For many people, owning a horse is a lifelong aspiration. These majestic animals make excellent companions and often form deep connections with their caretakers. They offer a great source of exercise, whether you prefer riding them or just spending time working with them on the ground. Additionally, horses can provide a foundation for family bonding and teach younger family members about responsibility. If you’re considering horse ownership, here are ten essential tips to keep in mind.
1- Type of Horse
Becoming familiar with various horse breeds is important as there are different breeds used for various activities or disciplines. When selecting a riding horse, keep in mind that a healthy horse can carry up to 20% of its weight, which includes both rider and tack. Consider the size of the horse carefully. A horse’s past training and current ability will significantly affect its price. Safety and experience are top priorities for any potential owner, particularly for first-time buyers.
2- Where to Keep Your Horse
When owning a horse, you have the option to either keep it on your property or pay to board it elsewhere. Regardless of where the horse is kept, it needs a suitable area for exercise, a covered shelter, access to clean water, and high-quality grass or hay.
Maintaining a horse at home can be challenging as it requires a lot of work to keep the area clean and provide proper care for your horse. Boarding prices vary depending on the location and the type of facility. Full-service barns that provide daily feeding and stall cleaning are more expensive than self-care barns where owners are responsible for these tasks.
Maintaining cleanliness is crucial for horses’ well-being. If kept in a stall, the stall should be cleaned at least once daily, ideally twice, to remove manure and wet spots from urine. Horses sleep deeply lying down, so it’s essential to provide bedding materials like straw or shavings that absorb urine and offer a comfortable sleeping area. Bedding made of corn cobs or black walnut shavings is dangerous and should be avoided.
Horses that don’t have enough turnout space may become bored, and enrichment materials like toys or treats can help. While horses enjoy turnout and socialization with other horses, introducing new horses to the herd should be done gradually to prevent injuries as the pecking order is established.
Roughage, which comes in the form of pasture or hay, is the main component of a horse’s diet. To maintain their body weight, horses need an average of 1-2% of their body weight in hay daily, with small and frequent meals being preferable to avoid gastrointestinal issues or colic.
While pastures may not provide sufficient nutrition year-round, high-quality hay is typically necessary. It’s important to evaluate pasture for toxic plants, as well as consult with a veterinarian on a horse’s diet, especially if the horse is prone to diseases like founder from overeating on rich pasture.
All horses require access to fresh, clean water and a mineral salt lick. A horse can drink 5 to 10 gallons of water daily and may require more if the horse is in exercise or if it’s hot outside. Grains may be used to supplement calories if hay alone is insufficient, but it’s crucial to feed grains specifically formulated for horses to avoid additives in livestock feed that can be toxic and even deadly for horses.
Daily horse care, also known as husbandry, involves brushing the horse and taking care of its feet. This routine is not only crucial for the horse’s well-being but also helps in building a stronger bond between the horse and its caretaker. Proper grooming tools are required to maintain the horse’s coat and picking out the hooves regularly is necessary to ensure the horse remains sound.
6- Foot care
Horse hooves are similar to human nails and require regular trimming every 6-8 weeks. Depending on the horse’s conformation and intended use, horseshoes may need to be added by a farrier.
7- Dental Care
Horses have evolved teeth that continually grow and change throughout their life, enabling them to grind down grass, hay, and grain. However, this can result in uneven wear, leading to painful hooks and points, particularly on molars, which can affect their ability to eat and even shorten their lifespan. It is essential to have your horse’s teeth checked annually by a veterinarian and have any necessary points rasped down (floated) to ensure proper dental health.
8- Emergency and Preventive Care
Having a veterinarian available for your horse’s healthcare is crucial. Regular vaccination and parasite control (deworming) are essential for your horse’s well-being and longevity. In the event of an emergency, such as an injury or illness, a veterinarian can provide critical care and support. It is also essential to have a contingency plan in place for transportation in case of an emergency, such as a wildfire or if your horse requires hospitalization.
Tack refers to any equipment that is essential for a horse’s performance in its discipline, such as the saddle and bridle for riding or the harness for a carriage horse. Each discipline requires specific types of saddles, and it is crucial to ensure that the fit is comfortable for both the horse and rider. It is essential to clean the tack after each use and regularly check for damage while conditioning it.
After caring for your horse, you might feel energized and ready to ride. Taking riding lessons or providing training for your horse can be beneficial. Boarding facilities usually have trainers available, or you can hire a trainer to come to your horse. Horse riding is considered a sport, and receiving constructive feedback on your riding and your horse’s performance can be crucial, regardless of your experience level.