Equine Ownership for Rookies
There’s nothing quite as exciting as owning your first horse. But with great fun comes great responsibility. Horses are large, complicated animals that require daily care and a lot of knowledge. Wondering where to start? We’ve got you covered!
Horses need daily care to stay healthy, including access to clean water, food, and turnout someplace safe with shelter. They also need regular vet care, farrier visits, grooming, and exercise (read as $$). Some tasks need to happen daily, others happen weekly, monthly, yearly, or even seasonally. There are so many areas to learn about, including safety and nutrition, so don’t be afraid to ask questions to keep on top of your learning.
Equine Care Basics
In this article, I’ll break down everything you need to know to take care of your horse, from basic needs to weekly maintenance, and topics for further research.
Horse Care 101
Like all animals, horses have a few basic needs to stay alive.
Horses need some form of shelter, whether it’s from the sun, rain, or wind. A run-in shed is a good choice, as it provides both shade and wind block.
In many southern states, something as simple as a roof on four beams is sufficient.
Horses need continuous access to clean, fresh water. Water helps with hydration, digestion, blood circulation, and maintaining body temperature. Most horses will drink between five and ten gallons a day.
A dehydrated horse is at greater risk for colic, which can be fatal.
While wild horses are sustained entirely by grass and forage, domesticated horses also rely on grain and hay. Depending on size and body condition, most horses will need somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds of hay per day.
You can add grain in as needed (most working horses need grain) and add supplements for things like hoof, coat, and joint care.
Horse Care: Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Annually
Horse care can be broken down into things you need to do daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.
Daily Horse Care Tasks
- Feeding (hay and grain)
- Checking/filling water buckets and troughs
- Looking over your horse (checking for cuts, swelling, etc.)
- Mucking out stalls (if you stall board)
- Turnout (no horse should be stalled 24/7 unless on stall rest due to injury, in which case you should be hand-walking)
- Light arena maintenance (dragging, watering)
Weekly Horse Care Tasks
- Cleaning water buckets/troughs
- Picking pastures/turnouts
- Clean tack (saddle and bridle)
- Walk pastures to check for poisonous plants
- Grooming (at least twice a week, more often is better)
Monthly Horse Care Tasks
- Farrier (every 6-8 weeks)
- Fecal test for worms (check every 3-4 months, then use dewormer as needed)
- Check fences and structures for safety
Annual Horse Care Tasks
- Teeth floating (dentist or vet)
- Shots (usually fall and spring)
- Wellness exam (vet)
- Deworm with Quest Plus (or equivalent, once a year for tapeworms)
- Deep clean stalls and the barn
There are lots of options for where to keep your horse and many different levels of care. Options range from keeping a horse on your property to self-care somewhere else to boarding to training board.
- Keeping your horse at home
- This is a great option if you own land and can afford to fence in a pasture and build a loafing shed or small barn (a couple of stalls plus a feed room and tack room).
- Many boarding facilities offer a self-care option, where they provide the field or stalls and you do ALL (and I mean all) of the care, from twice-daily feeding to mucking and turnout.
- If you can’t make it out every day (or twice a day), boarding is a great option. Some options just include the care (feeding, turnout, and stall cleaning), while others also provide feed and hay. Prices will vary accordingly (options where you provide feed and hay are usually cheaper).
- Training Board
- This is regular boarding (feed and care provided) plus varying levels of additional services, from a weekly trainer ride to twice-weekly lessons or a rigorous, five-days-a-week training program.
What option is best for a new horse owner?
New horse owners are best suited to boarding, preferably where feed (hay and grain) is included in the price.
This minimizes the amount of the decisions you have to make (what kind of grain, what type of hay) and ensures your horse gets fed, turned out, and checked on by professionals every day.
Basic Horse Knowledge
There is an endless amount of knowledge you can amass about horses, so let’s cover some of the basics that every horse owner should know.
Equine Topics to Learn About
Here are some of the most important horse-related topics to learn about, along with some great videos to help get you up to speed.
While they may seem like gentle giants, horses are still large prey animals that are prone to doing stupid things. Horses have near-180 degree vision on both sides but have blind spots directly in front of and behind them.
It’s important to not approach a horse from the front or back, but rather from the side. Never run toward a horse or go underneath a horse’s belly.
Check out our Horse Safety Online Course for guidance!
Horses don’t communicate the same way people do, so it’s important to have a basic understanding of their behavior and mindset. Horses are prey animals, meaning they are prone to flight (or running away at the first sign of danger).
They are very perceptive and notice even small changes in their environment. Horses communicate through hundreds of small changes in body language, from their ears to their tails.
Horse tack encompasses everything from halters and lead ropes to lunge lines and saddles. At the bare minimum, you need:
- Two halters (one backup in case the first breaks)
- Two lead ropes (same logic)
- A lunge line
- A lunge whip
- Two saddle pads
- A girth
- A saddle
- A bridle
- A bit
Your bit should be rinsed after every ride and you should give your bridle and saddle a good clean (with soap and leather conditioner) once a week. Saddle pads can either go in the barn washer or you can use a hose and some lightly soapy water.
Grooming is a super important part of keeping your horse happy and healthy. It’s also a great way to bond with your horse. Here are some of the tools you’ll need:
- Curry comb
- Hard brush
- Soft brush
- Mane and tail comb
- Hoof pick
- ShowSheen (to help detangle manes and tails)
Horses need regular grooming to keep their hooves and coats healthy. Plan at least 15 minutes of grooming time each day you’re out and make sure you’re grooming at least twice a week (though you can never groom too much—horses love it!).
Nutrition is hugely important for horses, and more is discovered every day. Horses need to eat 1-2% of their body weight a day, which usually translates to 10-20 pounds of hay, plus grain. Most grains are balanced, so you don’t need to go crazy with supplements.
Horses need a mix of water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins which is readily provided from hay, grain, and mineral blocks.
Check out our favorite Horse Nutrition Online Course.
Routine check-ups and vaccines from the vet are super important to your horse’s overall health. Horses need an annual checkup where the vet will do a full physical (feeling his whole body, checking his ears and eyes, listening to his heart, lungs, and gut sounds, checking his hooves, doing a basic neurological exam, etc.).
Horses also need shots, usually in spring and fall.
Some owners also use their vet for their horse’s annual dental work (their teeth need to be floated once or twice a year), but I recommend working with an equine dentist.
Your farrier can make or break your horse, so choose a qualified one that does good work. Your horse will need to be seen every six to eight weeks (sometimes every five weeks in southern environments).
Always go with the recommendation of your farrier for a trim schedule. He will also tell you if your horse needs a hoof supplement (usually something high in biotin) or any paints or oils.
All the farriers I’ve known have been happy to answer any questions or explain their choices, so ask away!
Horses were built to be on the move, so exercise is vital to their health and mental well-being. Pasture board (or living outside) is ideal, but if your horse is on stall board, aim for a minimum of 12 hours of turnout a day.
You can also exercise your horse by riding him, lunging him, or hand-walking him (perfect for injury recovery).
At some point, your horse will turn up lame or come in from the field bleeding. Not to worry! There is a lot you can do for first aid on your own (of course, never be afraid to call your vet and ask her for advice).
Some items to keep on hand include a flashlight, gloves, duct tape, scissors, tweezers, an ice pack, towels, wipes, Betadine, antiseptic cream or spray, silver spray, gauze, bandages, and Bute (aka phenylbutazone, which you can get from your vet. Think Ibuprofen for horses).
Horses needed to be wormed at least once per year (because of tapeworms, which don’t show up on fecal tests). In some areas, horses may need it twice a year (usually spring and fall).
Deworming helps keep your horse’s system free of parasites, which can lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
I recommend talking with your vet about doing fecal tests to check for worms. They’ll let you know when your horse should be tested and recommend a worming plan.
Seasonal Horse Care
Fortunately, some aspects of horse care only happen seasonally.
Many owners start clipping their horses to prevent them from getting too sweaty during workouts.
Vets often see an uptick in colic in the winter months, so make sure your horse drinks plenty of water (you can add salt to his grain if needed) and keeps moving. This is also the season for blankets.
Many horses founder in the spring thanks to the onslaught of fresh, sugar-rich grass. You can still turn them out, just avoid early mornings and ease their grazing time up slowly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much care does a horse need?
A lot! Horses need some level of care every day, even if it’s just feeding and looking them over for any injuries. If you can’t commit to being at the barn five days a week (or more), ownership may not be for you.
Q: What age horse is good for a beginner?
Older horses (10+) can make for the perfect beginner’s horse. They tend to have a ‘been there, done that’ mentality and can make for excellent, patient teachers.
Q: How much does it cost to take care of a horse?
Be prepared to spend a minimum of $10,000 a year between board (including hay and grain), farrier visits, dental work, vet visits (both regular and unplanned), tack, lessons, and training.
Q: How can you improve basic horse knowledge?
Ask tons of questions to the more experienced horse people around the barn. Taking a weekly lesson will also help build your knowledge. You can watch YouTube videos and read books, too.
One of our favorite ways is by taking online courses!
Q: What do horses need?
At the bare minimum, food, water, and shelter. They also need regular grooming to stay healthy, regular farrier visits, vaccines twice a year, and exercise.
There’s no denying that horses are a lot of work, but the time you get to spend around them is well worth it.
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