Bulletin #1004, Equine Facts: Guide to First-Time Horse Ownership

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teen girl with horse; photo by Edwin Remsberg, USDA

By Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Adapted from “First Time” Horse Ownership: Selecting Horses and Budgeting Horse Interests, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service publication F-4004 – Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, David W. Freeman, Oklahoma Extension equine specialist, Odell L. Walker, professor emeritus, agricultural economics, and Bobby Joe Johnson, unit Extension agriculture agent.

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Before buying a horse for the first time, you should consider the following questions:

  • What type of horse will best meet your needs?
  • Where can you buy a horse?
  • How are you going to take care of the horse’s daily needs?
  • What type of supplies will you need?
  • What are the expected costs of keeping a horse?

Like most situations, knowledgeable answers to these and other questions come from research and experience. Some of the more universal decisions to be made have to do with the selection of a horse, location of housing, and how to budget for the costs of horse ownership.

Selecting a Horse

Selecting a horse requires prospective owners to identify their intended horse use, to be able to evaluate horse value, and to be familiar with the different outlets for horse purchase. People own horses for a variety of hobby- and business-related reasons. When surveyed, horse owners indicate several reasons for owning a horse for a hobby, including

  • pleasure and enjoyment,
  • a desire to compete in horse events, and
  • participation in youth development projects.

Your reason for wanting a horse will be the initial guide in determining what type of horse will best meet your needs.

Identifying Horse Uses: Before buying, define the types of activities in which you want to become involved. Common horse activities indicated by Maine horse owners include

  • pleasure riding,
  • therapeutic riding,
  • participating in horse shows,
  • farming or logging work,
  • breeding, and
  • harness racing.

It is advisable to attend different horse-related activities and observe the requirements for participation. Interacting with horse owners at these activities will help you meet others with similar interests and therefore help you enjoy your horse. This interaction will also clarify which attributes enable a horse to excel in an activity and may provide a source of horses to buy.

A red barn and pasture with two horses in the background, a yearling horse stretching it's head over a fence.
Horse farm with yearling at the fence. Photo: Donna Coffin, UMaine Extension.

Evaluating Horse Value

Matching up your interests with the necessary attributes of a horse will make your choices clearer. A horse’s attributes result from its physical ability, natural instinct, and behavior developed through training. You may want a horse that safely rides through trails. Others may desire a horse trained for a particular event at horse shows.

A horse’s value is usually a combination of its pedigree, build or “conformation,” and ability to complete desired tasks. Pedigree indicates selective breeding for desired traits (for example, some pedigrees suggest a genetic potential for pulling, speed or cutting ability). Strong genetic lines for a desired trait or performance increase horse value, so expect to pay more for the horse if the trait is important to you or the seller. Likewise, certain physical traits are important for show and use. As a result, you can expect to pay more for horses with conformation desirable for an intended purpose. A horse’s ability to perform desired tasks (its training and behavior) usually affects value more than pedigree or conformation. Expect to pay more for a horse already trained to complete a task than one that will require time and expense to reach that point.

Above all, realize that current supply and demand drive the horse market, and what is important to you is probably important to others. High demand and low supply increase horse value. Identifying needs and evaluating a horse’s ability to meet those needs will guard against spending money on needless attributes, or on a horse that does not have the characteristics most important to you.

Sources of Purchase:

Your best chance of finding a nice beginner’s mount is from a private individual who may be attending college, has lost interest in horses, or is ready for a more challenging mount. These animals are usually advertised by word of mouth, on bulletin boards in tack shops, in County 4-H offices, in local newspapers, but most often on Internet websites. Check all of these sources and ask your equestrian friends to keep their eyes and ears open.

A very popular method of buying and selling horses is on the Internet. There are many popular websites which allow you to search for horses of a certain breed, age, location, discipline, price range, etc. There, you can view a horse’s photos, basic information and description, and often even a video of the horse being ridden. Just remember that not all sellers are completely honest about their horses; never buy a horse sight-unseen from the Internet.

Reputable breeders and trainers are other good sources for obtaining a horse, because most build their reputation by word of mouth and repeat customers. They usually keep their animals in good condition, deal in purebred stock, and have excellent knowledge of the horse’s history. Prices may be higher, but to the novice the extra dollars spent initially are well worth it. Here you may be able to take a horse on trial, but before you do, get all of the conditions of the trial on paper.

Horse auctions are widespread but very risky. This is a place for a trained eye, and even then finding a nice horse may be questionable. It is very difficult to try a horse and examine it at an auction, and often little is known about its past history, personality, or health records. If you decide to attend an auction, take along a professional horse person.

Horse dealers are another source of purchase. Many are honest and try to match the right horse with the right person. Not all, however, are scrupulous. Unless the dealer has a good reputation, gives a money-back guarantee, or has exchange policies, the novice buyer is advised to look elsewhere.

Decisions on Caring and Housing

Horses are cared for under many different management styles. Some are housed in barns or stables on a full-time basis, whereas others are managed continuously in pastures. As a prospective owner, one of the first decisions to make is where to house the horse. Many owners have the ability to house and care for a horse where they live, whether it be in suburban-type housing, with small acreages zoned for horse use, or large agricultural acreages. On-site housing has many advantages related to the convenience of daily horse care and use. This is especially important for those owning horses as part of a youth development project.

Many new owners stable their horses at a commercial facility. Stables provide a variety of services that ease the daily chore of horse care. Also, stabling facilities have the advantage of increased interaction with other owners. Facilities at stables may allow for more horse use than is available with on-site housing (such as a covered arena for use during inclement weather), and many stables have organized horse activities for those boarding horses.

How and where the horse care is provided will have a large impact on the needs for equipment and facilities. This also will affect daily operation costs, such as feed, veterinary care, and farrier services.

A red horse barn with turnout paddocks.
Small red horse barn with turnout paddocks. Photo: Donna Coffin, UMaine Extension

Budgeting for the Expense of Horse Ownership

Prospective owners should acquaint themselves with the associated costs of horse ownership before buying, so they can maximize the net benefits sought from horse ownership. The types of costs will vary because of the diversity of horse uses and ways horses are managed. Also, many owners do not include the cost of buying land, because they want to own land regardless of horse interest.

A survey of horse owners in Maine was used to develop a comparison of costs based on stabling, to provide estimates of hobby horse ownership costs. Consider the explanation of the estimated costs when analyzing the cost sheet, because individual values and types of expenses will vary. For example, this particular expense sheet estimates costs for a one-horse operation, based on the costs indicated by survey participants who use their horse for hobby interests, and stable the horse at home, or at a stable for a fee. Owning more than one horse will usually lower the cost per horse, because of the shared facility and equipment costs.

Ownership costs result from owning machinery, equipment, and the horse, and include cash expenses such as insurance, taxes, and interest on borrowed capital. Ownership costs also include allocated costs—costs that are spread over time—such as depreciation and opportunity cost on capital, but these are not included in this chart. Opportunity cost refers to the lost returns from alternative uses of money spent for horse ownership. Many owners do not consider opportunity cost in horse budgets, but they can amount to a huge investment in the horse ownership hobby.

The values presented in this budget are useful in obtaining an estimated average cost of hobby-horse ownership. However, large ranges in costs of individual items are expected for different horse owners. The blank lines in the last column provide space to indicate your individual values. Also, additions or deletions to the list will individualize the budget and make it more applicable to your situation.

Horse Ownership: Costs to Consider

  • Market Value of the Horse. The initial cost of the horse can vary from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the pedigree, condition, and level of training. The average cost of a horse used by the hobby-horse owners in the survey was $3,000. This is a one-time cost.
  • Board. Boarding facilities can vary from pasture only board to full-service stall boarding with the daily turn-out for exercise. Some facilities may offer reduced rates if you feed and clean your own horse’s stall. Many boarding facilities have indoor riding arenas to provide boarders a place to ride their animals in inclement weather. Costs vary according to location, services offered and availability of indoor arena. Some facilities may charge extra for grain.
  • Feed:
    • Grain Mix. The daily grain portion of the ration can be estimated at 0.5 percent of the horse’s body weight per day. A larger horse, a horse used for breeding or a horse performing a high-level activity would require more grain, whereas a smaller horse or a horse receiving nutrients from other sources, such as a pasture, would require less. The price of grain should be adjusted to fit your situation.
    • Grass Hay. The daily hay portion is estimated at 1.5 percent of the horse’s body weight. Adjusting the amount of hay means that the amount of grain would also need to be adjusted. Also, there are several types of hay differing in crude protein and energy levels, which affect the total amount of grain necessary for maintenance, production, and activity. Again, the availability of pasture would reduce hay requirement.
    • Salt and Minerals. Salt and minerals can be supplied by two five-pound blocks per year. There are numerous sources of minerals, vitamins, and supplements used for horses at a wide range of costs. Many commercially prepared grain mixes contain large amounts of supplemental minerals and vitamins. This input item depends largely on horse owner preference.
  • Health Care. Owner-administered health care should include two of four annually-scheduled dewormings with a commercially available dewormer, and medicines to treat minor wounds. Non-injury health care administered by a veterinarian should include the remaining two annual dewormings; vaccinations for encephalomyelitis, tetanus, and rabies; a Coggins test every three years and health certificates as needed. As with other categories, the amount spent on health care varies among horse owners, depending on the frequency of scheduled exams, deworming, and vaccinations. Breeding incurs much higher vet services for pre-breeding checks, pregnancy checks, additional vaccinations, and post-natal care. Emergency veterinary care can cause a significant increase in the costs associated with this category.
  • Farrier. Farrier costs for the hobby horse operation vary greatly but at a minimum include trimming the horse every eight weeks. Farrier practices may substitute shoeing the horse with resetting the shoes, which reduces the cost because new horseshoes are not used. Periodic trimming is much less costly than shoeing, and the need for shoeing verses trimming will depend on owner preference and the type and location of activity.
  • Bedding. Stall bedding costs vary with different bedding sources and quantity used. Boarding stables may charge if additional bedding is needed or wanted for your horse.
  • Equipment. Costs for equipment vary for individual horse owners but generally will include the purchase and repair of tack, as well as equipment associated with grooming, feeding, and cleaning (brushes, buckets, forks, etc.).
  • Other Expenses. Other possible costs may be associated with lessons and training, showing, and supplies such as magazines, special clothing purchases, and expendables.
  • Other costs to consider:
    • Ownership costs. The initial expense of the horse, land, barn, and other equipment represents a sizable investment. In addition, on-going annual costs of ownership include insurance, taxes, and interest on borrowed capital for the horse, barn, land, and other capital items. These costs vary greatly and should be estimated by the horse owner to get an accurate cost of horse ownership.
    • Operating costs. These include repair and maintenance costs for the barn, fences, and other equipment used in horse ownership. Pasture expenses can include the cost of fence repair and maintenance, mowing, fertilizing, liming, and watering facilities. Horse-related utilities, including water, heating, and electricity, are difficult for hobby horse owners to estimate. But it must be noted that there is a cost for running lights, electric fence chargers, tub water heaters, and the like that the homeowner would not incur if they did not own a horse.

Summary and Conclusions

Most people own horses for hobby interests related to family and youth development, enhancement of the quality of life, or recreation. Several practices will help increase your enjoyment of horse ownership:

  • Before buying a horse, research the horse market and the types of horse uses with which you may want to become involved.
  • Budget the cost of housing and care before buying a horse.
  • Maintain accurate records of costs and make adjustments to maximize the amount of pleasure received from the money spent for horse ownership.
  • The cost of horse ownership can be regulated by understanding the needs of the horse and selecting products that most efficiently meet those needs.
  • Cooperative Extension publications and programs, veterinarians, other horse owners, and local libraries are good sources for information about the proper care and use of horses.

Costs to Keep a Horse

  Average Cost
Median Cost
My Cost
Hay* and grain** $1,211 $1,000  
Pasture Maintenance $194 $194  
Veterinary and Medicine $485 $300  
Farrier*** $350 $350  
Bedding $275 $125  
Building Maintenance $1,169 $200  
Training $192 $250  
$3,876 $2,419  
* Hay for 1100 pound horse at 1.5 pounds per cwt per day for 9 months (on pasture the other 3 months)
** Grain for 1100 pound horse at 0.5 pounds per cwt per day
*** Farrier costs for trim only: $50Cost estimates from 2012 survey of Maine equine owners. Survey of 82 horse owners who owned a total of 470 horses.
Average number of horses was 6 per person.
Median number of horses was 3 per person.
Median number of horses is the level at which half the people have fewer horses and half have more horses.
Feed costs (hay & grain) since this survey was done have increased by 35% to 80%. So the average costs would range from $5238 to $6898 and the median costs would range from $3269 to $4305 per horse per year.

Hobby Horse Ownership: Comparison of Costs Based on Stabling
(1100 pound HORSE – light work)

Other Costs to Consider My Costs
Initial Ownership Costs
Annual Ownership Costs
Annual Operating Costs
Repair and Maintenance  
Pasture Maintenance  
Lime and Fertilizer  

Malinowski, K., Tips on Buying Your First Horse, 2012, Rutgers, NJ

Cost of Horse Ownership, 2020, eXtension

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

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