Although the purchase of a first horse is often treated like adding any other pet to your family, the fact is that horse ownership is unlike any other experience. Horses, with their unique feeding needs, care requirements, and extremely large size, require specific skills to keep them healthy, safe, and happy.
In this article, you’ll learn how to know when you (or your child) are ready for your first horse. To help you learn interactively, I’ve developed a first-horse readiness quiz to help potential first-time horse owners of all ages decide if the time is right for them to buy their first horse.
Take my quiz to help you decide if you are ready for your first horse:
How to get Ready for your First Horse
When you get a new pet, usually the only preparation is buying their food, a cage or crate, and perhaps reading a few articles. In the case of horses, however, preparing for your first horse can be a process that takes a year or more.
In that year of learning (usually in the form of lessons or an apprenticeship under a horse professional), you can learn not just about riding, but also how to handle a horse on the ground, how to feed and care for them, and how to recognize and care for equine health issues.
A common path towards horse ownership follows this track:
While many new horse owners do jump right in against professional advice, the recommended path towards a first horse that I many other horse professionals recommend is the steps above. First-time owners who take the time to learn about horses and horse care before buying their first horse set themselves up for success and an enjoyable experience as a horse owner.
By taking the time to learn, this path towards horse ownership tends to slowly build skills to make it easier to become a confident and independent responsible horse owner.
Quiz: Are You Ready for your First Horse?
Skills you need before buying your first horse:
You don’t need to be an expert in these areas before your first horse, but you do need to know enough to know what you don’t know – in other words, how to recognize warning signs that you need to call in a professional. Broad knowledge about a variety of horse-related topics can help us to make qualified and competent decisions about when we need to consult with an expert.
These categories are broad, but involve much of the knowledge that is essential for everyday horse management. While of course, it is possible to niche down to extreme points of precise knowledge when it comes to horses, but for the most part, it’s okay to leave this type of expert knowledge to the professionals as long as you’ve got a basic understanding of horses and horse management gained through hands-on experience.
Basic essential horse handling skills
Every horse owner should have a basic grasp of these skills, to gain more knowledge or to consult around an issue in this area, seek a horse trainer or riding coach.
You’ll need to know how to safely lead a horse on a lead line without endangering yourself for the horse. Learn more about leading, horse lead ropes, and ground tying here.
Grooming not only keeps our horses clean and helps us bond with them, but it also helps us to identify health and medical issues before they become severe. Knowing how to properly groom a horse from head to hoof and keep your grooming tools clean is a basic skill you’ll need for your first horse.
Lunging is used by horse owners for a number of reasons, including exercise, training, or helping more inexperienced riders safely spend time in the saddle.
Although riders can and do spend years honing their skills at horseback riding, for your first horse you’ll want to have no less than 50 rides in the saddle (that’s about a year of weekly horseback riding lessons). Through what you learn in horseback riding lessons, you’ll learn the basics of horseback riding including mounting, holding the reins, cueing your horse, how to stop a horse, and other essential in-the-saddle skills.
Basic horse management skills
These skills are essential to keeping horses healthy and happy. If you find yourself with questions that you can’t solve through basic research, consult with a tack store, saddle fitter, or veterinarian.
Tack and equipment fit
Before your first horse, you should know how to recognize signs that a saddle doesn’t fit well, that a bit is too large or too small, or that a halter doesn’t fit a horse’s face properly. While these may seem like advanced skills, tack and equipment that doesn’t fit is tack and equipment that isn’t safe, and recognizing unsafe equipment is a skill every horse owner should have.
How to Maintain Tack and Equipment
Cleaning tack is essential to enjoying a first horse- since dirty equipment can wear out faster, be uncomfortable for a horse, or even (because of the previous two reasons) be a safety hazard that increases the risk of falls. Cleaning horse bits, saddle pads, and other equipment helps it last longer. Before your first horse, you’ll need to know the steps to cleaning, maintaining, and inspecting tack and equipment for safety hazards. You’ll also need to know how to dress safely for riding and how to know when your helmet needs replaced.
Meeting of horses basic needs
To take care of your first horse, you’ll need to have a good understanding of what horses need in terms of types of stabling, protection from the elements including sunburn, how much water horses need, how to clean a horse trough, and how to keep livestock water from freezing in the winter and other necessities related to safe shelter.
How to feed horses
Entire books have been written on how to feed horses properly, but unless your horse has health issues or is a high-performance horse, you should be able to care for your first horse with just a basic understanding of what and how to feed horses (including how much and what type of hay to feed, amount and type of grain or pelleted food to provide, which minerals need to be supplied, how to recognize spoiled hay, etc.)
Knowing the toxic plants in your region
Almost every region has a few plants that are toxic or even fatal if horses eat them. While many horses have an instinctual drive to avoid these plants, that’s not always the case – especially if access to food is limited. Before acquiring your first horse, learn about the toxic plants to look out for in your area.
Managing horse healthcare
Before your first horse, you’ll want to learn about basic healthcare for horses. If you have questions about your horse’s health, your veterinarian’s office is the first place to contact for help.
Regular preventative care
Like any living thing, horses require basic preventative healthcare, and understanding these needs is essential before buying your first horse. Learn about appropriate deworming schedules, when and how your horse will be vaccinated, and managing dental care for your horse.
Healthcare and horse shoes
Not all horses need horseshoes, but all horses need regular care for their hooves which grow constantly throughout their life. Learn about how horseshoes fit and the care that a rider should provide for their horse if they choose to keep their horse “barefoot”.
Every new horse owner should be prepared to recognize signs of illness, take vitals, and provide first aid. You’ll need to understand the warning signs of colic and how to respond as well as how to recognize when your horse is lame or in pain. A first-aid kit to manage scrapes and scratches is an essential supply.
There’s a lot to learn about caring for your first horse, but the exhilaration of finally having a horse of your own is both motivation and reward as many riders prepare for their first horse.