Owning a Horse – The Financial Considerations

Horse grief and pregnancies

My family gives me grief all the time about the cost of my horse. So when I broke the news to them that my horse has gotten herself pregnant, I knew what to expect. When I was growing up I wanted to earn a living doing something I love with horses, however that didn’t quite pan out, and since then, my brother’s favourite saying is ‘to become a millionaire with horses, you need to start out as a billionaire’.

I was chatting to my instructor the other day too and the way she put it made me laugh but in a sense I get what she meant. ‘You may as well dig a hole, throw your money in and set it alight.’ I have a slightly different view on it though.

All sports can be expensive and horse riding is certainly no exception!

Equestrian sports makes the top 10 list of most expensive sports in the world. Like many sports, one needs the right clothing, equipment and tuition.

In the world of an equestrian though, there is so much more than what meets the eye, but starting out and simply having lessons at a local riding school, horse riding can be quite affordable.

You will need a pair of heeled boots, or even school shoes, a pair of jodhpurs and a helmet, if you are feeling confident that this new sort will be continued, chaps and gloves are also a good investment. If you are budget shopping you will spend about R2,500 for all of these items.

Your lessons will cost anywhere between R1,000 and R2,000 per month. This is dependent on several factors, firstly the yard, the level of the instructor and the area.

As the rider’s career progresses so do the expenses. Every equestrian, or parent of an equestrian knows that there will come a time when simply having a lesson once a week is not going to be enough and if you are considering buying your first horse, or buying your child their first pony, this should not be something you jump into head first.

There are many factors that go into owning a horse. One must consider the time you have available for the horse, will the horse suit your long term goals, your level of dedication and of course most importantly the upkeep of the horse.

Considering getting a horse is definitely a lot more to think about than a dog or cat, as it is not your average pet. Quite often, I have come across people who buy a horse without the due consideration nor knowledge, simply because they have a small holding and it would be so nice for the children! Just NO!

Buying your first horse (or… digging your first hole)

You will come to realise the purchase price of horses can range from R2,000.00 to well over R200,000.00. This will largely depend on the breeding, training, type and level of competition of the horse.

It is also a very good idea to have the horse looked over by a vet before buying the horse, as it will simply ensure you are buying a sound and healthy horse which is less likely to give you unnecessary vets bills from the start.

The cost of a vetting varies in price from vet to vet, but averages at about R3,000.00 for a basic vetting, you also want to source your own vet as then they are contracted to you and not the seller. When buying a horse it is always good to know from the very start if the horse has any special needs, that way it can be budgeted for and the horse’s happiness and health is not going to be sacrificed.

The saddlery you will need for your new horse can be purchased new or second hand. If you are purchasing new, I would suggest finding a supplier who has an in-house saddle fitter, or a saddle fitter who supplies new saddles. There are a huge variety of brands, with different cuts and obviously sizes. I like buying a saddle to buying an engagement ring – you really need to put some effort in, and not just grab the first one that pops up.

South Africa hosts a number of local brands for example Trident and Solo, who make good quality tack for reasonable prices, starting at roughly R7000.00 for a saddle. They also have many years experience in the saddle manufacturing industry, so if you are on a tighter budget, local isn’t really taboo.

However, some riders feel that they have fallen behind on the times and technology updates, so prefer the imported tack selections which are readily available.

The imported brand saddles can cost up to R100,000.00 for a saddle, there is little to no question that equipment which comes from Europe is amazing quality and I am sure, designed using the most innovative technology under the sun. The choice is yours, based on your budget and preferences.

If you are on a shoe string budget, you will be able to find what is known as a starter kit, which contains a saddle, which is generally imported from India; girth; stirrups and irons and a bridle, for about R1,500.00 – R3,000.00. Keep in mind these saddles have a really low resale value, if you are considering this option.

Sometimes, someone else decides it is time for you to upgrade your riding gear.

Recently my saddle and bridle were stolen, my exact replacement costs were:

  1. • Saddle – R8,500.00,
  2. • Numnah – R360.00,
  3. • Girth – R650.00,
  4. • Stirrup Irons – R332.00,
  5. • Stirrup Leathers – R550.00,
  6. • Bridle – R650.00,
  7. • Bit – R350.00,
  8. • Reins – R480.00.

That is a whopping R11,772.00 for basic necessities, and by equestrian standards, I got away with a bargain! If you are getting your first horse, chances are your budget will include other items, such as rugs, over reach boots, brushing or medicine boots (if required), halter, fly mask, grooming kit.

It isn’t too challenging to find well cared for pre-loved tack and extras, there are lots of saddlery stores that hold a large range of used tack, as well as at least a dozen FaceBook pages where riders advertise.

Let’s Talk Upkeep


Before you even think about buying a horse, you need to have suitable accommodation lined up.

Let’s face the facts for a moment, if you don’t live on a plot and have the knowledge required to look after your new friend, a livery yard is your best option.

Livery prices will vary, averaging in Johannesburg, at approximately R4,000.00 per month, but can go up to the region of R7,000.00 per month. You can bet that livery in, for example, Kyalami, close to the show grounds is going to be far more expensive than a yard in Gat-Sonder-Water in the middle of the sticks, even if the quality of the care and facilities is identical!

When looking for a livery yard it is important to know what is covered in the fees. In the coastal areas it is common practice for the livery fee to only cover the stable, shavings and the groom, and the owner will have to order and pay separately for feed, grass and supplements.

In Johannesburg it is more likely that the livery fee covers the stable, shavings, groom, feed and grass, also ask about grass levies; some yards charge a grass levy should the cost per bale exceed the normal parameters due to, for example, shortages.

Photo by Jonathan Bean on Unsplash


Like humans, horses require routine medical maintenance to keep them in tip top condition. Horses need to be seen by a farrier regularly, some people choose to have a six week farrier cycle, others find that a five week cycle is better.

The cost of the farrier will depend on what the horse’s requirements are. At best, your horse will be bare foot and just need a trim. Some horses need shoes to fix conformation issues, some horses need shoes due to foot sensitivity, better grip, or the work which they are doing.

Shoes can vary from a half set to a full set with corrective shoeing. A farrier visit can cost anywhere from R200 to R1,000.00 every five or six weeks! I am just trying to think when last I spent that kind of money on shoes for myself.

It used to be the case that horses got dewormed every 8 -12 weeks too, thankfully the humans have progressed and realised that this is no longer necessary, and it can do more harm than good. It is however recommended that you have a fecal egg count done every six months to a year, just to ensure that the horse doesn’t have worms.

Horses need to have their teeth checked once a year. Your vet can do this or you can have an Equine Dentist come out. Having spoken to a vet on her preferences, she believes that one should rather have a dentist see the horse as it is their speciality and most likely a bit cheaper than having the vet come out.

A basic general check up with a bit of filing here and there will cost approximately R450.00, unless sedation or more serious work is required.

Vaccinations are also an added expense that one almost never thinks about upfront. In South Africa, African Horse Sickness Vaccine and Equine Influenza Vaccine are compulsory.

AHS is required once a year and Influenza is done twice a year. These are especially important if you are competing as most show holding bodies require the passport which must include the vaccination dates and the vet’s signature.

Other recommended vaccines are Tetanus, Strangles, Rabies, Botulism and Equine Encephalosis Virus which are annual shots.

Depending on your type of riding and age of the horse, it is a good idea to have a chiropractor, physiotherapist or body worker out occasionally.

However, if you are competing and training at the higher levels or your horse is recovering from an injury, this may be a more frequent requirement. The averages are between R450 and R650 per session.

Over a year, and we will say this is a good year, nothing extra was needed, and no shows were attended using averages, a horse will cost in the region of R55 000.00 per year just for the basic care!

You know we haven’t even covered the unforeseen vet’s bills yet. Vets charge a call out plus travel, if the call out is in emergency hours you can expect to pay a bit more.

Additional Expenses…

There is a meme which I tend to think about every time I pull a particular pair of jods out of my cupboard, ‘I always like to dress up for the barn, as these may be my ghost clothes for eternity.’ It strikes true for me sometimes because I own a very temperamental mare. The only thing is that my ghost outfit may well have patches and holes or just be very plain, as the prices of jods can be quite high, and I do try to save my best ones for shows.

Riding clothes are not cheap to begin with, then you have the diamanté embossed, sticky bum, brand names which are imported, the brand name body warmers, show jackets and boots with the names of top international riders somewhere on the label.

For everyday riding these are quite unnecessary, my instructor has a few pairs of denim skinnies which she uses for everyday riding, so really the clothing expense is entirely up to you.

For shows you will need specific types of clothing, dependent on the discipline. On a budget buy of new items, for dressage as an example, you will likely spend in the region R3 500.00 upward, on boots, jodhpurs, shirts, jackets and so on. There are rules on safety clothing too, for example helmets.

While we are on the subject of competitions…

There is more to competing than just the fees for the classes which are being entered into. There are club fees, grading fees, boxings costs, a groom for the day perhaps and show preparation costs. Doing a class or two at a show that is away from home is likely to set you back at least R1 000.00 for the day! Now, imagine the multi day events.

The costs of show classes have risen over the last few years due to show levies and other general costs of holding a show, and obviously the prices of the classes increase as the levels of the riding increases too, so a training show will be far cheaper than a larger national graded show.

Another cost that seldom simply disappears, especially for competitive riders, is the on-going cost of tuition. Simply owning a horse to have a lesson on does not decrease the cost of the lesson. Again this can cost anywhere from R200.00 per lesson to R500.00 per lesson. Unless it is with an international instructor visiting, where a lesson can easily cost double that! Clinics are a fun and social way of improving your horsemanship, they vary in price too.

Alternatives to Owning

Fortunately there is an alternative to owning a horse. Half baiting is cost effective ways to ‘have your own horse’ without the full time, forever commitment. Full baiting, well that is more or less the same financially depending on your agreement with the owner.

The general rule with half baiting a horse or pony is that the rider will get to ride three times per week, as per an agreement made with the owner, and also pay half the upkeep bills, i.e. livery, shoeing, dentist and veterinary bills.

This arrangement should have a strong, well worded contract between both parties, which would include:

  1. Start and end date of the contract.
  2. An escape clause should the relationship not work out or needs to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
  3. Termination and notice details.
  4. Details of expenses.
  5. Details regarding medical decisions in case of an emergency, and financial obligation.
  6. Standards for care of the horse.
  7. Schedule of use.
  8. Permitted use of the horse, specifics of types of use not permitted, any restrictions.
  9. An inventory of the tack supplied.
  10. Details of where the horse is stabled.

As an owner wanting to bait out their horse, a clause, indemnifying the owner from any injuries sustained by the rider when riding the horse, should also be included in the above contract.

It is important to be very honest and upfront regarding the regular costs which arise, for example, if a horse needs frequent visits from the vet due to an old injury, this must be mentioned beforehand, so that the parties involved can come to their own agreement on financial contributions.

Full baiting or fostering will have a very similar contract, the general rule with full baiting or fostering is that the expenses of the horse will be covered in full by the party who is full baiting, as they are the only one riding the horse.

Veterinary care costs will have to be agreed upon upfront too, in many cases vet care for natural illnesses are split in half, in some cases the owners will pay, however negligence needs to be taken in to account too, for example if AHS was administered yet the necessary care steps were not followed.

Home leases are the same as full bait, with the rider specifying where the horse will be stabled. This gives the rider the freedom to choose.

The pro’s of baiting a horse:

  • You can cancel the contract, following the termination of the contract.
  • It is not a major long term commitment.
  • You can have different horses over the period of your career, without having to go through the buying and selling process.
  • The financial commitment of baiting is less than owning.

The con’s of leasing:

  • Ultimately the horse does not belong to you.
  • All final decisions lay with the owner.
  • You need the owners permission to ride on days not in your schedule or to swap days.
  • You need the owners permission to take the horse to events or outings.

In short, horse riding is expensive, but if you can commit to the budget and time constraints you will reap the rewards. What I have done here is give an average budget breakdown, the reason is not to make you shy away from the prospect of being a horse owner.

It is simply to help a new buyer completely understand it from a financial aspect. You know which benefits you reap from being a horse rider, and only you can place a financial value to them.

So, like I said earlier I have a different view on it. For me, the R55,000.00 is well worth it, for my sanity! The yard is a sanctuary for me, and riding is a cross between meditation and therapy.

When I am riding, I am completely in the now, completely present, completely focused. Nothing matters, just that moment. The stress from a busy day just disappears. The outdoors, sunshine and fresh air is like a holiday every day.

Oh, wait! There are days when there is an exception to this rule. For example the day we had the vet out for a suspected colic, and lo and behold, we find a foal. I will admit it was a bit of a shock, completely unexpected and my wallet tried to hang itself, but I suppose when all is said and done and the shock has worn off… it’s just another day on the yard!

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