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The Cost of Owning a Horse: Upfront and Annual Expenses

Horses are incredible, and owning a horse can be a very enjoyable experience for both the owner and the animal. You could be looking to compete in events, such as endurance riding competitions. Or perhaps you’re a rancher, and need another horse to add to your roster. You might even just be looking for a horse you can ride on backcountry trails.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to be properly prepared to care for and accommodate this majestic creature prior to its arrival. A horse comes with a whole set of expenses unique to the animal. To properly care for your steed and give it the life it deserves, you’ll need to make room in your personal budget.  

The best, most loving horse owners are well-equipped to care for the horse’s needs. Read on to find out how much money you’ll need to purchase, stable and care for your steed.

How Much Does it Cost to Buy a Horse?

The sale price of a horse varies dramatically based on a number of factors, including breed, age, sex, training level, size, and temperament. At an auction in Virginia, the average selling price for a quarter horse was $3,382. At the 2018 All American Quarter Horse Congress (the largest single-breed horse show in the world) Super Sale, the average price for a horse was $8,567.81. Meanwhile, for a racehorse, several different breeders fetched wildly different average prices for their yearlings in 2014 and 2015 — Keeneland fetched $276,375, and Ocala Breeders’ Sales fetched $39,722; however, there were racehorses that went for as little as $1,000.        

A quick look at The Horse, an equine healthcare website with a classified section, reveals horses priced as low as $650 as of this writing, with one retired racer priced at $1, meaning there’s no adoption fee — however, the latter racehorse is unsuited for riding. If you’re interested in buying a horse for humanitarian purposes — you want to give it a good home and let it live out its days in comfort and peace — there are off-the-track-thoroughbreds (OTTB) that come with minimal to no adoption fee attached. These horses are typically unsuited for riding, but look hard enough and there’s a chance you’ll find one that will ride or show. If you’re looking for a horse to ride, expect prices upwards of $500.

Whatever the case, the upfront cost to buy a horse shouldn’t be your primary financial consideration. Because horses can easily live well into their 20s, the cost of owning a horse year over year should be your main concern. To calculate this cost, you’ll need to consider equipment, feed, boarding, vet expenses, land, stable, and activities, all of which we’ll cover below.  

What Do You Need for a Horse? Basic Equipment and Expenses

Some people keep horses as companions, or “pets,” but the cost of owning a horse is far higher than the cost of owning a dog. Indeed, equine ownership is a unique experience. Between grooming, feeding, and veterinary visits, you’ll find that, while rewarding, caring for these animals requires a particular level of knowledge, care, and preparation — even if you’re simply stabling a horse for “pet” purposes, you’ll need equipment you wouldn’t need for any other kind of pet.  

Horse Grooming Supplies

Horse grooming is essential to equine health and well-being. The grooming process starts with currying, which requires a curry brush or mitt to bring dust and dandruff to the surface of the horse’s coat for removal.

Next, you’ll need a stiff body brush to remove dirt and return the horse’s hair to its regular position. Then, a soft brush will remove remaining dirt and bring oil to the surface. You’ll need a pick for cleaning the hooves. You can use a Sarvis curry or a specific type of comb for the mane and tail. Optionally, use a pulling comb to shorten the mane and tail, as well as fly repellent spray during fly season.

Furthermore, when you want to wash and clean the horse you’ll need a water brush, sponge, sweat scraper, and hoof oil and brush.

Cost of supplies:

  • Sarvis curry: $1.95 to $5.49;
  • Stiff brush: $8.32 to $14.95;
  • Soft brush: $4.95 to $19.95;
  • Water brush: $14.99;
  • Sponge: $3.70 to $6.88;
  • Hoof pick: $1.60 to $19.95;
  • Mane and tail comb: $7.75;
  • Mane and tail pulling rake: $15.80 to $32.89;
  • Sweat scraper: $2.99 to $5.99;
  • Hoof brush: $5;
  • Hoof oil: $24.95;
  • Fly repellent: $11.95 to $17.95.

Minimum average cost: $103.95  

Horse Feed and Water

The right horse feed and enough water are extremely important for keeping a horse healthy. According to the US Humane Society, when it comes to feed, “The bulk of a horse’s calories should always come from roughage.” That means pasture with plenty of grass or hay in the stable stall. You can feed grain/oats, but keep it minimal. Additionally, horses need salt to meet their daily sodium and chloride requirements.

A full-grown horse should eat about 15-20 pounds of hay per day, or 1.5 to 3 percent of its body weight if it weighs around 1,000 or more pounds. However, if your horse is working hard, or if it’s a big draft breed, it may need up to 30 or more pounds of hay daily. On top of that, horses need a salt lick that can provide about 1-2 ounces of salt per day. Finally, when it comes to water, your horse will need 5 to 10 gallons of fresh water per day, meaning you’ll need a trough if they’re stabled, or you’ll need to dam a creek in a pasture.

Annual cost of supplies:

Hay: At minimum, you’ll need 5,475 pounds of hay per year for a full-grown horse. The Internet Hay Exchange currently lists the price of a ton of non-alfalfa hay at $143.87 per ton. At minimum, for nothing but the cheapest hay, you’ll spend nearly $394 per year.

Salt: Currently on Amazon you find a 4.4 pound salt block for $7.79. You’ll need about 5.5 of these to fulfill the minimum salt requirement, meaning your minimum salt spend is $46.74 per year.  

Water: Water costs vary state-to-state, so check the commercial water rates per gallon in your region. As for a water tank, you can find one for $37 to $70.

Minimum cost per year: $477.74 + water bill

Horse Boarding

Whether you own a home or you’re renting, housing a horse can be costly. If you own a home, you might not have enough land for a stable. Even if your property is big enough, you’ll still need to fork out the cash for said stable (see “Horse Shelter” section below). If you’re renting, building a horse stable is likely out of the question the majority of the time.

If you’re unable to build equine housing on your property, your best bet is likely a boarding stable. The different boarding arrangements at a stable include:

  • Full board: All necessities — food, water, grooming, exercise — included;
  • Part-board: You don’t own the horse; rather, you pay a fee to access it a certain number of times, or hourly by the week;
  • Pasture board: Includes year-round pasture time, a run-in shelter, food and water. there may be an extra fee for blanketing;
  • Self-care board: Only stable and possibly pasture facilities included.

Check the rates for boarding stables in your area and talk to other horse owners and see if you can get a good recommendation. Be sure to read all the contract terms so you know what you’re getting into.

Cost of boarding: According to Cowgirl Magazine, the average cost of boarding is $200-500 per month. According to The Spruce Pets, a well-appointed stable can cost $700 a month. From the stable management perspective, it’s not unreasonable to charge $400-900 per month.

Minimum cost per year: $2,400.00

Having an Equine Veterinarian

Routine care is necessary for a happy, healthy horse. This includes regular vaccinations, parasite control, dental care, and hoof care. Additionally, you want to be prepared in case your horse falls ill and needs medication or gets injured. That means you have to earmark a portion of your emergency savings for horse care.

Cost of vet care: The cost depends on your vet. Foundation Equine Clinic in Southern Pines, NC provides a ready example:

  • Vaccines: $280;
  • Coggins test: $37;
  • Health certificates: $39.50;
  • Dentistry: $175;
  • Optional recommended services: $134.50;
  • Emergency visits: $120.

Minimum cost per year: $531.50

Cost of farrier (hoof care):

  • Trim (recommended every 6 weeks): $42.06;
  • Trim and shoe: $120.19.

Minimum cost per year: Unshod, $336.48 — Shod, $961.52

The Cost of Keeping a Horse on Your Property

Keeping a horse on your own land has its own set of requirements, both in fiscal terms and in terms of your attention. A happy horse will need land to run around on, a stable for shelter, and more.

Nevertheless, if your property is big enough to provide some running room for the horse, and you have some room for a stable or run-in shelter, you can keep your equine friend on your property while avoiding the stable boarding costs.   

Clearing Land for Horses

You need about 1.5 to 2 acres of open pasture land for your horse. You’ll need to clear the land and get it ready by setting up a fence.

Save money by clearing and preparing the land yourself. A lot of grassland is a great thing, but there are some hazards to watch out for. Look at a guide to preparing a pasture for your horse. Get rid of glass, ragwort, weeds, barbed wire, splintered wood, pieces of metal, and holes. Consider dividing the pasture into plots for rotational grazing purposes, which allows sections of grass to grow back while your horse is feeding on other sections.

To section off your pasture, you’ll need horse fencing.

Cost of horse fencing: According to Home Advisor, horse fencing cost an average of $2,075 to $2,230.

Horse Shelter

You may choose to purchase shelter for your horse, or build it yourself as a DIY project if you are trying to stick to a budget. Either way, you’ll need money for building supplies. It will also take some know-how to build a barn. If you’d rather save time and you’re not a builder, you can get a prefabricated metal barn.

Cost of stable: According to Buildings Guide, a 30×40 prefabricated metal barn with 2 stalls costs $14,800. If you want to build a wooden barn, it’ll cost $45 per square foot, for a total of $27,000.

Horse Stable Equipment

You’ll need some basic equipment to keep the stable clean and feed your horse.

Cost of supplies (new):

  • Pitchfork (for moving hay): $23.92;
  • Hay net (for feeding hay): $9.89;
  • Feed bucket (for feeding oats/supplements): $13.95;
  • Manure fork (for cleaning manure): $6.07;
  • Broom (for cleaning stable): $13.49;
  • Wheelbarrow (for transporting hay): $39.99.

Total cost: $107.31

The Cost of Horse Activities

If you’ve never ridden before, or are rusty, you may want horseback riding lessons. Additionally, whether it’s to go to these lessons, or to do other equine activities that may not be accessible from home, you’ll need to be able to transport the horse. If you want to enter the horse into equine sporting events such as racing, there will be a host of costs associated, as there will be if you want to show the horse in competition. Before you do any of these things, you’ll need to consider the costs.

Horse Tack

Horse tack is equipment needed for riding (and racing) horses. Here’s a list of the tack you’ll need, what it’s for, and prices:

Cost of supplies:

  • Saddle (for sitting on the horse): $599;
  • Stirrups (for foot placement): $18.26;
  • Bridle (for directing the horse’s head): $40;
  • Reins: (for directing the horse): $11.16;
  • Bit (for the horse’s mouth): $99.99.

Total cost: $768.41

Horse Transportation

You can either choose to transport the horse yourself, or choose to use horse transport services. If you’re planning on the former, you’ll need a horse trailer and a vehicle that will haul it. If this isn’t feasible, consider horse transport services.

Cost of a trailer: According to CostHelper, $5,000 to $30,000.

Cost of transport services: According to UShip, $2.55 per mile for less than 100 miles, $1.10 per mile for 101-999 miles.