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Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
- You Need to Know About
Owning a Horse
FLORIDA COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE
INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, GAINESVILLE
Figure 1. Horse numbers in Florida, 1975
Owning a Horse
Kary Mathis *
R. S. Sand
The authors wish to express their apprecia-
tion for specific contributions and suggestions
by Dr. B. H. Crawford in the section "What
are the needs of your horse?" and to Dr. E. A.
Ott for the section on nutrition.
authors wish to thank those faculty mem-
of the Institute of Food and Agricultural
s who made many helpful suggestions in
preparation of this circular.
Horse ownership is a popular and growing ac-
tivity of many Americans. Over the past several
years the number of horses has increased about
seven percent annually. Today there are nearly
eight million in the United States-most of them
pleasure horses. However, just before World
War II, there were 14 million, practically all of
which were used for farm and ranch work.
While horses are still essential for some agri-
cultural enterprises, most Americans keep their
animals for show, racing, competition or riding.
In Florida, as in many other states, the number
of horses in an area is closely related to the num-
ber of people (Figure 1). More than 47 percent
are found in the 16 most populous counties where
more than 80 percent of the state's people and
more than half of all horse owners live.
Most working horses in Florida are used on
cattle ranches, but farm and ranch horses repre-
sent only about one-fourth of the total-a rela-
tively small proportion. The changing nature of
horse ownership in recent years is also shown by
the fact that horse projects have taken a lead over
the number of beef projects in the Florida 4-H
program. For example, in 1975 there were 1,487
*Kary Mathis is Extension Economist and R. S. Sand is
Extension Animal Scientist, University of Florida.
beef projects and 4,002 horse projects. The same
relationship is seen throughout the U.S.
Another indication of the growing popularity of
horses is that horse racing drew almost two-thirds
more spectators than auto racing, the next leading
AT SPORTING EVENTS
BASEBALL 27 MILLION
FOOTBALL 41 MILLION
AUTO RACING 46 MILLION
HORSE RACING 74 MILLION
The horse industry is big business. Recent
estimates placed the value of all horses in the
United States at more than $6 billion. Annual
expenditures for items ranging from feed supple-
ments to equipment totals an additional $6 billion.
Why Do You Want a Horse?
People want horses for one of several reasons,
the foremost one being pleasure riding. In addi-
tion, people want horses for show, for breeding or
work and for racing.
This discussion is concerned mostly with owning
a horse for pleasure riding. If this is your prefer-
ence, some important questions you will need to
ask yourself follow.
Where Can I Keep a Horse?
Assuming you either already own a horse or are
thinking of acquiring one, where will you keep it?
These three possibilities appear to be practical:
1. At home
2. On rented pasture
3. At a commercial stable
Of the three places suggested for keeping
horses, the first is the most often preferred. Most
people who own horses prefer having them close
to home for convenience. It is uncertain whether
people move to areas where horses are accepted, or
whether they acquire horses because they live in
compatible areas. Both of these reasons probably
figure in a person's decision.
Space is certainly an important problem when
considering keeping horses at home. Is there
enough room to make the animal comfortable?
Moreover, are there zoning restrictions that limit
or prevent the keeping of animals? Clearly, this
question must be considered not only for the pres-
ent, but also for the possibility of additional future
restrictions. Horses and other livestock often
cause community problems such as odors, flies and
dust. For this reason it is important to be con-
siderate of your neighbors as well as your family.
A question related to that of space for keeping
,the horse is, "Do you have access to a place for
riding?" You may get much satisfaction from
taking care of your horse, but surely you will want
to ride as often as possible. Unless you have
access to riding trails or open spaces, it may be
necessary to transport your horse to areas where
riding is allowed. For this you will need a trailer,
which is expensive. In addition, transporting
your horse takes time.
Some people have made significant changes in
their life styles in order to keep horses. Some
have moved to the suburbs or the country because
zoning in urban areas prohibit horses and other
large animals. Under these circumstances, many
of the costs involved in owning a horse have very
little to do with the horse itself. Traveling to
and from town, expenses for additional acreage
and the possibility of higher utility rates are all
On Rented Pasture
Keeping a horse on rented pasture is another
option, but is less satisfactory. The pasture tends
to separate the horse and its owner not only by
space, but more importantly, from the owner's
care and training. The horse often occupies a
central place in the owner's routine when at home,
while on a more distant rented pasture this is not
feasible. Also the costs may be significantly
higher, depending upon the type of pasture and/or
services provided by the pasture owner.
The commercial stable often provides a whole
range of services in addition to providing a place
to keep horses. A full service stable may offer
the following conveniences:
1. Facilities, including building, individual
stalls, arenas and transportation.
2. Feeding, grooming, and exercise are pro-
vided by trained employees.
3. Training-capability and skilled personnel to
provide race horse training, show horse con-
ditioning and performance training.
4. Teaching-opportunities for lessons in En-
glish or Western horsemanship.
5. Recreation-to the horse fancier who does
not own a horse, the commercial stable may
provide rentals, or may organize trail rides,
overnight camps, or drives.
6. Sales and breeding-the commercial horse
operation is often quite closely associated
with activities involving breeding or sale of
horses for specific clients. For these func-
tions, isolation facilities, show rings, and
transport equipment are usually provided.
Costs of all three options are discussed later.
What Are the Needs of Your Horse?
Your horse is a living animal that depends upon
you to provide all its basic needs for survival and
good health. The enjoyment of horse ownership
depends heavily on your animal's health and condi-
tion. A sick or poorly maintained animal cannot
be pleasureable. Consistent maintenance of your
animal's health is much less expensive than the
costs associated with returning your horse to good
health should it become sick.
Your horse requires attention which should
come from you or someone else who likes horses.
However, it will survive without your love as long
as it is not otherwise mistreated. Horses, like so
many other domesticated animals, become accus-
tomed to the characters of their owners or hand-
lers. Good treatment produces a more satisfactory
response than poor or rough treatment. For the
best response, the owner or handler must be in
control of the animal at all times. A controlled
animal is a more useful animal.
Nutrition is an everyday consideration of horse
management and is essential to every horse ac-
tivity-from farming and ranching to racing.
Without proper nutrition, the best horse will fall
short of expectations.
The proper feeding of horses can be divided into
1. Knowing the nutritional needs of the horse.
2. Providing for this need through the feeding
of suitable feedstuffs.
The nutritional requirements of the horse are
influenced by the following factors:
1. The size of the animal (the larger the horse,
the greater his needs).
2. The environment (cold weather increases
3. Age (young horses have high requirements).
4. Type of use or activity (reproduction or
5. Individual characteristics (metabolic rate).
A typical pleasure horse will weigh 1000 to 1100
The daily maintenance requirements of a 1100
pound mature horse are as follows:
Digestible energy 16.4 Meal (megacal-
ories: units of
Digestible protein 0.7 pounds
Crude protein 1.3 pounds
Calcium 20 grams
Phosphorus 15 grams
Vitamin A 12,500 IU (Interna-
Other vitamins and minerals are required in
small quantities. Most are provided in adequate
quantities in common feedstuffs.
A good quality grass forage (pasture or hay)
such as Coastal Bermudagrass can be used to pro-
vide most, if not all, of a horse's requirements for
maintenance. Twenty-two pounds (air dry) of
good quality hay fed daily will provide the follow-
Digestible energy 17.75 Meal
Digestible protein 0.9 pounds
Crude protein 1.9 pounds
Calcium 42 grams
Phosphorus 16.5 grams
Vitamin A 55,000 IU
Salt and a mineral supplement should be offered
Activities will, of course, increase the require-
ments of the horse and necessitate the addition of
a grain ration to his feeding program. For the
mature horse, a simple grain mixture may be all
that is needed. The young, growing foal has
higher requirements and will need higher levels of
protein, vitamins and minerals.1 Commercial
feeds are also available for all types of horses.
It is important that horses be fed regularly,
preferably twice a day, and have adequate, clean,
fresh water and good quality feedstuffs. Pastures
should be fertilized, free of noxious weeds, clipped
1Example rations for types of horses are available through
your County Agent.
as necessary and dragged to spread manure. Hay
should be clean, bright, free of weeds and free of
dust and mold. Grain rations should be fresh,
designed for the type of horse and fed carefully.
Proper feeding of horses means attention to de-
tails. The results achieved by the use of a good
feeding program will be well worth the effort.
Your horse must receive daily exercise. If your
horse is kept in a stall, it is especially important
for you to exercise it daily. However, if you have
enough space for a paddock, your horse can exer-
The horse owner should engage the services of a
licensed veterinarian to establish a vaccination
and worming program in addition to giving advice
on general health needs, nutritional requirements,
and disease prevention.
What Do I Need and What Will It Cost?
New or prospective horse owners should know
what is required to meet their own needs as well
as those of the horse and should realistically esti-
mate all of the costs. There are certain minimum
investment and operating costs involved in owning
Horse-the basic model, a nonregistered saddle-
trained horse. There are cheaper and
more expensive horses. For determin-
ing minimum investment requirements,
we have more or less arbitrarily chosen
the $350 model.
Tack-the necessary basic, functional and un-
Facilities-a minimum of 2,500 square feet of pen
space is required. More space is de-
sirable, and shelter, stalls, and tack
room should be included, also.
Owners know that buying a horse requires con-
siderable expenditures for equipment (tack) and
that there is a minimum amount of equipment
necessary for full enjoyment. These items in-
clude: saddle, bridle, saddle pad, lead ropes and
halters. These are the basic items necessary for
comfort and control. The equipment must fit
properly to accomplish this. Items adding to the
comfort and well-being of the horse are: the
blanket, hoof pick, brush and curry comb. Reg-
ular grooming contributes to a good physical con-
dition. The most expensive item, the saddle, can
be new or used. Used saddles of the type con-
sidered here are normally available at about 60
percent of their new price.
Saddle (used) $125.00 $150.00
Bridle 10.00 15.00
Pad 3.00 15.00
Blanket 18.00 25.00
Halter 7.00 15.00
Curry Comb 1.00 2.00
Hoof Pick 1.00 3.00
Brush 2.00 4.00
Lead 5.00 7.00
Total $172.00 $236.00
Only costs of materials are shown. Many horse
owners build their pens and sheds so that no labor
charges are included. It is assumed water is
available at the site.
Corral: 50 ft. X 50 ft. $250.00
(200 ft. @ 1.25)
Shed: 8 ft. X 10 ft. 160.00
(80 sq. ft. @ 2.00)
Storage-tack & feed, 6 ft. X 8 ft. 96.00
(48 sq. ft. @ 2.00)
Feeding, general and health care, and some
other costs must be calculated. Depreciation on
facilities and equipment must be figured,2 as well
as interest on the investment and operating costs.
Interest must be included because the money used
to buy and maintain the horse and facilities could
be deposited in a savings account or other income-
2Depreciation should be calculated for the average pleasure
horse. However, the variable nature of the horse market
and the fact that some horses may increase in value (due
to additional training or demonstrated show or breeding
performance) complicates a depreciation charge.
Item per day per year
Feed 0 $
Hay:3 24 lbs. per day (22
lbs. plus 10% handling loss)
@ 3% 83.3 304.00
Salt 0.5 2.00
Total feed 83.8 306.00
Foot care: minimum 9.9 36.00
With year round use and shoeing at 8-week intervals,
the cost would be approximately $100 per year
Veterinary services 13.7 50.00
Total horse care 23.6 86.00
Repairs: facilities (10% of
new value) 13.9 50.60
tack (5% of new value) 2.8 10.20
Depreciation: facilities 6.9 25.30
tack 5.6 20.40
Interest @ 6%: average operating
cost, $392 6.4 23.50
horse 5.8 21.00
facilities 8.3 30.25
tack 3.4 12.25
Insurance and miscellaneous 4.1 15.00
Total other costs 57.1 208.50
Total feeding, operating costs 164.5 600.50
Using these criteria, it appears that you could
keep a horse for about $1.65 per day or about $600
per year. Remember, this takes into considera-
tion the fact that you keep your horse at home,
figure only minimum values and make no charge
for your labor. Most of our observations lead us
to believe that there are very few horse enter-
prises at this investment level. Almost all involve
a larger dollar investment.
The costs discussed so far are basic and would,
for the most part, continue even if you were able
to keep your horse on a rented pasture which
would replace the hay cited.
If pasture rent of $25 per month is assumed,
feed costs are about the same as keeping the horse
at home. However, if the horse is kept on rented
pasture, you would not have the expense of re-
pairs, depreciation and interest on facilities.
Therefore, the minimum costs for a horse kept on
rented pasture would be about $500 per year, or
$1.34 per day. Of course, rented pasture might
not provide the same quality of feed, and there
would be no shed, pen or other facilities.
An alternative to keeping your horse at home or
on rented pasture is boarding it at a commercial
3Hsay priced at $1.90 per bale (55 lbs.). Feed costs will
vary with season and location.
stable. The costs here are significantly different
in that some or most of the care and physical re-
sponsibility provided by owners will now be pro-
vided by stable personnel on a hire basis. Some
common costs associated with this alternative are:
Pasture board $25-$ 40 per month
Paddock pasture board $40-$ 60 per month
Box stall $80-$100 per month
This means that the cost alternatives open to
owners are as follows:
Per Day Per Year
At home $1.65 600.00
On pasture 1.34 500.00
At stable (minimum)
Pasture board 1.51 550.00
Paddock pasture 2.08 760.00
Box stall 3.00 1240.00
In addition, transportation for horse and rider
to and from rented pasture or commercial stable
could be a significant cost. The initial cost and
operating expense of a trailer are not included in
the calculations above. Further, land values near
growing urban areas are often high and increas-
ing rapidly. No charge for land is included in the
cost calculations, but the potential horse owner
should also consider land ownership costs.
You can see from the information presented
that owning a riding horse will cost something-
perhaps quite a lot. Because the decision to buy a
horse will commit you to make expenditures as
described, and because the decision will influence
other members of your family, your neighbors
and the horse, it is recommended that you ask
yourself the following questions.
Do I Really Want to Own a Horse?
While the question may be unnecessary, it
might be wise to make sure that owning a pleasure
horse is really what you want. One way to find
out is to rent a horse with an option to buy. Some
stables provide opportunities for persons to be-
come acquainted with a particular horse through
a leasing arrangement.
It might be wise for you to associate with
others who already own horses. Doing the things
horse owners must do may tell you very quickly
whether it's for you or not. You should keep
in mind that it's not all riding-grooming, feeding
and stable cleaning are part of the project.
How Do I Buy a Horse?
If you want to own a horse you will want to get
the best animal you can afford. There's a pos-
sibility that you do not know what to look for in
a horse. How do you tell how old the animal is?
Is it sound? Does it appear properly and suffi-
ciently trained? Are there blemishes that would
disqualify you from participating in activities with
other horse fanciers ?4
Find someone who really knows the kind of
horse you are considering. If you take the time
to look, the people who are knowledgeable will
stand out. They are the people who usually feel
strongly about horses-particularly their breed of
horse. They will normally attend most of the
activities in which their particular breed is in-
volved. These individuals will also be known by
their reputations, and probably by the local veteri-
narian. You should have a veterinarian familiar
with horses examine your prospective purchase for
disease and soundness before you buy. Be sure
to have the horse tested for equine infectious
anemia (EIA) and make the purchase conditional
on a negative test.
What Kind of Horse Should I Buy?
There are many breeds of horses and each has
its proponents. In fact, some persons who own
horses will tell you that there really is only one
superior breed, and that is theirs. For riding, any
light horse breed is satisfactory as long as the
animal is sound. Owning an unhealthy animal
that is badly blemished or unsafe will not be a
Two very important considerations for the po-
tential horse owner are the sex and age of the
animal. In literature and on television, people are
frequently misled about the desirability of owning
a stallion. While the spirit of a stallion is often
emphasized, there is no mention of unpredictable
aggressive behavior, particularly during the breed-
4Additional publications and information on selecting
horses and common unsoundnesses are available through
your local County Agent.
ing season when mares are around. Properly
maintaining a stallion requires more elaborate
facilities and an experienced handler. Therefore,
it is not recommended that an inexperienced
horseman try to keep a stallion.
Mares have a much more tractable disposition
than stallions, but are subject to periods of un-
predictable behavior, especially during the spring
and summer. On the other hand, geldings (cas-
trated males) are more consistent in their be-
havior and for this reason are the most desirable.
Many inexperienced horsemen make the mistake
of saying "I don't know a lot about horses, so I'll
buy a young horse and we can learn together."
Properly training a young horse to make a good
dependable and useful riding horse requires much
experience, patience and time. This is a task that
should be left to experienced horsemen. A horse
is in its prime from age 8 to 14 years. Even older
horses have several good years left in them if
properly cared for. A mature horse is more stable
and even-tempered. For the beginning or rela-
tively inexperienced horseman, a well trained,
healthy, mature gelding is the most desirable
To avoid the pitfalls suggested above, it is
usually wise to avoid what appear to be bargain
horses. Purchasing with the advice of a knowl-
edgeable horseman, and from reputable dealers or
private individuals, can do much toward post-
purchase satisfaction. Remember, too, that the
horse suggested in this publication is priced at
$350. You can pay a great deal more for horses,
and in fact, should you purchase the suggested
basic model, you may not be happy for long. You
may, like most true horse fanciers, seek to improve
your holdings with better quality animals that will
qualify for show purposes and enhance your pride
Ensminger, M. E. Breeding and Raising Horses. Agri-
culture Handbook No. 394. Washington: U. S. Govern-
ment Printing Office, 1972.
SHorsemanship and Horse Care. Agriculture In-
formation Bulletin No. 353. Washington: U. S. Gov-
ernment Printing Office, 1972.
Wakeman, D. L., T. J. Cunha and J. R. Crockett. Light
Horse Production in Florida. Bulletin No. 188. Tal-
lahassee: Florida Department of Agriculture and Con-
sumer Services, 1967.
Hoofs and Horns, 1750 Humbolt Street, Suite 21, Denver,
Horse and Rider, Gallant Publishing Co., 116 East Badillo,
Covina, California 91722
Horse and Show, Box 386, Northfield, Ohio 44067
Horse Lover Magazine, The, Box 914, El Cerrito, Cali-
Horse World, P. O. Box 588, Lexington, Kentucky 40501
Horseman, 5314 Bingle Road, Houston, Texas 77018
Quarter Horse Digest, Gann Valley, South Dakota 57341
Saddle and Bridle, 2333 Brentwood Boulevard, St. Louis,
Southern Horseman, The, P. O. Box 5735, Meridian, Mis-
Single copies free to residents of Florida. Bulk rates
available upon request. Please submit details on
request to Chairman, Editorial Department, Institute
of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of
Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611.
This public document was promulgated at an
annual cost of $462.00, or 15.4 cents per copy
to inform Floridians about what is involved
in horse ownership.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, Unmverty of Florida
and United States Department of Agriculture. Cooperanng
Joe N. Busby, Dean