HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – A Horse, of Course – Part II

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran

A Horse, of Course – Part II

Bird McIver is a locally famous saddle-maker and horse-rescuer (see “A Horse, of Course – Part I“).  I asked her what it costs to buy a horse on the Big Island.

“There are some very, very good horses here: good looking, with nice attitudes. We have access to good bloodlines here. And right now, it’s a buyer’s market. Prices are down because we’re in a down economy.  A good horse can be had for $2,500, although you’ll pay more like $5,000 or $8,000 for a really great one.”

Bird McIver rides Joe: a young horse being trained for polo.
Bird McIver rides Joe: a young horse being trained for polo.

Another source for horses – at a much lower cost – is a horse-rescuing operation. The Hawaii Humane Society has one, and so do Bird and her husband, Colin; they call it CB Horse Rescue.

“With the economy in the tubes,” she explained, “people are neglecting their horses. We see this especially where the owners are on drugs, or drink too much. We see horses that have been frightened, or starved, or not given enough water. I placed six rescued horses last year, and I charge – though it’s funny to put it this way – fifty cents a pound. That works out to about $500-650, which is really a donation to the cause. But you have to remember that, like any other distressed animal, a rescued horse can have ‘issues,’ and the new owner has to be somebody who’s able to handle them. I always say: You have to be ‘married’ to your livestock!”

Suppose someone already has a horse, and wants to bring it here? “That’s pricy, but not much more so than bringing over a car. By sea – that is: by container-ship and inter-island barge – it’ll take a few weeks, and cost about $1,200. As an alternative, and unlike shipping a car, you can actually fly a horse here! FedEx will fly it in, direct from the Mainland, for about $2,200.”

Bird reminds all prospective owners that horses should not be left entirely out of doors. “Ideally, you want to keep a horse in a pasture, but with shelter from the rain and the sun. “If you don’t have a stable, or can’t put one on your land,” she said, “you may be able to rent a stall. The stalls at the Panaewa Equestrian Center, in Hilo, for instance, have traditionally been inexpensive; but costs have been going up for years, so I expect rental fees will also go up, soon.”

Bird McIver riding sidesaddle on Coosa Lani, at the Hawaii Quarter Horse Association's Fun Day Show.
Bird McIver riding sidesaddle on Coosa Lani, at the Hawaii Quarter Horse Association's Fun Day Show.

But you don’t actually have to own lot of land to ride a horse around here. “The Panaewa Equestrian Center is like a giant park,” said Bird. “You can ride in the rodeo arena, or the track, there’s a dressage arena in the infield, and a cross-country course. For skill-building, the Hawaii Island Dressage and Eventing Association can help you with dressage, stadium jumping, and cross-country jumping. There’s a very active polo contingent here. And there are plenty of public places to ride, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.”

And so, Bird has one more piece of advice for the prospective owner: “Before you buy a horse, buy a trailer.”

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – A Horse, of Course – Part I

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran

A Horse, of Course – Part I

“What’s it like to own a horse here?” The question came from a family that was looking at a house on pastureland. I know a little about horses, but Bird McIver is an expert: she’s famous in local equine circles for making fine custom saddles, and for rescuing horses that have been abused or abandoned.

Bird McIver with her horse Bunny
Bird McIver with her horse Bunny

“Keeping a horse is certainly a lot of fun,” said Bird. “There are plenty of horses and horse-people here, and we have some very active clubs. But it’s also more expensive to keep a horse, here, than on the Mainland.”

Take feed, for instance. “A bale of hay that costs maybe six to ten dollars on the Mainland,” she said, “costs forty dollars here, because it has to come over on a barge. And you may have to buy hay, because not every field or pasture on the island has vegetation that can sustain a horse. The soil here is volcanic, so it’s typically deficient. Cows will eat what’s known locally as ‘Wainaku grass,’ but horses won’t touch it. There’s a lot of moisture in that grass, but not a lot of the nutritional components that a horse requires. So, horses here need to be fed and supplemented.”

Bird estimates that it costs the average owner about $225 per horse per month. That includes feed, vaccinations, and “equine dentistry.” (Huh?) “You absolutely should ‘look a gift horse in the mouth’,” she said with a grin. “It’s the first thing to do – check the teeth. Horses’ teeth grow all their lives; they get sharp, and have to be ground down. You also have to ‘worm’ horses every six weeks, here, because we have a year-round growing season and no killing frost. You have to deal with other pests, too. I encourage people to keep chickens near their horses, to eat fly larvae.”

Surprisingly, you may not have to ‘shoe’ your horse. “Horses evolved near timberline,” Bird explained. “If you toughen up their feet, they can go barefoot. But check their feet often, and watch out for foot problems wherever the ground is wet, as it can be, especially in East Hawaii.”

Most horses do, however, get shod. “Horseshoes themselves are not expensive, and they can be shipped here fairly cheaply, in flat-rate boxes from the Post Office. But to do the work – to actually shoe the horse,” declared Bird, “pick a good farrier. Around here, we have certified farriers and we have ‘cowboy shoe-ers.’ Go with a farrier.”

Bird will tell us about buying a horse on the Big Island, in my next blog.