No matter where you are in your life, buying your first horse will always be an exciting adventure. For most equestrians, it’s a childhood dream come true, after all. Unless you were one of the lucky few who got to own a horse growing up, in which case I envy you deeply.
Whether you’re just starting with horses or already have some experience, horse ownership will always be a learning curve. If you’re well prepared, this will be a beautiful new chapter in your life. On the other hand, if you dive in headfirst without doing your research, you might’ve just signed up for your worst nightmare.
Luckily, we have compiled a useful list that will help you avoid going down that road. There’s a lot to consider when buying your first horse, so get comfortable!
Here are the 10 most common mistakes first-time horse owners make!
1. Buying an Unsuitable Horse
When it comes to choosing your first horse, you’ll probably have an ideal steed in mind. A tall, handsome black stallion or a high-spirited Arabian with a canter to die for. However, unless you already have a few years of experience under your belt, these types of horses are probably not for you.
There’s an endless list of things to consider when picking out your first horse, but it can all be boiled down to three essentials. These are your experience, your goals, and your budget. Keep these in mind while browsing through horses in your area, and you’re already off to a good start.
Let’s look at a couple of examples. If you’re still learning to ride but would like to compete in the future, a well-trained all-rounder is your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re an experienced rider with a specific goal in mind, a younger horse bred for that purpose will suit you.
But don’t worry, your first horse doesn’t necessarily have to be your last. Once you are confident in the saddle and ready to move it up a notch, no one will stop you from switching to another mount.
Also read: 10 Best Horse Breeds for First Time Owners
2. Not Having Money Put Aside For Unplanned Expenses
Owning a horse is a luxury, at least in this day and age. Unless you have your own land and facilities, you’ll have to pay for your horse’s board, tack, grooming kit, feed, bedding, veterinary and farrier visits, etc. The list goes on.
Depending on the boarding stable you’re at, your horse’s expenses will range from a couple hundred to over a thousand dollars a month. If you’re on a low budget, choose a stable where your horse can live outdoors all year round. This type of horse-keeping requires the least amount of financial and time commitment.
Keep in mind that these are only your horse’s basic expenses. If you’re planning to go to horse shows or your horse gets an injury, you can expect to pay several times the basic cost. Horses are notorious for getting in trouble or falling ill all of a sudden, so consider opening a savings account just in case.
3. Not Insuring Yourself and the Horse
Speaking of unexpected events, having a good equine insurance plan for your new horse is paramount. Not only because a major surgery would drain most of your savings, but also because you need to be liable for any harm your horse causes to others. Public liability insurance is the absolute minimum coverage you should have as claims could go up to the millions.
With most insurance companies, you can tailor your coverage to your needs. The price will vary greatly depending on the activities you’re planning to do with your horse. Generally, more comprehensive insurance will cost more, but you’ll have greater protection.
Make sure to do your research and shop around when choosing an insurance company. It’s a good idea to consult with others and find out what’s worked for them. However, remember that everyone’s case is different, and the same plan might not be right for you.
Lastly, don’t forget about yourself. Horse riding is an extreme sport, and no matter how well-trained your horse is, they are still unpredictable animals. Make sure your health insurance policy won’t let you down if something happens.
4. Poor Time Management
Unless you can pay someone to take care of your horse, owning a horse will be time-consuming. Forget about a buzzing social life or sleeping in until noon every day if you’re serious about buying a horse!
Even if your horse lives out all year, you’ll still need to check on him most days to make sure everything’s okay. If you’re feeding your horse meals, you’ll need to deliver those around the same time every day. A horse’s stomach is susceptible to even slight changes in the feeding schedule, and behavioral problems can also develop.
Domestic horses have limited space available to them; therefore, they need regular exercise. It is a good idea to design a timetable for your horse that also fits your schedule. If you’re a beginner rider, you’ll also need to attend lessons besides exercising your horse.
First-time horse owners often forget that buying a horse will cause major changes to their daily routines. Good time management is therefore essential to make sure your new equine is not getting overlooked.
5. Not Knowing Basic Horse Care
Basic horse care doesn’t only involve grooming your horse and picking out his hooves before you ride. It also means brushing up on topics like nutrition, hoof care, equine body language, and how to spot signs of pain and discomfort.
Unless you keep your horse in light work, you’ll probably need to supplement his forage diet with high-energy feed. These come in many different forms, from complete feeds to grain and sugar beet pulp. Your veterinarian or nutritionist can help you design a feeding program that’s right for your horse.
Regardless of your horse’s age or the type of work you do, his feet will have to be trimmed regularly. If you’re planning to shoe your horse, you’ll need to have the farrier out at 6 to 8 week intervals. But there’s also a lot you can do to keep your horse’s feet healthy.
If your horse is standing around a lot in a constantly wet or muddy environment, there’s a high chance he will develop thrush. Thrush is an infection of the frog of the horse’s foot that can become very painful. There are many different types of oils and hoof dressings that you can apply to the hoof to keep the moisture out. You can also use these treatments in arid environments to keep moisture in and prevent the hoof from cracking up.
Finally, it’s crucial to monitor your horse’s behavior constantly. Knowing what’s normal and what isn’t can be extremely helpful in spotting early signs of pain or disease. So make sure you put time aside to learn your horse’s body language!
6. Neglecting Yours and the Horse’s Safety
When being around horses, safety should be your number one priority. Horses are unpredictable and large animals whose hooves and teeth can cause serious damage to you, even if by accident.
When you book your first riding lesson, the first thing your instructor will tell you is to invest in the appropriate clothing. As a bare minimum, you’ll need an ASTM/SEI-approved helmet, although most riding schools can lend you one.
Your footwear should also have heels to prevent your feet from sliding through the stirrups. Besides that, wearing long trousers and sleeves is also a good idea if you hit the ground. You should also consider choosing steel-toe boots as your everyday footwear around horses to protect your toes from injury.
Once you’ve taken all the safety precautions for yourself, it’s time to think about your horse. Make sure his field and stable are free of sharp protruding objects, that the fence line is secure, and there’s nothing poisonous your horse might ingest.
It is also good practice to check all your horse’s tack fits and is in good condition regularly. Any damaged tack or safety equipment should be replaced immediately before they cause harm to the horse or rider.
First Aid Kit
Ideally, you should have a first aid kit for both you and your horse on the premises. Knowing basic first aid and how to respond to emergencies can be life-saving in the event of an accident. Take the time to learn equine first aid and how you can help your horse in different situations before the vet arrives.
In case you’re wondering what you need in you horse’s first aid kit, here’s a list to help you out:
- A waterproof, portable box/bag for your items
- A waterproof headlamp
- A rectal thermometer
- A stethoscope
- Disposable vinyl gloves
- Duct tape
- Bandage scissors
- A wire cutter
- A Stanley knife
- Instant ice packs
- A twitch
- A syringe
- A large towel
- Saline solution
- Wound spray/cream
- Non-stick wound dressing
- Alcohol swabs
- Vet wrap
- Gauze bandage rolls
- A sterile cotton roll
- Vet’s phone number
For an extensive guide on equine first aid, check out these series of articles on The Horse.com.
7. Not Keeping Records
This ties into the concluding remark of the previous section, talking about the importance of monitoring your horse. Keeping records helps you be on top of things and assist your veterinarian when making a diagnosis.
So what should you keep records of? Well, everything really. You can start a journal about your horse’s exercise routine, feeding schedule, vet and farrier visits, or yearly vaccination and deworming program. These are all handy things to take note of, yet very few horse owners ever do.
You should also perform a health check on your horse at least once or twice a week and record your observations somewhere. A health check involves things like looking for wounds or sores, taking your horse’s temperature, heart rate, listening for gut sounds, or checking for lameness.
It might sound daunting at first, but you don’t have to be a vet to perform a basic health check. The video below is a step-by-step guide of how I do my horse’s routine health check that you might find useful:
8. Saving Money on Basic Vet Care
Most boarding stables worldwide require their horses to be vaccinated against tetanus. Requirements for other vaccines such as Rabies, Equine Influenza, Equine Encephalomyelitis, or West Nile Not Insuring Yourself and the Horseirus are region-dependent. Most of these diseases are life-threatening, and not giving your horse the necessary protection is bargaining with his health.
Deworming is another aspect of your horse’s basic health care. Many stables have an annual deworming schedule that is mandatory for all horses. They usually deworm all horses in the spring and fall unless your horse has a low worm burden.
You should also arrange a routine physical examination and yearly or biannual dental checkups with your vet. These are all basic expenses that you should calculate into your budget for owning a horse.
9. Ignoring Good Advice
As equestrians, we tend to believe that we are the only ones who know what’s best for our horses. And while it’s good to be confident in your knowledge, others might still have useful insights that could help you and your horse. Maybe they’ve dealt with the same problem before and only mean well suggesting you try a different approach.
So try to keep an open mind, especially when it comes to more experienced horse owners. Even if you have more background knowledge about horses, they have been in the horse-keeping business for much longer. So as a first-time horse owner, don’t be shy to ask for help instead of learning everything the hard way.
10. Having Unrealistic Expectations
Lastly, another common mistake first-time horse owners make is expecting too much of their horses. Let’s admit it, who doesn’t dream of transforming their horses into a head-turning superstar?
Unless you are a complete beginner, you’re going to buy your first horse with a goal in mind. And while nothing is impossible with the right amount of dedication, patience, and hard work, that project pony might initially decide he’s not having any of it.
When training a horse to do anything, the best approach is to leave all your agenda at the gate. But that is a whole other article. Long story short, allow your new horse plenty of time to settle in and get familiar with his new life. Don’t ask for too much too soon, and you’ve already made the first step towards a rewarding partnership.