Hey, you! Yes, you! It’s time to learn how to take care of a horse as a first time horse owner. A lot of us are thinking about getting our first horse. Whether it’s your first or fourteenth horse, there are always things you can do to help make your horse happy and healthy. That’s where I come in! I’m an equestrian expert with over 5 years’ experience in horse care.
I’ve earned multiple degrees in my field and have helped train countless child and adult riders. If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s this: taking care of a horse isn’t a simple thing. Consider many moving parts over the course of a day — grooming, feeding, taking the horse on walks or rides, checking up on its health, etc. Therefore, I created this guide: to help you take care of your horse!
Housing & Environment
Horse owners are never fully prepared for the long-term commitment of owning a horse. However, there are steps you can take to ensure your horse is healthy and safe in his living environment. After purchasing or rescuing a horse, the first step is to find him a suitable home. Here’s how to take care of a horse: Horses need room to roam.
If you plan on keeping the horse in an enclosure or stall, then it should be at least 12 feet by 14 feet for a large horse. If you have more than one horse, they should have twice that space each. The stall should also have an attached run-in area, which is a paddock or pasture with shelter from wind and rain. The shelter should include a sturdy roof and walls, with plenty of windows. It should be well ventilated and kept clean and dry at all times.
There should also be adequate drainage away from the shelter for waste management if you keep your horse in an outdoor pen or barn area. Horses also need access to shade in summer months, and some sort of heat source in winter months as well as fresh water throughout the year. A hitching post or shelter to protect your horse from sunburn is also important, especially if he is turned out into pasture during the day.
First, make sure that the horse has enough food. Not too much and not too little. If there is too little food, your horse will be underweight and may become ill. If there is too much food, your horse will get fat, which can lead to other health problems.
There are two main types of horse feed: concentrates and roughages.
Concentrates are the “gourmet” of the horse world, and most of your horse’s daily intake should come from this category, which comprises high-energy foods like grain (usually in pellet form), protein supplements, beet pulp and vitamin and mineral supplements.
Remember that horses only need to eat about 2 percent of their body weight in concentrate to get all the nutrients they need for good health and performance. If you’re feeding more than this, consider cutting back so your horse’s digestive system can handle it.
The basic rule of thumb is if you feed your horse 20 lbs feed considering the body weight, the concentrate should be 4-6 lbs and hay should be 14-16 lbs.
Watering the horse is very important. The water requirement of a horse is about 2 liters/day of water per 100 lbs of body weight, depending on the environment. This is about 5 to 6 gallons per day for a 1,000 lbs (450 kg) horse, and 6.6 to 8 gallons for a 1102 lbs (500 kg) horse.
This amount is higher in hot weather, during hard work and when being used for breeding. A horse can lose up to 10% of its body weight through dehydration if it is not provided with enough water. Because horses spend large amounts of time eating, they generally have a much higher need for water intake than other domestic animals such as dogs or cats.
The reason has to do with the digestive system of the horse: it has one stomach with four compartments, which allows the horse to eat large amounts of food at one time and then take long periods without eating. Digestion occurs mainly in the first two stomach compartments; therefore, little digestion occurs while food is still in the stomach and it acts as a reservoir for fluids. Horses drink water when they feel thirsty, but this can differ depending on their environment.
Grooming the horse is an essential part of horse care. Regular grooming will make your horse healthier and happier, and help keep him clean and comfortable. It will also help you spot any problems earlier. Grooming doesn’t just mean brushing, which removes dirt and hair from the coat but can also remove natural oils, so it’s important to groom daily or every other day at least.
Tail – Brushing the tail helps keep it clean. If you’re riding a lot, brush it more often than that, just to keep it in good condition. Many riders like to pull the hairs out of their horse’s tail for shows so that it lies flat with no knots. To do this, you’ll need a special tool called a “stripper.” The stripper has two different blades: one is stiff with teeth and one is soft, with a round edge. Choose the blade that best suits your horse’s tail and work upwards from the bottom.
Body – Use a soft brush all over your horse’s body as this makes his coat smoother and shinier. Be gentle around sensitive areas such as his tummy and neck, where the skin is thinner. Also, do not use hard brushes around his joints as they can cause sores.
Legs – Use a soft brush or sponge on the legs and hooves. This helps remove dirt and debris from the hair, which can cause rubbing and sores.
Ears – Clean your horse’s ears daily by gently pulling out any dirt or debris with a hoof pick. Don’t pull out too much hair, as it won’t grow back! You can also use a cotton ball soaked in a little warm water to clean your horse’s ears–just be careful not to push it too far inside, as you don’t want to hurt him. Once they’re clean, dry them with a towel, then use some ear wipes or cotton balls with some ear wash on them to keep them clean.
Teeth – Brush your horse’s teeth daily, or at least every other day. You can use a hoof pick, a plastic curry comb, or even a soft baby toothbrush to clean them. Just be sure to check with your vet if you have questions.
Hindquarters – Use a currycomb on the hindquarters of your horse (the area above the tail). This removes dirt and debris that may cause sores and rubbing. Be careful not to force it too hard or use it around sensitive areas such as his stifle joints.
Horses of all ages need regular exercise. By exercising your horse regularly, you keep your horse’s body fit and healthy. You will also notice an improvement in your horse’s general demeanor, as well as an increase in the time that your horse can work before tiring out.
Exercise is crucial to a young horse’s development. This helps develop the muscles and bones, while keeping the joints flexible. Exercise also keeps the lungs strong and healthy, which is important for correct breathing during competition.
Horse owners should pay close attention to their horses’ daily schedules to ensure that they get plenty of exercise every day. Horses in training should be exercised for at least 4 hours every day, even if this simply means taking them for a walk around the pasture. As long as a horse is on its feet and moving, it is receiving the exercise it needs to stay healthy.
Preserve Horse Mental Balance
It’s a common misconception that horses cannot suffer from mental health issues. But just like humans, they can display signs of anxiety, despair, depression and other psychological problems.
Annual physical exams are an important part of horse care and preventative medicine in all horses, but these exams also have the potential to identify mental health issues.
Horses communicate in several ways. They can communicate verbally with whinnies, knickers, snorts and neighs, but also physically with body language and facial expressions. When horses show signs of physical stress or illness, it is important for horse owners and veterinarians to become familiar with these signs and work together to provide the best care possible.
Mental welfare is just as important as physical health when it comes to the overall wellbeing of a horse. Horses that live in environments where they feel threatened or stressed out by their surroundings can develop unwanted behaviors, such as cribbing, weaving, stall walking or weaving back and forth on their hind legs.
Horses suffering from mental distress may also show physical signs, such as muscle tension and sweating, due to increased levels of adrenaline coursing through their bodies. If you suspect your horse may suffer from a mental disorder or mood disorder, contact your veterinarian for advice immediately.
Social Needs of Horses
Horses are herd animals and need companionship. A horse that spends long periods alone, or in a small paddock, will become stressed and frustrated, which could cause undesirable behavior.
The ideal situation for a horse is to have pasture mates of similar temperament. If this isn’t possible, then the horse should be kept with another compatible horse that has similar care requirements.
If you are away from your horses for more than eight hours during the day, they should have company during that time. It is also important to give them some company at night. Neighbors often loan horses to each other at night to keep horses’ company while the owners are away on vacation or at work.
If you own more than one horse and keep them in the same pasture, always introduce new horses slowly and carefully. Horses can get along well with others when they are raised together or live near each other for long periods of time. Taking two horses from different farms and placing them together in a strange environment can lead to unforeseen trouble.
Basic Care for Health and First Aid
Maintaining your horse’s health is an important part of keeping him happy and comfortable. Basic health care and first aid for horses should be a part of every horse owner’s checklist. Each horse is an individual, and there are many situations that warrant professional intervention, but most horses need to be trimmed, shod, brushed, and given basic vaccinations.
Here are some basic things you can do:
Vet – Find a vet that you’re comfortable with and have them check your horse every 6 months to a year. This gives you an opportunity to ask questions about how to care for your horse, and also keep tabs on his general health.
Vaccination – A horse vaccinated annually against tetanus, equine influenza, and strangles is a horse that is more likely to stay healthy. Annual vaccination protects your horse from diseases that can cause serious illness or death.
Check for lice – Lice are tiny insects that look like tiny little bugs crawling on your horse. They can cause irritation, sores, and, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems. Check for lice after turnout each day. If you find any, use a dryer sheet or spray lice repellent to them until they’re gone.
Worms – Some horses suffer from worms, which are intestinal parasites that cause irritation and other health problems such as colic (stomach pain) and diarrhea. If you suspect your horse has worms, ask your vet about getting him de-wormed.
Keep his hooves trimmed – Hoof care is a very important part of horse ownership. Keeping your horse’s hooves trimmed helps prevent injury and pain and also protects the environment from his manure. Most farriers will come out to trim your horse’s hooves every month, or you can learn to do it yourself if you’re willing to put in the time.
Cleaning – Horses produce a lot of manure, so it’s important to keep their living area clean. You’ll want to clean out the stall at least once a day, and add some fresh bedding as needed (this helps absorb moisture and odor). You can use straw or wood shavings as bedding.
Boarding Your Beloved Horse
Boarding your horse can be a splendid arrangement if you have the right boarding facility to help you. Like any relationship, being a good border is about communication, trust and mutual respect. You should be able to talk openly with the people who are caring for your horse so that you always feel comfortable with the situation. Here are some tips for boarding your horse:
Always ask questions in advance. Before bringing your horse to any facility, contact the owner or manager and discuss what services they will provide, how much they cost, how they work around your schedule and anything else that might be important to you. Any reputable business will want to answer all of your questions before you bring your animal there.
Be as specific as possible when discussing arrangements. Don’t just say that you want someone who will “take good care of my horse.” This can mean different things to different people. If possible, give examples of what would make up good care in specific situations. For example, let the owners know if you are concerned about flies in summer or if you want a stall mucked out every day.
If there’s anything unusual about your horse, communicate it up front. This includes allergies, special habits (such as cribbing), health problems or quirks that might annoy other boarders.
Horse Maintenance Costs
We based the costs of on the national average prices for horse care in 2021:
- Boarding – $200-$600/month ($4,800-$13,000/year)
- Feed – $75-$150/month ($1,400-$3,000/year)
- Farrier – $20-$40/month ($480-$960/year)
- Vaccination & health care – ~$50 annually
Horse care is a necessity for horse owners. Knowing how to keep your horse healthy and happy is a key factor to their longevity – all horses will live longer, happier, healthier lives if they’re well cared for. We hope this guide provided you with actionable tips on horse care, and keeping your horse happy.