It's every princess' dream and the fantasy of young cowboys, owning and riding a horse maybe along the shoreline or in pursuit of robbers. "It's a great way for kids to learn responsibility. Most kids are told what to do all the time, so it's also an opportunity to tell the pony what to do," said Karen Newman, who operates Aubrey Hill Equestrian in Pace. She said young people get the chance to learn how to teach and train.

In Santa Rosa County, where many residents live on large lots, this dream is possible. Newman said, "You need at least an acre of pasture, not including your home." Julie Catone, owner of Rustic Trails Stables in Milton recommended a total of 3-4 acres to give a horse room to run. Since horses can't simply come in the house in cold weather, Newman said owners need to make sure to at least have a blanket if they don't have a stable. Catone strongly urged to plan for the worst saying many horses were lost during the ice storm in January. "When they're cold they don't drink and when they don't drink they get colic," she said.

According to Newman, an older pony is best for those just learning to ride, one already knowing its role. "Trying to teach a beginner rider on a 'green' pony is a recipe for disaster," Newman said, a 'green' pony being one new to riding. Catone said working with horses is a way of life. She also said if all an owner is looking for is the ability to ride and not be interested in horsemanship, purchasing an animal may not be for the family. However, bringing people and horses together is very satisfying. Catone recommended getting a solid education on these exotic animals, including care as well as riding, before committing to buying one. "I like to think of it as a journey," Catone said. Purchasing an animal and getting to know it has much to teach young riders about themselves and life, she said.

Costs are naturally on the minds of first-time owners, but Newman said those looking for just a trail riding pony can cost a few hundred dollars. She said, "The joke is there are ponies that live on air. Some survive just on the grass around the pasture." However, she also said a skinny pony would need grain, which costs around $15 to $20 a bag. Other costs to consider are farrier services, equine hoof care every five weeks at roughly $30 and at least yearly vaccinations, which Newman said can run $100. She also said to make sure to keep the animal on a regular worming schedule and account for getting sick. She did say a trailer is not necessary as large animal veterinarians make house calls.

Catone said a family should budget $4,000 to $6,000 if boarding isn't an option.

New owners need to learn how to brush their horse and pick their feet, according to Newman, and look for tangles in their hair and tails. She said horses have their own unique personalities and are more independent than a cat or a dog, but a bond can develop over time with proper care and attention.

Catone said new owners should look into equestrian clubs to find peers and mentors. "Enjoy your horse and keep learning," she said, "But remember horses are 90 percent work and 10 percent fun."