There’s No Such Thing as a Free Horse
With the current horse market in a state of flux there are more and more horses being offered for very low prices and even for free. But when looking to purchase a horse it is important to understand that there is no such thing as a free horse.
Of course the price tag might be free, but that should not be the only consideration when getting a horse. Often the actual purchase is the cheapest part of horse ownership.
The first thing to consider when you see a horse offered for free is why the owner has decided to offer it as a give-a-way. It is very rare to find a sound, young horse for free. Most free horses are either older, unsound, untrained or have some other factor that makes them valueless.
One common scenario is the horse who has been injured in some way and can no longer be ridden. Sometimes the lameness is temporary and with time and treatment the horse may return to soundness for light riding, or even possibly for more serious work. Other times the lameness is permanent and renders the horse a pasture ornament. Either way you are likely looking at vet bills, supplements and sometimes stall rest to bring the horse back to a reasonable state of comfort. A lame horse costs just as much to keep as a horse who can be ridden.
Another possibility is that the horse is older and is no longer capable of doing what the owner wants to do. Sometimes you can get an excellent horse this way. If the horse is sound it could be an excellent schoolmaster for a rider who is learning to ride. Many older horses are wiser in their ways and can be good babysitters for young riders or riders with confidence issues. The biggest issue is that with age many horses benefit from supplements to maintain their health and soundness. They may be limited in how much work they can do. You also need to consider that there is no guarantee how long the horse will live, so you might be searching for a new horse sooner than expected. If an older horse does become lame it is very difficult to place it in a new home and there is no resale value in the long run.
Many free horses have training issues or are virtually unhandled. While for an experienced horse owner this can turn into an excellent deal, for the average horse person an untrained horse is a recipe for disaster. A horse with issues under saddle could be reacting to a pain-related issue, which can cost a lot of money in vet bills. If the horse is not even halter trained it often takes a long time to fix the bad habits it has learned from not being handled which can be far more difficult with a full-grown horse than with a baby that is still small enough for a human to outmaneuver. Often colts are left ungelded and need a veterinary visit to remove the necessary parts to make them good equine citizens.
As long as you carefully consider the background of the horse and keep in mind that an unrideable horse costs just as much to keep as a sound, well trained horse a free horse might be worth considering. But, if you do not have the experience to retrain a horse, the money to rehabilitate one or the heart to cope with the loss of an older companion you should steer your attentions elsewhere. It is far more sensible to spend a few thousand dollars on a sound, sensible horse who is well trained for your discipline than to get a free horse who may cost you far more in the long run.