Buying first horse

Between last year and this year, I accomplished a handful of goals (mostly financial) that, upon completion, I told myself I would be ready to buy my first horse.

Fast forward to now and to be honest, I find the thought of buying and owning my own horse to be quite unnerving for many reasons.

The upfront costs aren’t the problem, it’s the recurring expenses that worry me. And seeing as I want to purchase a home this year, I’m projecting my monthly/annual recurring expenses to balloon substantially if I get a horse as well.

Another reason I’m worried about purchasing a horse is because I have no clue where I am with respect to riding in all aspects. I know where I want to get to but I have no idea how to get there. I switched to dressage last September after 5 years of lackluster jumping. I’ve proverbially had to start over and I’m unlearning most of what I “learned” in those 5 years. I have no clue how to assess my abilities as a rider. On some horses I ride fairly well, on others it feels like I’ve never been on a horse. On some horses my trot work is great but my canter needs work. On others its vice versa. I have no consistency between lessons and often have one great lesson amongst several really bad lessons (bad being my performance, not the horse nor my trainer). I also don’t know what horse is right for me given my current situation. Do I want a well trained horse, a horse that needs work, younger vs. older, etc. In short, I feel quite lost and confused and I don’t know how getting my own horse fits within my current conundrum.

Finally, it’s a lot of responsibility. This is what it must feel like having a kid :smile: Having a half-ton, four legged animal dependent upon me is a lot of responsibility and as a single fellow, not a type of responsibility I am used to. I suppose it’s the unexpected that is most concerning: a sudden need to move, a veterinary issue with respect to the horse, a change in income on my part, etc. I suppose I’m looking at what can go wrong which isn’t necessarily healthy but it’s a way of thinking gleaned from my career so it’s hard not to factor in the unknowns and potential pitfalls.

Cold feet I’m having it seems. Anyone else experience this upon purchasing your first horse?

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You should get a horse a level or two above where you are at, with scope to go higher. Say a confirmed 2nd level horse. Once you catch up to the horse you can start schooling higher moves with your coach. But dont get a Grand Prix horse that needs constant tuning up and will have too many buttons for you.

However you might be better off leasing this horse for now.

Whether you buy or lease, choose a horse you feel totally comfortable on right now. Gaits temper body type. You don’t need the flashiest hottest horse in the room. You need solid and safe to continue progressing.

If you board the horse you download most of the basic care onto the barn manager and trainer.

If you are not sure you can meet expenses going forward then lease.

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I can’t really empathize with you on the cold feet part, because I don’t remember a time in my life I haven’t owned a horse, BUT-- we are all figuring it out. Every new horse I get or ride there is a learning curve and some are longer and stronger and more terrifying than others. 99.99% of the time the fun significantly outweighs the stress. I too have serious financial anxiety.

I agree with lease and the advice re. level mentioned above. I think if you are this unsure of your abilities and truly feel lost on a new horse then you probably fall into the advanced beginner-intermediate range-- training level sound familiar? The lease will mimic these recurring costs and you can both get used to another regular lump sum leaving your bank account and decide if scary costs out of nowhere are simply too much for you. Don’t think of leasing as a halfway point between owning and not owning. People lease for so many different reasons, this is one of them.

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I get what you’re saying with respect to riding level. I’m not against leasing and I definitely have that in mind as an option.

I think perhaps my biggest concern in all of this is time. At the moment, I am riding 4 days week which is not enough. If I’m going to buy or lease a horse, I’d like to ride them almost every day. Given my current schedule, I just don’t see how that is possible which leads me to ask the question: what is the point of buying/leasing if I can’t ride them as much as I would like?

I’m working on creating more time for riding but I’m already spread very thin as is.

I think time is a major consideration for all of us. Having a horse - or even doing lessons and not owning - is a major “time eater.” I swear barns have their own time zone - you think you are on time, but really you are 45 minutes later than you expect.

There’s definitely other things that have to give to make room for horses, at least for me. I ride my horse 3-5 days a week, depending on my work schedule. The days I go out, my DH is nice enough to wait for me before making dinner, but some nights we don’t eat till 8:30 - when we go to bed at 9:30!

How long have you been riding 4x a week? Are those lessons or a mix of solo riding and lessons? Are you doing any exercising outside of riding to help? Honestly, I have found doing a 1/2 hour of yoga 5 days a week (weekday mornings) have made a huge improvement in my riding.

Leasing or even a half lease will let you get your toes wet as you sort out priorities and budgeting.

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Well said! Riding is definitely a time sink, one that is enjoyable thankfully but it definitely has it’s way of taking up lots of time, even with grooms at hand.

I think what you said about other things giving way is important but that is what I’m struggling with. Outside of riding, my two largest time sinks are sleep and work. I can’t sleep less, I’ve tried and it backfired horribly. I’m still not sleeping enough. I’m working on working less (haha) but I’m running family businesses so it’s a bit complicated. You mentioned eating late which is something I can’t do as my sleep then gets effected going to bed with a full stomach.

Aside from riding, working, and sleeping, I spend roughly four hours a week between swimming and gym. I suppose I can cut this down but it’s really not much spread out over 7 days. If anything I’d like to do more but again, time constraints. I’d like to think my physical activity outside of riding definitely helps my life in general, including time spent in the saddle.

I’ve been riding 4x a week nearly since I started with my current trainer so about 6 months. One of those is a solo ride whilst the other three are lessons.

I’m a life long rider who has never owned my own horse. I like riding a variety of horses as I find it interesting to find the key to unlock it’s mind, to work with it and find improvement. I’m not in the least bit competitive so I’m happy if I have a better horse at the end of each ride, though I’ve won cups and ribbons when I do show.

One thing I have learned in my decades is that to ride well one has to be in the present, fully focused on the horse and on riding. Stress, worry, ill-health affect ones riding quite strongly. Another thing I have learned is that any ride is a learning experience, absolutely every time you sit on a horse it will teach you something new. Sometimes the lessons are subtle and that is another reason to be in the moment with the horse, otherwise you can totally miss what the horse is telling you.

What these observations are leading towards is to suggest you continue your lessons but hold off buying your own horse until you are more settled: mentally, emotionally and financially. You are learning and building your skills at present. They won’t disappear if you wait to buy a horse. Over the next few months you might find what sort of horse you like, or find what you like changes as your skill and feel improves. It will certainly allow you to develop the ability to ride more consistently on many horses.

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I am sincerely not judging so please don’t be offended. It doesn’t sound like horses are your passion. You’re clearly interested, but not horse crazy like some of us and that’s OK. For me, I love going to the barn and riding. Ideally, I ride 2 horses 6 days a week. There are plenty of things I happily go without to be able to afford this.

That said, I do not want to have my horses at home primarily because I like having others I can lean on to share the load. As was mentioned, when you board there is a lot you don’t have to worry about like hay deliveries and manure removal, cleaning stalls etc. If you’re in training, the trainer takes on a lot of responsibility depending on the contract.

I kept my horses in full training until I retired exactly for that reason. Now, I have the responsibility of the trainer but I’m down with that. I do pay “day care” for my horses to the boarding facility, but still am there daily but know that the grooms check on my horses and turn them out daily.

It seems that leasing is the best option for you. You say riding 4 days a week is not enough, but your goals aren’t not clear to me; not enough for what?

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You keep telling me reasons you can’t have a horse right now. Sounds like you don’t want a horse, no?

Four days a week might not be enough to make crazy progress, but I’d say it’s pretty normal. Both of mine go five days a week. A lot of horses need a day off every 3/4 days. Do you really not have time for one more ride? Do you feel like if you REALLY wanted a horse you would do everything in your power to ride 5x a week? What if one of those is a lesson and one is a training ride? Now we’re back to four days/week. These are things you have to work out but sometimes you don’t see the answer until the horse is in front of you. From what you’re telling us, I think leasing is the better option.

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I am so sorry to say this, but it does not sound like you are yet in a position to be able to afford a decent horse boarded at a good stable, plus lessons and whatever training that horse will need (and it will probably have some holes in its training.) This goes even more so if you are buying a house. It isn’t just the house payments, insurance and taxes, it is UPKEEP without which your house will lose value.

Right now grain prices are getting much higher, and with China’s demand they probably won’t be going down soon. Wood products are higher, which means that barns, fences, bedding
and your house repairs will take more and more of your money.

I have yet to see boarding prices go down. When I started off pasture board in a good pasture with good fences, lessons included, and a very experienced owner living on the farm running the stable it was $65.00 in the early 1970’s. Cheap board was about $40.00. EVERY FEW YEARS boarding costs went up, and they kept going up. Same with veterinarians, farriers, trainers and lessons. It NEVER gets any cheaper.

Just like a house.

If you buy a house I would NOT buy a horse, been there, done that, I ended up very “horse poor”, then I had children. It is a very big strain, and then your horse will inevitably have a medical emergency that costs thousands of dollars. Or your horse goes lame and you cannot ride him for months (or you have to retire him.) Owning a horse can be full of unexpected expenses, just as owning a house is full of unexpected expenses or a car for that matter.

If you try to figure out a realistic budget for a horse, come up with it and TRIPLE it so you will have enough money for emergencies, your emergencies, the emergency vet bill, the emergency of having to buy a new car or replace the engine/transmission, the emergency of having to replace your house’s roof or furnace, etc., etc., etc…

I owned several horses for over 40 years, back when it was much, much, much cheaper to buy and own a horse, I both boarded and then I kept them at home. I did not replace my last horse when she died, I realized that feed prices etc. were going to go up and never come down. That was about 12 years ago and I was right. At today’s prices there is no way that I can afford to buy a decent horse, board it at a GOOD stable, get GOOD riding lessons, and get GOOD training for the horse.

I ride lesson horses. The lesson horse goes lame or has an emergency? I may contribute to the stable’s costs for this but I don’t have to pay for anything extra if I don’t want to. I figure that the stable has included the regular costs for keeping the horse and stable in the riding lesson costs, and when the lesson costs go up it won’t be anywhere as much as my costs would go up if I owned that particular lesson horse. If the lesson horse goes blind or falls over dead I am not faced with buying yet another horse.

When Vladimir Littauer ran his lesson program in NYC (1930s) he required his students to do one lesson and two homework rides a week, because otherwise they would not make real progress in learning to ride or developing physically so they could become good riders (this was in Forward Seat/hunt seat). Right now at 4 hours a week you are doing an hour more a week than his students were, but then you are riding dressage.

It takes at least 5 years to become a really good rider, for dressage or jumping, if you are physically fit (I think you are) and have the patience and desire to do so. Of course it helps to have a GOOD teacher, but by now you can probably spot warning flags of less that ideal teachings.

Of course the day that you run into a horse that is so darn perfect and you lose your head–well most horsepeople have gone through this. That is why we own horses because as a logical economic decision owning a horse is not truly logical or economical.

But it is a lot of fun. I never regretted owning horses no matter the cost, the work, and the inevitable heartbreak of losing them.

But I don’t regret not owning a horse now because at least I am still riding three times a week if the Universe cooperates with me, and that is enough for poor elderly and crippled me to make progress with my riding. I am aiming to ride until I die, and with some help I will, improving little bit by little bit every ride.

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Sounds like you need to lease, not buy, a schoolmaster.

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Definitely lease 1st, then go from there.

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I’m in agreement with several other posters. Ideally a lease sounds the most reasonable right now, and can prepare you for ownership if that’s the route you go in the future.

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I wouldn’t make two big purchases at the same time. If you’re set on buying a house right now, I’d wait on the horse. Look for a horse to lease while you’re adjusting to the house and see how it goes.
FWIW, I ride around 4 days a week. It’s a schedule that works for me with the other things that I have going on in my life. I think that leasing is always helpful just to see how having a horse would fit into your life, both financially and in terms of your time management. I do think it’s normal to feel apprehensive when buying a horse, though! I just wouldn’t do it right now when you’re also purchasing a house. You can find a nice horse to lease that you can ride by yourself right now. Personally as an amateur rider, I always want to lease or buy a horse that I can take a lesson on or, on most days, come to the barn and ride totally on my own comfortably. Sure, there might be an odd day when it’s stormy or something weird is going on where you decide to do something instead of ride, but on most days I want to feel like I can hop on and ride without help.

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Do you have the option to share board? It would provide the consistency of riding one horse and making progress rather than changing your struggles/ accomplishments week to week. While it’s great to be able to know how to ride a variety of types, there is a point in your schooling where the consistency is needed. Shareboarding or leasing is a great way tondo this without making a long term commitment

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Ask yourself why you want to own a horse? Why did you promise yourself that after you met certain goals you would buy a horse?

You can definitely advance in your riding by taking lessons and not buying a horse. At some point, depending on your instructor and the barn, you may plateau with the lesson horses they have available, but it sounds like you’re not there yet.

There are also advantages to leasing rather than owning, especially the ability to step away if the horse isn’t working out or your situation changes. But it’s not the same as owning a horse and it has the disadvantage that you often have much less control over managing the horse, its training, and its health.

Owning a horse is more responsibility–less responsibility than a kid though! more like a big, self-destructive dog.

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Thank you all for the replies. Leasing is definitely an option and seems to be the best move going forward for now.

@Willesdon I’m working on the stress. Work is high stress and beyond the health implications, it definitely affects my riding.

@atlatl No offense taken, although perhaps we define passion differently. Riding 4x a week is not enough in terms of many things but off the top of my head, consistency ranks pretty high. At the very least, I’d like to get to a point where it doesn’t feel like two steps forward - five steps back every few lessons. I’m not grasping concepts at the rate I would like to. I lose what I worked on between lessons and that is frustrating. I found jumping to be much more intuitive. That’s not to say I was a great jumper because I wasn’t. But there was definitely a smoother flow of learning going on with that sport. Dressage has been nothing but frustration and that’s partly because lack of fundamentals which I should have learned in the past but still, it’s been brutal. And I’m constantly having to address physical deficiencies on my part such as balance issues, limb coordination, etc. and those all manifest in different ways depending upon which horse I ride. To me all this means I need more saddle time, more than 4x a week.

@blue_heron Good point, maybe I don’t :man_facepalming:t4:

@Jackie_Cochran @Casey09 The house is a priority. My current living situation is unsustainable. Not a good time to buy obviously but it needs to be done.

@Posting_Trot A great question! Since I started riding, trainers have pressed the idea on me that I can’t meaningfully progress, at least competitively, without owning my own horse. Similarly, as others have eluded to above, once you reach a certain level, riding is a passion and way of life, one that cannot be had without having your own horse. So over the years I set a goal for myself to own my own horse. Perhaps things aren’t so black and white but I do know trainers take you less seriously when they find out you’ll be riding school horses rather than owning/leasing your own horse. I also know there are many unscrupulous people in this industry that will say anything to get you to spend money so it’s been a bizarre journey. The big, self-destructive dog made me laugh, thank you :joy:

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I would also recommend leasing for right now. You can really get to know one horse and how it feels to progress with that particular horse. That’s an amazing experience to feel for the first time (or any time).

You’ll be paying the expenses and will get more comfortable with all that entails. Let’s be honest, though. With horses, things sometimes just happen. No one can foresee those large unexpected vet expenses that come up from time to time. That uncertainty is something we all must accept when we choose horse ownership.

I really believe that when it’s the right time to buy, the right horse will present itself and you’ll just know you’re ready for the commitment.

My horses have all walked into my life at a certain moment totally unexpectedly, and each time I immediately knew they were the perfect horse for me. Sending good wishes that the same will happen for you.

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Just to add, you actually can progress in your riding and showing with a lease horse. I did it for 9 months - took a 4 year old OTTB mare and progressed to successfully showing training and first level during that time.

(Back story - I wanted to buy her, but she tended to colic. I had lost my previous mare to complications after colic surgery and was too afraid to live through that again. After 9 months of leasing, I had the lightbulb moment. I had known all along that I loved her, but suddenly realized that the pain of potentially losing her wouldn’t be any less if I was leasing rather than owning. So I bought her. One of the best decisions I ever made).

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Welcome to dressage! Horses are the best humblers, and out of the disciplines I’ve ridden (and competed!), dressage is the most humbling. ‘Back to the basics’ is something we all have to rinse and repeat often.
I can tell you’re a high achiever (as most of us are here). ‘High achievement’ can be found in the most minute detail even if for a fleeting moment. Be kind to yourself.
As for buying a horse, I always feel a mix of excitement and apprehension. I agree with a lease for now so you can get a feel for what owning will be like not to mention it might take longer than you think to find a horse to buy unless your trainer can hook you up. Even then, it seems like that’s taking more time depending on where you’re located. All the best!

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