Horses need care just like any other pet. But horses require much more care than dogs, cats, or goldfish. If you’ve always wanted a horse, it’s important to know how much money and time you’ll need to take care of one.
Horse people are always learning more about horse care, and I could talk about it for weeks and still not cover everything. This can be overwhelming, especially for people who are new to horses or want to own one. With this in mind, I’ve written this as an easy-to-understand guide to horse care for people who are just starting out. It goes over all the basics you need to know.
A Review of the Fundamentals of Horse Care
The fundamentals of horse care include everything that impacts a horse’s health and well-being…
- Appropriate living conditions – this is a crucial aspect of horse care, ensuring that horses have an appropriate living environment! Is the stable adequate? Is the field appropriate?
- Routine and care for horses housed indoors or outdoors; the routine will vary depending on how the horse is kept and the type of labor it performs. Providing a schedule suited to each horse’s needs is crucial to horse care.
- Appropriate feed – horses have delicate digestive systems, therefore you will need to learn the fundamentals of nutrition in order to give adequate horse care.
- Grooming – Grooming isn’t just about making your horse look nice; it’s also a vital opportunity to bond with, inspect, and maintain your horse’s health.
- Know what you need and maintain it in good condition.
- Is your horse in good health? This is information you should get. Essential skills include recognizing indications of health, knowing when to contact a veterinarian, and administering basic first aid.
- Additionally, there is always more to learn and know about horse care!
BASICS OF HORSE CARE:
- Check on horses a minimum of twice every day.
- Ensure that the grazing area is clear of harmful and dangerous vegetation.
- Make sure stables are suitable/safe/kept clean
- Always have available pure water
- Feed horses according to their type and workload.
- Have routine health examinations and farrier care
- Maintain current immunizations and worming
- Ensure equipment is in good working order and safe.
Horse Care for an Outliving Horse
Often perceived as the simpler alternative, but this is not always the case. Outside-living horses will still require twice-daily visits to ensure their health and maintain their grazing. In the winter, when the grass has less nutritional value, many horses will also require hay. You must have a horse that is content to live outside year-round (usually hardy/native breeds, although many people manage less hardy breeds with rugs/shelter).
- Field Maintenance – The pasture should be maintained by routinely collecting droppings and inspecting for toxic weeds such as ragwort (ideally everyday). In addition to topping, rolling, and harrowing as required (the yard will usually do this, but if you are responsible, a local farmer will usually be available to hire).
- Limiting grazing – many horses and ponies may require restricted grazing to maintain a healthy weight and prevent laminitis in the summer; this can be achieved through strip grazing’ or starvation paddocks’ Strip grazing is accomplished by constructing a paddock strip with electric tape and gradually shifting it back a few feet as the grass is consumed. The only difference is that a hunger paddock consists of a miniature paddock instead of strips.
- Preserving your grass — in the winter, horses can severely “poach” the ground, causing it to become muddy and riddled with potholes. You can either have a sacrificial winter paddock or employ a rotational paddock system to provide paddocks time to recuperate in order to preserve grass for the summer.
- This should be horse-safe fencing; I see far too many horse paddocks surrounded by barbed wire and broken fencing. In a perfect world, everyone would have stylish timber posts and railings, but this may be quite costly. Except for gates and corners/fencing junctions, impact-resistant posts should not be concreted. Commonly used as a substitute is an electric tape with posts, which can be quite successful (although I have encountered horses that appear impervious to the shock!). As long as there are no sharp edges, gaps that horses’ hooves can get caught in (I’ve had to rescue a few that were caught in sheep fencing! ), or poisonous plants in hedgerows, and the fencing is high enough to prevent them from jumping out and secure enough to prevent them from barging through, it should be fine.
- Shelter – Having a purpose-built field shelter is great, but if your field doesn’t have one, you want there to be natural shelter such as hedges/trees so your horse can hide from the cold weather and wind in winter, or enjoy some shade and avoid the flies in the summer.
Tending to a Stabled Horse
When I say “stabled horse,” I’m generally referring to horses and ponies that have access to a stable; this might imply, (as mine have always been), that they are in at night and out during the day during the winter, and vice versa during the summer to avoid the heat and flies! With this in mind, the majority of the previous section on caring for an outside horse, such as care for the paddock, will also apply, with a few additional considerations…
- The stable must be secure and appropriate for your horse. A general rule of thumb for size is 10 to 12 feet for ponies (Shetlands and small ponies can get away with even less), 12 to 14 feet for larger horses, and 12 to 16 feet or more for foaling stables. Personally, I believe that these sizes should be considered the absolute minimum, particularly in situations where grazing may be limited and they must spend more time inside. A horse should not be able to injure itself in the stable due to any sharp edges or protrusions, drafts, or lack of adequate head height. The stable should also be well-ventilated but not drafty. (You should take into account storage space for hay, feed, bedding, tack, and other items, among others.)
- Mucking out is frequently a contentious activity that horse owners either love or detest (you can tell the difference between the two by looking at the finished bedding; I’m not kidding when I say that some of them seem cozier than my pocket-sprung mattress at home!). Your horse won’t care how it looks as long as it’s clean, and by morning it’ll be a mess anyhow. Regardless of the type of bedding you choose, the primary task of mucking out is to remove poop and damp areas before making a bed that is thick enough for the animals to lie down on, has enough padding to protect their joints, and has raised banks around the borders to prevent casting (laying down or rolling over too close to the wall and getting stuck).
- Feeding/Watering – Horses want constant access to fresh water, therefore a sizable flexible plastic or rubber bucket (without potentially dangerous metal handles) is a suitable choice. Or automatic drinkers are fantastic for convenience (although one drawback is that you can’t keep an eye on how much they’re drinking).
- Preventing Boredom – For horses who spend a lot of time in their stables, boredom may be a serious problem. Small-holed haynets can help them eat more slowly, but they also have disadvantages because a horse’s natural eating position is at ground level, which is better for their respiratory system. Other options include steady games and distractions like carrots and other vegetables suspended from a rope.
- Exercise is important to minimize stiffness and boredom in horses who spend a lot of time inside; you can accomplish this by giving them plenty of opportunities to stretch their legs through hand grazing, horse walkers, lunging, in-hand work, and riding work.
Basic Instruction for Horse Feeding
Beginning horse care will just scratch the surface of equine nutrition, but understanding the fundamentals of safe feeding concepts is a terrific place to start.
- Feed a horse in accordance with its size, weight, and workload.
- Always provide access to clean, fresh water and always eat the highest-quality food you can
- Feeding concentrates an hour before or after exercise is not recommended. Make sure the diet is balanced.
- Adjust the feed gradually if necessary.
- Maintain the same feeding schedule.
- Feed frequently but little
- Feed for job completed, not in advance of work
- Measure the feed precisely.
The kind of feed and quantity of food a horse needs will vary depending on factors like size, weight, the type of job they are performing, type of metabolism, etc. Horses generally need to consume around 2.5% of their body weight each day, with the majority of this being roughage, according to the British Horse Society (hay, haylage, grass).
Since horses’ digestive systems are delicate, they require cautious control. Feeding schedules should be maintained, and any adjustments should be handled gradually. They should also be fed little and often, primarily with roughage, as they are naturally grazing animals made to be “trickle” feeders.
- Roughage/Forage/Fibre – The main component of a horse’s diet should be roughage, which includes grass, hay, and haylage. Always purchase the highest quality hay or haylage you can afford; cheap hay is frequently dusty, may not have been checked for toxic weeds, and will ultimately result in more issues than it will save you. It’s crucial to remember that silage, which is fed to cows, cannot be consumed by horses.
- Hard feeds, sometimes known as concentrates, are categorized as cereals and grains that frequently come in processed forms, such as “pony nuts.” Depending on how much labor your horse does, the hard feed might not be necessary. Some horses and ponies, especially those who are only occasionally taken for rides, could practically survive on fresh air. These animals won’t require any hard feed; instead, they would do well with a small amount of low-calorie chaff and a good supplement, or even just access to a salt/vitamin/mineral lick.
- Supplements – To make sure that horses are getting all the nutrients they require in their food, the majority of horses will need a basic vitamin/mineral supplement. For overall health (and flies in the summer), many owners also swear by garlic and apple cider vinegar. If you are unsure of what will be best for your horse, I recommend seeing a nutritionist or your veterinarian for help. Older horses and competitive horses may benefit from additions (such joint supplements) (very fancy supplements and feed balancers can be super expensive, so it can save money to ask). Make sure they don’t include any prohibited “doping” chemicals if you plan to participate, especially if you’re linked, and only purchase items that have been approved for the horse industry!
- Succulents – Succulents are classified as fruits and vegetables, with apples and carrots being the two most popular gifts from owners. I give these to my horses on a daily basis, but I don’t give them too much, and I always cut them in a way that prevents choking. For instance, carrots should be eaten whole or diced lengthwise because horses might not be able to properly digest small chunks or discs, which could lodge.
- There are a ton of snacks available on the market. I don’t give out snacks very often, and when I do, I only give out organic, low-sugar sweets (or just a carrot! ), as some can be very sweet or include additives. When giving sweets, use caution because they can create harmful habits! I’ve seen ponies who are so accustomed to receiving goodies that they won’t be caught without them or will nearly trip you up while searching through your pockets for food.
An overview of basic equine care
- Always surround oneself with knowledgeable people, and never be embarrassed to seek assistance or ask questions.
- Recognize the fundamentals of caring for horses in stables and those kept outside
- Learn the fundamentals of feeding and a horse’s dietary requirements.
- understand how to select out a horse’s feet, groom them, etc.
- Be aware of the tools you require, and keep them in good working order.
- Recognize the significance of routine health examinations and upkeep such good farriery and worming
- Make sure you are familiar with the fundamentals of horse health and first aid. You must be able to spot symptoms of disease and treat wounds.
- Continue to learn and gain experience to hone your abilities and broaden your knowledge.