-Advice for the Middle Class Family on ‘To’ or ‘Not To’ Buy a Horse-
To write this blog, and have you truly take it to heart, I wish that I wasn’t a horse trainer or riding lesson instructor. Why? Because I am not writing it to make a profit off you. I want you to know, that I write this as a person who wants you to get the best value out of your money. I want the best experiences for each student and to keep them, and the horses safe and happy.
Why listen to me? Since I AM a horse trainer and riding instructor and have been involved with horses for 30 years (since I was 6), and I have seen a lot on the scale, from very bad, to amazingly good–of horse behavior, and people’s interactions with horses.
In this article, I am going to lay out checklists, on what might make your family ready for horse ownership. I will do this right after I drive my next, VERY IMPORTANT point home.
The MOST important thing for any horse loving kid (or adult) is EDUCATION. The very best competitors and trainers I know, are the ones who know that the learning is never, ever, EVER over with horses. There is no such thing as knowing everything you need to know.
Horses are humblers. Every horse, every situation, will teach you (or the rider in question), something new… and something about them as an individual, and about yourself.
Because of the size and strength (or lack thereof) of kids, in addition to their developing minds, fragile emotions, and their state of confidence, I do not recommend ever letting riding lessons stop, ever, even for a short time, if they are going to be around horses, until they are much older.
If you buy a horse, and the money you will use to take care of that horse means that you will have to cut lessons and professional training out, then please, keep reading… because I care about you not having a bad experience.
Like I said, I have seen a lot of things in my time. Kids are given a horse, they don’t continue in training or lessons, then they have something happen that causes injury or a serious shake up of confidence in both the horse and the kid. I have “fixed” many of these kids that have come back to lessons after such incidences.
THE BEST SCENARIO ON WHICH TO GET YOUR KID A HORSE:
- You have done at LEAST one year of CONSISTENT weekly lessons on lesson horses. See #1
- Student can tack up correctly and with well-rounded knowledge of being thorough and foster a healthy respect for ‘what could go wrong’. See #2
- You have bumped it up, and done 2x a week lessons or “lease rides”/partial lease with lessons, and you show up to the barn for those lessons without conflicts or stress from the other aspects of your life. See #3
- *You have enough funds to keep the horse in training and the kid in lessons.* See #4
Before you take another child into your family (horses are expensive), has your little horse lover proved their dedication to their lessons and their horses? Is it a struggle to get them to lessons? Are they respectful to the lesson horse, to their instructors and to the amount of work that goes into their lessons? How do weekly lessons fit into YOUR life? Easily? Or do they cause any stress? How are once a week lessons into your budget? Could you bump it up and afford 2-3x a week lessons? Could you fit 2-3x a week lessons into your schedule? If the answer to the last 2 questions is no, horse ownership should be on hold. See #3 for more information.
If they can’t tack up on their own due to height or strength or any other limitations, they will need help. If you, the parent, are the helper, how many horses have you tacked up? Do you have experience with a horse that might fight getting the bridle put on? Can you identify issues if the horse is responding in a way that is saying, “something is not right?” EVEN the most kid-friendly horse could instantly develop a problem with any process of being tacked up if something accidentally happens that causes the horse pain, or to be startled, or if they sense a lack of boundaries from a less-than-knowledgeable handler.
Who in your family has the height, skill, strength, knowledge and correct energy to help the horse get “back to normal”, should they start not being such a perfect kid horse? Or better yet, can you identify warning signs and help prevent these incidences from happening?
Horse ownership requires a very experienced and trained eye for prevention of mistakes as best as possible. If you have such experience, awesome! Own a horse. If you don’t, but you can afford to get your horse training, and your kid consistent lessons, then GREAT! Own a horse.
If you can’t, please rethink. I say this for the safety of horses, and of you, but mostly THE KIDS.
If you can’t easily afford 2x a week lessons (or more), then you can’t afford horse ownership. Trust me. It doesn’t matter if you found the cheapest board, or if you can keep the horse at your house, GOOD horse ownership costs a lot. GOOD kid horses/lesson horses don’t happen by chance. I have another post on this subject. To have them get all the nutrients they need for brain health and body health and comfort, and the farrier and vet routing appointments, keeping the worms out of their belly, making sure you get a saddle fitter for proper saddle fit, and have enough on hand for incidentals, it adds up!!
You might be thinking you don’t HAVE to do all these things for your horse—and you’re right. But not doing them increases the risk of accidents happening. I am here, with bluntness, to say: a kid-safe horse doesn’t remain kid-safe without consistent and continual effort to make/keep it that way with proper nutrition, care and training.
Time: I will do this simple. I will average to $500 a month to own a horse (without lessons), and with good care. It is usually much more than this, even at your house once you add it all up. It could be a little less if you have an “easy keeper” etc. So, these numbers are generously LOW for you. You could do your own math with your own numbers too.
$500 a month divided by 30 days (average amount of days per month) = $16.66 per day to own that horse, with no lessons. Super great deal if you can get to the barn every day. (Plus gas $ etc).
We are going to use this formula on how many days you can go ride/go to the barn.
If you can get to the barn 3x a week, your horse ownership comes to about $41.66 per time you get to see the horse. This number is approaching what lesson barns charge per lesson. And this is a 3x a week commitment to seeing your horse/riding your horse, without lessons still, and still with generously low numbers.
IF you can only see or ride your owned horse 2x a week, that is $63.33 per experience for you/your kid to ride that horse. Without a trainer, where crap can happen. This costs more than most lesson barns charge per lesson.
When you can look at it this way, I hope you are seeing that your money might be better spent in a lesson program, with experiences like camps, shows, etc in addition.
Full time board and training with lessons is $1,200/m with us for one horse. We also have clients that keep their horses at their home and report they average that the horse costs them $250 to $300 a month with feed and care, not counting incidentals, barn repair, manure removal, horse trailer ownership costs, etc. They haul in for once (or twice) a week lessons for $60 each. So that person is about $600-$700 a month per horse, again not including the costs of the farm and “extras”.
If this is easily doable for you, to own one and do superb care, and consistent training/lessons, (and you have the time) then you are ready.
If you need an example of a kid who spent their whole life in lessons… you can look right here! Me! (Leslie Cook)
My mother started me in lessons on lesson horses at age 6 in Arizona, and I remained riding there until age 10, always in lessons, never unsupervised. When I was 10, we moved to Washington, and they bought me a pony because we moved to our own farm. But they also signed me up for pony club, and we had instructors come to our barn. In Pony Club, you haul to lessons 2x a month, and do one unmounted lesson per month. It was still too much pony for me, and we ended up selling him to some friends, who did pony training (for $1,500 then bought him back for $5,000 a year later…. Good business there, friends! Lol… I am jealous.) Then I continued in pony club, summer camps and lessons with him.
I continued to do lessons at my mom’s show-trainer barn, on the horses in training, and on my parent’s horses. I worked at the trainer’s barn and other barns too (not for pay).
At the age of 12 I showed a 3-year-old horse my mom owned that was in full-time training. Also, at age 12, I upgraded my pony club horse to a full-size horse, and he also went to training and I showed him, and we did pony club.
At age 13 we moved to a big ranch where we lived until I was 25. The most horses we owned at one time was 50. We had several horses in full time training with the trainer, and at home, we had skilled workers.
Between the ages of 13 and 20, I drove to lessons at a show barn/professional trainer(s) (or was driven until I was 16) THREE times a week! No joke! Then, I rode practically every day at home, (and cleaned stalls, fed, etc.) Off and on I had a dressage instructor come to our home barn too.
Yes, I would ride on my own sometimes, without supervision—but it was ok. Why? Because I was in consistent lessons from ages 6 through 20 years old. And in the last 15 years, I have continued my education with horses.
Even with all the lessons—my childhood was not incident free. I’ll tell you what though, the “bigger” incidences I remember?? ALL of them were without an instructor or trainer present.
In conclusion, for the safety of your precious kiddo—unless $1,200/m (and more for tack, clothes, equipment, horse trailer, etc) is easily doable for you, or you have your own property and barn and can afford on site or haul-in training and lessons, I HIGHLY recommend putting the money you want to put towards horses, into lessons, leases, camps, clinics, etc. We haven’t even added horse shows into this budget!
I promise you, your kiddo will get more out of it than owning a horse and having to cut training and education/lessons.
Let the lesson programs do the training and care of the horses. You will both be supporting the lesson program and their horses (make sure you find a high-quality program), and you will be supporting your kid’s safety and positive horse experiences. If you can spare more expense towards horses, add more lessons per week, sign up for camps, clinics and classes, talk about partial leasing and get involved with horse shows!
Let’s break it down one more time.
Let’s say you did 2x a week lessons for an average of $400/m, and then did clinics, classes, etc for an average of $100/m. There is your $500 a month you’d be putting toward horse ownership right there! And to be realistic, that is about the same amount of time you’d be spending actually working or riding your horse anyway. Yes, horse ownership does have its responsibility teaching advantages. But first, see how you, the parent, and your student, first cope with the responsibilities given in the lessons, and through the lesson program first.
With lessons, your dollars are going toward supervised education. These are horses, of course, so incidences will (not might) still happen. But, instinctually—I know you know—that the risk of accidents increases dramatically w/o an experienced person overseeing the horse and the student. If you don’t know this, then I need to teach you about how horses are essentially overgrown rabbits with the “fight or flight” instinct well attuned!
Did I scare you? I honestly hope so, because I do it with love. My life mission is to create as many safe, happy, knowledgeable equestrians AND horses as I can.
Ps, I’m not against anyone owning a horse. I am only against it if you can’t afford lessons and training and premium care with it.
If you can afford ownership, WITH training and lessons and all the extras, then let’s go shopping! Haha.