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The Cost of....Owning a horse

WITH Cheltenham just behind us and Punchestown waiting to begin, it is only natural that the thoughts of red-blooded Irish men and women would turn to all things horsey. Getting into the spirit of the season, the Sunday Independent has conducted some research into the cost of having an equine friend of one's very own. Read on, if you think your wallet can take the pain.

my little pony

In the interests of easing ourselves into the massive expenditure attached to some horses, it makes sense to start at the beginning: a child's pony. Wicklow horse trainer Robert Evans says that a pony costing ?500 would be "the cheapest you could do anything with", with ponies at ?1,000 likely to represent better buys.

Given that you can't keep a pony in your kitchen, no matter how small it is, the first "extra" to consider is stabling. A standard stable can generally be rented for about ?25 per week, a price which will include basic care such as daily grooming and mucking out. About ?12 per week should provide enough food, with most ponies preferring to munch grass, which, luckily, grows for free.

Next comes the "tack": the various accoutrements required if the pony is to be ridden safely. The absolute basics start with a saddle, a second-hand version of which should be available for about ?250. Add in a second-hand bridle (?30), a second-hand martingale it's the piece attaching itself to the reins (?20) and a used numnah (?10) for under the saddle. A cheap rug for the pony can be picked up for ?50.

As for clothes, one trainer remarks that "they're getting dearer than the pony". Count in a child's hunting cap (?78), a show jacket (?80), a pair of jodhpurs (?35) and a pair of short leather boots (?54).

On the essential care front, the health of your pony should come first. Worming, vaccinations and some dental work should amount to about ?100. Five pairs of shoes per year will add up to an additional ?190 or so.

Weekly group lessons for budding horsemen and women will cost ?15 each.

Total: ?4,071 for a year

the grown-up version

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ROBERT Evans reckons that hunting (or "pleasure") horses can cost between ?1,900 and ?12,000 with the latter price buying "a nice big hunting horse that can go on and do the business". At this level, rented stabling will cost about ?100 per week, a price including basic care and food.

The same tack will be required as for the pony, with a new saddle, martingale and numnah likely to cost in the region of ?650. A quality horse rug will cost about ?100. The jacket, cap, jodhpurs and boots required for hunting should be available for about ?450, but paying more will not be at all difficult.

Vets' fees will also mount up for hunting or show horses, particularly since lameness and bruises are unavoidable occupational hazards. At least ?300 should be set aside for this purpose, while one vet warns that if a horse gets a bad cut, "you could rack up ?300 in one week". Twelve pairs of shoes in a year will cost ?600.

On top of all of this, twice-weekly transport will be required during hunting season (November to March). Horse owners may prefer to purchase their own horsebox rather than engaging a horse transporter on a repeated basis. A 505 Double Deluxe horsebox could be purchased from West-Wood Trailers last week for ?5,625, including VAT.

Total: ?24,925 for a year

the luxury model

Racehorses, the beasts that reduce grown men and women to tears when the big races come around, are not associated with the sport of kings without reason. This is the sport of millionaires who dream of the Cheltenham or Aintree winners' enclosure.

Let's say you have a cool million to spend on Istabraq's second cousin (once removed); your first decision is where to send your new purchase for training. Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, the body which promotes Ireland's thoroughbred heritage, has calculated that the average trainer charges about ?9,500 per year, with this price including high standards of care and nutrition.

Some trainers add a set fee on to this total every month in order to cover vet and harrier (shoeing and foot care) fees, but the annual average for these services is in the region of ?950. This will include regular veterinary checks before races and the whole gamut of vaccinations, from horse flu to worming. The next most significant expense is likely to be Turf Club registration, a necessary outlay for any Irish racehorse. This rings in at ?1,900.

As for the actual competition, trainers will usually look after the travel arrangements and entry fees for your horse, as well as jockey wages. Expect to pay another couple of thousand every year for these sorts of necessary extras.

The Dublin Society for the Protection of Animals advises that horses can live for 25 years, during which all of the above care will need to be updated frequently. If, when it comes to your horse's retirement from professional life, you decide to build him his own home at the back of your mansion, then a basic stable will cost you ?2,500.

Total: ?1,016,850 for a year

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