The true cost of owning a horse

I spent $45 on joint supplements for Sunny the other day. $45 for a 45-day supply. I would never in a million years have spent that much on myself, but for my horse? Mere pocket change!

(I say, knowing that it is most definitely not pocket change to anyone in my financial situation…)

I didn’t blink twice spending it, though.

Why? It’s for my horse, obviously.

With geriatric horses, the bills stack up, too. I’ve added alfalfa to his diet, as well, and baled alfalfa is also very much not cheap. Then, of course, there are vet bills and farrier bills, and for anyone who isn’t like me and doesn’t have the luxury of keeping their horse at their house, there’s board to worry about, too.

But none of that matters in the long run. Even though horses can be incomprehensibly expensive at times, the financial burden isn’t what matters.

The true cost of a horse isn’t in the finances.

No, the true cost of a horse is somewhere else entirely.

The true cost of owning a horse

You see, it all starts with that first meeting. With Sunny and me, it wasn’t long after my first fall (still by far one of my worst). My confidence had been shattered by my own beloved paint mare. She could be a real bitch.

But Sunny? He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. And I was drawn to him. (I was also 12, so I’m pretty sure there’s a part of me that still looks at him through the lens of a shaken and nervous 12-year-old.)

After that first meeting comes a beautiful introductory period where horse and rider get to know one another.

I spent about a year riding Sunny on my own and just working on my confidence while my mom gave my friend lessons. I didn’t do much, and I wasn’t in need of a structured lesson, anyway. All I needed at the time was a companion who understood. Sunny? I’m pretty sure my old man is actually psychic.

He was the ideal partner during that introductory period because he never did anything I wasn’t comfortable with. There was one time early on in our partnership where we were out trail riding, I wasn’t paying attention, and we got into some really deep footing. This was my first stress test after being launched off my paint mare, and of course, I panicked because I thought he was bucking and I was about to get launched like a human lawn dart again.

Except that didn’t happen.

Sunny plunged through that footing like a champ and I’m pretty sure his internal monologue went something like this: “For the love of God, relax, kid. It’s just dirt.”

After the introductory period, the partnership begins to blossom.

Sadly, Sunny’s owner tragically lost her father in a motorcycle accident. Horses had been the Thing she and her dad did together, and after she lost him, she struggled with continuing, so she put Sunny up for sale.

My friend wanted to buy him, but he wasn’t sound to jump. That was perfectly fine with me because I had no interest in it. I’m a dressage queen at heart, so whether or not he could jump didn’t matter to me. I just wanted my new partner to come home with me.

After much begging and pleading, he did. For a paltry $2,000. He would have been much, much more expensive if he could have passed a vet check and been able to jump, but I got incredibly lucky.

Immediately after that, I competed at the county 4-H show and won everything I entered with him. Then we went to district, then to state.

There were a few road blocks along the way, but Sunny has always been a rock in a turbulent world for me. It didn’t matter what that world consisted of.

Cattle and cowboys slinging ropes everywhere at state? No biggie.

Struggling my way through math in high school, scared to death that I wouldn’t get any scholarships for college? Scary, but not insurmountable.

That time my dad almost died because of a bilateral pulmonary embolism, the result of deep vein thrombosis, a condition we didn’t even know he had? Fucking terrifying, but Sunny knew when I needed a shoulder to cry on and he held me up.

Then, of course, after a long and fruitful career, things must come to an end.

Sunny developed navicular disease in my senior year of high school. We retired him immediately and I made it my mission to do for him what he had done for me.

He retired in 2010. Eight years and lots of vet bills later, I can see that he’s starting to go downhill. He’s having a harder time putting weight on his left front hoof. I read that joint supplements can help manage navicular disease, so I bought a small yet expensive bucket of pelleted supplements for him to see if that helps.

I’m trusting that he’ll tell me when it’s time to say goodbye.

The end is always the hardest part. I can’t speak for all horse people, but for me, it never feels like I’m just euthanizing a pet.

It feels like I’m losing a friend. A partner. A part of myself.

And that is the true cost of owning a horse.

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