Monday, August 4, 2008

Should I buy a weanling? Some points to ponder...

I bought a weanling in 2006. It was a good decision for me. I can say this because so far I've been lucky, and because I bought my baby horse for the right reasons. Are you thinking of buying a weanling or young horse? Here are some things to think about...

Pros of raising your own
- You will learn through the experience and gain a greater understanding of the way horses develop from foal to adulthood. If baby-rearing process itelf appeals to you, this is a pro.
- You'll know the animal you raise really well, and won't have to wonder about his/her past.
- You won't be correcting someone else's mistakes (but you may be faced with cleaning up your own mess).
- If you're careful in your selection, you can maximize your changes of getting the adult riding horse of your dreams.
- If you own your own horse property and can do your own training, it might be more cost-effective than buying a made horse (if both conditions are not true, you'll be very very lucky to break even).

Cons of raising your own...
- It is probably not going to be cheaper than buying an under saddle three year old.
- Will you have a horse to ride while you're waiting for this baby to grow up?
- You get to do the starter vaccinations (expensive), the first trailering (scary), the first tying (dangerous), the first teeth floating (pay for the vet to sedate!), the first shoeing (test your relationship with the farrier!), etc.
- Foal insurance is more expensive than regular insurance.
- Raising a baby can be dangerous -- both horse and owner are put at risk.
- An alarming percentage of weanlings don't make it to riding age without injury or debilitating illness. About 20% of foals get OCD.
- Good bloodlines are not a guarantee of the quality, temperament, or suitability of your horse.
- If you don't take an interest in your baby horse, it's a long wait.
- Babies have special needs in terms of turnout, pasturemates, feed, etc. It can be hard to find a boarding facility.

Q and A's

How expensive is it to raise a baby?
If you need to board, think again about the cost effectiveness of raising vs. buying a made horse. If you buy a weanling for 8K, and spend $350/month on board for three years, you're in the hole 20K and you haven't even factored in vet expenses, farrier, worming, vaccinations, insurance, etc.

Babies are so cute! Won't I just love having one to play with?
Babies are cute. Yearlings not so much. See photo to the right ----->

I want to back and train my own horse.
God love you. Hopefully you have experience. I've accompanied friends on horse-buying trips and the most pathetic cases were young girls selling horses that they tried to raise and train. The horses were way behind in their training and had bad habits. No one in their right mind would buy them. At any rate, maybe you should cut to the chase and buy an unbacked 2 or 3 year old. They will be a better deal.

I want to have the experience of raising a baby and think I would enjoy it. Is this silly?
To me, this is a great reason. If you relish the idea of working with the youngster and watching him/her grow up, then all the downsides fade away. A friend told me that babies can be nice because you don't have the pressure that come with training under saddle and the skills required from teh rider. You can work with babies on simple things, using principles of reward and punishment. If you are patient and consistent, and your baby has a pretty good mind, this is a great experience. If you are buying a baby only to wait impatiently for him or her to grow up, I'd reconsider.

I want to get a head start on training to put my youngster on the fast track for riding. Is this a good reason to get a baby horse?
No, not if you try to push them to do things they aren't developmentally ready to do. The first time you braid or bathe a weanling you'll understand! Weanlings aren't mentally equipped to deal with confinement/boredom of braiding; and the hose, OMG, you have no idea the kind of reaction running water can elicit from an youngster. One breeder I met said that first time baby owners often proudly tell her that they've "saddled" their 9 month old. She cringed at hearing this. Her advice was to let babies grow up and leave them alone till they're three. I wouldn't go that far -- basic manners and respect for people are lessons to learn early -- but the breeder's point is well-taken. Pushing a youngster is ill-advised. Teach them manners that are appropriate to their age and stage of development.


  1. Then there are idiots like me who go to an auction and get taken in by big brown eyes white rimmed with fear and cowering in the back of a stall. I had no idea of his breeding, handling, anything, he wasn't even my preferred breed, but I bought him anyway. Yes, HIM. of course it's a colt, of course he had never been handled in his life until that morning when they threw him down, forced a halter on him and dragged him away from his mom and into a trailer.

    What is twice as bad is this is the second time done done this, LOL!
    The first time it was a cross bred pony. I gelded him, trained him, and turned him into the best pony I have ever met. He has a shelf of trophies from shows, and safe for any kid to ride.

    This time I ended up with a reg. MFT, very nice bloodlines, who is going to be my next trail horse. He is 14 months now and is just getting past the 'terrible twos' of horsedom. Here is a photo of him with my husband discussing personal space.

    You are right babies are all cute, but yearlings who are chewing everything in sight, nipping you when you halter them, getting the herd in a running frenzy when you are trying to bring them in. Rearing, pawing, kicking, and throwing tantrums..yeah, not so cute.

  2. Another pro for the babies: they may not be cheaper in the long run, but an $8k purchase price + spreading the rest of the cost over three years can be easier to afford than trying to find the big bucks all in one go for a similarly-bred older horse.

    Fortunately, someone bought the really cute yearling I had my eye on, sparing me from further attempts to justify buying a baby (and, I'm sure, a lot of gray hairs).

  3. Very sensible! When I first got into horses I had this dream of raising and training a baby when I retire. Fortunately, everything I have learned since tells me in no uncertain terms that I am NOT capable of that! yesterday at the boarding barn was "load the weanlings on the trailer for the first time" day and you never have seen such a frantic mess.

  4. Really good article, and I agree in most part. However, I'm a breeder, and all my babes are great with the farrier, who visits them about every 4 weeks for the 1st few months. If they are just a day or two old when his visit is scheduled, we still have him pick up the feet and just run the rasp onto the foot - so they get the idea, and see it's not scary. Also, my babies have trailered with their moms to breeding or to inspections - so by weaning, that's generally "no big deal". The halter is on-off-on-off from just a few hours old. Though I don't leave it on in stall, or for turnout, the little ones are used to having the halter slipped on/off, and it's "no big deal" either. If the babies are introduced to lots of new things when they are young, and in a secure environment, traumas post-weaning are much reduced.

  5. According to your post, I want a baby for all the right reasons.

    I dont care if he/she doesnt turn out to be the best in show.

    I just want a friend I can watch grow up, play with, explore new things together with and over all just enjoy it...

    I want this horse for life, and even if he/she turns out to be unrideable in the long run, i'll still want to keep it. But, personally; i find that statement very unlikely.


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