Blog By Nikki Alvin-Smith
There’s no question that fallout from the Covid pandemic has precipitated many lifestyle changes. People from all walks of life have had time to re-evaluate their priorities and take a reflective glance at how far they’ve come, where they are now and where they want to go in the future.
In the horse world, ‘Women of a Certain Age’ are embracing the spirit of Equus and all that horse ownership offers. And why not! So many ladies put aside their childhood passion for horses as they matured out of their teenage years to enter the workforce or college, embark upon family life and follow career paths.
For many women the opportunity to own their own horse as a child or young adult was never more than a dream, hampered by lack of money and/or support from family.
As a seasoned dressage clinician, I have always strongly embraced the vintage rider and admired their plucky plunge into the equestrian endeavor. Whether it is an older gentleman that is picking up the sport after life at a desk job and is a neophyte rider, or a lady who put down the reins to manage children and now seeks to fulfill her childhood dream to ride at advanced levels of dressage and compete, or the many riders in-between, I welcome all with a special interest and compassion.
Not everyone has been as lucky as I have and met and married a man that shared their passion for horses (although actually when we met neither of us had any idea through several weeks that we were both riders! But that’s another story). I have been blessed with the joy of owning a farm full of horses for many years. It is a brilliant experience. So, when you have the opportunity and wherewithal to follow your heart into the wonderful world of horses in later years, I say, go for it.
There are a few factors it is smart to consider before you take the plunge into horse ownership, some more self-evident than others. In the excitement and keen anticipation of owning a horse after waiting many years to realize the dream, it is all too easy to overlook the real life implications. So here are a few tips to keep you on track. As you’ve probably learned in life, there are always unexpected bumps in the road, but navigating your route successfully can be much aided by having a road map.
Backyard horse keeping requires safe and secure fencing, decent pasture for grazing, a permanent shelter of some sort, a water supply, and hay/feed supply storage space. And of course, you’ll need the funds to provide all the above.
These capital improvements to your property may raise your insurance costs but they also improve your property value.
One of the most budget-friendly and fastest ways to secure shelter for your horse(s) are the modular and prefab options of run-in sheds and shed rows. These buildings can be delivered and set up on a suitable level site with minimal, if any, need for site preparation. Run-in sheds with tow hooks also have the advantage of being mobile. A useful factor if you wish to move them later.
Ask about warranties, obtain a timeline for delivery and a ‘to the penny’ quote inclusive of set up and delivery charges. An option to buy from structures in stock can save both time and money. Larger construction companies commonly offer financing. A great advantage if you want to get started on your dream of keeping a horse in your backyard sooner rather than later and would like to spread the expenses over time.
Whatever type of barn you prefer it is wise to educate yourself beforehand as to where it is best to site the barn on your property and plan for possible expansion needs. Don’t be shy to ask for advice from the construction company. Their guidance can be invaluable in helping keep you on budget. They can provide advice on low maintenance material options and suggestions for stall sizes and all manner of other details that you might otherwise overlook.
You should also make provision for hay and feed storage needs. While tack and equipment may be stored in your house or garage, hay takes up a lot of room and attracts rodents. It is best stored in a dry space well protected from inclement weather. How to recognize and resource good quality horse hay and learning about how to safely store it is also something well worth researching.
Don’t forget to check out if permits from the town zoning board are needed for buildings and fences and if livestock keeping is allowed on the acreage you have available. Modular construction companies will be able to provide you with any building plans you might need for a nominal fee.
Fencing should be safe and secure. Do not use barbed wire. Horses and barbed wire do not mix and life-threatening injuries may result. The cheapest option may be electric wire but also be aware many horses do not respect electric wire especially if they panic due to events like thunderstorms, neighborhood dogs chasing them or simply become overly excited over an overhead drone or passing hot air balloon.
There are plenty of resources online to advise on types of fencing suitable for horses and a bit of research can save you from making a poor decision that may result in extra costs later.
I learned this the hard way. When my husband and I fenced our first field on our first farm, we used landscape ties and 1’’ x 6” boards due to budget constraints. The boards were fine, but the landscape tie posts rotted out in two years. I’ve also had horses gallop through electric fences, jump over low fences and roll out of paddocks underneath boards placed to high. Don’t be like Nicola!
A fresh water supply is of course essential for all livestock. A tank in the field will need to be regularly cleaned and refreshed. A hose pipe from the house water service may suffice for the purpose in the short term. Though in winter in colder climes you’ll need to add an electric extension off a GFCI outlet to service a tank heater to keep the water from freezing and empty the hose of water after refilling the tank. Eventually you’ll probably want to bury a water and electric service underground to the barn, and add a frost free faucet nearby to the paddock.
Horses Aren’t Cheap To Own!
It’s important to be realistic about the direct expenses of horse ownership. Horses cost money and you need to manage their expenses much as you would any household budget.
Here are a few set up expenses to consider outside of the capital start-up costs:
- Farrier and vet fees including annual vaccination costs.
- Transport costs if you plan to show and showing costs.
- Tack and equipment for horseback riding including blankets, boots, bridle, bit, saddle, halter, rope and grooming kit. Many items can be purchased cheaply on Ebay or similar sites. Be especially careful that the saddle fits both you and the horse properly and consult a saddle fitter if necessary. Similarly the bit and bridle must be appropriate for the horse’s training, and for the hands of the rider. And don’t forget the rider needs stuff too! Half inch heeled riding boots, chaps or britches, safety helmet (a must have, please protect your noggin), and gloves are all part of the equestrian wardrobe.
Don’t Make The Biggest Mistake Of All
The romance of owning your own horse can go from an exciting, joyful experience to a miserable, scary one in the blink of an eye. It is essential that you buy a suitable horse for your experience and riding level and also one that is up to the task you expect it to complete. Be realistic about your own riding skill set and don’t be led astray by others. If you don’t feel comfortable with the horse, are at all intimidated either on the ground or in the saddle, don’t buy it.
A lifelong friend of mine who also happens to be a vet and an advanced rider with whom I have shared many horse buying adventures both here in the U.S. and abroad once said to me,
"You never regret the horses you don’t buy." This is so true and a good mantra to remember.
Don’t make the common mistake and take the first rescue horse you fall in love with just because it is cheap or free. Do your homework and definitely spend the extra on a basic pre-purchase vetting of the horse. This will save much heartache later. Remember no horse is truly ‘free’ of cost.
Betcha Can’t Have Just One ~ Well I Hope Not Anyway..
Horses are herd animals and need company to thrive. A donkey, miniature horse or even goat will suffice (though you may want to pasture it separately to prevent it from chewing your horse’s mane and tail), if you don’t want the cost of keeping a 2nd adult horse.
Freshen Up Your Horsemanship Skills
If you are re-entering the world of horses after a lay-off consider taking a few lessons to get you back in the saddle. Just like riding a bicycle you don’t forget how to ride, and a few lessons will set you on the right track minimizing fear and bad riding habits.
The more practice you get in before you buy a new horse the wider your choice of suitable horses will be when it comes time to purchase, and the better you will know if a particular equine is the best partner for you.
It Is Never Too Late
One of my personal favorite quotes, credited to the famed author T.S. Elliot is, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” I truly believe this to be true and encourage all ‘ persons of a certain age’ to take up their horse ownership and join the rest of us horse crazy people.
There is nothing crazy to me about bringing a horse home to your backyard and enjoying its presence, regardless of whether a pet and companion, or a performance or trail horse for riding or driving.
I would only urge, please don’t buy just one and follow a few simple steps to ensure the success of your new adventure. For a more social sporting activity, keep the horse at livery and enjoy the camaraderie that a well-run boarding barn can offer with similar minded individuals that cross generations.