While situations differ, the end result is normally the same. It takes a load of money to breed your horse and get the resulting foal to a stage where it is considered "finished." When you think about it, horses, from a cost perspective, are very similar to children. After conception (the fun part), we dream and plan and invest. Let's see - a crib, a stroller, and don't forget the car seat. Before you know it, crayons, pencils, oh my gosh - a calculator. Cell phones! Computers! Goodness the kid is only 5 years old!
Breeding a horse, and finishing the offspring are expensive but rewarding activities.
© Jiri Markalous
We won't discuss puberty, Mathnasium tutoring or college tuition. For the typical kid, when all is said and done, we are into them for $245,000 before they are on their own (see sidebar). But in the end, guess what - it is all worth it.
Now let's talk about horses: Breeding and raising a horse is not as expensive as birthing and raising a child. But, if we are honest and really think about the costs, breeding your own horse is an expensive proposition. Most of the costs are "baked into the pudding." It doesn't matter if you are attempting to breed another Secretariat or if you are breeding a replacement horse for weekend rides - much of the cost is the same.
To raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18, it will cost a middle-income couple just over $245,000, according to newly released estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's up $4,260, or almost 2%, from the year before.
In this article we will attempt to estimate the realistic cost for breeding and raising a horse to the age of 4. At 4, if we do our job right, the horse is relatively safe and enjoyable to ride, or drive or even show at low level competitions. This is not a super-horse, rather it is a good mount that is healthy, happy and eager to join you for hours of enjoyment doing a variety of horse activities.
Here is the result of the nitty-gritty analysis that we do below: $9,014. For many of you, this is all you need to know. Make or buy, you can spend this amount of money on a 4 year old horse and end up with basically the same animal. For most of us, we understand that for that much money, we can purchase a very nice horse tomorrow and immediately enjoy the results.
For a much smaller group of us, our joy comes not from the destination, but from the process. We take pride in the accomplishment of building a horse and doing it the right way. Please continue reading to learn what it really costs. If you take short cuts, you have the potential of spending much much more, specially with regard to health and training.
For the purposes of this analysis, we are not going to account for the cost of the mare. We ignore this very real cost as most folks that breed already have a mare. We do however, for simple fairness, include the costs of care and feeding of the mare through pregnancy and attribute that cost to the overall cost of building the horse.
The costs of breeding and training far exceed the value of the resulting animal in most cases.
For our scenario, our horses live at our property, so we do not pay for housing. This is simplistic, but again, we want to provide a cost estimate based simply on the production of the finished horse. Businesses cannot account like this, but we are not a business looking to profit. If you board your mare, and subsequent foal, you will spend considerably more than our estimate.
Lastly, for our scenario, we are going to not account for for the value of our time in caring for the animals. If we did this, none of us would own horses!
Let's start with this simple scenario:
- We already own the mare, so we are not going to account for the acquisition, or ongoing healthcare, farrier, etc. costs for the mare, except for those directly attributed to the production of the foal during pregnancy.
- We keep our horses on our own land, so we are not going to account for our land, barn or maintenance costs as part of the cost of the horse.
- We are not going to account for our time as part of the cost of the horse.
Since we are working for free to do this, and we are providing the production machinery (mare), land, housing and maintenance, and our precious time, what is left?
- Selection and breeding with a stallion (live-cover, AI or whatever)
- Veterinary and routine care of the mare through pregnancy
- Specialized care during birth, a freebie in our situation, but the potential for additional costs due to dystocia (difficult birth)
- Post partum veterinary care of the foal and mare
- Continuing health care, farrier care, dental care and feeding from birth to fourth year
- Training equipment
- Basic training in first year (prep for veterinary and farrier care)
- Basic training in second year (preschool)
- Basic training in third year (elementary school)
- Basic training in fourth year (high school)
The scenario (continued)
Some simple assumptions - You are not an equine veterinarian. You are not a farrier. You know how to ride, but getting on an untrained 2-year old horse is not something that you are excited about. Also, you have decided to do Artificial Insemination for a variety of very good reasons, including:
- You get a much better stallion than is locally available.
- AI is safer for your mare and the stallion.
- You reduce the transportation booking, breeding, and boarding costs required for live-cover.
- You are really making an effort to have a foal with physical, mental and temperament improvements of the mother - This is called Responsible Breeding.
- You are dedicated to the success of the foal. This includes preventative healthcare, quality hay and other nutrients, routine hoof care that included periodic trimming (average every 8 weeks), and routine dental care (yearly checkups). This is also called Responsible Breeding.
The costs (continued)
Here we go. Let's get out the calculator and start adding up the costs. Please note that the cost estimates vary with region and situation, but we attempt a realistic and conservative analysis. Be aware that your costs may be much more. In this analysis, we assume that everything works right, the first time.
- Reproductive exam
Veterinarian examines the mare for fertility related issues, including rectal exam, palpation or ultrasound of reproductive organs, and a culture or biopsy of the uterine wall.
Cost range: $125 to $250 - Our estimated cost $187
Risks - Problem found that prevents breeding, or bacteria infection that requires treatment and additional testing.
- Semen cost and transportation
As a Responsible Breeder, a middle-of-the-road performance stallion is selected.
Cost range: $1000 to $3000 - Our estimated cost $1500+$250 collection fee+
$175 for shipment of cooled semen - $2025
Risks - Failure to impregnate or failure to carry to term requires additional veterinarian visit.
- Synchronization and insemination
To prepare the reproductive system for AI, and to determine the time for insemination, your veterinarian will administer drugs and perform an ultrasound.
Cost range: $75 to $125 - Our estimated cost $100
Semen in-hand, healthy mare that is ovulating. Now she needs to be inseminated.
Cost range: $75 to $125 - Our estimated cost $100
Add it up, and you get $2,412 for getting your mare inseminated and hopefully pregnant. If she doesn't take, you will need to pay more for additional veterinary visits.
Pregnancy medical costs
- Pregnancy check 1
Your mare has been inseminated, but is she pregnant? Does she need to be bred again? The only way to know is to have a pregnancy check. This may be a rectal palpation, or a more expensive ultrasound. For our purposes, let's add a ranch call cost for a rectal palpation.
Cost range: $35 to $65 - Our estimated cost is $50
- Pregnancy check 2
A fairly high percentage of mares, especially maiden mares, will lose the baby fairly early in the pregnancy. Also, sometimes the veterinarian is not able to 100% determine the pregnancy until a later stage. This calls for a second pregnancy check.
Cost range: $35 to $65 - Our estimated cost is $50
- Specialized vaccinations and wormers
As the investments add up, it is time to make sure you have a healthy baby. Most veterinarians suggest a series of vaccinations and worming during the pregnancy. Rhino vaccinations are generally recommended for the 5th, 7th and 9th month of pregnancy. Four to six weeks prior to delivery, it is also important to deworm the mare to prevent transmission of Strongyloides westeri. Another dose of Ivermectin given within 12 hours of delivery is also generally recommended.
Cost range: $195 to $375 (vet), or $75 (owner) Our estimated cost is $75.
During the later stage especially, the amount of feed required increases, as does the need for various supplements that promote improved health for the mare and foal. Virtually 100% of breeders do some supplementation, but for this analysis, we do not add any costs for this.
Pregnancy related costs are relatively low, but there is a fair degree of risk that can lead to much higher costs. Especially for maiden mares, the effects of the pregnancy may lead to a higher incidence of colic or metabolic disorders. Abortion is a very real risk and later stage abortions require veterinary assistance.
Add it up and you get $175 cost during the pregnancy. The accumulated costs are now $2587.
- Equipment and supplies
Thankfully, horses are generally good at delivering live foals, so this category will assume that your mare does not suffer for dystocia (difficult pregnancy). You will need a few supplies, but most of them are probably already in your medicine cabinet. As a Responsible Breeder, you have your veterinarian notified and available for a potential emergency visit as soon as your mare begins nesting and contractions. You have your foaling area bedded with fresh straw ready to go. You have lighting available as 80% of horse births occur during the nighttime hours. Lastly, you have the supplies available to wrap the mares tail, clean the mare and foal, treat the umbilicus, provide an enima to the foal if needed, etc.
Cost range: $50 to you don't want to know. Our estimated cost $50.
You should be prepared for what might happen, as it can lead to much higher costs than our estimates. You may require veterinary assistance. That assistance may include a range of procedures, from simple pulling of the foal (assisting delivery), to C-section. With birth comes risks to the mother as well as the foal, up to and including death. It is highly recommended that you have a veterinarian present if you are unsure of your ability to perform the needed activities to care for the mom and newborn foal.
This one is simple - you get by with a delivery costing you $50. The accumulated costs are now $2637.
Post partum medical costs
- Foal and mare check
It is always important to have your veterinarian give both the foal and mare a health checkup soon after birth. The veterinarian will inspect the afterbirth (you did save this didn't you), the mares external genitalia, the udder etc. The veterinarian will check the foal for heart sounds, gut sounds, temperature, diarrhea or constipation, hoof or leg deformities and more..
Cost range $75 to $150. Our estimated cost $125.
Add another $125. If you don't do this, and the mare has retained a part of the placentia, you risk infection that will be more costly to cure and may risk infertility. Some congenital deformities of the foal can be corrected if diagnosed shortly after birth. If you delay, these abnormalities may not be treatable. Now you are into this breeding for $2762, but you have your baby, so congratulations.
Food and nutrition costs
According to the American Horse Council Foundation, independent horse owner survey conducted in 2005 (by independent consulting and research firm Deloitte Touche), the average cost for feed, bedding and grooming supplies for a horse is $502 per year. Since that survey, feed and bedding costs have gone up, but we use this amount for the purposes of this analysis. For simplicity, we will ignore the fact that you are also feeding the mare during pregnancy.
You will spend approximately $2008 by the end of the forth year of the newborn foal. Add this to the previous costs, and you are now at $4770.
Ongoing medical costs
- Vaccinations, worming
- Annual checkup including dental care
- Incidental veterinary visit due to accident
To have the best accuracy for these routine costs, we resort to a horse owner survey once again. Their scientific survey resulted in an annualized cost for typical veterinary care, including treatments and drugs, to average $364 per year. For your four year old, you will have spent approximately $1456 over four years. This brings our total to $6226.
Ongoing farrier costs
- Periodic trimming
We don't include costs associated with shoeing, as most horses don't need shoes. However, if you are competing with your horse, you will most likely need to keep your horse in shoes starting at age three. If you don't believe in routine hoof care, it is likely that you will pay more for veterinary bills to treat lameness, and your horse will probably be resistant to training due to sore feet and tendons.
Again we refer to the American Horse Council industry survey. The typical horse owner will average $177 per horse each year. This gives us an estimated cost of $708 for our four year old. Healthy feet brings our accumulated total to $6934.
- Cheap saddle, bridle, halter, lunge line, lunge whip. I know you have these already, but I guarantee you will buy this stuff anyway!
Cost range $0 to $2500+. For this analysis, we add $0
Many inexperienced breeders think that they can adequately train their own horses. This is generally not true, and can be very dangerous to the owner and the horse. If you want a safe and reliable horse to ride (or eventually sell), you need to provide a good foundation of training starting almost immediately.
You can do much of the training. Basic leading, hoof and leg manipulation, round penning (but not before the age of two), and other ground work can be accomplished by the owner if they take the time to develop the skills.
- 1st year - it's up to you. Minimally, the colt or filly can be haltered and tied, the feet can be picked up, and the foal taught to respect your space. This is a huge safety issue. This early training will help you, your farrier and your veterinarian avoid injury. It will also set the stage for kindergarten training during year 2. During the first year of life, it is best to let the foal learn from mom, and other herd mates, but basic training is required.
Estimated cost: Free. You can do this!
- 2nd year - professional starting is required. Don't even think you can do this yourself. You can do the ground training in preparation to this, but a professional needs to start the horse under saddle for 45 consecutive days, including arena and trail riding. If you do not do this, you will not have a finished horse by year four - guaranteed. Trainers come in all shapes and sizes, good and bad, diligent and lazy. Let's assume that you have a good and diligent trainer that will start and put 45 consecutive days of riding on your horse. Is two years of age too young to get a horse started? Definitely not! Current best practices are to start a horse at two, but only with a careful program of limited riding that helps develop the colt or filly physically and mentally while it is still young.
Caveat - at the end of this brief kindergarten training, the horse will have the basics down in a very controlled setting. The horse is still not ready for you to ride unless you have a lot of experience and don't mind holding on tight during a runaway or shying episodes. They will happen.
Cost range: $500 to $800. Estimated cost: $650. If you do this yourself, triple the amount to account for your emergency room visits.
- 3rd year - professional assistance is required. Your horse is still young and unpredictable. Even for a skilled rider, you need assistance during the 3rd year to build a finished horse. Our favorite option, and highly recommended is to find a local trainer that starts horses, and trains non-pro riders to work with you at your skill level to share the responsibility - beginning with the pro riding and training and transitioning to where you ride with the pros support. If you have the skills, you can get away with a weekly riding lesson at $45 to $65 each. You will need to haul your horse to the lessons, but most trainers will also ride your horse as part of the deal to teach specific skills (stopping, neck reining, carriage, transitions, lead changes etc.) Let's assume that you and your horse take a lesson every other week.
Cost range: $1170 to $1690. Our estimated cost: $1430
- 4th year - again, it's up to you. After the 3rd year of working with your green horse under professional assistance, and assuming you are confident enough and physically up to the task, and if you have time to ride at least one time a week, you can continue to refine the training, and get your horse into low level competitions or trail rides. Most people do not have the skill or confidence to work with a 4 year old horse that still can be unpredictable and has high energy. By the end of this year, your horse should be capable of doing all of the basics in a relatively safe manner. Congratulations. You have bred a horse you can be proud of.
Our accumulated training costs total $2080. Your investment so far has been $9014.
No, I'm not trying to scare you away from breeding, if you are a responsible breeder. I am trying to point out that horse ownership is expensive, and the costs of breeding and training far exceed the value of the resulting animal in most cases.
I am frequently approached by people asking me about a great opportunity to get a free horse. I always advise that a free horse will cost you more in the long run for any equestrian activity versus spending on a well-bred trained horse. I know that there are exceptions to the rule and congratulations to the lucky few, but in most cases, a horse is free because it is a liability.
If you want a pasture ornament and have the money, please give a home to a free horse. You don't want to be the breeder of a free horse. It is too expensive.
If you want to ride and enjoy your horse in local competitions or trail rides, spend some money to get a ... OK, I'm getting repetitive here.