Want a Pet Horse? Four Things to Think About First

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Horses are big, beautiful animals with so much soul. They are great companions and healers, and the wild ones are one of the few remaining “wild west” icons. But… are they a good pet for you? There are some really important things to think about first.

With the National Western Stock Show coming to a close this weekend, it got me thinking about horse ownership basics. This post covers the important things “first-time horse buyers” need to consider to make educated decisions when choosing a horse as a family pet.

I was lucky enough to snag an interview with Carey Beacom, third year vet student at Colorado State University (CSU). She works at the CSU Vet Teaching Hospital in Equine Emergency and Critical Care, is a  horse owner and boards her six horses, as well as client horses, on her eight acres in Ault, Colorado.

Where to Get A Horse

When you are looking for a horse it’s best to start by asking yourself what kind of horse you want — a performance horse, an occasional rider or a “pasture pal”, which Beacom explains is a companion animal for another horse or overall pasture grazer you can pet.

“People can get horses at the stock show, through private ads, at barns, breeders or rescue centers like Colorado Horse Rescue  or the Harmony Equine Center.  It all depends on how you want to use the horse and the amount of training and care you want to devote to them,” says Beacom.

“It’s important for people to keep in mind that horses at rescue centers are not broken. They work daily with trainers and the rescue makes sure they are people-friendly before adopting them out,” Beacom adds.

What to Look for and Ask the Seller

Quarter horses are a common breed and a good bet for a first-timer, but the horse you choose should be based on very personal criteria.

  • How does the horse feel to you?
  • Is it friendly, skittish or difficult to handle?
  • Is it hard to get the horse to come back in from the pasture?
  • How old is the horse?
  • Does the animal have a clear health history?

Beacom pointed out that if you are a first-timer, be honest and tell the seller or rescue center that up front. Then you can visit with specific horses you like to get a better feel for a good connection. Spending time brushing and cleaning them, riding them and taking them around an arena or pasture a handful of times will help you get a better sense if a horse is someone you are ready to add to your family.

“If you are thinking of buying a pony for your child, remember that they will outgrow the pony in size and maybe skill. Kids can ride regular horses safely, and it’s a better long-term investment.”

Also take time to consider your own needs and how you want to connect with your horse. “It’s important to exercise and interact with your horse regularly, which can range from every day to 1 – 2 times a week, depending on the relationship you want to build with them. If you just trot them once and a while and groom them, or turn them out to pasture for 6 months, you can’t and expect them to behave perfectly, says Beacom.

Costs Related to Maintaining a Horse

Some of the most basic costs related to caring for a horse start with it’s feed. Hay fluctuates in price by region and can be more expensive in drought years. “You can buy hay from a private dealer, feed store or at a hay auction,” says Beacom. “There is an auction on the last Saturday of every month at Centennial Livesock, and Greeley and Brush have their own as well.”

If you have a performance horse or a breeding horse, there is an added expense for special feed and grain. A feed specifically formulated for the life stage can be pretty pricey at $15-30 bucks for a 50 lb bag, and a horse eats 5 lbs. a day.

Add to that the boarding costs which can range from $200 on the super low end where you basically rent a horse stall and do all the horse care yourself, to $1200 a month where you can have someone feed, brush, care for, turn out or exercise your horse. These are the two extremes — there are many places that provide a range of partial care options, which is a combination of services. It just depends on the horse boarder you choose, so it’s a good idea to do your research and be clear on your budget.

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Horse Health Care

“Colic is one of the most common challenges with horses because of their very delicate “one-way” digestive system”, says Beacom. “Colic is a syndrome, which means it’s more of a collection of symptoms, similar to a headache in humans. There can be many causes for the headache and a few different successful treatments, but there is no one defined way to prevent them.”

Horses can develop colic if they did not drink enough water when eating and are unable to digest the hay, or if they develop tumors that twist off blood supply (which is common in older horses).

“Due to the fact horses are unable to vomit, it’s critical to call a vet immediately to assess the situation. “Sometimes we can treat colic with a tube up the nose, through the throat to the stomach so that the contents can drain. If not, the stomach ruptures and the horse does not recover. That’s why calling a vet is so important; it’s hard to tell how serious the colic is and the best course of action,” says Beacom.

Other common health problems with horses are lacerations on the body or eyes from fencing as well as obesity, which is becoming more common because horses stand in a pen or the pasture and eat all day with little exercise.

“There are plenty of resources for potential horse owners to educate themselves on all the details  involved in their care, as well as choosing a vet you really trust to care for your horse regularly. Don’t take the decision lightly; they are big expensive animals, and we already have a bit of a problem with unwanted horses, so of course, spay and neuter!” adds Beacom.

Photos courtesy of Colorado Horse Rescue 

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