Young horse people can learn a great deal from a relationship with a horse—personal responsibility, problem-solving, self-confidence and communication.
While having a horse in the family can be rewarding, being a successful horse owner requires a great deal of time, money, and a lasting commitment to the care and well-being of the animal.
The keys to a long-term, successful relationship with a horse are twofold: making sure you choose an appropriate horse for your goals, skill level and resources, and having the knowledge and understanding to properly care for your horse daily.
First make sure you're up for owning a horse
For most equestrians, the first step to horse ownership is riding lessons at a local barn, where children learn how to safely lead, groom, tack up, and ride a horse correctly. While these experiences are a great introduction to horses and a way to gauge your child's longterm interest, they typically don't teach your child everything he or she needs to be a successful horse owner.
A good way to test the waters of ownership is to lease a horse, paying a portion of the boarding costs for someone else's horse in exchange for riding and care privileges.
You can get a better sense of how willing your child is to schlep to the barn to feed or water your horse or deal responsibly with sudden lameness or behavior challenges. If leasing isn't an option, consider gaining hands-on experience by volunteering at a local horse rescue, therapeutic riding center or community stable.
Know the costs of basic care
Whether you keep your horse at home or at a boarding barn, basic care costs a few thousand dollars per year. In addition to food (hay and grain), water (8-12 gallons per day) and shelter, horses require regular hoof care, dental care, deworming, vaccinations, tack and equipment ($200 and up). Training, lessons, and attire costs quickly add up, too. The purchase price is usually the cheapest part of having a horse—it's the ongoing financial outlay for care and training that can add up over time.
Where to look for a horse
First-time horse owners should not navigate the world of horse shopping unassisted. A horse-savvy friend or teacher is a good resource, as are the hundreds of horse rescue organizations across the country. These rescues take in adoptable horses and match them up with appropriate adopters. Rescues are primarily interested in ensuring the horse and rider are a good match. They have a variety of horses to choose from—and if a horse doesn't work out, they will typically take the horse back. You may also want to look into the sizeable network of responsible horse breeders (PDF) across the U.S.
Be ready for a lifelong commitment
Horses can live well into their thirties, and many remain rideable well into their twenties. Are you willing to provide care to the horse for the remainder of his life? If you can't provide care, are you willing to find another loving home for the horse? Many new horse owners don't realize that horses sent to weekly livestock auctions may be sold to middlemen for slaughter plants, which brutally slaughter slaughter horses for human consumption abroad.
More tips and information can be found in our book The Humane Society of the United States' Complete Guide to Horse Care (PDF)