Sunday, May 15, 2011

ASK THE EQUINIST: Real Costs of Horse Ownership

In this new series, readers can write to me with their horse-related questions, and I will do my darndest to provide a solid answer, either from my own lifetime of experience or research I have conducted for veterinary-reviewed articles. If I don't have an answer, I will utilize my world-wide network of expert contacts to try to get one for you. To contact me, click on the link that says "THE EQUINIST" under where it says "About Me" on the lower left side of the main page, and you will find another link that says "email me".

Question: “Pony too Pricey?” My 9 yr. old daughter is “horse crazy”, and I kind of like the idea of getting her a pony. My wife, however, insists that the pony would cost too much. What are the real costs involved in keeping a pony?

- Stan G., TX

Answer: Well, Stan -- the best horse-themed t-shirt I ever saw required no words: it was simply a picture of a horse standing on top of a pile of money, eating it! As a horse owner myself, I can tell you that horse ownership is not for the faint of finance. You either need a reasonable amount of disposable income to play with (without your wife leaving you because she’d rather reno the kitchen), a wealthy husband (probably not going to work for you either, Stan) or you must be prepared to sacrifice just about everything else to the “needs of the nag” (my personal method, though I’m still aiming for the second one!). The initial cost of the horse or pony can range from free to tens of thousands of dollars, but for a kid-safe pony that isn’t at death’s door, you should expect to pay $1,000-$3,000 – more if you want a fancy show pony. It’s not uncommon for a proven A-circuit pony to sell in the $20,000 range – yeah, some kids are that spoiled.

If you have to board the pony, you’ll be looking at an average of $350.00 a month for full feed and care, although that can vary considerably depending on what kind of facilities are available. Some places allow you to do some or all of the care yourself, which can save you money if you have the time. Even if you’re keeping the pony at home, you will still have feed costs, the cost of tack (saddle, bridle, etc.), blankets, shoeing, regular veterinary care, deworming, training, riding attire for your daughter, and so on. Home horse care also means extra costs for maintaining your property – (fencing, footing, etc.) Overall, one can easily spend $300-500 a month or more for everything involved – and that’s not even thinking about a major veterinary emergency or the costs involved in showing, should your little princess want to do that. There is also the fact that no horse or pony should be kept alone (they are herd animals and keeping one alone is like putting a human in an isolation chamber), so if there aren’t other horses that your pony could at least see, your backyard may not be a viable option.

All that said, I know many parents who would say that the “value” of a horse or pony in their child’s life far outweighs the costs. Riding and caring for horses is a healthy, wholesome activity that provides many physical, social and developmental benefits for children – and can go a great way towards keeping them out of trouble. Better a daughter who is horse crazy than boy crazy, right? So, although your wife is right that having a pony ain’t cheap, it is worth considering all there is to gain. Whether you decide to buy a pony or not, a good start would be to get your daughter some lessons at a local riding school first. A good school will give her the skills and confidence to someday handle a pony or horse of her own, and when she’s a little older, she may even be able to work off the cost of her lessons. Your local 4H club is another good option for getting your daughter involved with horses without necessarily taking the plunge into immediate ownership. If you do decide to purchase, get the help of a professional to help you make the right choice. Good luck!