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The Joys of Horse Ownership

Taking Care of Horses

horse grazingHorse ownership responsibilities is about taking proper care of your horse or horses. While each equestrian wants to improve their own horsemanship, the proper care of the horses is job one. Horses are entirely dependent on their owners and can only perform well while being kept in a favorable environment and receiving the appropriate diet, vaccinations, and hoof care. Evolvining environmental conditions such as increasing temperatures, draught, flooding, forest fires, rising coastal waters, extreme hurricanes and tornados, will present unique challenges to horse owners in terms of their own life, injury, or devastating loss of property. That doesn't mean we shouldn't plan, but it that even the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

Status of the Horse Owner

The horse owner's financial, physical, and emotional status play an important part in horse ownership. Each of these issues must be considered in the context of what happens if one or all of these circumstances change? There is an old Yiddish saying, "People plan, God laughs." That doesn't mean we should not plan but that things don't always go the way we would hope. Reality requires a plan that addresses as many contingencies as practical.

For example, having funds on reserve should a horse become injured or the horse owner is unable to work. Or illness in the family means the horse owner might have to divert attention away from the horses. Who is going to pick up the slack?

Securing Your Horse from Theft

Horse theft is always a danger, especially when horses are in unlocked pastures. In many areas of the country horses are being stolen for use as food and with economic uncertainty this is likely to increase.

Keeping your horses secure might involve locks on gates and frequent visits to their habitat to assure all is well. Many owners of expensive horses lock their barns and even the stalls but then fire presents another danger when horses cannot escape. Barn fires are another form of danger to horses and thousands of horses perish every year in barn infernos.

Environmental Emergencies

We are seeing more frequent and more severe natural disasters such as wild fires, draught, flooding, hurricanes, and tornados, all of which threaten our own well being and that of our horses. While not every natural disaster is foreseeable, there is planning that can be done to protect ourselves and our animals. For example, having an evacuation plan to move our animals out of harms way. This may include access to a well maintained horse trailer and identifying a safe place to temporarily house your animals.

It also means planning on feed, hay, and water for humans and animals whether staying at home or traveling. The more you plan ahead the more likely you will be able to care for your animals during and after a disaster.

Horse Barn Maintenance and Fire Prevention

Fire, structural damage, and even rodent infestation can pose obvious threats to horse owners and their horses. Rodents can bring disease and chew through electrical wires resulting in fires. Structures have to be maintained in sound condition to assure the safety of the horses and their caretakers during severe weather events.

Barn fires strike an unseemly amount of horse barns every year and many times horses die a painful death because few precautions were taken. Basic to any barn should be fire alarms and fire extinguishers. It would also seem wise to have sprinkler systems in barns housing expensive horses. Smoking should never be permitted and electrical work examined on a yearly basis.

Emergency Horse Care Funds

One of the most important issues during any emergency is access to money. The best practice is to keep some cash on hand plus credit cards to use for gas, boarding, horse feed, food, and lodging. Funds should be set aside for this purpose and at least one credit card should be kept without a balance.

Having enough funds to deal with emergencies and injuries is part of the cost of horse ownership. If you can't provide for your horses' well being during an emergency then it is time to rethink horse ownership.

Horse Transport in Emergency Situations

Horses are more likely to be injured during emergencies since they may be subject to harsh conditions plus the risks involved in transporting them on crowded roads. In some cases it is safer for the horses to stay where they are, but in others such as forest fires, evacuation is the only sensible alternative. It is contingent on horse owners to have suitable transportation on hand or obtainable on short notice. And a detailed evacuation plan that addresses these issues plus necessary lead time for starting evacuation is the first step.

Horse Periodic Maintenance

Horse ownership brings with it many responsibilities and not a small amount of expense. Horses need to be fed, watered, mucked, and sheltered which entails at least twice a day chores.

Horses hooves must be attended to every six weeks or so and this chore is usually performed by a farrier, but alternatively can be done by a trained person.

Horses should get shots four times a year as prevention against equine diseases and rabies. To ignore these vaccinations is to place your horses and neighboring horses at risk. While some horse owners prefer to give these shots themselves, many arrange with an equine veterinarian for a regular schedule of shots. Horses teeth need attention in periodic inspections and teeth floating by a qualified equine dentist.

Horses also require scheduled grooming in the form of brushing, washing, clipping, and trimming manes and tails. Show horses obviously require more attention to grooming than pasture horses, but all horses require some routine grooming.

Challenges of Horse Ownership

Horse ownership presents two challenges to the owner. First is the performance of tasks associated with keeping a healthy horse, and second is the expense involved. The chores take time and physical stamina or someone else must be paid to perform the chores. Not performing the chores of horse ownership is not an option. Thus, horse owners must be constantly evaluating their financial and physical ability required to responsibly own a horse.

The Horse Owner's Well Being

Horse ownership usually involves some personal sacrifices in terms of time and money. However, the horse owner's first obligation has to be to  themselves in terms of maintaining their own health and reasonable financial stability. Using all fiscal and personal physical resources to support horses is not a lasting life style that is in the best interest of the horse or owner.

When its Time to Give up Your Horse(s)

When a horse owner can no longer take care of a horse for whatever reason, it is the obligation of the horse owner to seek other arrangements for the good of the horse. Personal emotions must be put aside as the horse's well being deserves to be put first.

Since rehoming a horse takes time in terms of arranging a sale or otherwise changing ownership, the decision should be made as soon as the horse owner sees problems with continued horse ownership. Far too many horses end up in poor condition from lack of proper care and become rescues or put downs that didn't need to be.

Legal Considerations to Changing Horse Ownership

When you purchase or lease a horse, you should always have a formal bill of sale or a written lease agreement spelling out the terms of the horse lease. There are too many problems that can arise without written documentation such as contingencies if the new owner wants to sell the horse in the future. Do you want a first right of refusal? What kind of warranty are you giving regarding the horse's condition?

Purchase of a Horse

When you buy a horse always get a bill of sale from the seller that indicates the purchase price, a copy of any claimed registrations, and any warrantee period that you might have negotiated. Prior to the actual purchase you will want a veterinarian to give the horse a pre purchase exam to assure the horse is sound.

Horse Lease

Terms of a horse lease will include the monthly lease payment, the term of the lease, and expenses are covered by you, the lessee, and what is covered by the owner. Those would include farrier, routine vet visits, and grooming. Also, who is going to pay if extra veterinarian care is required due to illness or injury. Leased horses may be confined to the owner's property or allowed to be housed elsewhere, depending on the terms of the lease.

Sample horse lease.

Providing for Your Horse in Your Will

Since most horse owners cherish their horses, it makes sense to have a plan in the event of the owner's serious illness or death. What do you want done with your horses if you are not around to care for them anymore? Making a special provision in your will that describes how you want your horses treated after you're gone. It is not fair to your horses to leave them without survivors knowing your wishes by spelling out all the details in your will.

Horse Trust Fund

Some horse owners take their will a step further and establish a trust fund to provide for care and feeding of their horses when they are gone. The trust establishes the rules for disbursements of funds and the type of care to be given to the relevant horses.

Horses Living on Your Property

Many people like to keep their horses on their own property, and thus have to perform all the associated maintenance chores everyday. While most horse owners perform these chores themselves, many also have help in some form from family members or paid helpers. It's a good idea to have someone who can back you up in times of personal emergencies or vacation.

Along with backyard horse comes the cost of hay, feed, and pest control, not to mention the tools of the trade such as water buckets, feed storage containers, and muck forks.

Stabled Horses at Paid Boarding Barns

A popular alternative to keeping horses on your property, is boarding the horses at a boarding barn. This entails finding a suitable barn and budgeting for the boarding expense. Horse stables offer different levels of service that can help the busy horse owner such as full and partial board. You will want to check the reputation of any barn before making a decision. Some barns specialize in certain horse disciplines like dressage or horse jumping.

Testing Horse Ownership

One way to get started as a horse person is to lease a horse. Depending on the terms of the lease, you will have a fixed cost every month and not have the stress of dealing with unforeseen emergencies regarding the horses health. You also do not have to come up with the purchase price. If you don't like the horse or want to move on, you can terminate the lease without having to deal with finding a new home for the horse.

Alternatives to Horse Ownership for Horse Lovers

Horse Business

One thing about equestrian related businesses is the being a part of the horse world. Everything from horse trainers to horse boarding barns entails a knowledge of certain aspects of horses and also the knowledge of how to run a business.

Working with Horses as an Employee

If you love horses, but feel you can't afford the time and money involved, there are several ways you can be around horses, including riding horses for someone else. Many of the top competitive show riders ride high cost horses owned by someone else. Additionally, jobs as grooms, exercise riders, barn managers, and related occupations bring the horse lover into close contact with horses every day.

Volunteering with Horses

Alternatively, there numerous volunteer opportunities at horse rescue and horse therapy organizations that will help you learn about and be around horses. And you only have to commit the amount of time you can afford to spend away from your other responsibilities.

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