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The Cost Of Horse Ownership

By Jeffrey Rolo

The cost of owning a horse goes far beyond the initial purchase price, yet too many people place their focus on that initial expense and give no thought about the rest until it's too late. When you purchase a house you look far beyond the down payment you'll be expected to put forth; you also look at the monthly costs of the mortgage as well as other necessary living experiences. Only after these expenses are calculated can you safely determine whether you can afford the home, right? It's important that you put forth the same due diligence when isolating the true cost of owning a horse.

Whether you purchase a horse for $500.00 or $5,000.00 one thing will remain true: if you keep your horse for many years you will ultimately spend far more for his living expenses than you laid out for the purchase price.

Let's start breaking down the costs of horse ownership:

Stabling Fees:

One of the primary costs for horse owners is the monthly stabling fee. If you own your own farm or a large lot of land then you can bypass this expense, but unfortunately the majority of us don't have that luxury.

So how much does stabling cost? Monthly stabling fees will vary widely depending on the part of the country you reside as well as the stable premises. Expect to pay far more for stables near urban areas than you will for stables located in the boondocks. Stables with handy amenities such as indoor riding arenas will also cost significantly more than basic stables that provide nothing more than food and shelter.

With the above in mind, stabling fees can range anywhere from $200.00 to $500.00+ per month. So let's purposely calculate stabling fees for the lower end:

$250.00 x 12 months = $3,000.00

Ouch, we're already up to $3,000.00 per year for stable fees and we haven't even looked at our other expenses. The above calculation assumes adequate hay and feed will be provided to your horse and that his stall will be cleaned out daily. Make sure you understand the terms of service for each stable you investigate, though, because many stables will either require you to feed and clean your horse (called "rough board") or charge you extra for those services.

And remember that $250.00 is a very reasonable price, so depending on your location you may very well pay more than $6000.00 ($500.00 per month) on stabling fees.

Food Costs:

If you are stabling your horse and the cost of food is included in their monthly rates you can ignore this expense, but if you are considering keeping the horse at your own place you will need to consider the costs of food.

Horses should consume approximately half a bale (20 lbs) of hay daily, though this number can be increased or decreased depending on your horse's size and access to grazing pastures throughout the day. Going with the standard of half a bale each day, you're looking at approximately 183 bales of hay each year. The cost of hay can vary again depending on your location, but generally it will be between $2.00 to $3.00 per bale, so let's assume a cost of $2.50:

183 bales x $2.50 = $457.50

In addition most horses should receive some form of grain, so let's assume you provide your horse just 3 pounds of sweet feed daily. A 50-pound bag of Blue Seal Pacer usually costs between $7.50 to $8.00, so let's assume a low cost of $7.50. 3 pounds daily would be 1095 pounds each year, which equals about 22 bags of Pacer.

22 bags x $7.50 = 165.00

And keep in mind we purposely calculated a below average price and quantity of daily sweet feed intake. Most owners will pay slightly more for their grain and feed 4-5 pounds daily between breakfast and dinner.

So adding together the minimal hay and grain expenses above we have a total of $622.50 yearly for food, not including any food supplements you may wish to provide your horse.

Bedding / Shavings Expenses:

Unless you can make your own, you will pay $4.00 to $5.00 per bag for the bedding that will be placed within your horse's stall. The good news is if you clean the stall daily (preferably more than once) one bag can last a week before requiring a replacement.

So if we assume one bag per week at a cost of $4.50 then your approximate yearly bedding expense will be $234.00.

This expense is sometimes included as part of the monthly stabling fees.

Veterinarian And Farrier Expenses

Two significant costs of owning a horse are veterinarian and farrier (blacksmith) expenses. If your horse remains perfectly healthy then yearly vet expenses will generally run you around $300.00 for immunizations, the vet call fee, teeth floating, etc. That's not too bad all things considered, but if your horse colics or falls ill then you can quickly see medical fees in excess of $500.00 or $1,000.00 just for that one isolated incident.

Farrier expenses are a little more predictable. If you plan to keep your horse unshod the average cost of a foot trimming will normally run around $25.00 to $30.00. The rate at which your horse requires his feet to be trimmed will vary depending on his natural hoof condition, activity levels and atmosphere. Assume he will need to be trimmed at least 4 times each year, totaling $100.00 annually for farrier expenses at $25.00 a trim.

If you decide to shoe your horse you will find the expenses far higher; the average cost for shoeing runs about $80.00. Shod horses should also be checked at least once every other month.

So assuming you pass on shoeing your horse and meet up with no unforeseen medical problems, the combined veterinarian and farrier costs will run around $400.00 annually. Add shoes or stumble across an unforeseen medical problem and the cost can jump much higher to well over $1,000.00.

And that's not all!

There are quite a few other miscellaneous costs that will come up should you decide to purchase a horse, such as quarterly de-wormers, horse toys, tack, etc. Try to ensure you will have enough money on-hand that should an unforeseen expense come up you can easily address it.

The approximate expenses within this article were intended to give you a brief overview of the cost of horse ownership assuming the best circumstances. Your actual costs may slip in even lower or far higher depending on location and how much of the above you can provide yourself.

A horse is a serious investment, so the cost of owning a horse should never be underestimated or overlooked. That being said, if you can afford a horse I truly doubt it's an investment you'll ever regret making.

2009 Update:

This article was originally written years ago, and recently a reader brought to my attention that average prices for grain and shavings in her region are about double my quotes, and hay over there is almost 6 times my hay quote.  I'd first like to thank her for letting me know what the average prices are in her neck of the woods (surprisingly higher than mine), and then clarify to you all that the numbers above should be taken VERY conservatively.  Over the years most of my quotes are still within the ballpark for my region and suppliers (give or take $0.50 - $1.00), but prices do creep upwards each year, and prices are very regionally dependent, to the point where it may cost you almost double for day-to-day supplies that it costs me.

So use this article as a basic outline regarding the cost of owning a horse, but don't take it as gospel.  Do your own price research by calling local farmers and horse supply distributors.

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