Is Owning a Horse A Lot of Work?
Many people, children and adults alike, fantasize about owning a horse. But in our modern world, people are busy with work, family, and extra-curricular responsibilities. How much work is involved in owning a horse? How much time can you expect to spend caring for your horse each day?
How much work is it to own a horse? Horses are not low-maintenance animals, and you should expect to take on a significant responsibility if you are considering getting a horse. In addition to feeding your horse and checking water at least twice per day, there are daily chores that must be attended to as well, including stall cleaning, wellness checks, picking hooves, grooming your horse, and exercising them. You should expect to spend more time caring for your horse than actually riding your horse.
Exactly how much work you will be putting forth to look after your horse will depend on a variety of factors – including weather and seasonal concerns, your individual horse’s health, how your horse will be housed, and your individual property or boarding situation. Read on to learn more about the daily chores that will be required of you to properly care for your horse.
Daily Chores To Care For Your Horse
Feeding Your Horse
Horses are grazing animals, meaning they graze for food on the ground throughout the day (and night). A horse’s digestive system is designed to digest grass, hay, or other forage throughout the day. It is not designed to take in large amounts of grain at one time, and so it is important to space out your horse’s grain feedings as much as possible, otherwise, your horse could bloat or colic and that can lead to an expensive vet visit.
If you’re feeding your horse grain, try and space out feedings at least a minimum of twice a day. It is recommended these feedings be spaced out as evenly as possible – for example, you may choose to feed at 6 am, and again at 6 pm. If you can feed more than twice per day, that is even better.
In addition to feeding them twice daily, it is important to try and keep these feedings at consistent times each day. If a horse is being fed on an inconsistent schedule this can lead to digestive upset, and will also affect the horse’s mood. Horses live to eat, and if they are not fed at their expected feeding time they may begin acting out and forming bad habits, such as cribbing or kicking at the gate.
Fresh Water For Your Horse
Horses drink a lot of water – around five to ten gallons per day – and even more during warmer weather. It is important to ensure your horse has access to fresh water at all times. This is a chore that may take you a few minutes in mild weather but can become a bigger chore if you live in an area that reaches freezing temperatures.
One option to make this job an easier one is to buy an automatic waterer for your horse. These are small, usually stainless steel, dishes that you can screw or bolt onto a fence or other structure. One end will screw onto a hose and the dish will automatically fill with fresh water when empty, so long as the hose is turned on. These are available online, or at a feed and tack store. Even if you have an automatic waterer, it is still important to check the water at least once or twice per day to make sure it is clean and filling properly.
To learn more about how horses drink water, check out my article How Horses Drink Water: Everything You Need to Know.
Picking Up After Your Horse
Horses are large animals – they drink a lot, eat a lot, and they also poop a lot. It is important for the health of your horse that manure and other waste is cleaned up regularly. If you have several acres that your horse has free rein of, you may get away with cleaning less often or even allowing the manure to compost back into the ground. However, many of us do not have our horses on ten or more acres each day. This means walking around the pasture with a wheelbarrow while you pick up poop or dragging the fields with a drag to help compost waste.
Unless your horse is turned out 24/7, you will need to be mucking out stalls as well. If your horse is in a barn at night, it is important to clean out his or her stall every day – if a horse stands in its own waste it can cause problems with the hooves, not to mention the overall health of the horse. This is an additional chore that will need to be done every day, rain or shine.
Checking Your Horse For Injuries or Illnesses
You will want to spend time with your horse every day, and check your horse visually and by touch to look for any signs of illness or injury. Run your hands over your horse to feel for any bumps or tender areas, watch your horse for signs of lethargy or limps, or soreness. Of course, spending time with your horse is not necessarily considered a chore – after all, you are likely considering owning a horse because you enjoy spending time with them!
Grooming Your Horse
Your horse needs to be groomed regularly. This will include brushing your horse – his body, his mane, and his tail. This can take some time, especially if the weather has been wet and the paddock is muddy. You want your horse to shine, and that takes work.
You will also need to pick your horse’s feet out on a regular basis. You should try and pick out your horse’s feet on a daily basis. You should also pick your horse’s feet out before and after every ride.
A horse’s hooves are vital yet sensitive parts of the horse’s anatomy. The hooves play a big role in keeping your horse’s blood circulating through its body. When the horse walks, the hooves act as a pump to push the blood back up the horse’s legs and back towards the heart. By picking out and looking at your horse’s hooves every day, you can stay on top of any concerns you may find with your horse’s feet.
Exercising Your Horse
Horses, like humans, need regular exercise to maintain optimal health. As I mentioned in the previous point, walking and stepping play a big role in your horse’s circulation. If a horse is sedentary, it can lead to poor circulation and other health problems. Horses were designed to be moving and walking for the majority of the day. If you watch a horse graze, you’ll even notice that they take a step between just about every bite. Ensuring that your horse is getting exercised can help keep them healthy and happy.
How you exercise your horse is up to you (and your horse), however exercise is a must. You may ride your horse for exercise, or you can walk him around. You can lunge him in a round pen, or you can free lunge and use this opportunity to work on training. While riding and working with your horse are likely the reasons you would like to have a horse, there will be days that you may not feel up to heading out and working with your horse. Even on these days, your horse needs to be exercised.
Occasional Chores To Care For Your Horse
Along with the daily chores, there are additional things that will require your time and commitment when it comes to owning a horse.
Professional Care For Your Horse
Your horse will need to see professionals on a regular basis. This includes vets for regular check-ups, exams if there is a concern, dental care, immunizations, and parasite treatment. Your horse will also need to see a farrier every 4 – 8 weeks, depending on the condition of the feet. Even if your horse does not wear shoes, and is “barefoot”, he will still need his hooves trimmed by the farrier regularly to keep the hoof healthy and prevent pain and injury.
Pasture and Fence Care For Your Horse
As you know, horses are big, strong animals. They can cause property damage, and not always intentionally. If you have a horse, you should expect to be spending time here and there making repairs or checking fences – fencing repairs after your horse tries to lean over and get a taste of the neighbor’s grass, barn repairs when your horse kicks in the siding to try and get to the hay, cross-tie repairs when your horse decides he does not want to be tied up after all. The point is, where there are horses, there are repairs that will need to be made on the property at some point.
If you have a riding arena on your property, you will also need to take into account the maintenance of the arena. Depending on the footing you have, you will at least need to plow the arena every so often to keep the ground soft. Otherwise, the ground will become packed and your horse’s feet will suffer (as will you, if you fall off).
How Much Work is Required to Board Your Horse at a Stable?
If you keep your horses on your own property, you will be responsible for all of their care. If you have limited time to care for your horse or you don’t have the luxury of having property for them, an alternative option is to keep your horse at a boarding stable. A boarding stable is a facility that you pay a monthly rate to keep your horse at. Depending on the boarding option you choose will depend on the amount of work and care you are required to do.
A full-care boarding option is perhaps the most common option provided by boarding stables. With this option, all of your horse’s daily needs are taken care of by the barn staff. The manager will also handle the scheduling of vet and farrier visits. Many full-care options will also provide grain and hay for your horse. Your horse will often have access to both a stall and turnout.
Pasture board is usually a cheaper option than a full-care board with many of the same benefits. The only difference is that your horse will be kept in a pasture 24/7 rather than having access to a stall. The horse’s daily needs should still be looked over by the barn staff.
If you’re on a budget and have the time necessary to care for your horse, one of the best options for you will be a self-care board. In this option, you are simply paying the boarding stable a fee to use their facilities while you are responsible for the daily and occasional care of your horse. This means you may have to travel to the barn as much as twice a day to feed, muck out, and turn your horse out.
If you do have the luxury of owning the land where your horse will be kept, you can earn some extra income by offering boarding spots for other horse owners. To learn about running a boarding stable, check out my article How to Start a Boarding Barn & Stable: Essential Guide.
Is All This Work Worth It?
Yes! As almost any horse owner will tell you, it is more than worth all of the work to have your own horse. Horses are beautiful, majestic animals that will form a close bond with you, especially if you are taking the extra time to work with them. The commitment may seem daunting, but it is one that you won’t regret.
If you’re reading this article as research for your first horse, check out my other article Tips For Choosing Your First Horse: Beginner’s Guide.
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