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Having a Horsy Holiday Can Be Expensive

Times Staff Writer

With the Christmas shopping season officially upon us this weekend, be prepared for an equine wish list. Children may whisper to Santa that they hope to find a pony under the Christmas tree, and adults who have been bitten by the horse bug may plead with spouses to spring for a family mount. But before you run out and buy Flicka for yourself or your loved ones, consider the following facts of life about a horsy household:

It is expensive. Don’t be fooled: The initial cost outlay is minimal compared with the monthly maintenance of a horse. The money you spent to buy the horse will look like a drop in the bucket at the end of your first year of ownership.

For example, say you buy a $3,500 horse (a relative bargain, since show-quality horses often sell locally for $25,000 to $100,000). Board and training will cost about $250 to $800 a month ($3,000 to $9,600 per year). Add to that shoeing every six weeks ($400-$800 per year) and regular veterinary care (worming and inoculations, about $200-$500 per year).

That’s an annual expense of $3,600 to $10,900--and it will be even more if you have horse-show entry fees, trailering costs or unexpected expenses.

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It is time-consuming. For every hour that you ride, you will probably spend 2 hours “on the ground"--grooming, tacking and cooling the horse afterward. Horses need regular exercise, so you will have to commit yourself to spending several afternoons a week at the stable to either ride, longe or turn the horse out in the paddock. If you cannot get there, you may have to pay the stable manager to do it.

It is a responsibility. Horses are dependent on their owners to feed and care for them. Unless you board the horse in a full-service facility that is staffed at all hours of the day and night, you must be prepared to attend to the horse’s immediate needs.

Horses have delicate digestive systems and can be prone to potentially life-threatening colic. If the stable calls in the middle of the night--or in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner--to notify you that your horse is colicky, you will have to dash out and hand-walk the horse until the veterinarian arrives.

If these forewarnings haven’t daunted your inclination to buy a horse, proceed--but proceed with caution.

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“Horse-trading” can be risky business. Horses are often difficult to resell, so choose a mount carefully before you buy. Selecting the proper horse requires expertise and a certain “eye” for horses that comes only with experience. If you are a neophyte to the horse world, rely on the advice of a seasoned equestrian--preferably your riding instructor or a reputable horse agent.

You may have to pay a “finder’s fee” for the time the expert has spent in locating the proper mount, but consider it money well spent. Buying the “right” horse will make all the difference in the world between enjoying your time in the saddle and dreading it--or possibly being injured by a horse that exceeds your abilities.

If possible, have the riders in your family “try out” the horse several times before you sign on the dotted line. Horses are like people--they have their good days and their bad days. If you have ridden the horse only once, there is no guarantee the mount is going to act the same way when you own him.

And consider taking a few lessons on the horse to see how he acts in training. Even better, ask the stable if you can lease the horse for a month, so the riders in your family can really get to know the animal before he joins your “horsehold.”

One last bit of advice before you take the plunge into horse ownership: Test the waters first. Spend some time visiting local stables and observing the goings-on.

The horse world is a curious mixture of refinement and rough-and-tumble that attracts a particular type of person. If you’re not that type, better to find out beforehand than to invest thousands of dollars--plus a certain degree of blood, sweat and tears--into an ill-thought-out venture. If you are that type, you’ll know it--and happy trails to you.


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