Horse Care Basics
Before you get a horse, it’s important to know how much work and effort goes into caring for them. Horses require both basic and specialized care to help them thrive.
What are the basics of caring for a horse? Here are the most essential aspects of horse care:
- Provide adequate sustenance for your horse through grass, hay, grain, and supplements.
- Provide your horse with fresh water.
- Provide the proper environment for your horse, whether on your property or at a boarding stable.
- Cater to your horse’s unique needs.
- Ensure that your horse gets adequate exercise through riding, training, and interaction.
- Keep track of and schedule routine horse care procedures like hoof trimmings, teeth floating, deworming, and vaccinations.
Now, that may seem like a very vague overview. Not to worry! I am going to break down each of these points into easy-to-understand sections where I share all I know about caring for horses. To learn more, keep reading!
Equipment Needed to Care For A Horse
Let’s review the basic equipment you’ll need to care for your horse. It’s important to have this equipment before you purchase your horse and bring your horse home. The last thing you want is to not have a piece of equipment when you’re in a situation where you need it. In the list below, each item is linked to a product you can purchase from Amazon if you’re missing it from your inventory:
- Lead Rope
- Grooming Kit
- Equine First Aid Kit
- Water Buckets
- Feed Pan
- Tack for Riding
- Horse Shampoo
- Hay Net
- Winter Horse Blanket
- Fly Spray
- Fly Mask
These items can make your life a little easier when it comes to caring for your horse. If you keep your horse at a boarding stable, items like water buckets, feed pans, and hay nets may be provided; however, it can never hurt to have extras on hand. There are many times where I have found that I needed extra items because something broke or I needed to use my own for trailering my horse or taking care of an injured horse.
Horse Care Food and Water Requirements
The first horse care aspect we’ll cover is providing adequate food and water for your horse. Without sustenance, your horse won’t survive. Inadequate food and water supply can lead to a number of negative health conditions, like malnutrition and dehydration. Here’s what you need to know about feeding and watering your horse:
How Much Food Do Horses Need?
As herbivores, horses can spend hours at a time grazing and eating. Did you know that horses spend up to 15 hrs grazing each day? This means that horses must eat a lot! On average, horses need to eat 1 – 2% of their body weight per day. This means that a horse that weighs 1,000 lbs (454 kg) will need around 10 – 20 lbs (4.5 – 9 kg). Most of this should come from forage, like grass and hay.
What Should You Feed A Horse?
When it comes to feeding your horse, there are a few specific things that can contribute to their diet. Ensuring that your horse has a well-balanced healthy diet that meets the needs of their lifestyle and physical characteristics is important. Here is a list of food sources for your horse that can play a role in sustaining your horse.
In the wild, a horse’s diet largely consists of grass and other forage. As herbivores that require at least 10 – 20 lbs of food per day, grass can provide the consistency and abundance that enables horses to graze for hours at a time. A horse is designed to be able to eat and digest grass easily and be able to extract nutrients and sugars that grass produces.
If adequate grass supply is not available to your horse, you can feed hay. Hay is grass that has been dried, baled, and stored, and still provides much of the natural sugars and nutrients that grass does. Hay can be provided to your horse in large quantities, allowing them to eat the large amount of forage that they need to.
Grain can be used to provide your horse’s diet with extra sugars and nutrients that can help your horse hold its weight or produce more energy if your horse is ridden frequently and rigorously. However, grain should not be the main aspect of your horse’s diet. It has extra sugars unnatural to your horse that can lead to obesity and hoof problems. If you think your horse needs grain, the best thing to do is talk to a veterinarian to see what type of grain they recommend for your horse.
Supplements are minerals, vitamins, and nutrients that you can add to your horse’s diet to help improve their health and balance their body systems. Supplements can come in powder form, block form, or in paste form, and different supplements can be used to affect your horse in different ways. A biotin supplement can help strengthen your horse’s feet while B vitamin supplements can help calm a nervous horse. If you notice your horse seems to be lacking in one area of its health, you should research how certain supplements may be able to help them.
How Much Water Do Horses Need?
Another important aspect of your horse’s diet is water intake. Water is essential for your horse’s circulation, digestion, body temperature regulation, and energy production. Without water, your horse won’t be able to survive. A horse needs anywhere from 5 – 10 gallons (19 – 38 L) of water a day. If you keep multiple horses together in a pasture or turnout, it’s important to calculate the amount of water you will need so that all the horses can drink and stay hydrated.
What Happens If A Horse Isn’t Getting Enough Water?
A horse that isn’t getting enough water will get dehydrated, which can lead to other health problems. One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a dehydrated horse is colic. At the most basic level, colic is any abdominal pain that may affect your horse, although many different things can cause colic. When horses are dehydrated, their digestive system won’t be able to work properly, which can cause food to get impacted in their gastrointestinal tract.
Colic can be fatal, so it’s crucial to be able to recognize if your horse is dehydrated and take action to improve its water intake. A dehydrated horse may seem lethargic and its skin will be less elastic. You can also look at your horse’s gums. If you press a finger into your horse’s gums and blood doesn’t immediately fill back into where your fingerprint is, your horse is likely dehydrated.
You can learn more about getting your horse to drink water by reading my article How to Get a Horse to Drink Water: Complete Guide.
Where To Keep A Horse
Before you purchase a horse, you will need to have a plan for where you can keep it. Unfortunately, you usually can’t keep a horse in your backyard. Horses require large amounts of space and specific resources. You should take the time to research your options of where you can keep your horse before you start to look for your equine friend.
Keeping a Horse on Your Own Property
One option is that you can keep your horse on your own property. Before you get too excited, you should know that you’ll need adequate space, fencing, and shelter. 2 acres of land can sustain one horse. A horse will also need a companion animal, whether it’s another horse or a livestock animal, you’ll need to factor the other animal in to ensure that you have enough land and grazing area.
You will also need adequate fencing to keep your horse in the pasture. The best type of fencing for horses is four-board fencing, as wood fencing is strong and can withstand a horse leaning and pushing against it. It also doesn’t pose the hazards that barbed wire fencing does.
Lastly, your land will need shelter for your horse. Whether it’s a simple run-in or a well-built barn, your horse will need a place they can escape bad weather or heat. Building a shelter on your property can be a big expense, so it’s important to research other options.
Keeping a Horse at a Boarding Stable
If you don’t have adequate space to keep your horse on your own property, you can always keep your horse at a boarding stable. A boarding stable is a farm that you can pay to keep your horse on their land and use their facilities. Oftentimes, boarding stables will even see to the daily care of your horse, like feeding and turning them out.
Most boarding stables usually give two options for people who want to keep their horses there. One option is a full care board, where your horse will have a pasture and a stall. The barn staff will see to all of the needs of your horse. Another popular option is the pasture care board. This is where the barn staff will still see to the daily needs of your horse, but the horse will live in a pasture 24/7.
Finding a good boarding stable is essential to your horse’s care and your peace of mind. Check out my article, Choosing a Boarding Stable Your Horse Will Love, to learn tips and tricks for finding the best place to keep your horse.
Horse Living Conditions: Best Practices
Another important aspect of horse care is finding a living situation that suits your horse best; this could mean keeping them in a pasture 24/7 or stalling them in the day. While I usually like to keep my horses turned out with access to adequate shelter, I have used stalls throughout my time of owning horses.
I had a pony that has thin hair and sensitive pink skin that would get sunburned in the summer. To keep her comfortable, the best thing to do was keep her in a stall during the day and turn her out at night. These are all things to consider when understanding the best living conditions for your horse.
What’s the Most Natural Living Conditions for Horses?
Horses are designed to be moving and grazing all day. Wild horses are known to travel between 10 – 20 miles a day to find food and water. As you can see, horses are meant to be mobile. If you watch a horse graze, you’ll even notice that they’ll take a bite then take a few steps before taking their next bite.
This constant movement is crucial to good circulation, which can improve health in general. For this reason, it’s important that your horse get receives adequate turnout and exercise so they can move freely and get back to their most natural form.
Should I Keep My Horse in a Stall?
Hearing that a horse is naturally designed to be moving and grazing may make you wonder if you should keep your horse in a stall. There are a lot of things to consider before determining whether you should keep your horse in a stall. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- In what environment is your horse most comfortable? Horses that have only ever lived in a pasture may get anxious if they are suddenly kept in a stall for half the day.
- Do you need to conserve grass in the pasture? Many people stall their horses half the day to conserve grass in the turnout pasture.
- How does your horse handle weather? Horses that are less cold-tolerant may prefer to be kept inside during winter nights. It can also be a good idea to stable your horse if pasture conditions are dangerous, like if there is severe ice or mud.
- Does your horse have a health condition that requires them to be in a stall? Horses that are easily sunburnt or gain excessive weight by grazing may benefit if they are kept inside during the day.
These are just a few points that can help you decide what living conditions will most benefit your horse. It’s important to remember if you do keep your horse in a stall, it will need to be cleaned out at least once a day to maintain cleanliness and hygiene.
How to Exercise Your Horse
Since horses are built to be constantly moving, exercise is an important part of their health, especially if they are being kept in a stall for half the day. When you think about exercising your horse, you probably think of riding. However, you won’t always be able to ride your horse, whether the weather is bad or your horse or yourself has been injured. In this section, I’ll share some ways you can get your horse the exercise it needs.
Exercise can benefit your horse in numerous ways. It can help your horse stay a healthy weight, maintain and build muscle, and improve circulation throughout the body. Even just a 20-minute workout twice a week can help your horse hold its muscle tone and increase stamina.
Turning your horse out in a pasture for at least half a day is a great way to provide them with exercise. In a pasture, horses can run around, play with each other, and get all their energy out. If for some reason you aren’t able to visit your horse frequently, making sure they have access to pasture can meet your horse’s exercise needs.
Many homeowners’ favorite way to exercise their horses is to ride them! Riding is why many people get into the world of horses. When you ride your horse, you can control and maintain speed, helping your horse build stamina and muscle. There are many different disciplines and activities you can do when riding your horse, which can make for a fun and challenging workout.
Lunging is when you work your horse around you in a circle either on a lunge line or with no rope in a round pen. If you aren’t able to ride your horse, lunging is another way you can control your horse’s speed and gait to help them build stamina and endurance. Lunging can also be a great way to burn your horse’s energy before you get on and ride, which can make your ride go much more smoothly!
Hand-walking is when you walk your horse as if you are leading them. Hand-walking is basically like taking your horse for a walk! This exercise method is most often used when a horse has been injured and can only have limited exercise to avoid re-injuring themselves. Even limited energy during injury recovery can be enough to improve circulation and set a change of pace for your horse.
Ponying is when you ride one horse as you lead the other. This is a great way to exercise two horses at a time! Not only is ponying a great way to get your horses to exercise but it’s also a good way to work young horses and get them out and around without having to ride them.
You can learn more by visiting my article Easy Ways to Exercise a Horse: Step-By-Step Guide With Pictures.
Horse Health Care Routine Procedures
One of the most important aspects of your horse’s healthcare is routine procedures and exams your horse will need to have done on a regular basis. If you plan on getting a horse, it’s important to know how often your horse will require these procedures so you can form a schedule and stay on top of your horse’s needs.
Horses Need Their Hooves Trimmed Every 4 – 8 Weeks
Just like your toenails are constantly growing, a horse’s hooves constantly grow as well. When a horse’s hooves get too long, it affects the horse’s balance and weight distribution, which can cause serious health problems. A farrier, a professional who trims horses’ feet, will need to tend to your horse every 4 – 8 weeks.
The rate at which your horse’s feet grow can be affected by climate and the season. A horse’s hooves will usually grow slower in a dry and arid environment. In a wet environment, a horse’s hooves will grow faster. During the Summer months, horse hooves can receive more trauma since they are constantly stopping at flies; this will require your farrier to come more often.
A farrier can also put shoes on your horse’s feet. While not every horse needs shoes, shoes can protect your horse’s feet from trauma and can be used to correct and protect damaged and cracked feet.
Horses Need Their Teeth Floated At Least Once a Year
Did you know that horses’ teeth are constantly growing and changing? As a horse chews its food, it rotates its jaw from side to side. This can cause the horse’s teeth to wear down to where the outside edges of the teeth form sharp points that can poke the horse in the tongue and cheeks, causing lacerations and sensitivity in the mouth.
Because of this, horses need their teeth floated at least once a year. Teeth floating is when a veterinarian files down the outside edges of the horse’s teeth where sharp points have formed. Horses are usually sedated for this procedure so that the veterinarian can use a rasp to file down the teeth.
Horses Need to be Dewormed At Least Twice a Year
When parasites get into your horse’s system, they can cause serious health problems. The horse can lose weight and become malnourished as the parasite keeps them from getting the nutrients and proteins they need. To rid your horse of intestinal parasites and worms, or to keep them from getting in the first place, your horse should be dewormed at least twice a year.
I often deworm my horses once in the Spring and once in the Autumn after the first frost. Most horse dewormers come in a paste form where you place a syringe in the horse’s mouth and then squirt the paste into the mouth. As soon as you have put the paste in the horse’s mouth, hold the horse’s mouth up so that they swallow the paste rather than spit it out.
Horses Need Vaccines Every Year
Horses require vaccines to protect them from deadly diseases and illnesses. Many horse vaccines are either given annually or bi-annually. While there are some vaccines that may be recommended if you live in a specific area, there are also ones that all horses should get. This includes a Rabies vaccine, West Nile Virus vaccine, a tetanus shot, and a EEE/WEE vaccine.
I also get my horses a botulism vaccine since botulism can be deadly. A veterinarian can administer vaccines or you can do it yourself. If you decide to do it yourself, be sure to do your research so you can administer the vaccine correctly.
Other Horse Care Considerations
When it comes to caring for your horse, you’ll hear a lot of different opinions from a lot of different people. This can make it confusing to figure out what is best for your horse! Here are some common questions that can be difficult to find a definitive answer for.
Should I Blanket My Horse in the Winter?
Many people blanket their horses in the winter to help protect the horse from the cold and the elements. A common argument against blanketing is that horses grow a thick winter coat to keep themselves warm and blanketing your horse can actually prevent the horse’s hair from puffing out and insulating them from the cold.
For me personally, I don’t blanket my horses until it reached 30°F or if it is cold and wet, as that environment can lead to hypothermia. While I know the horse can probably survive the cold, it gives me peace of mind knowing that my horse has a little extra protection and comfort during those miserable winter days. I also have a horse that starts to shiver if it’s rainy and 50°. I will put her blanket on early since she demonstrates signs that she is struggling with the cold.
When it comes to blanketing your horse, it’s important to observe your horse to see how they handle the cold. If your horse shows signs that they are cold, you should blanket them. One thing to note is that you start blanketing your horse, you will need to do it all Winter. A blanketed horse may not grow a thick winter coat to protect them if you miss a day at the barn and aren’t able to put their blanket on.
Should I Put Shoes on My Horse?
Another common argument is whether or not you should put shoes on your horse. Many people argue against shoes because they can affect your horse’s circulation and they don’t give the horse enough traction. Other people favor shoes since they can protect the horse’s feet during rigorous training and help horses that have soft and sensitive hooves.
When it comes to deciding whether or not to put shoes on your horse, it’s important to look at how the horse’s hooves are built and what you plan on doing with the horse. If you plan on riding regularly and rigorously, putting shoes on the horse can protect the horse’s hooves from the trauma of being ridden frequently.
If you have a horse that has sensitive feet or hooves that need to be corrected or fixed from damage or improper shoeing, horseshoes can be used to provide support to the horse’s hooves. If you do plan on getting your horse shod, be sure to use a well-training professional farrier.
Should I Feed My Horse Grain?
Certain grains can be high in sugar, which can negatively affect your horse. Many people are apprehensive to feed their horse’s grain since it’s not a natural part of a horse’s diet. If you’re trying to decide whether or not your horse needs grain, the first thing you should do is talk to a veterinarian. Veterinarians know the effects of improper feeding and can help you find the best feeding routine for your horse.
There are many different types of grains that can benefit different horses. I have a horse that easily gains weight and stays relatively healthy, so I give him a balancer grain. This grain is low in sugar but high in nutrients to balance out his system and ensure he is getting the minerals he needs. When it comes to deciding what grain to feed your horse, pick one that fits the horse’s needs.
Planning a daily routine and knowing the requirements of horse care your equine needs can help you effectively care for your horse. To learn more, check out my article What’s It Like Owning Horse? Daily Routine & Requirements.
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