Part 1 of my 3-part series on Leasing a Horse vs. Owning:
Lately I have recommended to some possible 1st-time horse owners to try leasing a horse first, so that they can make absolutely sure horse ownership is really for them. I was surprised to learn that most had never even heard of this possibility.
"You mean, you can actually do that?!?"
Yes, you can! And it is a great way to "try before you buy" - especially with an animal that, once you do buy, is a very big commitment. Even more especially if you are considering this purchase for your very excited - and fickle - young(ish) child (because let's be honest....even us "older" kids can be ridiculously fickle when it comes to horses!).
Unless you have a property with plenty of acreage (at the very least 3 grazing acres per horse), nice natural foliage for the horse to munch, good sturdy fencing, and at least one open shed for shelter, the cost of both purchasing & caring for a horse can quickly become overwhelming. You can certainly keep a horse on much less acreage (I believe our local town's legal requirements are 1 total acre per horse, which would include the land on which your house is built), but your feed costs will go up exponentially as you will have to provide all of your animal's forage needs. Consider this chart:
ON A SIDE NOTE: BEWARE OF THE "FREE" HORSE!
There really is no such thing. Even if the owners have the best of intentions in giving away a precious pet that they just can no longer afford to keep, "free" horses almost always need extensive training "tune-ups" at $35-$70 per hour (a basic tune-up usually requires a good trainer 30 - 60 days, depending on the horse, and they will give you a bulk rate for leaving the horse with them for that period.). A "free" horse's vet costs are usually higher as well, as oftentimes they have not seen a vet or farrier for some time and will need some recuperation costs invested to get them back to optimum riding health.
Also, keep in mind that costs to own & keep a horse can vary wildly based on where you reside, the age, size and breed of your horse, what use/exercise you intend to give your horse and other factors. The above chart was calculated using my actual costs (I live in the Denver Metro area, where boarding and hay costs are on the mid-to-high range, but finding used & relatively inexpensive tack or trailers is not a problem. My horse is of average size and exercised moderately). It is also based on the following criteria:
BOARD FEES: I board at a very clean, but basic, barn where my horses are kept in an open paddock that they share with 6 other animals. I keep my board fees reasonable this way, at about $300/month per horse. You can get cheaper board rates, but buyer beware - you get what you pay for. The average board rates around my area are closer to $400/month for a 4-horse paddock with shelter. The "fee" under the lease column isn't really for "boarding", but for an actual lease contract. It is a 4-day-a-week lease @ $200/month.
HAY: Based on an average consumption rate of 20lbs per day, at $8/bale for a 70lb bale.
GRAIN/SUPPLEMENTS: I feed Purina Strategy, 3-4lbs per day, at $17/50lb bag. I also use a daily glucosamine supplement and Sand Clear every other month.
WATER: Based on a consumption rate of 10-15 gallons per day. Will be higher in warmer climates.
WASTE REMOVAL: This number can go down to pretty much zero if you have the ability and space to compost. Also, it is GREAT for your soil! :-)
VET CARE: Includes (1) annual health exam, (2) vaccination shot sets and basic deworming needs.
DENTAL CARE: Includes (1) visit that encompasses both exam and teeth floating. Will be a lower # if vet determines teeth do not need floating.
FARRIER: Includes 6 trims and 3 sets of shoes - front only. This number is high(er) for the lease option as most leases will cover basic hoof care needs only. If you want the horse shod and it is not deemed necessary for basic hoof maintenance by the farrier your lessor will probably require you to pay the extra.
INSURANCE: Another number that varies wildly. I based my calculation on my actual costs to insure my 15 year old mare at a value of $5,000 against mortality/major medical, with a $2,000 colic surgery rider included. EVERY lessee should get insurance coverage.....it is so inexpensive relative to the cost of replacing the horse or paying the vet bills and will cover your butt in case of accidents/illness/anything.
TACK/GROOMING: Most horse leases include use of a saddle, bridle & reins, halter & lead rope and basic grooming supplies. If you are considering ownership and have to buy these items, I suggest you go to craigslist or social media sell sites and find something used. If you are afraid of buying the wrong thing, take someone knowledgeable with you. Also, consider hiring a professional saddle fitter to make sure you buy a correct fitting saddle (to the horse, not you) - it will cost around $100 and be one of the best things you can do to prevent damage to your horse's back!
TRAVEL: If you are going to buy a horse, you will need some kind of trailer to transport your animal when necessary (and it WILL be necessary, eventually). Yes, you can borrow a friend's, but only until you wear out your welcome with them. :-) You can pick up a simple stock trailer or 2-horse front load, used, for around $2,000. It probably won't be all that pretty but it will get the job done. If you are leasing, this isn't an issue. You typically will not be able to transport the horse off the property via trailer unless you have made some type of special arrangements with the lessor. So the only thing I included here is compensatory fuel costs if you make arrangements to travel off-site with the horse.
As you can see, it can make sense financially to lease your first horse, if that is a viable option for you. There are, however, pros and cons to consider for both owning and leasing. I will cover those considerations in part 2 of this 3-part series, which will be posted next week. Stayed tuned.....