Your First Horse or Pony: Considerations Before Buying

Horses and ponies are living breathing creatures. If you are thinking of buying, then I think you need to be aware of the liabilities and the responsibilities before you make your decision. Always spend time educating yourself. It is important that you understand your potential pets needs and your own. Know exactly what you are letting yourself in for! Reading around the subject and making regular visits to various riding schools and horse stabling yards is a great start. Talk to the people that run them, meet the animals and their owners up front and personal. Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions, they are very friendly folk in the most part. It's a 'club' you will be joining, there will always be advice on offer for you for when you get 'stuck', and you will!

There are some very nice calm animals out there, just like people. The likelihood is, however, that the animal you purchase will already have some habits, good or bad, that you may not see when 'trying' them out, and you must 'try' them. That's your first horse term out of the way!

Never buy an animal that you have not seen, ridden and handled (especially if it is a pony for a child). You want to avoid the animal with certain traits. The constant 'ears flat back', may mean that he/she is genuinely a grouch, or that he/she is in pain. The latter could mean you end up with huge vet bills trying to make your animal happy again.

Before going to see your prospective purchase, try and arrange for a "horsey person" to go with you. People with knowledge will know what to look for, and If your riding is not up to par, or your early confidence is lacking, they will be able to ride the animal for you.

Novice riders will need to find an animal that is calm and probably a little bit older 10-15 years old. A horse or pony that has been at his/her job 'for a while'. Animals of this age tend to be calmer, less 'skittish' and do not 'spook' at unusual circumstances. Cars in narrow lanes! Tractors! Drain covers, dogs etc. You will soon find your own horses foibles as you build your relationships later.

Visit some local yards where people keep their horses/ponies, this will give you an idea of the rules & regulations that are expected by the land owner. You may be asked to sign a contract. Make sure you read it well before signing. Most yards will ask for vaccination certificates and worming details too. More on this later.

It is always a good idea to find out about how much it will cost to insure your animal. This can be a mine field, but try to go with a firm that has a long history of horse/pony insurance, as you may not get the correct cover otherwise. You can contact, for example, the British Horse Society-American Horse Society for a complete list of insurers. They will also be able to give you a list of registered farriers because believe me you will need one. For a horse/pony, feet/hooves, if not looked after, can be terminal!

Not all horse owners insure their animals, but in my experience it is a very necessary thing. Vet bills can be huge and if you are unlucky enough to have an animal that cuts itself badly, or picks up a virus, at least you are covered (after excess of course!).

You will also be covered if your animal strays or damages any vehicles or property while you are out riding. If you do it for no other reason, do it for peace of mind.

Thinking about all the equipment that goes with looking after your new friend can be daunting. The list can be endless.

  • Grooming Brushes
  • Head collars & Lead reins
  • Buckets
  • Sponges & Cleaning cloths
  • First Aid Kit
  • Wheelbarrow
  • 'Fork' & shovel (Type depends on bedding)
  • Hay nets
  • Broom
  • Bridle
  • Bits
  • Saddle
  • Girths
  • Saddles Cloths
  • Tack cleaning Equipment (saddle soap cloths, leather oil)

These are just the minimum items and they will eat into your finances. Do not be tempted to buy equipment you know nothing about (just because it looks nice!). All equipment has a specific purpose and is designed to work in a specific way. Unless you are advised that you need it by a professional, don't purchase it. You can cause yourself more problems if you don't heed this warning, as some equipment can be quite harsh & painful in the wrong hands. You could make your animal resent being handled and ridden. You don't want that do you folks? If you buy your horse and the saddle comes with it, chances are that the saddle was made and fitted properly when it was purchased. If you need to buy a saddle, then you will need it to be fitted by a professional. Again, be prepared, saddles can be several thousands in price. Over the years, so many exceptional animals have been ruined because the saddles did not fit properly causing intense pain and discomfort, notwithstanding the changes in temperament the animal suffers. This impacts the owners too. As with humans, horses will compensate when they are in pain. Once the problem has been fixed it is often very hard to get rid of the habits they formed to protect themselves. We're after happy horses and owners so do your homework!

Ok, so if you're still with me here, it's time to think about bedding and feeding. You will need to ensure that you find a good supplier for your bedding and feed stuffs. The land owner may insist that you purchase bedding (straw, shavings etc.) from them direct. Ask the question before you commit to keeping your animal there, as this can sometimes work out quite costly, and you may find yourself paying over the odds.

The cheapest option would be straw, but try to buy direct from a farmer as they will usually offer reductions on a bulk buy (100-150 bails). You WILL need somewhere dry and large enough to stack it. Most tack rooms have limited space, so arrangements need to be made if this option is chosen. Hay and straw need to be stored with an adequate air flow, to prevent dust build up and mould.

Some animals cannot be kept on straw due to allergies (such as excessive dust). You will need to find the cheapest alternate option for you. There are various options out there. The following are quoted in UK pounds as a guide. Prices may vary season to season, depending on demand and harvests. Wood shavings (about £6-00 per bail - you will need about 6 bails to start off with and about 1-2 bails per week), 'medibed' a dust extracted fine bedding designed for allergy prone animals (about £8-00 per bail). Paper, cardboard, peat, etc. The list is quite large. It is worth noting here that some animals require stored hay to be damped or soaked before eating due to allergy/respiratory issues.

Feeding will be down to the individual animal, so is very hard for me to give too much advice on this, but if you find a good supplier use their knowledge.

More often than not, if you give an over view of how your animal behaves they will be able to suggest a feeding regime. Although ready mixed feeds are the thing of the day, please remember that your animal will also enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables such as carrots & apples as part of his / her balanced diet. Feeding is VERY dependent on whether animals have access to pasture. This varies throughout the seasons and needs to be adjusted ad hoc. Fresh water should ALWAYS be available whether 'turned out' to pasture or 'kept in' stables. More jargon!

You will also need to find a very good 'farrier'. Note that there is also a difference between a farrier and a 'blacksmith'. Some blacksmiths are farriers as well. Choose wisely. There is usually a farrier that already visits communal horse yards. Observe their work and make decisions based on local knowledge. Prices will vary, so it's advisable to contact a few before arranging a visit. Your animal will need to be seen every 6 - 8 weeks if you have shoes on your horse/pony. Even if you are lucky enough to have an animal with very strong feet, that don't need 'shoeing', you will still need to have their feet trimmed at regular intervals, as their hooves will constantly grow. A good farrier is worth their weight in gold, as they will be able to foresee problems before they progress and can advise you on your course of action.

You will also have to register your animal with a local vet. Ask around local yards. As with the farrier, a good vet is essential. You will need to inoculate your animal yearly, against tetanus and equine flu. It would also be a good idea to make sure you are also covered for tetanus via your doctor. Your horse will also need worming on a regular basis (every 3 months), all good yards will insist on this and will require proof that it has been done. Yards in their nature are dirty places, scratches and bumps (bites and kicks!) are common place, so make sure you have your own first aid kit available.

This is just an overview really. Don't be fooled, this is a very expensive hobby. It can be full of pitfalls. It can also be the most beautiful experience. Fresh air, exercise, outdoor experiences, and bonding with your horse and fellow man (ladies too!). It is a club and usually once you're in, you're hooked!

You really do need to think long and hard about taking on such a responsibility, so make sure you have the time to dedicate to it.

In the second article in this series, I will go into further details on the 'average' day's duty on the horse yard. Believe me, that will be shockingly interesting!

To your continued health and happiness

Steve Sandilands

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