How to Afford a Horse as a Teen
Saving for a Horse
Saving for a horse takes determination and many hours of hard work. Simply ask my grandmother, who fell in love with horses when she was 10 years old. When she asked her father if she could have a horse, he laughed, and told her that if she saved up enough money to buy a horse, she could have one. She babysat for 25 cents an hour, which was the going rate in the 1950s, and saved up $300-- enough to by a horse! Luckily, my great grandfather was a man true to his word, and took her to see several horses before they brought home a beautiful pinto mare named Gypsy.
Horses sell for thousands of dollars, and the cost of a horse's care and maintenance can be astronomical ($11,080-$50,800 or more) for most families' budgets. As a teen, what can you do to convince your parents that you are responsible and dedicated enough to afford a horse?
If you are interested in owning a horse of your own you work hard to save the necessary funds to afford the horse and learn how to care for the horse.
In order to learn how to care for a horse, attend a horse back riding camp, and take horse back riding lessons. I also recommend that you apply for a job working at a stable and join 4-H group or Pony Club.
Horse Back Riding Camp
If you haven't already, spend a week during the summer at a local horse back riding camp. At camp you'll
- ride regularly,
- get a taste of daily barn chores (depending on what camp you attend),
- and learn some very basic horse handling skill and knowledge.
If you enjoyed an entire week immersed in the equine world, ask the barn manager about taking lessons at the barn.
If camp is too expensive, look into not-for-profit organizations that might give you some financial aid for camps or lessons, such as City to Saddle.
Just Taking Lessons vs. Owning Your Own Horse
Horse Back Riding Classes
Before you even consider buying a horse of your own, take lessons at a local horseback riding stable.
You should consider working at the barn in exchange for lesson credit. This will
- make your lessons much more affordable,
- give you invaluable experience working with horses,
- and help you form connections with knowledgeable equine professionals.
Where and When to Look for a Horse
Now that you have some knowledge and experience caring for and riding horses, you may want to start looking for your own horse and equipment.
Never look for a horse completely on your own-- always ask your instructor for advice, and if you have gone to visit a horse and are considering buying it, ask your instructor to come with you and watch you ride and interact with the horse. Your instructor's input is invaluable!
- Start by looking at equine specific classifieds sites like dreamhorse.com.
- Ask around to see if your instructor or barn manager knows of any horses for sale.
- Don't be afraid to travel a few hours to see a horse that you are interested in.
The best time to buy a new horse is in the fall. Horses are usually cheaper in the fall because it is more expensive to keep a horse during the winter. The person selling the horse has more incentive to sell the horse at a cheaper price before winter comes.
Where to Buy Horse Equipment
Tack and other necessary equipment can be almost as expensive as the horse itself! However, quality tack is important, and you should never use ill-fitting or unsafe tack just because it was free or cheap.
- You can often find second hand tack from friends and tack sales. Make sure that it has been well cared for, and it fits you and your horse.
- You can find almost anything on Amazon and eBay. Amazon usually has great prices, but when you buy things online, you don't have the opportunity to try things on for size.
- You local tack store is a wonderful resource. Make sure you go in and ask questions about products, sit in the saddles, and try on your helmet. Not all tack shops offer the best prices, but they do offer an invaluable service.
- Every year, at the Big E in Massachusetts, is the Equine Affaire, where many vendors from all over the country compete to sell you their product. I have found great deals on horse blankets, saddles, bridles, show clothes, and anything else you can imagine. And, it's a ton of fun!
Where to Keep Your Horse
The most cost effective way to keep a horse is to keep him on your own property. However, this is not an option for most people. A horse needs
- a sturdy shelter
- and an acre of fenced turnout.
The shelter and fence alone requires a significant start up cost, which is why most people board their horses at a nearby stable.
The price of board varies considerably-- from $250 - $1,200 or more per month.
Factors which affect the price of board:
- Indoor Riding Arena-- Barn with an indoor riding arena is almost automatically a few hundred dollars more expensive than surrounding barns.
- Quality of Care and Reputation-- Some barns are managed better, and some are run by people who have more experience and knowledge. Your horse is worth a lot to you, so choose carefully in whose care you place him.
- Quality of Turnout-- Because land is expensive, many barns have small, muddy, or rocky pastures. Few barns have spacious grassy fields.
Depending on your location, you may have many barns to choose from, or only a few. Make sure that you are completely comfortable with the care your horse will receive, and that the general atmosphere of the barn is friendly. The barn is where you will be spending a lot of your time, so you should be able to stand the other people who are there!
How to Save on Board
Full Board/Rough Board-- Full board usually includes hay, grain, stall, and full barn chores, (morning and evening meals, blanket swaps, night check, mucking stalls, and turnout). Rough board is significantly cheaper because you split the barn chores, and in some cases, provide your own hay and grain.
Full Turnout-- Some barns may give you the option of full turnout, which means that your horse lives in a pasture, with a three sided shelter instead of a stall. Many people believe that horses should be on full turnout all the time, and it's a good way to drastically lower the cost of board.
Alternatives to Owning Your Own Horse
If you are not prepared to put the initial investment into a horse of your own, but have some money that you are ready to put into a horse that you can ride regularly, you may want to lease a horse. In order to lease a horse, you pay the owner of the horse a set price per month to ride the horse, and you also take on some, or all of the horse's expenses. There are several options:
Full Lease-- A full lease usually means that you have full time access to the horse, and that you pay most or all of the horse's expenses. You may be able to keep the horse on your own property in a full lease situation.
Half Lease-- In a half lease, you and the owner share the horse and his expenses. You would also negotiate which days each person had access to the horse.
Leases are an affordable alternative to owning your own horse, but it can be unreliable, and in most cases, you should only plan to lease for the short term. Not only is it sometimes stressful to have to answer to someone else, but since you do not own the horse, the owner could break the lease at any time and you could be unexpectedly without a horse.
"Free" Horses: The Hidden Cost
There are many "free" horses on the market. Especially in the fall/winter months, you will see many ads for horses and ponies "free to a good home." However, if you have any aspirations of riding the horse, you will save time, money, and heartache if you take the time to mine the market for a reasonable price on a safe, sound riding horse. A free horse almost always has health and/or lameness issues, which can be incredibly costly to treat.
Never buy a horse from an auction unless you, or someone you trust, are an experienced equine professional. Though many horses at auction sell for a cheap price, it comes at the cost of enormous risk. Unlike most private sale situations, where you can ride the horse several times and have your vet perform a health check on the horse before you buy him, auctions present a stressful environment for you and the horse, with little time for bonding and decision making.
- Dealers at an auction often know next to nothing about the horse's history, training, and personality.
- Unfortunately, many horses are drugged to appear calmer and more cooperative than they actually are.
- Horses that end up at auctions often have a shady history, or are older with health and/or lameness issues.
The substantial costs of a lame horse are not nearly as high as the potential costs of a poorly trained, abused, or extremely dominant horse. A horse that rears, kicks, bites, or bucks, could cause you serious physical harm.
Where Does the Money Come From?
So far, I only given you examples of how to make buying and keeping a horse more affordable, and suggested that you save up some money to invest in a horse. But where, as a teenager can you get enough money for a horse?
In reality, your parents will need to help you pay for the horse. Even if you save up enough to buy the horse, the expense of owning a horse is much more than the initial investment. And even if you have a job that makes decent money, you need to spend a fair amount of time caring for and riding your horse, which takes away from time that you could be working. If your parents can't or won't contribute, and you are serious about owning your own horse, I have collected some practical and useful websites below.