The horse’s digestive system works differently to humans, for one thing it has no gall bladder and secondly the angle into the stomach means that it is not physically possible for horses to vomit back food.
The processes for breaking down food are sightly different as well. In this article I have shown a 3D animated diagram (courtesy of PurinaMills) which shows how the digestive system works and where the different stages of food absorption occur.
Colic is probably the scariest term that horse owners hear and it is, according to equinevetireland.com the biggest cause of adult horse deaths in Ireland.
Colic simply means abdominal pain and can potentially refer to a number of different things. However when used with horses it usually refers to a severe abdominal discomfort that causes the horse to be agitated, moving about or trying to lie down, rolling or pawing the ground.
This week the issue of animal welfare and the legislation was brought home with a couple of articles I saw in news reports.
The first involved a sadistic attack on a horse, clearly with the intent of causing damage and possible death, Fortunately the animal was very fit and healthy and survived the assault physically (although mentally I imagine it will be affected for life)
It is perhaps the hidden side of the equine industry in Ireland, but unfortunately horse welfare remains a problem in Ireland, with an estimated 100 rescues being taken in by the largest equine charity per year.
One of the biggest challenges facing all animal welfare charities in the country is the lack of funding, along with limited recognition at government level as to the problems facing many different breeds of animal in this country.
Trying to address this problem and raise more awareness is one of the largest equine specific animal charities in Ireland. This is the Irish Horse Welfare Trust which was established in 1999.
Grooming your horse is important for a number of reasons, including making them look good for shows as well as improving their overall condition and monitoring for cuts, wounds and skin conditions.
Horse in the wild will use techniques such as rolling and grooming each other as a way to do this naturally, but for many domestic horses this needs to be done by their human carer/ rider.
Another article on this site provides a video and further information on how to groom your horse but this article is about the equipment you will need (and some that you don’t but they are nice additions).
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.
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;
Mucking out fork
Buckets / trugs
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.
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.
Grooming is an important part of caring for your horse and so it is worth investing in the time and equipment to make sure that this is done properly.
In this article I have a video which shows the grooming process and at the end of the post I have information on specific grooming tools and their purpose.
Why DO You Groom a Horse?
One of the main reasons why we need to groom a horse is because we want to ride them. This means that they will be wearing tack such as a saddle and bridle which can rub against dirt or loose hair on the body. So even though horses in the wild are never groomed it is the way that we have used them in domestic settings that means this is now important.
In the wild, horses will rub against trees and roll in order to get rid of loose hair. The mud acts as a natural cleaner.
Domestic grooming is also a beneficial way to bond with your horse and check over your horse’s body for cuts or injuries.
If mud is not removed then saddle sores or girth galls can begin to form, in places where the tack runs against bits of mud or dirt on the body.
The following image taken from horses.about.com illustrates how the skin can be rubbed raw if this is left untreated or not spotted early enough.
How to Groom a Horse (video)
In the following short video Janice Plourd, courtesy of the How to Horse channel, provides a very useful and educational video on how to groom a horse at her own farm. She takes you through the tools and provides a systematic grooming regime that is easy to watch. This shows how to groom, pick out a hoof and groom delicate parts of the horse.
What The Horse Grooming Tools Actually Do
In grooming there are a number of basic tools that are required, which are described below.
Hoof pick – to clean the horse’s hoof and pick out any dirt or stones that may have got trapped in the foot of the horse.
Curry comb – to clean dirt out of the horse’s coat. Some horses are more sensitive than others and rather than using a metal or hard curry comb you might need a softer one (or a kit as shown below)
Body brush – this is a stiffer brush used over the horse’s body, again some animals can be more sensitive than others and may not like even this brush.
Soft brush – used to finish off grooming and sometimes preferred by more sensitive horses as a general grooming brush
Mane and Tail Brush – is useful for horses that have thick manes and tails, but thinner ones might need more gentle handling
If a horse is groomed regularly then less effort is obviously required per session. This is important especially for grooming the tail, where there is the risk of pulling out hairs each time it is groomed.
Buying Grooming Equipment
There are lots of options when it comes to purchasing grooming kits and most equine suppliers will have offers on cheap sets. If you are are new to grooming (or your old kit has just seen the end of its days) then buying a matching set of good quality equipment is the best place to start.
Apart from the saddle and bridle a horse doesn’t need that much expensive equipment and so an investment in a decent grooming kit will save money and time in the end. Like any craft tool the better quality it is the easier it is to work with, and with grooming tools you will be using them nearly everyday.
In the Oster kit shown here are the following items;
Course curry comb
Stiff grooming brush
Softer finishing brush
Mane and Tail brush
Mane and Tail comb
All of these items are also available individually if you just want to add to an existing kit.
Once you have a basic grooming kit you can add anything that you want to support your own style of grooming, for example in the video a grooming mit was used, which was an alternative to using a soft curry comb.
In addition to the grooming tools there are plenty of options for shampooing and cleaning products to use on your horse. You only really need a general purpose shampoo (for horses) which is preferable to using ordinary domestic washing up liquid. Another article on this site looks at preparing your horse for a show and explains more about washing and shampooing your horse.
For further information on horse grooming equipment you might be interested in this article.
Managing horse pasture at any time is a tough full time job, but this has been one of the wettest winters on record in Ireland. For horse owners across the country and in neighbouring areas of the UK it can be almost despairing.
Irish Weather – Rain and More Rain
I live in the West of Ireland and according to the Irish meteorological reports we receive 225 wet days a year – although I have to admit there are times when it feel like a lot more!
The met office do go on to say that even on a wet day it can be dry for periods, although not often at the times when it would be most helpful. The question is how can land sustain this level of continual wetness and what effect does it have on the ground when heavy animals are walking and running about on top of it?
Dealing with Flooded Horse Pasture
Even the best drained land seems to be experiencing flooding this year, and the water is collecting in small ponds wherever land slopes, rather than draining away. This poses three main challenges for horse owners;
limited grazing and poor quality grass
constant wetness of the horse and its hooves
land susceptible to be churned or poached and no chance of recovery
Larger fields can cope better with horses and wet because there is more area for them to use, however smaller paddocks will become poached in wet weather.
Drainage can work well if rainfall is not consistent and the land has the chance to dry out. But most agriculture type drains only move the water from one end of the field to another, they are not drained into proper run offs. This means that they can only cope with smaller amounts of wetness and are there to help the natural process of seepage drainage.
Once heavy and continuous rainfalls starts or the land is exposed to rivers flooding, then small drains like these are not designed to cope with this.
One advantage of a field shelter is that is prevents rain falling directly onto the ground beneath it. If the shelter is positioned correctly i.e. on the top or middle of a slope rather than the bottom, and sheltered from potential damage caused by high winds, then horses have an area to escape from the continuous wetness.
Mature trees also provide shelter and will absorb large amounts of water from the ground. A mature tree can absorb approximately 50 gallons of water a day from the ground.
Protecting Field Entrances
The worst area of a field will naturally be the entrance way as this is in frequent use. It can become worse in winter as horses are often more willing (!) to come in and can start pacing near the entrance way.
I have read a suggestion of using grass mats at the entrance of a field to protect the ground, but these need to be laid when the ground is dry and good. A stronger option is to use some form of hardcore that won’t be slippy for the horses (which concrete sometimes can be), and which will be durable and has good drainage.
Rescuing Horses in the Floods
Ireland has seen some incredible flood scenes this year and stories that would wrench your heart as people have battled to save homes and land from the torrential water.
As well as humans animals have also seen their homeland ares washed away, as this amazing horse rescue video shows. These horses were rescued from the river Shannon area where they had brome stranded on an island. The water was already three feet high above the land and local vets said they wouldn’t have survived another night with all the cold and wet. Thankfully they were all rescued as can be seen in this video by the local sub aqua club who were called in by the owner of the horses.
Keeping Horses Dry
There are often plenty of discussions about whether horses need to be rugged up over the winter, or whether they wouldn’t be better running free as they do in the wild. In Ireland, where the climate is generally milder using rugs to keep out the cold is not such as necessity unless your horse is clipped or is originally designed for a warmer and drier climate.
However using rugs to keep horses dry is a way in which they can continue to live outdoors without succumbing to ailments and illnesses associated with the wet rather than the cold in winter.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is preventing Mud Fever, which is a bacterial infection which thrives on the moisture. Cuts and abrasions can become infected and are then very hard to keep clean without confining the horse to a stable.
The constant wet is especially a problem for Horse hooves, which can become susceptible to rotting. It is one of the reasons why even field kept horses should have some time in a shelter or stand on dry ground. For horses that really don’t like coming into a stable (l have one of those) I find the only way to get him in and dry for a while is to feed him in a field shelter and tie up a hay net.
Winter Access To Turnout Areas
For all horses whether living inside or out there needs to be access to areas that they can run around and blow off steam. This can be an arena, sanded turnout area or a section of a field that you just sacrifice for winter use.
Although riding in an arena is one form of turnout, horses also need a bit of free time where they can roll and brush out their winter coat, as well as kick and stretch out leg muscles that may have become cramped and stiff with long periods of standing around.
This can be difficult to arrange in the depths of a very wet winter but it will pay dividends as they horse will be fitter and mentally in better form (saving vets bills in the future).
Finally in Winter Horse Care
Wet winters along with dark mornings and early nights make equine care a tricky business. But by closely monitoring both the land condition and your horse’s health the winter will pass uneventfully. Hopefully, Spring will soon be in sight and according to the Irish Met, April is often our driest month of the year, I certainly hope so.