How Much Do Horses Cost?

Horse with white and brown patches on face looking over metal railing

The Spruce / Katie Sauer

Horses can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000 depending on their pedigree, performance record, and good manners. The bigger the budget, the more options you have as a horse owner to choose from. Besides the initial purchase of the horse itself, there are costs towards hay, feed, veterinary exams, training, and grooming.

Horses that are $10,000 and up are horses are being bought and sold by top-name stud farms for use in high-level competition. They are often imported from Europe or elsewhere, with impressive bloodlines, and have antecedents with international competition success. They're not likely to be purchased by the average first-time horse owner, and the prices aren't as impacted by market forces as the backyard riding horse prices are.

It's important to calculate costs before committing to buying a horse especially if it's your first time. Besides upkeeping costs, there are also transportation costs and sales tax to consider. While these won't be part of the asking price, they are things you need to think about as you make a final decision.

How Upkeep Costs Affect Price

Poor hay crops and rising feed and fuel costs can affect the number of horses for sale and can affect the asking prices of those horses in any given year. The side effect of the banning of horses for meat slaughter is a lower price for some types of horses. This mainly affects horses that are elderly, unsound, young and/or untrained, but it does have a ripple effect on the general horse market.

Those looking for a first-time horse will probably need to have anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 in their budget for the purchase. You may be able to find a gem for less than this, but having that amount will give you the greatest number of choices. The more you have to spend, the more choices you will have.

Bales of hay stacked inside barn

 The Spruce / Katie Sauer

The Cost of Ponies

Ponies might be smaller in stature than horses, but that doesn't mean their purchase or upkeep costs are proportionally smaller.

The cost of a good pony can be the same or higher than a horse. Expect prices for suitable first ponies to be about $1,000 and upwards.

The Real Cost of a Free Horse

A free horse will probably live up to the old adage, "Never look a gift horse in the mouth." Usually, the horse will be a senior citizen, a youngster with poor prospects or little training, or a horse with behavioral issues. Yes, it's possible to get a really great free horse—like a senior citizen who is level-headed and serviceably sound, whose owner just wants a nice retirement home for it. However, these horses are rare and there's a possibility you're taking on someone's problem.

You might also take on a horse with a health or soundness problem, which can cost you lots of money, even though the initial purchase price was low.

Training and Types of Horses

Likewise, with a $500 to $1,000 horse, these are often youngsters with little training or handling; or horses with soundness, conformation, or behavioral issues. Of course, there's the exception to every rule—there are gems among lower-priced or giveaway horses, but it may take a keen eye and willingness to deal with difficult issues. There are many stories of people taking these 'sows ears' and making them into 'silk purses.' They might not be the right horses for first-time horse owners, however. A cheap horse may be more expensive in the long run if you have to contend with vet bills, specialized shoeing, and paying trainers.

The way to make a horse worth more money is to ensure it is well trained, healthy, sound, and well behaved. Bloodlines and conformation are important too, but it's easy to forgive a horse's obscure bloodlines and less than perfect conformation if it is a willing worker that is safe to be around and fun to ride. By buying a horse in the $1,500-and-up range, you are probably buying a horse that has had the time and money put into it that makes it a nice horse to own. It may have a good show record and probably is easy to clip, bathe, load on a trailer, stand for the farrier and veterinarian, and has all the good manners that make a horse fun and easy to handle.

The better the horse's pedigree and performance record, the more the asking price will be. Again, there is an exception to every rule. However, having a bigger budget means that you have more choices and are able to pass up the unsuitable horses without too much regret.

As you calculate how much you think you'll need to buy a horse, make sure you include sales taxes, transportation costs, and a pre-purchase veterinary exam. Make sure you have money to look after your horse and consider how you'll deal with veterinary emergencies if they arise. The initial cost of a horse may seem like a large expense but the day-to-day care really is the greater expense of horse ownership.

Black horse's hooves covered in dirt

The Spruce / Katie Sauer