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I have grown up riding horses. Other people's horses. I want to have a horse so badly. We have a home that sits on three acres outside of town. I know we have enough room for a horse and we already have a barn as well. I do, however, want to learn more about the care of horses before I take the plunge and get one. I want to make sure that I am caring for and feeding it properly. I know horses are a huge responsibility but I have made it my lifes goal to have one of my own. I just want to make sure that I know exactly what having a horse means (cost, health issues, grooming, etc.) If you have any information for me I would appreciate it. Maybe you could recommend a good advice book or something. Thank You!!!

- J. G.


For starters, you can amble over to my Trading Post and order a copy of Getting Your First Horse by Judith Dutson. This will give you a good preparation for becoming a horse owner.

As you make your plans, I hope you'll also consider these three points - and possibly unforseen expenses - that are often overlooked:

1. Fencing. Please, please, please don't have barbed wire around any enclosure where you'll be keeping horses. I don't think I have ever seen a case where horses were kept in a barbed wire fence without serious - often heart-breaking - results. Even plain electric wire fencing by itself is not a good idea. A horse has a hard time seeing a wire fence under the best of conditions. Throw in the element of panic and you have a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

With barbed wire, the horse will often get tangled in the wire and thrash around in an attempt to free itself. When that happens, the wire acts just like a running chain saw. Electric wire fencing is more humane, but not very secure. When a horse panics, a little electric shock isn't going to stop it. A few years ago, a horse that lived a few miles up the highway from me panicked during a thunder storm. It easily broke through the fence and ran into the road - where it was hit by a car and died.

A good board fence is best - that's why you see it on all the best race horse farms. Unfortunately, it's also expensive. A creative alternative is to use a combination of heavy, white nylon rope and electric fencing. Anchor the rope and wire to sturdy wood posts and keep them both tight. The rope is more visible to horses even under conditions of poor visibility and will help restrain the animal with less chance of damage if he gets tangled in it. Either way, the cost may be more than you originally planned on.

2. A herd. Horses are herd animals, and it's not a good idea to keep a single horse by itself unless it has companions in an adjoining field. I'd recommend getting one horse for each rider in the family; at least two, and probably a minimum of four. In addition to the fact that being isolated is unsettling to a horse - and may make it want to take off in search of a herd - it's far safer for you to have another rider along when you hit the trails. And remember the effect on any horse you leave at home alone (see my answer on separation anxiety for more on this).

3. Horse-sitters. I have something of a cottage industry taking care of friends' horses when those folks are out of town. Remember that horses are very accident and illness-prone. Even if the animals have plenty of good pasture and water available, you still should have a reliable, experienced horse person checking in on them at least a couple of times a day. Not everyone can or will work as cheaply as I do. The right horsesitter could cost you twenty bucks a day or more - especially if they also stay at your place full-time. That can really add up if you take a two-week vacation.

I certainly don't want to discourage you from having horses; I just don't want you to discover - too late - that you can't cover the cost. It's been my experience that most cases of horse neglect happen because the owner can't afford to keep the animal, but has grown too attached to it to let it go. Under many conditions, horse lovers discover that it's much more cost-effective - and convenient - to board their animals at a nearby ranch or stable.

Happy Riding!

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