Horses are, no doubt, beautiful animals. They are majestic to behold, useful, fun to ride, and they make good companion animals. And while caring for a horse properly is a rewarding experience, it can be costly, and no simple task. Just ask any horse owner though and they’ll tell you it’s worth it.
There’s a popular myth among people who have never owned a horse, that you can turn one out to pasture, provide it with clean water, let it roam, and it will thrive. But as stated, that’s just a myth, popular or not. Caring for a horse requires much more effort that just that, and sometimes more than the average person is willing to put forth.
If you have never owned a horse, and are contemplating getting one, please consider the minimum requirement to properly care for one.
Fenced pasture land is a must
Each horse should have a minimum of one acre on which to graze and roam. Anything less would not allow the horse proper exercise, or grow the amount of grass needed to supplement your horse’s need for fresh greens. The pasture should be checked regularly for trash, holes, poisonous plants, or other hazards.
Fencing & Safety
Proper fencing, that is kept in good condition, should surround the pasture. Fences can be constructed of wood, wire, farm panels, or even naturally growing barriers, but barbed wire is never recommended for horses. Make sure that any plain wire fencing is strongly supported by sturdy posts.
Additionally, each pasture should be checked for plants that can be harmful to horses. Plants like nightshade, castor bean, oak leaves and acorns, yew, foxglove, and ragwort are just a few that can be detrimental to a horse’s health. In some case these plants can cause death.
Food, water, and supplements
Horses should not be restricted to pasture for their food source. They should receive regular feedings of hay, concentrates, and supplements. Hay should be of high quality such as alfalfa, and should contain no mold. Mold can create colic in a horse.
It’s highly recommended to slowly introduce a horse to fresh, green pastures in the spring by limiting their access and introducing them slowly to fresh grass in the early months of the spring. Perhaps limiting their time in green pastures for one to two hours daily for a week, and gradually allowing access to fresh grass as the season commences, until their systems have adjusted and it is safe for all day grazing. Allowing a horse to graze at will, suddenly, introducing too much green grass into their system, can cause Founder or Laminitis.
Concentrates are grains, sweet feed, and manufactured pellets made especially for horses. Bags of horse specific feeds can be found at any farm supply. It is debatable among equestrians, whether or not these concentrates are needed in healthy animals that do not over exercise or compete in endurance events. Consulting with your veterinarian for each individual animal and their situation is recommended.
Horses require a constant source of fresh water. A sizable water trough is a good idea, even if your horse has access to a lake or pond. Troughs will need to be filled regularly and checked for ice during freezing weather. They should be washed periodically to prevent the growth of microorganisms in the water.
Horses will require some sort of shelter. While trees provide necessary shade, horses also need protection from the elements as well. Something as simple as a three sided structure, built with the back wall against prevailing winds will suffice although a standard barn is preferential. A place to rest is also required as horses do lie down to sleep. Straw, wood shavings and rubber matting can be used as bedding. Be aware when using straw as it can contain fungus spores that are not good for horses. If using rubber matting it is still suggested that you use straw or shaving over the top of it to provide warmth for you animal. Horses should never spend any prolonged period of time on hard surfaces such as concrete or gravel.
Any enclosure should be “mucked out” or cleaned daily. This means scooping out the feces and urine soaked bedding, leaving only clean bedding in the enclosure or stall. Non harmful disinfectants can be found at any farm supply store. Horses left in environments that are continuously wet or in stalls that are not kept clean can develop Thrush, a dangerous bacterial infection that can be serious if left untreated.
Grooming is also an important aspect of keeping horses. They should receive regular bathing and brushing, but be careful not to over-do it and remove important oils from their coats, especially if they spend a good deal of their time in pasture.
In addition to common grooming a horse needs regular hoof care. If you are not experience with trimming, repairing, and/or shoeing a horse you’ll need to enlist the services of a professional farrier. A farrier should visit every 4-6 weeks for trimming, repair, and shoeing, but it’s up to horse owners to keep hooves clean, checked for damage, and properly moisturized on a daily basis.
Horses, like any other pet, require regular veterinarian care. Regular checkups are recommended for any horse to prevent disease and treat injury. Basic vaccinations for each animal are a must and include vaccinations for rabies, tetanus, West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis. All horses should be screened for Coggins, and Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) antibody in the horse’s blood. Optional vaccinates such as Equine influenza and Equine Herpesvirus may be recommended if your animal frequently comes in contact with other horses.
Lastly, domestic horses, being the social animals that they are, require interaction with humans and/or other horses to maintain good health. Young and old enjoy a good romp in the pasture with their pals.
And neither child nor beast is ever too young to get it all started.
For more information on horses, see the American Association of Equine Practitioners