One Equine at a time!
Getting a Horse
By Ann Pawlak
Getting a horse can be one of the most exciting times in your life. You’re fulfilling a dream. . .gaining a companion. . .expanding your horizons. . .starting an adventure. Getting a horse will change your life.
The worst way to get a horse is to remember how much fun you had riding horses at camp or your grandparents’ place, see a photo or video on the internet, fall in love, visit the horse, fall more in love when it lets you lead it around and pet it, write a check to pay for it, and then realize you have no way to take it home and no place to keep it. People aren’t always rational about getting a horse.
It isn’t fair to a horse if you buy or adopt it and then discover you can’t afford to care for it, can’t spend time with it, or lose interest.
- An average horse suitable for trail riding is likely to cost $2,500 to $5,000 if you purchase it or $750 to $1,500 if you adopt from Bluebonnet.
- Boarding your horse at a “full care” stable that provides feed and bedding, cleans stalls, and turns horses out in a pasture each day might cost $9,000 to $12,000/year. Routine farrier and veterinarian costs add another $500/year. If you board at a “self-care stable” ($2,000-$3,500/year) or keep your horse at home, hay and grain may cost $2,000 – $3,000/year. Wood shavings for stall bedding might cost another $1,000/year.
- If you don’t have a saddle, saddle pad and bridle (“tack”), basic, good quality items might cost $1,500-$3,000.
- Plan on spending at least an hour each time you visit your horse – plus time and energy driving to and from the stable if you board your horse. Visiting once a week isn’t enough to establish a good relationship and give your horse the exercise and companionship it needs. You will be strangers. Plan at least three or four visits each week. People who keep their horse at home often discover that doing chores (feeding, cleaning stalls, buying and unloading hay and bedding, meeting the farrier and veterinarian, making repairs) leaves them little time to actually spend with their horse.
- In the beginning, when the horse is new, you’ll be excited and look forward to seeing it. But people have busy lives. At the end of the day, it’s easy to find a reason – the weather, feeling tired, spending time with family, watching a sports event, shopping, cleaning house, mowing the lawn, doing homework – to postpone seeing a horse. Eventually, people realize they haven’t seen their horse for a week or a few weeks or even a month. Then they discover selling a horse is a lot harder than buying one.
A typical healthy, well-cared for horse can live twenty or more years. Some fortunate horses stay with the same family for most of their lives. Others have several different owners. For example, some very well-trained, reliable horses teach a series of beginners to ride, passing from one good home to another when their family is ready for a horse with different skills or training.
Deciding Whether to Have a Horse
Waking up Saturday morning and saying to yourself “I’ve always wanted a horse. I think I’ll buy one today.” Is a really bad way to decide to get a horse. If the only experience you (or your child, if you’re considering buying a horse for a child) has with horses is a few guided trail rides at a resort or a few riding lessons as a teenager, you probably don’t know enough about horses to safely own one. The best way to learn about horses (and yourself) is to take riding lessons from a professional instructor or trainer. If you can’t afford riding lessons or don’t think you have time for them, you don’t have enough money and/or time to have a horse. Use the lessons to discover what you like to do with horses – for example: trail ride, compete in shows, ride in parades, jump, do dressage or reining patterns – and whether you enjoy being around horse-people. Your lesson instructor/trainer will tell you when you’ve learned enough so you can start looking for a horse of your own.
If you’re still taking lessons and enjoying horses after a year, consider beginning to set aside money so you can gradually buy tack. Gradually buying it means you won’t have to “break the bank” when you finally have your own horse.
Finding and Buying or Adopting a Horse
Finding available horses is easy. There always are horses for sale. If you’ve been taking lessons from a trainer or instructor, he/she often will know about suitable available horses. Several websites specialize in advertising horses for sellers willing to provide a description of the horse and pay a fee to list it. Social media sites like Craigslist advertise horses for sale. Tractor Supply and local feed store bulletin boards display horse-for-sale ads. Bluebonnet’s website (www.bluebonnetequine.org) always has information about adoptable rescue horses. When reading advertisements, remember “buyer beware” – sellers may focus on a horse’s positive characteristics and avoid mentioning bad habits and problems.
Finding the right horse is harder. Getting a horse sight unseen is a really bad idea. Getting a horse only because it’s your favorite color is an equally bad idea. If you find an advertisement for a horse you like, contact the seller or Bluebonnet’s adoption coordinator and get as much information about the horse as you can: age, sex, height, health, training, temperament, how long the seller/Bluebonnet has owned the horse, what the horse has been used for, who has been riding it, does it stand tied and for the farrier, how does it react to dogs and children and traffic? Brainstorm all your questions, write them down so you don’t forget them, and ask them all. Sellers may not volunteer information. Unless you ask a direct, specific question, a seller can’t be blamed for failing to disclose bad habits and chronic problems like lameness.
If, based on the conversation, the horse seems to be a possibility, schedule a visit. Suggestions:
- Take a friend with you who can video the horse and observe things you might miss. Review the video several times to notice how quickly and willingly the horse responds when asked to do something and whether it looks calm, personable and intelligent. If you’re considering an untrained horse or if you’re not confident you can evaluate a horse’s training, take a trainer along to provide a professional opinion.
- If you want a riding horse, ask the seller or foster to ride it at the walk, trot and canter/lope before you try riding it. While the horse is moving, watch for potential problems—for example, whether it moves unevenly (might be slightly lame), flips its tail (might be in pain or uncomfortable with the gait), is slow to start or stop or turn when asked (not well-trained; resisting), or puts its nose in the air or pulls on the reins (doesn’t like the bit; fights with its rider). If you have any doubts about your ability to ride the horse, don’t try to ride it and don’t buy/adopt it unless you’re willing to pay to have it professionally trained to suit your riding level.
- If you want a riding horse and already have a saddle, take your saddle with you and ask to use it when you ride. A horse’s back and shoulders can be narrow, average or wide and from shoulders to tail its back can be short, average or long. A poorly fitting saddle can pinch or rub on a horse’s shoulders or back, which might make the horse move away from you when you try to get on or – worst case – make it buck or rear when you sit on the saddle. If your saddle doesn’t fit the horse, you must decide whether to get the horse and buy a new saddle or look for another horse.
- If the horse is comfortable with the bridle and bit when the seller rides it, consider asking whether the seller will include them in the purchase price. Signs that a horse is uncomfortable with a bridle or bit include constantly tossing its head, putting its nose in the air, opening its mouth and pulling on the reins, grinding its teeth, wringing its tongue, or tucking its chin near its chest. Having a familiar bridle might make the horse more comfortable and confident and will save you the effort required to find something similar. If you don’t buy the bridle, take photos of it—especially the bit—to help you find something as much like it as possible.
- When you visit the horse, make sure you do everything that you will be doing if you buy/adopt it. Start by catching it in the pasture, haltering it and leading it around. If you can’t catch, halter and lead a horse, it’s the wrong horse for you. If you arrive and the horse is standing tied and saddled, be skeptical. The seller could be doing you a favor by having the horse ready to ride or could be hiding the fact that you will have to spend a lot of time trying to catch and saddle it. Ask the horse to lift each foot and hold it up while you count slowly to ten. If the horse doesn’t cooperate, you are going to have trouble taking care of its feet, and your farrier may refuse to work with it or charge more. If you don’t know how to or are afraid to check its feet, you need more experience before getting your own horse. Watch how the horse reacts to being saddled. If it flinches or moves away when you put the saddle on and tighten the cinch/girth, it may have a sore back. If the horse locks its teeth or sticks its nose in the air and won’t immediately take the bit in its mouth, consider whether it might have problems with its teeth or have been handled wrong. Then decide whether you can afford possibly expensive dental work and whether you have the knowledge and patience to work with the horse to help it become easier to bridle.
- Many trainers recommend looking at a horse three times to see how it behaves in different situations while you get to know each other. For the first appointment, you might ride in a small round pen (corral) where you and the horse feel safe. For the second visit, try riding in an arena where you have more room to see how the horse responds when you ask it to back, stop, turn and move forward at the walk, trot, and canter/lope. Galloping or running an unfamiliar horse can be dangerous for both you and the horse. If sellers encourage you to “make the horse go fast” or allow you to do that, you should be concerned about how responsible and knowledgeable they really are. Finally, on the third trip, if a large paddock or pasture is available, try riding where both you and the horse must feel confident and trust each other. Being patient through three visits can be hard when you really want the horse. Tell yourself that, if someone buys the horse before your last visit, you probably weren’t meant to have it.
- If the seller/foster has a horse trailer, ask to see the horse load and stand tied in the trailer. If the horse doesn’t load easily and stand quietly, you are going to have trouble taking it home and transporting it to activities like trail rides and shows. If you don’t have a horse trailer, ask whether the seller/foster will transport your horse to where you will be keeping it and offer to pay mileage costs. (Having your own horse trailer is tempting. Ideally you need a ¾ ton truck to tow one. If you have a suitable truck, you might pay $2,500 for a used trailer in reasonable condition or at least $5,000 for a new one.)
- If the seller says your horse is registered (has its name and bloodline recorded with its breed’s association), confirm you will get the registration papers and the seller will transfer ownership when you buy the horse. In the rare instances when Bluebonnet does receive papers for rescued horses, we transfer the papers to the adopter after two years if the adopter has passed all inspections.
- Paying a veterinarian to do a pre-purchase exam could save you a lot of money later. Even horses being sold by reputable people can have problems no one was aware of.
Adopting a Horse from Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society
Bluebonnet’s website (www.bluebonnetequine.org) always has information about adoptable rescue horses. Every October in Austin, Bluebonnet hosts a Rescue Horse Expo and Training Challenge. Usually at least twenty-five horses are available there for people to meet, try and possibly adopt. Adopters especially appreciate the bargain offered by the dozen or more horses that have received three months of professional training before competing in the Challenge.
The courts grant Bluebonnet legal ownership of surrendered, abandoned, neglected and abused horses so their previous owners can’t reclaim them. All rescued horses live in foster homes instead of being kept in a central shelter because Bluebonnet believes rescued horses benefit greatly from at-home attention.
Bluebonnet receives little or no information about a horse when it comes into rescue. After horses complete the rehabilitation process and are healthy, they may be evaluated by a professional trainer or an experienced foster home to determine their level of training and possible uses. Almost all rescue horses arrive with little or no training and, after they are adopted, are likely to require professional training ($600-$900/month) to become suitable for people with limited horse experience. If people are looking for a “reining horse” or a “kids’ horse,” Bluebonnet cannot guarantee that a horse is or eventually will be what they want. We represent each horse as honestly and accurately as possible given our experience with it.
To adopt a horse, you first must become a Bluebonnet member and complete an adoption application that includes information about your experience with horses and how you will care for the horse. After your application is approved, you will work with our adoption coordinator to identify a suitable horse. The coordinator will talk with you about your interests and experience, suggest possible horses, arrange for you to visit horses in their foster home, and follow up with you after each visit.
Bluebonnet’s adoption fees – typically $400 to $2,000 – are based on a horse’s age, health, level of training, and future potential. Sometimes, during the first months after adopters take a horse home, they discover the horse isn’t what they expected or they aren’t as interested in horses as they thought they were. In these situations, Bluebonnet takes the horse back and refunds the adoption fee. If people want another horse, Bluebonnet’s adoption coordinator will work with them to find a more suitable one.
When you adopt a Bluebonnet horse, you agree not to breed it if it’s a mare and not to sell it. Adopters agree to regular inspections during the first two years and to provide follow-up information thereafter to reassure Bluebonnet that their adopted horses are in good condition. Bluebonnet can legally reclaim adopted horses found to be neglected or abused. If you find you no longer can keep your adopted horse, you can surrender it to Bluebonnet, and we will find it another good home.
Bluebonnet’s goal is to match the right horse with the right person so they both enjoy many happy years together.