Do’s & Don’t of Buying Your First “Kid” Horse

horse girlWhat little girl hasn’t asked her daddy for a pony for her birthday? Let’s face it. Having a horse in the backyard is every kid’s dream. But if Mom and Dad rush out on a whim and purchase such a “backyard” pet, they may be in for a big surprise. To keep everyone happy and safe, there are several things to consider before purchasing your child a horse.

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Many first horses are purchased on impulse. Understand that horse ownership is a big responsibility. There are safety issues, unexpected costs, and of course, the well being of the horse to consider. If you are not an experienced horseman, find someone who is.A trainer or reputable stable owner is a good place to start. Take lessons or have several riding sessions to make sure your child wants to ride on a regular basis. Owning a horse sounds “romantic,” but if your child loses interest quickly, it can become a costly adventure.

Taking lessons first will build confidence in your child’s riding ability, which is important when “test driving” prospective horses. Once your instructor can determine your child’s ability, he can help guide you to a horse that best fits your child. See Amazon.com for horse t-shirts for women and teen girls.

“Most of my clients have a lot of success if their kids learns how to ride first, and then decide owning a horse is really what they want to do,” says Paula Phillips, a riding instructor and stable owner in Wichita Falls, Texas. “Those that buy a horse first and then come for lessons second, often struggle. The kids get scared.” Phillips says the horse might be too inexperienced for the child or just a bad buy. The kids lose interest, and the parents are stuck with a horse.

“Kids that spend hours at the barn learning how to ride and do chores such as feeding, cleaning stalls and so forth, understand what it takes to keep a horse. If they do all that and still want to buy a horse, then it’s probably a good investment,” Phillips says.

Costs of Horse Ownership
A horse is an investment, and the purchase price is only the beginning. There are monthly boarding fees, feed, and veterinary care to consider, plus tack and other equipment necessary to enjoy your horse.

Boarding fees vary throughout the country, but full care (which includes feed, shavings, etc.) runs around $200/month and up. Expect to pay more in bigger cities. Pasture boarding is cheaper, although the horse may still need supplemental feed. Feed (if not included in your boarding fees) averages $100/month. Routine hoof care runs between $160 to $400 per year, depending if the horse is shod or just trimmed. Basic, routine veterinary care usually averages $200 per year. Additional expenses should be expected if your horse gets sick or hurt. Don’t forget about halters, brushes, saddles and other tack, as well as seasonal necessities such as fly spray.

Horse Shopping and Vet Inspections
There are many places to look for a horse. Word of mouth and recommendations of your riding instructor are good places to start. There’s also the newspaper, horse magazines and horse sales.

Consider the experience level of your child and that of any prospective horses. “You don’t want the blind leading the blind,” says Phillips. “I hear so many parents say, ‘I want a young horse for my kid so they can learn together.’ That is really a mistake. Either your child or the horse needs some experience so one can teach the other. If this is your first horse, a more experienced horse is almost always a better fit than a young one.”

Once you find a horse to consider, spend a lot of time with the horse before making a decision. Is the horse well mannered? Is he easy to catch, to saddle? See if the seller will let you try the horse for a few weeks before making a final decision.

Be patient and ask a lot of questions, suggests Phillips. “Why is the horse for sale? How long has this owner had it? Does it kick or crib? Will it load in a two-horse trailer? How old is it? What has this owner been doing with the horse? Can an inexperienced rider ride the horse? Has it ever colicked? Has it been x-rayed? What do you feed it? Is the horse registered? If the horse is a mare, could she be bred?”

Horses aren’t like puppies, Phillips says. “These are 1,000 pound animals we’re talking about. Find out as much as possible about the horse. You don’t want to get stuck with a horse nobody wants.”

Finally, take the horse to a veterinarian for a pre-purchase exam. A veterinarian can determine the horse’s approximate age and health. The vet will check the horse’s legs for any injuries or potential problems. “Once you find the right horse for your child, you want to make sure he’s healthy and sound,” Phillips says.

Gift Horses
If your child received a horse as a gift, Phillips recommends many of the same guidelines. “Get some help or take lessons so you can enjoy your new horse. And even if the horse is already yours, get him vet-checked,” she says. “One of my clients was given a horse a few years back. We had him checked, and he was 10 years older than the owner thought! She was very disappointed, but at least we knew what we were dealing with.”

A horse can be a wonderful companion for a child. Horse ownership teaches responsibility, leadership and loyalty, but it can also backfire, resulting in a child that never wants to be around a horse again. Hopefully by taking a few precautions before purchasing your horse, you will team up with a great equine companion for many years to come.