“Never look a free horse in the mouth.”
That advice has generally been common knowledge among horse owners since the beginning of time. It meant that if a horse was free, most of the time it was old, which can be told by opening the mouth and checking the teeth, which would be worn, short or non-existent. Therefore, the horse wasn’t worth much of anything.
Free horses aren’t always the old ones today. Still, it is essential to remember that “a free horse is never free.”
That too is a common term among knowlegible horse people, and it has been even more emphatic during recent economic pressures of the economy, low prices for horses and free horses actually being quite prevalent.
Initial cost of a horse has always been a concern for the purchaser, but that, almost without exception, is the cheapest part of horse ownership.
Oh, those who pay thousands and thousands for a horse, or even hundreds of thousands, the initial cost might be more than the upkeep.
However, usually buying a horse is small compared to getting housing, transportation, equipment and unending purchase of feed, health supplies and regular foot care, etc.
“There are a number of public and private rescue groups, but they have limited resources and are usually happy to pass the horses on to a good home for free or next to it as this saves them the costs of caring for the horse,” sad Dr. Doug Stewart, horse
researcher, marketer and advisor.
“Before taking on a rescue horse, one should try to find out as much of its history as possible, as well as the results of any veterinary examinations the horse has had,” Stewart advised. “Ask the reason for the horse being rescued, because this may indicate potential problems.”
Typical reasons are:
owner requested the rescue unit to take the horse, neglect or abuse, old or sick.
Breeders occasionally offer a horse for free or will sell it very inexpensively.
“One needs to approach such offers with caution, since a breeder is no more likely to
give a horse away for free than a car dealer is likely to give you a car for free, unless there is something seriously wrong with it,” Stewart stated.
Even if the horse looks perfectly fine, there may be some hidden physical problems like grass allergy or tendency to colic which could result in large veterinary expenses or other problems at a later date.
There may also be behavioral issues such as cribbing or aggression.
“For such reasons, the breeder may not be able to sell the horse due to legal risk or concern for his reputation, so he is willing to give it away simply to avoid the costs of
caring for it,” Stewart noted
On occasion, there are cases when a perfectly good horse is available at no initial cost.
“For example, a breeder who is focused on a particular quality like certain coat colors or top competition horses will get a percentage of horses which simply don’t meet their criteria, perhaps because it is the wrong color or is unable to race fast enough,” Stewart verified.
As soon as they determine that the horse does not have the quality that they are looking for, they will want to get rid of the horse as quickly as possible.
The cost for caring for a horse is substantial in terms of both money (bedding, feed, farrier, vet costs, saddle and tack) and time (mucking, training and general care).
“Therefore, even if someone gives you a horse for free, you will still need to spend a considerable amount on the horse each month to cover its basic needs,” Stewart warned.
“If your horse has physical problems, you may suddenly have additional costs running into the thousands of dollars or face the loss of a horse once you have fallen in love
with it,” Stewart critiqued. “Likewise, if there are hidden physical or behavioral issues, you may be unable to use the horse but still end up paying for its care.”
For these reasons, one needs to be as careful about getting a “free” horse as one that is being paid the full price for.
“In fact, if the horse is free or selling for less than the normal price, one needs to be even more careful until one determines why it is not being sold for the normal price,” Stewart analyzed.
“In some cases, there may be acceptable reasons, but far too often there are hidden problems,” Stewart continued. “Should you discover these after taking the horse, you can be in a very difficult position as it is seldom just a matter of giving the horse back, particularly if the problems are found some months later when the family has fallen in love with it.”
Of course, one can never be 100 percent certain that a horse is perfect, no matter how much one pays.
“Sometimes a very expensive horse turns out to have major problems, while a ‘free’ horse may turn out to be the horse of dreams,” Steward commented. “However, one does tend to get what one pays for, and the reality is that a ‘free’ horse is generally a higher-risk option than one which goes at a normal market price.”
Perhaps the most reliable place to get a horse is from a reputable breeder. “When buying from a registered breeder, one has a certain amount of legal protection should there be a problem,” Stewart related. “Furthermore, a good breeder will often provide a written money-back guarantee that will cover any major problems existing pre-sale.
“You should also have the time and facilities to do a careful health check to make sure the horse is physically and mentally sound, and to ride the horse and spend time with it to make sure that there is a good fit between the two of you. Horses are like clothes, even good quality ones don’t fit everyone,” Stewart concluded.