If I were to be gifted a horse nowadays, I would've been angry. I would have to spend a lot of money in its food, in a blacksmith for horseshoes, grooming, cleaning his box, the rent of his box, extra taxes (depending on the government), veterinarian. So much money a simply horse would've cost me. And on top of that, imagine if the horse is sick and will just require surgery after surgery, draining my pockets even further. And I can't even sell him, he's pretty much a zombie horse.

Wait. But if I have those issues now, that raises the following question:

  • Between the start of the middle ages, until the Industrial revolution (Which majorly changed the revenue a horse could reek), what was on average the burden of owning an horse (Cost vs Income)?

  • Secondly, what would've happened if the cost of maintaining an horse was too high, but the horse would still be necessary as a ways to make a living? (They need him for transport / labor. When eating it just isn't viable)

  • 2
    If I were to be gifted a horse nowadays [...] Or you could just sell it. Now seriously, the second point is the issue of economic equilibrium (if your cost of doing a service is higher than the income due to such service, you stop giving service. Is the service is valuable, then its price and income would be higher).
    – SJuan76
    Apr 23, 2016 at 18:24
  • 3
    To the first question, cost vs income, income will vary wildly. Why do you have the horse? Is it a work horse? A draft horse? A riding horse? A war horse? Is it plowing fields? Pulling a wagon? Carrying the King's messenger? A horse pulling a fancy wagon full of aristocrats will generate more income than one pulling a plow in turnip fields. A war or riding horse will generate no income.
    – Schwern
    Apr 23, 2016 at 18:53
  • Also, without specifying the country / region / place, the answer can vary wildly. Owning a horse in Mongolia was always a different cost than owning one in Paris downtown.
    – Greg
    Apr 24, 2016 at 16:17
  • @Oak Horses where back then what cars are today. If you were offered a used car in mediocre shape what would you do? That's what the proverb says.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 24, 2016 at 16:58
  • Vocabulary nitpick: the person who puts shoes on a horse (and trims the hooves &c) is a farrier, not a blacksmith. Hereabouts they charge about 80 dollars, and shoes/trims are needed about every two months. It's not really a cheap hobby, but less expensive than many I could think of.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 15, 2017 at 19:05

4 Answers 4


The people who invented this proverb had somewhat different lifestyle from yours. And lived in different environment. They worked the land. For them a horse was not a liability but an asset. And these people were the majority of population. So even if one of them had no grass to feed a horse, or no desire to work with it, s/he would easily sell it. Even if you kill a horse for meat, you get: a) a lot of meat. b) the skin from which you can make a lot of things, c) hair and hoofs etc.

EDIT. Since the question was edited, and the proverb disappeared, I give a literal translation from the Russian: "One does not inspect the teeth of a horse which is received as a gift". Explanation: teeth inspection is one of the main things when you buy a horse. But if you receive something for free, you should be glad in any case.

  • May I ask, what Proverb? Oh, I know there was one before, but it was edited out, so ... how about updating your answer?
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 24, 2016 at 11:48
  • On your edit: that's also a proverb in English, as "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth".
    – sharur
    Jun 14, 2017 at 17:44

Between the start of the middle ages, until the Industrial revolution (Which majorly changed the revenue a horse could reek), what was on average the burden of owning an horse (Cost vs Income)?

The answer to both sides, cost and income, is "it depends".

Do you have a lot of land for the horse to graze on? Do you already own other horses and thus already have the equipment and skills and stables to care for a horse? Then the cost will be relatively low.

At the other end is if you live in a city. You have to pay someone to stable the horse. You have to pay for feed. You have to spend time exercising the horse. Because of stone streets you have to pay for horse shoes and additional care for their hooves. There's a higher chance of disease in the more crowded conditions.

As to income, what is the horse doing? A war horse, or riding horse for recreation, will generate no income. A horse carrying messages and fast mail might make a high income, depending on the business. A draft horse could make a living, but it depends on what it's pulling: a horse pulling a plow over a turnip field will not make nearly the income as a horse pulling a fancy carriage taxing aristocrats around.

Secondly, what would've happened if the cost of maintaining an horse was too high, but the horse would still be necessary as a ways to make a living? (They need him for transport / labout. When eating it just isn't viable)

If what you're doing for a living isn't earning you a living, it's time to do something else.

If the horse isn't earning its keep, and you're not independently wealthy, you either do something more economically viable with the horse, or you sell the horse and do something else for money.

If you absolutely must have the horse, you find a way to pay for the horse. You can go into debt, or do other work.


A horse's teeth is one way to determine its age. So you should look at the teeth if you're buying it. If it's a gift, free, then there's no point in looking. You won't lose anything if it's old, and the giver might get offended and retract his offer.

  • 1
    I know why looking at horse's teeth is important. What I don't know is the cost of maintaining an horse, which is what I asked
    – Oak
    Apr 23, 2016 at 18:38
  • Well that's the point. If you don't want it, you just get it turned into glue, which will get you a couple of bob. In the time this saying originated, it's not like there were animal welfare laws which lumbered you with an animal that was no good to you. If you wanted to kill it and eat it, no one could stop you. If you wanted to abandon it the woods, no one could stop you. If you decided to make it fight to the death with a bull... you get the idea.
    – Ne Mo
    Apr 23, 2016 at 22:38

In my answer to What was the price of a horse in 1750? I provided some actual prices for horses and oxen from early Detroit, dated 1807 and 1825. If you look at the values given you find that a team of horses is worth double a team of oxen. If you look at the inventories you will also find the price of land: 40 acres is worth about the value of a team of oxen. These are frontier values, for cleared land.

I don't recall the source offhand, but a team of horses can plow more than double the land in a day as a team of oxen, but costs about double to feed, hay and oats, and horses require more care, such as shoeing. As always, time is money, and the farmer who could afford it was willing to pay more for working horses than for oxen.

In both examples the teams of oxen and horses have been trained to work together; they are priced as teams.

  • Oxen can be shod, too, and often would be for work. Though I'm no expert, from what I've read they are more difficult to shoe - the shoe has to be made in two pieces, the ox has to be supported since they can't balance well (unlike a horse), &c. Also oxen & horses work better in different conditions: oxen are (I think) better in wetter lands, horses in drier.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 24, 2016 at 5:25
  • 1
    Here is a modern commentary on working with horses and oxen for logging. And here a historical account where oxen were preferred. In this account circa 1820 the author says shoeing is an expense not required for oxen; I suppose it depends on the land and the work to be done. But you would never work an unshod horse. Apr 24, 2016 at 19:12

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