trying to assess a horse’s social behaviour. You will want to spend some one-to-one time with him, not only in his stable but also while he is out in the pasture. Does he respect your space while being friendly and engaged, or does he constantly move away from you or show threatening behaviour? Remember to take your time with the first meet-and-greet, for it is this moment that will inform the direction of travel for all the moments to come.
You should ask for him to be both walked in-hand and ridden so that you can watch how he behaves in both situations, paying special attention to how he reacts to the rider as they mount and dismount. Observe how he responds to cues, and note what aids the handler employs to cue the horse. When you ask for the horse to be turned out and then returned to the stable, pay attention to how self-controlled the horse is to being taken to the paddock and how responsive he is to returning to his loose-box.
You should ask after the horse’s daily routine. How often is he taken out, and for how long? What training, if any, has he had, and how much of it is ongoing? Does he have any quirks or vices, especially in relation to people or other horses? How accepting is he of aids, especially the bit, and what type of bit is he used to? How well does he respond to grooming and farriering? Finally, does he exhibit any stereotypical behaviour, such as box-weaving or crib-biting?
Does he have any equine friends, and if so, where has he established himself within the herd? Is he assertive, even pushy, or is he submissive? Observe his interactions with those other horses, notice the energy of the herd, and reflect on the horses you may have already met at the stables that you should have by now decided will house your horse, and whether you can envisage this particular horse settling in amongst them.
When you make your initial enquiries, it is worth asking about the previous owners of the horse, the vaccination history, and confirm that it has a valid passport with all this information. Note any gaps in vaccinations or if the horse appears to have had numerous owners, and query these, for they may suggest a problem.
By the time you have gone to meet the horse in question, you will ideally have already got a positive reference from that horse’s vet as regards to both the owner and the horse in question. When you do travel out to see the horse, it is a good idea that you take along a trusted equine vet. This may be the same vet that gave you the reference, or it may be another that you plan to use once the purchase is complete.
This vet will perform a five-stage pre-purchase examination (PPE) on the horse, which is required in order to insure the horse for veterinary fees. A complete PPE can be quite expensive, so be sure to ask the vet to alert you of any minor issues straight away, so that you can make a decision at each stage of the examination as to whether you would want to continue or not. Ultimately, a horse will not ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ the examination, but any issues will be brought to your attention so that you might make an informed decision as to whether to proceed with the purchase.
You may save yourself both time and money if you plan two trips instead of one. Use your first visit to assess the horse’s behaviour and suitability and save the second meeting for the examination. This will give you time on your first visit to assess the horse’s conformation, which may give you a clue as to the animal’s fitness and any underlying health concerns. A horse that has good conformation will have both forelegs and hind legs that are vertical and straight, and the hocks should be in line with the back of the rump. If the hocks are either turned in or turned out, or too far under or behind the body, then this is a sign of bad conformation. Similarly, the horses toes should be neither turned in nor out (pigeon-toed vs splay-footed). Finally, the various parts of the horse should be in proportion, so the length of the neck, shoulder, torso, and hips should all be the same.
When you ask to watch the horse being taken in-hand and ridden, note its gait and look out for any signs that the horse is favouring a leg, showing stiffness, or carrying its weight unevenly. And while you will still want to have a proper dental check done, a quick look at the horse’s incisor teeth will show whether they meet or do not meet.
Ask after any health issues that the horse may have suffered or be still suffering. It may be as mild as an allergy or an ulcer, but it is still worth knowing in advance. Enquire as well as to whether the horse has been on or is currently on any medication.
If any of these aspects are a concern, then you may have just saved your equine vet a journey out and you the cost of an expensive PPE.
You should have already considered where your horse will be kept once you have made the purchase, so when you do go to visit a prospective steed, compare his current living conditions to the one that you will be providing. Explain to the current owner the place that you have secured and get their opinion. Do they agree that this particular horse will be happy and comfortable in such a setting? Factors to consider here include not only the size and type of stable but also the size and type of field that your horse will have access to, as well as whether he will have company or be more isolated. It also extends to where he will be exercised, what form that might take, and how frequently. Will he need to be hacked near to traffic or in an area that is frequented by dog walkers? Will he be ridden in a group or on his own? Is he expected to travel often in a horse box or trailer and, if so, is he happy to be loaded into one?
Finally, you should consider the current layout of his stable, the type of bedding he is used to, as well as what may be for him familiar sights, smells, and sounds. Consider how much of these can be transferred over to the stable you have secured to help ease him into his new surroundings and settle more quickly into his new home.
You’ve given careful consideration to getting a horse, you’ve selected the one that has captured your heart, and you’ve done the necessary checks. But what preparations should be in place for his arrival at his new home?
Aside from having a loose box at the stable prepared and a sufficiently large paddock space allocated for your horse’s three week period of isolation, you will need to have bought a number of essential items to take care of him straight away, namely:
These items should be separate from other equipment that may be used or have been used on other horses, so don’t rely on existing items at the stable or yard.
Give your horse time to adapt to his new surroundings before introducing him to other horses or turning him out into an existing herd. For more information how to manage such introductions, feel free to visit our page on ‘Horses and Other Pets’.
Other things to arrange upon your horse’s arrival:
As stated before, knowing the daily routine that your horse had at his previous home and being able to replicate that as much as possible will help him to settle in over the three weeks of being isolated from other equines at the stable or yard.