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Should I Buy a Horse for My Child?

Owning a horse can be an enjoyable experience for parent and child alike; however,
many factors enter into the initial decision to get involved with horses. The purpose 
of this publication is to acquaint prospective horse owners with considerations, costs,
and possible alternatives to owning a horse. It discusses such concerns as determining
your child's real interest in horses, alternatives to buying a horse, how to decide what
kind of horse to buy, horse-related activities for your child, horse management practices
and costs, as well as the benefits your family can gain from horse ownership. Once you
decide to purchase a horse, there are numerous sources of more detailed information
concerning horse management.

How Can I Determine My Child's Level of Interest?
Because you are reading this, your child has probably talked about getting a horse. 
After you, the parent, become more knowledgeable about horse ownership, you 
should have a serious, heart -to- heart talk with your child. Ask questions, including 
the following:

*  Why do you want a horse?
*  Are there other ways to enjoy riding, especially to begin?
*  What kind of horse do you want to get?
*  What do you want to do with a horse?
*  How much time do you have to spend with a horse? Could you sacrifice 
   time from other activities?
*  Where would you keep a horse?
*  What costs are involved, and how will you pay for the initial cost and
   maintenance of your horse?
*  What will you gain from owning a horse? How will the whole family benefit?
*  Will you be willing to sell your horse in 1-4 years?

After having this talk and letting your child get some exposure to horses through 
lessons, camps, or using someone else's horse, you will have a better measure 
of your child's interest. Many youth want a horse because they know someone 
who has one, so encourage spending time with this friend's horse and see how 
long the enthusiasm lasts. Don't say "no" because you feel you don't know enough 
about keeping horses; rather, find a way to help your child learn more about horses. 
Your child may decide he or she really doesn't want all the work that goes along with 
the fun.

Are There Alternatives To Owning a Horse?
There are many alternatives to owning a horse that may prove to be more economically
feasible and still satisfy your child's desire to ride. The alternatives are also good
prerequisites to actually owning a horse because they allow you and your child to gain
experience that will help you manage your own horse better.

Riding Lessons
Lessons are almost a necessity for riding or owning a horse. Some people learn to ride
by trial and error; however, this method is not only dangerous, but can develop poor 
riding habits. By taking riding lessons from a competent instructor, the student (child 
or adult) can learn to ride in a safe and controlled environment. Remember that no one 
is too accomplished to take lessons and learn more about themselves and horses. 
Often people make the mistake of thinking that, by taking a few lessons, they are
competent equestrians. The cost of structured riding lessons is well worth the 
investment when you consider how much safer the activity will be.

Riding lessons are also an alternative to owning a horse. You can expect to pay 
between $8 and $20 for 45-60 minutes of instruction, depending on where you live,
whether the lesson is group or private, and the type of barn involved. If your child 
does not have a lot of time to devote to riding (consider school, after-school activities,
sports, etc.), it would be cheaper to take lessons than to pay for the upkeep of a horse.
Lessons also may help determine your child's level of interest in horses. Either way, if
and when you decide to buy a horse, lessons will have been a worthwhile investment.
Instruction could be gained through once or twice per week programs or, to begin,
through one of the horsemanship camping programs.

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Leasing a Horse
Leasing a horse may satisfy your child's desire to ride and still cost less than owning 
a horse. Leasing is also a good way to determine your child's level of interest in horses
and to make sure he or she is serious before you get stuck with a horse. Also, leasing 
a horse you are thinking about purchasing is a good way to see if the child and horse 
are compatible and to make sure that the horse is everything you thought it was.

Lease arrangements can include anything from paying a leasing fee, paying all of the
upkeep and assuming all of the responsibilities tor the horse, to paying a portion of the
board or upkeep of the horse in trade for riding time on the horse. Many variations of
these two examples can be designed to fit the needs of the owner as well as the leasor.

One thing to remember when comparing alternatives is that, when you own a horse, 
as you increase the riding time, the cost per hour decreases. However, with lessons, 
this decrease in cost does not occur with increased riding time.

What Kind of Horse Should We Get?
The type of horse you get depends a lot on the type of riding your child wants to
participate in, e.g., Western, pleasure, hunting, jumping, etc. The skill of the rider is 
also a major factor in choosing a horse. Most importantly, you want to get a horse that
the rider is able to handle. There is nothing worse than seeing a terrified novice rider on
top of an unmanageable horse. A novice rider should opt for an older, well trained animal
that is experienced in many types of situations. This type of animal can be one of the
best teachers a novice rider ever has. The more skilled and experienced the rider is, the
more he or she may become involved in the actual training of a younger, inexperienced
horse. Don't buy a young horse for a novice horseman to train: This is a situation that
invites accidents. Your child should grow up with an older, well broke horse that can
teach the child.

Parents often ask whether a small pony is a better choice for a young child than a 
large horse. The animal's disposition, and the child's ability to control the animal, are
more important factors than size. Keep in mind that your child will eventually outgrow 
a pony, and that selling one animal and buying another could mean increased costs.

The goals of the rider may also determine the type of horse you want. A rider who 
wants a pleasure horse for trail riding could be happy with a grade horse, which is 
usually rather inexpensive. However, if a rider wants to show a horse and wants to 
be the very best, he or she will probably want a registered horse with professional
training, and this animal will be more expensive. The higher the goals of the rider, 
the higher the cost for a horse of the proper quality. It is often advisable to purchase 
a mature inexpensive horse initially, and then, as the child's goals become higher, a
better horse can be bought. It does not cost any more to maintain a high quality horse
than an inexpensive one.

What Horse-Related Activities Are Available?
One of the main considerations in choosing horse-related activities is time constraints.
The more time your child has to give, the more involved he or she may become in
horse-related activities. However, if a child is not willing to sacrifice time from other
activities such as sports, music, clubs, and other social events, he or she may not be
able to become too involved with horse activities. For example, horse showing requires
extensive preparation and usually takes up many summer weekends. If your child is 
not willing to give up other summer sports, he or she may not be successful in horse
showing endeavors. However, you may modify the depth of your activity in horse clubs 
or shows to fit your lifestyle.

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Horse Clubs
Horse clubs are often a good way for a novice to be introduced to the basics of horse
management and horsemanship in the friendly atmosphere of his peers. Clubs often 
have riding clinics and small shows that usually cost less than the average open horse

Many areas also have family-oriented saddle clubs. These clubs usually have a variety 
of activities such as organized trail rides, open horse shows, pitch-in dinners, or other
social activities. Other club programs also offer horse riding programs and camps. 
Each of the horse registries has state youth organizations that sponsor activities 
related to the breed.

Horse Shows
Many people become interested in horse shows soon after purchasing a horse. 
Besides providing a lot of fun for the whole family, horse shows help develop a
competitive spirit in a child. There are many different types of horse shows a person 
can go to depending on the style of riding and how well the horse is trained. It is not 
the purpose of this publication to elaborate on the different styles of riding and showing,
but merely to suggest horse shows as another activity for the family.

Pleasure Riding
Horses are mainly for enjoyment. Some people do not need to take their horses to
competitions to enjoy them. They get their fun by riding on trails or in an arena or
wherever they feel comfortable. Their horse is often their companion and friend. This 
is not to say, of course, that if you show your horse, you cannot enjoy it. The point 
is that many people have no desire to compete. They merely enjoy the freedom that
riding on trails or across open country brings them.

As your child's interest and experience grows, he or she will become exposed to a
variety of activities for which horses may be used. In time, your child will be able to
choose the style of riding and specific activities in which to participate. Many things 
such as competitive trail riding, jumping, racing, driving, polo, cutting, roping, breeding,
and training may be undertaken with further experience and training.

Where Will We Keep a Horse?
There are many ways to board your horse. When you pay for "full board," the stable 
will take care of all of your horse's needs (shelter, feeding, stall cleaning, and, perhaps,
exercising your horse). Depending on the stable, however, they may have their own set 
of guidelines with which you must comply. For example, they may provide the shelter,
but you must provide the labor.

If you decide to keep your horse at home, there are several considerations. Do 
you have the space to keep a horse comfortably and, also, do the zoning laws 
permit horses? If you have at least one or two acres and some type of shelter, 
you could consider keeping a horse at home. However, this puts a lot of 
responsibility on both you and your child. The animal must be fed regularly. Hay 
must be secured for at least part of the year even if you have pasture. The barn 
or shelter must be cleaned regularly and the manure removed so that it does not 
become a nuisance. Also, a water source must be available at all times.

Your decision to get a horse may be partially based on the availability of housing 
for your horse. Whether on your own land, a private stable, or a farmer's extra lot, 
you can usually find a suitable place if you put some time and effort into your 

How Much Will It Cost To Have a Horse?
Many people think the initial purchase price of a horse is the major expenditure. It 
is not; the cost of keeping and maintaining a horse usually will exceed the purchase
price. It is not uncommon for the initial cost to be compounded several times over 
during the course of one or two years of maintaining your horse.

Initial Costs
The first expense is the price of the horse or pony. Factors such as the breed, the 
level of training, age, health, and soundness all contribute to the final price of the horse.
 gain, the novice should steer away from young, untrained animals and opt for an older,
more experienced veteran. 

The next expense is tack (saddle, bridle, grooming equipment). Prices vary greatly,
depending on the type and quality of items purchased. To start, a novice should buy
used equipment in good repair. This helps to keep the initial investment lower, and 
used tack in good condition is easier to sell at cost than new items. Following are 
price ranges for basic horse equipment (new):

Saddle (depending on style)  $100 -1000
Bridle with bit              $30-100
Halter and leads             $6-30
Grooming supplies (brushes, hoofpicks, combs), per item $1-50

These are just the basic necessities for equipping your horse. There are many more
optional items that you may want to add later.

Boarding Costs
The cost of feeding your horse and providing shelter may vary considerably, depending 
on whether the horse is cared for at home or boarded. Boarding is generally more
expensive, but you do receive other services such as feeding and stall cleaning. With
home care, your only cash outlay is for feed, bedding, and repairs, but you are
responsible for all of the daily barn work. Based on average monthly costs, you can
expect to spend anywhere from $700 -3000 annually to feed and house your horse.

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Additional Costs
Hoof care is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of horse care. A horse's hooves
grow continuously and need to be trimmed regularly. Depending on the amount of work
your horse does, and the surfaces on which it is ridden, shoes may also be in order.
Hooves need to be trimmed or shod every 6-8 weeks or about seven times per year. 
The work should be done by a qualified farrier. As you see, the costs add up through 
the course of the year.

It costs about $70 to keep your horse's hooves trimmed throughout the year, plus 
about $100 more to have shoes put on. It is not unusual to spend $175 + annually 
on hoof care.

Regular health care is needed to keep your horse healthy. One important health care
procedure is deworming, which should be performed at the minimum of two times per
year, and, normally, four times. Your horse also needs to be vaccinated for some of 
the more common diseases. Horses also require tooth care called floating, which 
needs to be done yearly.

Last, accidents or emergencies do happen, and there must be money budgeted just 
in case some sort of accident does occur.

What Will My Child Gain From a Horse?
Children can learn a great deal of responsibility from owning a horse because all of 
the animal's needs must be provided by its owner. Children may also develop self
confidence because they are handling an animal much larger and more powerful 
than themselves. As they develop a new set of skills to deal with the animal, they 
also develop greater coordination, strength, and agility. If your child decides to show 
his horse, he should also develop a sense of sportsmanship as well as a healthy
competitive nature. The social skills and the personal discipline that are associated 
with horse ownership go far beyond the horse. The child will also become aware of 
the economic side of owning an animal and often will learn to be more prudent and 
earn money to pay for at least part of the hobby.

What Will I, As a Parent, Gain from Horse Ownership?
Many parents find that owning a horse can be a good family activity. It can bring 
about family unity, since it is a hobby in which all family members can be involved,
especially if the child is younger and cannot do all of the work alone. Parents and 
child will learn to work together as a team, and this will help to develop a new, 
stronger relationship between them. Visit with families that own horses and you 
will find a bond that has formed within the family that is hard to define.

Parents may also gain a great deal of satisfaction from watching their child grow as 
an individual due to the increased responsibility and development of a new set of skills
obtained from owning a horse. Also, when a child does become successful, parents 
tend to feel overwhelming pride in their progeny.

The parents may also develop an interest in horses, allowing them to refine a new set 
of skills and bringing a new hobby into their leisure-time activities.

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It is hoped that this article has answered some of the commonly asked questions as 
well as provided insight about horse care. It must be remembered that horses require
constant care. Provisions must be made for the animal when the family goes on
vacations or when the child is unable to care for the horse. It is not uncommon for the
first horse purchased to be sold either because the child has lost interest or because 
his or her goals have been raised, requiring a better horse. Plan from the beginning for
the possibility of selling this new family member.

As you can see, horse ownership requires a lot of work, but it can also be very
rewarding. If the right decision has been made for you and your child, you can look
forward to years of fun. As your interest grows, you will become more involved and 
the entire family will benefit from horse ownership. In today's society there are very 
few hobbies that involve the entire family and create such a working bond among 
family members than horse ownership.

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