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I dug up a magazine article I wrote back in 2015 for the Molly Green (country living) magazine, put out by the Old Schoolhouse Magazine. I got another free ad so I plunged onward. It’s what you need to know to keep a horse on your property. Enjoy! Have any of these things ever happened to you? (Read the article below the fun pictures of Kaetlyn, who was the model for “Andi” for the illustrator’s pencil drawing of Andi in the Circle C Beginnings).
“I want a pony! Oh, please can we get a horse? I’ll take care of it all by myself. I promise.”
What parent has not heard this heartfelt cry of nearly every little girl (and many boys) between the ages of six and sixteen? City kids have little hope of making their dream horse a reality. But homesteading children? Now, that’s a different story. A horse or pony is within their reach . . . if only Mom and Dad would agree.
Opening your homestead to these beautiful and appealing animals is not the same as acquiring a puppy or a kitten. Firsthand experience with chickens, goats, or even cows does not really prepare the new homesteader (or even the veteran) for the serious decision of keeping a horse.
What can you do to prepare for a horse-owning experience the entire family will cherish for years to come? How can you prevent your spouse or yourself from falling into the “I hate horses” mentality that many unsuspecting horse owners often end up harboring? Two words: careful planning.
Talk about why you want a horse
The reason for bringing a horse onto your homestead will determine the time, money, and energy you need for this investment. Will your horse be a “pasture pal”? Our mare was a retired 4-H horse who liked nothing better than to have her mane and tail braided. Trotting or an occasional gallop was all our daughter required of Panda. She could lie on Panda’s back and gaze up into the sky to her heart’s content.
Perhaps you are looking for a horse as an educational, 4-H project or to participate in show events. These choices require more careful planning for time, horsemanship lessons, and tack (saddles, bridles, etc.) than a pasture pal. Also consider transportation costs. A horse does not fit into the back seat of your van.
Prepare your homestead
Once you have determined the reasons for having a horse, the forward-thinking homesteader considers the cost of the big four: fencing, facilities, feed, and farrier.
Fencing: Picture this true-life scenario. An urgent knock on the door awakens you at midnight. “Do you own a horse?” A sleepy nod. “Your horse just jumped out in front of me and sent my truck into the ditch.” Panic replaces sleep. You race outside in time to see your beloved horse galloping across miles of wheat fields. Your spouse turns to you and mutters, “I hate horses.” When the horse is found two days later, you belatedly realize that the right fence could have saved you, your spouse, your horse, and your midnight visitor a wagonload of grief.
Horse fencing should be at least four or five feet high (no barbed wire!) with a strand of hot wire running along the top. If electricity is unavailable, field fencing should have brace boards across the top and bottom to provide stability and security from predators. Fencing can make or break your horse-owning experience.
Facilities: a horse is not picky about his shelter. He needs a place to get out of the weather and keep his hay and grain dry when he eats. It can be anything from a crude lean-to up to a barn with stalls.
Feed: Unless you have year-round pasturage for grazing, you have to buy food for your horse. The kind of horse and his activity level determine the type of food you buy. Our pasture pal, Panda, was an easy keeper: local grass hay; no grain. Some horses need special feed and protein-rich alfalfa. An older horse can be a blessing, but if his senior grain costs more than your family’s grocery bill, “Grandpa” will soon wear out his welcome. Learn a horse’s eating habits before you bring home a picky eater.
Farrier: Many first-time horse owners do not figure in this hidden expense. Your horse’s shoes will cost more than your children’s shoes, and his feet will need to be dealt with every six to eight weeks. Other incidentals include yearly vaccinations, worming, and having your horse’s teeth floated (filed). Even the most even-tempered horse gets grumpy with a sore mouth. In the end, prevention is cheaper than a vet’s farm call to tend your ailing horse.
Carefully choose the right horse
Horses are intelligent creatures and come in a variety of temperaments. Depending on his past experiences and training (or the lack thereof), a horse can be laid back, eagerly responsive, skittish, fearful, aggressive, or just plain ornery. It is not easy to discern potential bad habits with one visit to the seller, especially if your own experience with horses is limited. In addition, many sellers are happy to pawn off a troublesome horse on an unsuspecting buyer. One unscrupulous seller stooped so low as to drug a horse to mask her serious behavioral problems, resulting in heartbreak and injury at a later date for the new owners. When it comes to acquiring a horse, it is truly “let the buyer beware.”
The best way to learn about a good horse is by word of mouth. A wise buyer seeks the advice of experienced horse people. They are usually delighted to go along and observe a potential sale. A good horseman’s eye can catch things the seller may overlook. He or she can ride the horse and know with a fair amount of certainty any potential behavioral or physical problems. Also, don’t be in a hurry to buy a horse after only one visit. Instead, go back a second or third time before making a decision.
While preparing your homestead for its new equine resident, don’t forget to prepare your children ahead of time for the serious responsibility of owning a horse. Weekly visits to a friend’s or neighbor’s horse barn to learn stall-cleaning, grooming, and basic riding skills will show your children the ongoing hard work involved in this venture. When your own horse finally arrives, your family will be prepared to anticipate many years of joy, education, responsibility, and numerous life lessons.
At various times over many years, Susan K. Marlow has stuffed children, gardening, chickens, milk goats, sheep, beef calves (and a horse!) on a small-acreage homestead within her town’s city limits. Homeschool mom by day, writer by night, she also authored the Circle C Beginnings, Circle C Adventures, and Circle C Milestones—horse-related historical adventure series for kids. Susan and her husband, Roger, are now retired and live on their 14-acre homestead in north-central Washington state. Learn more at susankmarlow.com