When you’re in the horse game long enough, people start offering you free horses. Someone can’t afford to feed their horses anymore, they’re dealing with an illness and have no time for them, or their kid lost interest and they’re tired of paying big money for an animal they don’t need. Whatever the situation, there are always people looking to offload horses cheap or even free. There are quite simply more horses than homes in the U.S.
My mule and my draft (or draft cross, I still don’t know what he is) were both free. My mule had a ligament injury and couldn’t do heavy trail riding anymore, and her owner gave her to me so I could rehab her and and give her an easier job. My draft was passed around to a couple different people when his original owner wasn’t caring for him and his two pasture mates. Those were temporary situations and I became his permanent home.
Here’s the thing, though. My mule, Ellie, had a serious injury that required 9 months of rest and some vet visits. I fed and paid board on her for 9 months before I ever sat on her back. Olaf, the draft, is underweight and needed his feet and teeth done. He is a BIG boy and he eats a lot, especially when I’m trying to put weight on him. High quality feed is not cheap. I paid the farrier double because Olaf was such a pain about his feet, and I paid the dentist and vet as well. I won’t ride him until he gains another hundred pounds at least, which will be another couple months.
If you’re a responsible owner, you know that taking on a horse is anything but free. Free horses are usually free for a reason, so be prepared to invest time and money in them, whether it’s in training or health care and groceries. It’s not the initial cost of a horse, even if you go buy one, it’s the upkeep. Board, hay, farrier, vet, dentist- it adds up quickly.
If you’re a beginner, it’s usually better to go buy a horse so you know what you’re getting. When you’re paying for a horse, generally that horse is in good weight, is trained to a level that makes it safe, and is up to date on things like farrier and dentist. Not always, but usually.
Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, you can take on a horse that’s not in tip-top condition, and the free horses usually aren’t. I’m thrilled to pieces about both Ellie and Olaf. I feel like I really lucked out with both of them, Ellie because she’s a trail riding machine and Olaf because he is the sweetest horse that ever lived. They are definitely worth the effort. BUT, I’ve put a lot of time and money into both of them and I couldn’t ride either of them right away. It’s a trade off.
Before you say yes to a free horse, consider the possibility that the “free” one may cost you more in the long run. Something to think about if you’re horse shopping!