Owning or looking after a horse is a huge responsibility, but it needn’t be completely daunting once you have ensured all the basic requirements are in place.
Here I have divided the care into 7 main areas, that cover all the basics points to consider when setting up your horse’s environment;
- Forage & Nutrition
- Routine horse care
- Horse care equipment
The rest of this article will look at each one of the areas in turn and offer some tips and pointers to hopefully get you started and on the right track.
1. Forage & Nutrition
Horses naturally forage for food and most of their nutritional intake comes from grass, haylage or hay. These are all slightly different products and which one works best will depend upon your own horse’s needs. The main things to consider are,
- hay – can be very dry and dusty for horses, especially those that are kept in a stable with poorer ventilation. Some horses need the hay soaked to remove the dust (some horses do it themselves). Nutrition levels are quite low and horses need to eat more of it than of the haylage or grass.
- haylage – this is grass that has been cut and had molasses added to it, it makes it sweeter and higher in calories therefore the horse needs less of it than hay. Some horses find it too rich and it can cause their stool to become loose as the haylage can scarify their stomachs. Haylage and hay combined can overcome this problem. Most horses find silage (fed to cattle) too rich to eat and shouldn’t really be given this.
- grass – this can be very rich in sugars especially after a frost or during the fresh growth seasons. Horses often need to be restricted in their access especially if they are good eaters (won’t stop). By using electric tape to mark out grazing strips this can prove an effective way to limit grazing and reduce the risk of lamenitis or colic.
One of the problems can be that horses eat their forage too quickly. In order to rectify this a slow feeding hay net such as the one shown can be used.
This has smaller holes and slows the horse’s speed of feeding down.
Tough-1 Slow Feed Hay Bag Black (Amazon link)
Other substances that the horse needs may include some hard feed, this should be balanced against the level of exercise the horse is getting. As a general rule a cool mix with no oats is often best, so that energy is released slowly. I tend to use red mills products and you can read more about their feeds in their blog.
It s surprising how much water a horse can actually drink, between 5-10 gallons a day (1-2 buckets). So they should always have access to a fresh clean supply.
The simplest way to monitor how much water the horse is actually drinking is to supply the water in buckets, rather than automatic feeders.
Horses can be quite particular about changes in their water so try and be consistent with the supply, using the same source from either a tap or harvested rainwater.
3. Access to Shelter
Something that I have learnt over the years is that the shelter needs of horses vary according to their nature and personality. Whilst all horses need some protection from the wind and the rain, there are a range of options that you could use depending on your own individual horse’s needs.
The three most common types of sheltering are;
- Open Shelter with Turnout
- Field & Hedges
The average horse needs a stable that is at least 12 foot by 12 foot, this gives him plenty of movement and provides enough space for food and water to be kept away from toilet areas (although depending on your horse this is not a guarantee).
Field shelters usually have an open side rather than a stable door and can be used for more than one horse, although it is important that horses cannot be trapped inside by a dominating horse.
Many horses can be adequately sheltered by hedges and trees in the field, the field does need to be inspected and cleaned of horse manure regularly.
Fencing should be secure and horses should never be exposed to barbed wire which can cause cuts and damage if they get caught in it.
4. Turnout Areas
Unless a horse needs to be stabled or restricted in its movement for health reasons, most horses need to be turned out and/or exercised every day.
Research has shown that even a hour of turnout improves the horse’s well being and helps to reduce the anxiety of being confined in a stable. In winter it is also an opportunity to remove rugs and allow the horse to roll and stretch itself.
Some horses also like a muddy corner to roll in, or in the case of my older mare a nice muddy pond or very large puddle (It keeps her happy).
Some horses such as my cob don’t like to be stabled at all and have 24 hr turnout which can be harder to manage especially in the wet winters we have here in Ireland. So more creative solutions need to be thought of.
Horses are herd animals and like companionship and interaction with others. As with most pets the more domesticated they become the wider the variety of their herd – so dogs, humans and other pets can become part of their group.
This is important because keeping more than one horse might not be an option (or having horses that don’t really like each other!).
If your horse is on its own it is important that it receives attention from you at least a couple of times a day.
Even to see other horses or animals in other fields can improve their well being and reduce a sense of isolation, which in some horses can be seen as negative behaviour.
Examples of stress in horses can include fence walking and pacing, windsucking on fence posts or head swaying in stables.
6. Routine Horse Care
In addition to water, food and shelter there are number of specialists that need to be involved in looking after your horses (s). These are
- worming / injections – veterinary clinic
- dentistry – once or twice a year either a vet or an equine dentist
- feet – a farrier
Worming needs to be done twice to three times a year depending on your horse. Most vets will examine and test stool samples to determine what the worm count is and whether worming is needed.
Horses feet need to be kept trimmed and are usually shod to protect them, this needs to be done by a farrier usually every 5-8 weeks depending on the speed at which the hoof grows.
7. Horse Care Equipment
Looking after your horse, especially if it is stabled and can’t manage it’s own self care as easily, is a daily routine. In particular grooming your horse needs to be done regularly.
In the winter the horse may need some additional items of equipment that you need such as a waterproof rug for outside and an indoor stable rug (see this article Rugging Up Your Horse For Winter for more information).
In addition to the horse there are certain items that you need in order to be able to manage the stable and cleaning/ feeding routines.
These items include;
- Yard brush
- Mucking out fork
- Buckets / trugs
- Feeding scoop
- Hayrack / container or haynet
A storage facility such as a shed or covered area for storing the hay / haylage and any hard feed, as well as storing your cleaning equipment will make everything easier and keep things from being damaged.
MINTCRAFT 33386 10-Tine Ash Handle Manure/Bed Fork (Amazon link)
This covers all the basic areas for starting to care for your horse, however there are some other articles on this site that provide more information on some of the topics mentioned here.
There are a few other articles for specific types of care for your horse. The first is winter care and the second is if you have recently acquired a neglected or rescue horse, there are some additional things to consider with their routine care. The last article looks specifically at managing pasture and turnout areas during the winter months.
- Winter Care For Your Horse
- Caring for Neglected Horses
- How to Manage Your Horse Pasture in Bad Weather
I hope you enjoyed this article and if so please feel free to share it on your social media networks.