Thinking of buying a horse? Stable owners often get asked this question: How much does it cost to keep a horse? If you’re thinking about getting a horse—or even if you already own one—here are five factors to consider.

If you are thinking of buying a horse, you need to appreciate that keeping a horse isn't like keeping a dog or a cat. Dogs and cats can live with you in your own house. They can eat pretty much what you do because their digestive tracks are pretty much like ours. And they weigh somewhere between 8 and 100 lbs.

Horses stand around 5 feet to 6 feet high at their withers (the "bump" where their necks meet their backs). They weigh over 1,000 lbs. And their digestive tracks require forage (mainly dry grass or hay) for food. All of this means that taking care of them is more of a challenge than taking care of a dog or cat. So here's what you need to know:

1. IF YOU PLAN TO BOARD YOUR HORSE: When you consider buying a horse, check out the boarding stables in your area. Boarding rates vary wildly from city to city and state to state. This is primarily due to the cost of land. Prime farm land or land near major metropolitan areas cost more to buy, and hence boarding rates are concomitantly higher than other areas where demand for land is not as great. Boarding costs in the central Illinois area (excluding Chicago and suburbs) range from about $200 monthly (basic pasture board) to about $450 monthly (indoor stall with access to lighted arena). In the Chicago area, rates range from $500 to $700 monthly.

2. IF YOU PLAN TO KEEP YOUR HORSE AT HOME: Perhaps you're thinking that after buying a horse, you will keep your horse at home, you will need to factor in the cost of hay, feed concentrate/supplements, and bedding. Also remember to factor in the increase in water consumption and utilities (e.g., if you have lights in your barn). If you plan to build a barn or move to a larger land lot, you should factor in the additional monthly mortgage cost. If you plan to take in a boarder or two, you will need additional liability insurance. Finally, if you plan to have someone help you clean stalls, you will need to factor in the cost of the additional help. On average, this all adds up to about $300 monthly for buying a horse and keeping your horse at home.

3. FARRIER COSTS (HORSE SHOEING): There is a maxim in the horse world that goes like this: No hoof, no horse. NEVER scrimp on horse shoeing. Horses are half ton animals that spend almost all of their time standing or moving about on their hooves. If you've ever worn badly fitting shoes and experienced the joint problems, back pain, and headaches that result from your two feed not hitting the ground properly, imagine what a four-footed animal with a person on his back experiences when his feet are not trimmed and shod properly. Farrier costs vary from region to region. In the central Illinois area (again excluding Chicago and suburbs), farrier costs for your horse can range from about $30 (for a trim) to over $100 for a full set of shoes. Most horses need to be shod about every six weeks. This is an very important factor to consider when thinking of buying a horse.

4. VETERINARY COSTS: When buying a horse, you must keep in mind veterinary costs. In order to protect your horse and other horses in your area, your horse will need to be vaccinated and dewormed according to American Association of Veterinary Practitioner standards. These costs can range from $50 to $150 annually, depending on whether you vaccinate and/or deworm your horse yourself or have a veterinarian do it. Add this to your overall costs of buying a horse.

5. TACK AND OTHER RELATED COSTS: After you've factored in the cost of buying a horse and horse care costs, consider the cost of tack and equestrian clothing. According to the American Quarter Horse Association, here is how much equestrians spend on tack and related items annually: $774 average spent on tack and saddles $592 average spent on clothing, apparel $557 average spent on horse care products (excluding medications)

6. EMERGENCY FUND OR HEALTH INSURANCE FOR YOUR HORSE: Finally, here is the most important horse-related expense, one that should absolutely be factored into your budget—a veterinary emergency fund.

Ask yourself right now what you would do if your horse were seriously injured or contracted a serious illness that required extensive veterinary care. Could you afford it?

If not, you will be facing one of the hardest decisions in your life—whether to go into debt to treat your horse or to euthanize him because you can’t afford anything else. Either way you decide, you will not feel right about it.

There are two ways to avoid finding yourself in this kind of situation. The first is to buy equine major medical insurance—health insurance for your horse. Costs vary, but an average range is $150 to $350 a year. Another option is to put aside money in a savings account that is earmarked specifically for your horse’s veterinary emergencies. A bare minimum should be the cost of euthanizing your horse and have his body removed, which averages about $250-$300. After years of service and companionship, your horse deserves a humane death. If you want to have your emergency fund there to cover the cost of procedures such as colic surgery, you will need to put aside at least $2,000 to $8,000. Add that to the cost of buying a horse.

If after reading this article, you decide that the amounts cited are more than your budget can handle, then you probably should not pursue buying a horse. If you decide to do so anyway, you will probably face conflict with your family over the financial strain that your horse is unwittingly placing on them.

Copyright Denise Cummins, PhD Return to horse facts from buying a horse.