How much does a horse cost? Part 1: Buying a horse

Arren Wilkinson is keen equine enthusiast , with a journalism background. When he’s not working for you will normally find him with either a soccer ball at his feet or his kitten ‘Alba’ in his arms! This article originally appeared on

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.15.40 AMThere comes a point where riding lessons, leasing, or a using a friend’s horse just doesn’t cut it: you want a horse of your own. Today horse ownership requires many responsibilities, both at the barn and at home. Luckily it can, and will be rewarding when you buy a horse. But you must ensure your buy is best suited to your needs- and within your budget. Pull out your calculator and take this as a guideline; do some more research on the costs explained below, especially within to your area specifically. Hopefully this article will go someway to helping you understand the average cost of owning a horse.

If you are taking lessons, discuss with your instructor the price of a horse within in your preferred riding discipline, and that fits your experience. They will have a good idea of how much you will need to spend (or not spend). This article is not going to answer how much a horse is, or how much you should pay for a horse, but rather the actual cost of horse ownership.
So, how much does a horse cost to first of all buy and then to own?

The Cost of Buying a Horse

Before You (Really) Begin

The only gray hair you should potentially get from the buying process should be from a gray horse, shedding fuzzy flecks of love that stick to everything you own. Not your own hair! Before you start looking at what’s for sale, know your budget. Don’t fall into a pit of debt, an ambush you have created for yourself after becoming an owner. A free horse is never free and the best way to prevent financial chaos, especially the first year of ownership, is to plan and sketch out your horse-owning-budget. It is unfair to the horse (and the people around you) to buy it, then realize you cannot afford it, and wish it a sweet farewell shortly afterward.

Add up the costs it will take just to buy the horse of your dreams, and then the cost of owning as described below. Check, then double check again that your income can afford it, along with your own costs of living, before moving forward. If not, look at other options such as leasing or co-owning a horse.

Enlist Help of Others: Trainers, Friends and Family

If you are really interested in competing and wish to do it often, it is best to find a trainer in your area who specializes in that type of training, and start building a good working relationship with him or her immediately. Most likely you will all be together a lot, maybe even boarding at the trainer’s facility. Trainers have a network of horsey connections and are a great resource to use when looking for a horse. Sometimes trainers will take a 10-15% “finders fee” for helping you find and purchase the horse, helping select the horse for you. This option should be determined at the beginning of the hunt so there are no complications or misunderstandings.

Trainers also make great companions when you are going out to look at and try horses. Find out how much they want for their time on the road with you. The distance/ number of hours it takes usually determines how much they charge for their service. If the horse is for sale nearby, the trainer may charge anywhere from $50- S75 for about two to three hours of their time.

If you are not interested in working with a trainer, at least take an interested friend, and or critic with you. Have them record the experience with a smartphone or video camera so you can watch the experience later. Many people make the mistake of falling for the first horse they check out, their mind over-rationalizing the good things and saying to themselves, “I like him a lot! He’s great!” forgetting to process the negative, even dangerous things wrong from the get go. A skeptical or experienced horse buying friend or family member may be the only yield sign or half halt you need as you scan potential advertisements, reminding you of exactly what you need versus what is being shown to you, saving you precious time and money in your quest to buy a horse.

Whether you bring a trainer, friend or family member along, calculate your cost of gas there and back and include a lunch or snack break if it is going to be a longer trip. Hungry trainers are always dangerous to transport.

The Pre-Purchase Vet Check: What is it?

Endoscopic tests, drug testing, bone scans, ultrasounds, and thermography scans are all additional ways to learn more about the horse for sale but with significant investment from the interested buyer. Generally these are only used on high-performance and competition horses or if the veterinarian highly recommends them after his or hers’ basic pre-purchase exam.

Expect the pre-purchase exam costs to be no less than $200. $200-$300 should cover a thorough, basic exam, with lots of scribbled notes and numbers written down by the vet throughout the exam. Many times it is printed very neatly and sent to you shortly after the exam.

If the horse didn’t “pass the test” for whatever reason in your mind, and you decide not to purchase it, swallow the money you spent on the pre-purchase exam and quickly pat yourself on the back for not buying the horse. Keep from feeling pressured or obligated to buy a horse just because you invested in a vet check, no matter how much money you think you’ve “lost”. It is far better in the long run to keep your search going then purchasing something not completely suitable to your needs.

DIG-18025-Headers-for-Important-article---ASAP-please_horsebillofsaleHorse Bill of Sale


Luckily, the bill of sale is free. Sometimes people write their own, but it is more common to print a standard bill of sale from an online source. When you do find a horse you feel 100% confident in buying, print 3 copies (one for you, one for the owner of the horse and one to keep in the vehicle you transport the horse in), and start preparing a folder for the day you pick up the new member of the family. This is also the time to start thinking about equine insurance policies for your new bundle of joy if you have extra money in your budget to invest in equine mortality or medical insurance.

Tidyforms is a great place to find examples online. Click here for a equine bill of sale sample.


Trailering Your New Horse Home

If you have not taken the “plunge” and bought a dependable truck and loyal trailer yet to complete your equestrian “lifestyle”, you need to figure out how to bring your new purchase home. If you are lucky, the horse is local and the current owner is able to haul the horse to you, free of charge. If not, reaching out to fellow trailer-owning friends or commercial haulers is your next best bet. If you are lucky, the going “minimum” rate is around $.75-S1 per mile. Depending on where you live it may start as low as $2 per mile. Factors include how many other horses are in the trailer, who is shipping the horse and what the current price of gas is. Contact reputable haulers in your area and request a quote and do your research to find one that works best for you.

Hauling a horse adds wear and tear to both the truck and the trailer being used. If a friend is helping you, be considerate of both their time and their personal property being used and offer to pay them comparably.

For example a trip from Green Bay to Chicago is 210 miles. Round-trip it is 420 miles. If you have a newer truck and your own trailer, the cost of gas will cost you between $60 and $80 for the entire trip (again depending on the price of gas, gas mileage, etc). If you are unable to haul the horse yourself, a quote from a professional hauler may range between $350 and $600 for a 420 mile trip.

DIG-18025-Headers-for-Important-article---ASAP-please_traileringyourhorsehome_travellingacrossstatelinesTraveling Across State Lines

In this example, and in many situations, the horse will be crossing state lines. Check with the veterinarian who completed the pre-purchase exam to learn what is required to have with you as you take the horse over state lines. Every state requires something different, but the minimum you should have is your bill of sale, current Coggins test paperwork, and a health certificate no older than 30 days tucked somewhere dry and safe in your vehicle. Normally, the horse already has a Coggins test when you buy it and is valid for one year, so only an additional health certificate is needed. The total costs for a health certificate could be:

Farm Call + Exam + Certificate = total cost (depending on veterinarian)

     60    + 20     +    15    = $95

If you want to save money and have a bit of time and patience before taking physical possession of the horse, talk to the current owners or barn owner and see when the next time a veterinarian is scheduled to come to the barn. If the vet is going to be there for other services, the farm call fee may be dropped or divided among a number of people, greatly reducing the high farm call cost.


Request a health certificate on the day of the vet check.  If you think the horse might be coming home with you in the next 30 days (meaning you are very interested in purchasing him) request a health certificate for after the end of the exam. The veterinarian will most likely charge you only for the cost of the certificate, saving you both time and money.

Potential Total Minimum Costs around Purchasing a Horse- local, in-state, without finders fees

Trainer’s Costs 1x                                     $75

Costs of Trip to “Try a horse 1x”             $75

(including gas and lunch for two people)

Pre-Purchase Veterinarian Exam 1x        $200

Trailering the horse                              $60

(personal truck and trailer, gas only)           

Total                                                           $410

Keep in mind this is only adding up the cost of checking out one horse. Multiply your costs of checking out one horse and any additional pre-purchase exams if you are having a hard time deciding between horses.



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