Many young girls dream of having a horse. I was no exception. At our wedding when my parents walked me down the aisle and my dad looked at my husband, shook his hand and said “the horse dream is now your problem!” To be honest, I didn’t think my dream would happen as a military spouse, knowing how hard a military move (PCS) would be with a horse, but my husband followed through.
My horse was adopted at our first duty station and has relocated with us four times total. We added a second horse to our family – because horses are like potato chips and you can’t just have one – after our third PCS, so he has now moved with us two times so far. Moving is by far the hardest part of horse ownership as a military family. We have been fortunate enough to be stationed stateside to date, but we always have to have a plan about what we would do with our horses if overseas orders come.
Keeping your horse on your property
Buying or renting is always a debate for us at each duty station. Of course it depends on the market of the new location and our financial abilities. When considering the idea of having a horse at your home, there are definitely pros and cons financially.
We have had the opportunity to have my horse at our home on a rental property once in the four PCS moves we’ve made with horses. While it was a dream come true to look out my window and see my big guy starring back at me, having your horse on property is a hefty amount of work. In addition to the work involved you also have to have tools and resources available for things like hay storage, fence repair, manure and pasture management.
Another consideration if you only own one horse and want it to be on your property, is that your horse will need a companion. Depending on the property that may mean you want to take on a boarder, add another equine (or maybe a goat) to your family, or you may want to foster a rescue horse. We went for the third option. It allowed our horse to have a companion on the property and we were helping a local rescue be able to work with more horses. They reimbursed us a predetermined rate for his feed, hay, farrier and vet needs.
Boarding your horses
Utilizing boarding facilities tends to be the easiest fit for our on-the-go military family. Boarding places can get expensive very quickly and it seems that those with websites are the priciest in the area. So unless you have the financial ability to pay extreme boarding fees, your boarding facility is likely not going to have a website. This can make locating a place to board your horses quite a challenge when planning your PCS.
While I have had some success with finding boarding facilities on websites such as newhorse.com and equinenow.com, but they are not always up to date and I spend a good bit of time calling places that no longer provide boarding. So most of our horse boarding locations have been found through the local horse community. When I know we have an upcoming PCS, I immediately join the horse community Facebook groups in the new area. They are usually a wealth of insight on boarding locations, farriers, veterinarians, and where to find quality hay.
Visit boarding facilities while house hunting
Once I’ve narrowed down which of the facilities have availability (a much easier feat with only one horse by the way), I schedule a time to visit them on our house-hunting trip. People think we are crazy, but when we are looking for where to live, we also add in time to figure out where our horses will live. We assess the climate of the barn, review boarding contracts and ask any questions while we visit. It usually takes only 20 minutes per barn – with the exception of some chatty barn managers.
We have boarded our horses at large facilities where there are horses being trained in a variety of disciplines but we have also boarded our horses at tiny private farms that just wanted to add companions for their existing horses. Its all about finding the right fit for your horse and making sure they are getting the best care at a reasonable price point.
The cost of boarding
In the places we have been stationed, we have found pasture board for $200 to $400 a month per horse and stall boarding is typically double those prices. Farrier, dental and veterinarian services have been pretty close in price no matter where we live. Barn managers and the local horse community are usually happy to share their opinions of local professionals with you.
Military Base Equestrian Facilities
Some of the bases within each branch of the military do have equestrian facilities where horses can be boarded. Unfortunately there are now only a handful of these bases and the availability for boarding is fairly slim. It still doesn’t hurt to ask, so make sure to check in with the MWR at your new duty station to see if it is an option!
Preparing your horse for travel
If your horses are PCSing with you, there really are two options. You can haul them or you can ship them. We have done both – twice!
Either option will require preparation on your part to make sure your horse can travel the distance. You will need to have a veterinarian assess your horse to make sure it is healthy. Additionally you will need documentation in the form of a health certificate and negative Coggins to prove that your horse is healthy and up to date on vaccines. Since these documents take time, don’t wait until the last minute to make an appointment with your vet.
Some other important things you need to do to prepare your horse for travel is to make sure your horse is hydrated in the days leading up to the trip. During the move, water should be offered to the horse every 3-6 hours. Since some horses are picky drinkers you can either carry water from your home with you. If that’s not an option, another trick is to mask the flavor of unfamiliar water with Gatorade or Kool-aid. Just make sure you’ve done this previously at home so he’s acclimated to flavored water before the trip.
Hay is also an important part of preparation for a horse move. Make sure you have enough to provide free choice hay during travel time. If you are trailering your horse and using a hay net, make sure that when the hay net empties it will not sag to a level where the horse can get their leg caught in it. We love to use a slow feed hay net to help occupy our horses while traveling.
Additionally you will want to make sure you bring enough hay to last for a couple days once you reach your destination. Using a hay bale carry bag is a great way to keep hay dry and dust free during transport.
If you are trailering your horse, putting time into planning the route is vital. Many of us PCS in the summer months when temperatures are at all time highs. Remember that a trailer in the sun can be 20 degrees hotter on the inside than the temperature outside. Traveling during the cooler parts of the day (or even overnight) can be advantageous with lower temperatures and less traffic to avoid overheating.
Finally, if we are shipping our horses, we discuss having the horses transported to the facility before we move ourselves. We ensure the contact at the barn that will receive the horses. We supply the feed and supplements before the horses arrive. Some people do like to send all their horse gear in the shipment with the horses, but we usually have the packers ship it with our household goods so that we are there to receive it and confirm it all makes it to the destination. Making three copies of the health certificate and Coggins is also wise. (One copy for the transporter, one for the new barn and one for yourself.)
Don’t let go of those horse dreams!
So can you be a military spouse and have a horse? Yes! Being a military family with horses is not out of the question. It just takes a little extra planning.
If you think it’s just not in the cards for you to be a horse owner, even though your dreams (or your child’s dreams) revolve around horses, don’t give up. There are so many ways to get your horse fix without owning a horse. Both riding lessons to horse leases, are great ways to get horse time without ownership, but my best suggestion is to find a local horse rescue to volunteer alongside. You will quickly find yourself surrounded by new friends, horse and human alike!
Helping your kids have a positive perspective on moving can be as challenging as getting your horses to the next location!