Horse Care for Beginners
There are a few basic areas you need to have a good understanding of to be able to provide adequate care for your horse. This Horse Care for Beginners article will cover the 4 general areas you need to have a good grasp on if you are the primary carer of a horse.
I am starting to see it more often lately that the idea of owning and caring for a horse is quite different to the reality. As a result the welfare of the horse suffers, with horses left in paddocks to basically fend for themselves when it gets too hard or the owner is no longer interested.
Read on for some clear explanations and further reading on basic horse care.
At the very minimum, your horse needs to have access to grazing with enough nutrition to sustain them. Take a good look at your paddock or field:
- Is there a good coverage of grasses, or is it just weeds?
- Are there any toxic weeds or plants in your horse’s yard? If you are not sure there are plenty of articles on plants that are toxic to horses. There is even an App that allows you to take a photo of the plant and have it analysed and advised if it is a problem.
- If there is good coverage now, will it last all year? Often times here in Australia there may be enough grazing during winter, but come summer the paddock will be barren and provide no nutrition for horses.
Once you honestly assess your paddock, if your horse has very little pasture you will need to supplement their grazing with roughage/hay. See our What to Feed Guide on how much hay the average horse will need to sustain them.
Don’t wait till your horse is skin and bone to decide there wasn’t enough feed on the ground. It is a long road to recovery if you allow your horse to become malnourished, and while it doesn’t happen overnight I am amazed at the number of times I have seen very thin horses and the owners do not seem to recognise there is a problem.
The Agriculture Victoria has an excellent Body Score Chart which can be used to accurately gauge your horse’s condition.
It doesn’t matter which scoring system you use, but you do need to choose one and stick with it. The video below was produced by TheHorse.com website and features Dr. Bob Coleman of the University of Kentucky explaining a 9 point scoring system. A word of warning some of the photos are fairly graphic.
Horses need access to clean, fresh water 24/7. This may seem like common sense but so often I see water troughs green with algae and in such a state that the horse needs to be dying of dehydration before they will go near it.
A 500kg horse will drink 30 – 50 litres of water a day, so providing them with a normal household size bucket at the start of each day is not going to be anywhere near enough.
Old concrete wash troughs make excellent horse water troughs, they are large and the concrete helps to keep the water cool. An old bathtub will also do a good job and is plenty big enough for a couple of horses to use.
The other aspect to consider is the temperature of the water. Many stables will have automatic waterers that self-fill. The pipes to these can be quite thin and heat up in the hot summer sun delivering lukewarm water to your horse. Some horses will stop drinking if the water is too warm.
I am not a big fan of self-filling waterers at all. Yes, they do fill in the gap if you forget to water your horse, but often the mechanisms can become faulty either overflowing and producing a lake and wasting water or they stop producing water altogether leaving your horse with none.
There are some excellent self-waterers on the market which have protective covers to keep nosey horses from playing with the float vale and they are worth checking out.
Horses can be fussy when it comes to water. If you travel away with your horse and they refuse to drink the water at your destination or if it is particularly hot you may need to put an additive in their water to either mask the taste of new water or just to encourage them to take that first mouthful.
I have found an excellent product called Drink-Up from Kentucky Equine Research to be very effective in getting even the fussiest of horses to start drinking. Last time I took Jonny away for a 5 day clinic it was extremely hot and he has a tendency to stop drinking when away from home so I was worried. I added electrolytes to his feed each day, starting three days prior to travel and also took some Drink-Up with me.
The first day as expected he stopped drinking. You simply add this product to a bucket of water and swish it around. Jon’s head was straight in the bucket and he drank the whole lot. That seemed to be all he needed and he would then drink the local water, but I had extra sachets just in case. I highly recommend having this on standby and you can get it at a great price by clicking here.
There are a few regular health schedules you need to adopt for your horse. I will give a brief overview of each area, but I won’t go into the details as I have produced individual articles on these, and I have provided links back to those articles for you.
Horses hooves need to be trimmed every 6 – 8 weeks if your horse goes barefoot. If you have shoes on your horse you will need a farrier every 4 – 6 weeks (depending on the growth of your horse’s hooves).
Click here to read more about hoof structure, how to keep healthy hooves and requirements for ongoing maintenance.
While horses teeth don’t continue to grow throughout their lives, they can wear unevenly or have other dental problems crop up and you need to have them checked annually by either a suitably experienced veterinarian or an equine dentist.
Click here for a full round-up on horse teeth and their care.
Much like your cats and dogs, horses do get worms. Even if your horse doesn’t leave the property or mix with other horses you need to have a regular deworming schedule. We go into the types of wormers, schedules and what worms horse get in more detail here.
Some owners are lucky enough to be able to paddock their horses permanently or at least turn them out during the day. A lifestyle as close to your horse’s natural existence is always preferable, but not all of us have the room or the facilities to do this.
If your horse is stabled or yarded then you have some additional tasks to take care of.
Horses in stables must be mucked out (manure picked up and urine soaked bedding removed) twice a day. Yarded horses must be mucked out at least daily (I personally prefer twice a day as there is less to pick up and it’s less of a chore that way).
Keeping a clean area for your horse is not only more pleasant for your horse, and your stable neighbours, but it prevents a multitude of health issues that arise from poorly ventilated stables with urea build up from urine, to hoof problems from standing in manure and wet areas constantly, and worm burden build up to mention a few.
Horses are herd animals and need to have company, preferably with others of their kind, to live happy and fulfilled lives.
Your horse may not have another horse as a paddock companion or even be able to touch and interact with another horse, but most will be happy if they can at least see other horses from their yards or paddocks.
If you don’t have room or the inclination for a second horse, maybe you could consider a goat or a sheep, or perhaps a miniature horse as a companion.
Many horses become just as attached to a small friend of a different species as they do to another horse. There are many stories of top racehorses travelling with their companion sheep, goat and in one story I read a full grown pig.
Horses kept in confinement without the opportunity to stretch their legs regularly (daily for stabled horses) often develop stable vices.
Your horse needs to get out of their yard regularly, this may include a hand walk around the property for some green pick, being ridden either for lessons or out trail riding or doing groundwork to stimulate their minds as well as their bodies.
Just a few of the behavioural problems which can stem from prolonged confinement can include:
- Weaving – this is when a horse sways side to side, usually rhythmically and repeatedly. They will often just sway their head and neck back and forth. Some horses or quite severe cases will include swaying of the rest of the body, and even picking up the front legs as they move from side to side.
- Cribbing – this is when the horse grabs a solid object often a fence post or railing with their top teeth (incisors), they arch their necks and contract the lower neck muscles causing air to rush into the esophagus producing a characteristic grunting sound.
- Wind-sucking – very similar to cribbing but wind suckers will do so without grasping a solid object and seem to be sucking in midair. The terms are often interchanged but they are two different stable vices. Some horses will only exhibit one of these behaviours, but some horses will do both.
Cribbing and wind sucking can become addictive to horses. A horse with ulcers may start to crib/wind suck and vice versa – a cribbing horse may also develop ulcers through the habit. Horses that crib will often wear down their front teeth creating other nutritional issues.
Many experienced horsemen (and women) that I have spoken to believe that the above mentioned stable vices can be copied by other horses and become a habit, spreading throughout a stable complex. There is much literature supporting and disproving this fact but if you can prevent boredom in your stabled or yarded horses then you won’t need to find out.
Regular exercise to stimulate your horse mind, as well as his body, is essential. If your horse is paddocked with another they may amuse and exercise themselves, this doesn’t mean you can abdicate your responsibility to train and stimulate your horse.
Horses left to their own devices for months at a time can often display unwanted behaviour when their owners then decide to pull them out of the paddock once in a blue moon to ride.
Obviously this doesn’t apply to all horses, and we have all heard the wonderful stories of horses being left 6 – 12 months, then saddled up and being absolute angels.
My take on this is if you have done enough work with your horse beforehand this may be the case, if however you have not developed a true partnership with your trusty steed you may be asking for trouble in the form of bucking, rearing and bolting.
You can not expect your horse to be fit and muscled sufficiently from moseying around in the paddock to be able to do a strenuous hour riding lesson or go for an all day pleasure ride.
If you’ve been laying on the couch all week and then your personal trainer turns up and makes you do 500 sit ups or run for an hour you will probably be sore and grumpy by the time you’ve finished, if not right from the start.
Consider not only your horse’s fitness level but also their mental engagement with you. The more often you play or ride your horse the better bond you will develop and the more likely your horse is to want to participate with you.
Your Horse, Your Responsibility
In summary these are the 4 basic areas you need to be confident you have a clear understanding of, and are implementing, to keep your horse happy and healthy.
Remember your horse is your responsibility, if you are unsure ask a trusted horse person if you have one, do some further research or call a business for advice eg. your vet, feed store.
If you are not sure or would like more information about horse care for beginners please browse through our blogs we have lots more information on every aspect of horse health, nutrition and training.
You can also leave any specific questions in the comment box below and I will be happy to help you out.