Of Hooves and Horsepower

Our two cars are getting long in the tooth.  I’d like to say I’ve been thinking about the next car I want to buy.  However, I’ve been wondering whether I will get a next car at all.  With the price of gas stuck in the stratosphere and the threat of global warming, perhaps it would better to forego a new car and just buy a horse instead.

According to the First Time Horse Buyers web page, a horse runs about five thousand dollars.  The cheapest new car I could find was a base model Nissan Versa that ran almost three times as much.  This is not a true comparison.  New horses are actually much more expensive than grown “used horses”.   One website puts the break even cost of a foal at almost thirty thousand dollars.   Whether mechanical or organic, the initial purchase is just the beginning of the cost of ownership.  Edmunds has a “True Cost to Own” calculator for cars.  This includes estimated costs for fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, taxes and depreciation.  I couldn’t find an equivalent equine calculator, but I tried to figure out the costs as close as possible.

The average new car lasts about eight years.  The average horse has a life expectancy of twenty five years.  Results vary; race horses may only live ten years.  While I couldn’t find hard data, I assume sports cars don’t last as long as minivans.  Cars run on gas, horses run on hay.  The average horse eats about half a bale of hay every day, roughly twenty pounds.  Horses eat every day, whether or not they are used.  The price of horse fuel goes up and down like automobile fuel, actually for the same reason.  Tractors are used to harvest hay and tractors run on oil based fuel.  The higher the price of oil, the higher the price of hay.

Cars require regular maintenance.  Horses do too.  Expect to change the oil in a car and deworm a horse every few months.  The hourly rate for an equine veterinarian is comparable to a mechanic at a Nissan dealer.  However, vets make house calls.  Nissan doesn’t.  Horses require annual vaccinations and periodic checkups.  A Versa has a similar maintenance schedule.  One advantage of a car is tires.  Car tires can last a few years whereas a farrier will be required for horseshoes about every six weeks.

Horses need a place to live.  Stall size is based on how tall the horse is at the shoulder.  This is measured in “hands”.  A small pony can be squeezed into a stall eight feet square.  I have a two-car garage or a one-Clydesdale garage.  If I lived in the city, a horse would need to be boarded somewhere.  This runs about five hundred dollars a month.  However, a parking spot in Chicago can cost twenty thousand dollars.  Advantage: horse.

The deal breaker for me is performance.  While the Versa is not the fastest car in the world, horse acceleration is unacceptable.  A horse goes zero to sixty in… never.  I don’t do much off road riding where a horse might have the advantage.  It’s illegal to ride a horse on the tollway in Illinois, probably because they charge based on the number of axles.  The base engine in a Nissan Versa generates 109 horsepower.  The average horse generates – well – one horsepower.


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