Even beginners can master the daily routine of owning a horse (or caring for someone else’s)
Caring for horses is a complicated process, but a quick checklist of basic needs and things to be wary of can help a great deal, particularly for those just beginning their equestrian journey. To keep horses functioning at their best and happiest, we’ll share some guidelines and helpful tips — and a few things to be watchful of, as well.
Feeding, cleaning, grooming, and maintenance chores are all part of the day-to-day care of horses. It is also good to be aware of less frequent tasks like dental and hoof care, as well as more seasonal jobs like pasture management and deworming. This quick checklist provides a starting point for any equestrian looking to care for his or her own horses, or even stabled horses belonging to others.
Photo Credit: Johanna & Bunny
Daily horse care tasks
Read on to understand, in a quick and digestible way, the daily, monthly, and annual tasks that are necessary for the smooth running of a barn.
By stabled horses, we mean animals kept inside in stalls — or in stalls with small outdoor runs — for a large portion of their time.
- Water: Always make sure your horse has clean, fresh water. Whether you are boarding, or caring for your horse yourself, during winter or summer, clean and sufficient water is the highest priority. (In the winter it is ideal to have heated water tanks for horses.) Water tanks or buckets should be cleaned on a weekly basis, even in the winter.
- Hay: Good, dry hay with an appropriate grass to alfalfa mixture (70% grass / 30% alfalfa) is usually best for horses — stalled or otherwise. But even pastured horses should have access to hay.
- Bedding: Stalled horses will need their bedding cleaned regularly, although not all shavings need to be disposed of every day. Any dry and clean shavings can be saved — otherwise it gets pricey! Local ranch stores typically stock several varieties of shavings, and some garden supply stores have shavings, as well.
- Grain (Optional): Regular grain also can be useful for horses in daily work, when hay and/or grass isn’t adequate for the amount of work the horse is being asked to do. Grain also is helpful as a means of conveying supplements and medication (e.g. horse who is a little reluctant to take oral medication).
Learn what you need to know about horse hay, including how and what types to feed.
By pastured horses, we mean animals who live outdoors all day instead of in a stall. These horses need less day-to-day care, but still benefit from regular check-ins.
- Basics: Clean water, adequate hay, and shelter are the predominant concerns. Check water and replenish hay daily, and be sure your horses have access to a safe (and windproof!) shelter.
- Blankets: In worse weather, particularly rain followed by a freeze, most pastured horses should be blanketed – though certain breeds and horses will be more accustomed to nasty weather and can be blanketed far more rarely.
- Health Check: It’s also a good idea to check your horse for injuries on a daily basis — legs especially — since even a small injury can quickly get… dramatic.
Check out our favorite horse blankets for winter, rain, turnout, and more!
Periodic horse care routine
While things like fresh water and hay need to be handled daily, other items can be tackled on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis.
Weekly horse care tasks
- Clean water holders: Water tanks for pastured or paddocked horses (and buckets for stabled horses) need regular cleaning, especially in warm weather when they rapidly acquire large quantities of moss and swamp scum!
- Repair hay nets: If your horse is stabled with others in a paddock, or on a round bale, hay nets need to be checked regularly since they tend to develop holes at an astonishing pace.
- Round bales: Depending on how many horses you have, round hay bales will probably need to be replaced on a weekly basis. Adding a round bale net keeps your horses from wasting as much hay so each bale lasts longer.
- Clean tack: Tack should be cleaned on a weekly basis, if possible — but the more often the better since an accumulation of dirt and salt can severely damage leather. It is best to clean tack first with soap and water, and then work in leather conditioner. (Tack conditioner wipes make the job a lot faster!) Cleaning tack is also a great way to learn about how it all fits together. Every rider should be able to quickly break down and reassemble their tack, and cleaning it on a regular basis can give you some great experience in this area.
- Minerals and salt: Checking the levels of mineral and salt, for either stalled or pastured horses, is also a smart weekly project. Any local farm and garden supply store — or online stores — should stock both salt blocks and mineral blocks, as well as loose minerals if your horse prefers those.
Learn all about how (and why) to use horse hay nets and bags.
Monthly horse care tasks
- Farrier: Every 4-6 weeks, farrier visits are recommended for all horses — to trim hooves and shoe (unless your horse stays barefoot).
- Dentist: Six month dental checks are always a good idea, as teeth problems can result in pain and behavioral issues you’d rather avoid.
- Chiropractor: Bodywork and adjustments can greatly help with overall health, and regular appointments help keep your horse in peak condition.
Learn about why some horses wear shoes and others don’t.
Annual horse care tasks
- Deworming and vaccinations: Bi-annually horses need to be dewormed and vaccinated.
- Fecal egg count: It’s always good to get a fecal egg count in the spring if your horse is looking a little under the weather or not gaining weight and a summer coat at an appropriate rate.
- General vet exam: If your horse hasn’t been seen for other injuries during the year (lucky you!), it’s smart to schedule an annual checkup so a vet can catch any potential problems early.
Daily barn chores
Daily barn management chores differ slightly from those of a purely individual horse care nature, but there is a good deal of overlap. Clean, fresh water, adequate hay, and access to shelter (as previously discussed) are top priorities for keeping horses healthy and the barn running well.
A typical day may look something like this:
- Morning hay feeding
- Morning grain
- Cleaning stalls and runs
- Getting grain prepared for the next day
- Rotating pastured and paddocked horses (though this will depend on the availability of pasture at your facility and how you prefer to graze horses)
- General barn clean-up (e.g. making sure the barn aisle is swept, cross tie areas are neat, no loose paraphernalia that might startle horses walking by)
- Other maintenance projects (e.g watering arenas, working arena footing, moving hay or manure, and getting ready for seasonal changes like organizing and cleaning blankets)
- Evening feeding
- Final night check
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find a horse care chart?
The United States Pony Club manuals are an excellent and thorough resource for all kinds of horse care.
Do horses like routine?
Horses don’t just like routine — they love it. These animals are at their best when they have a reliable and steady routine. That’s why it’s best for barn managers to establish and stick to a daily schedule. You’ll be surprised how quickly your horses learn what happens when!
What do horses need as a group?
In larger groups, it is always a wise decision to check water and hay more often — as well as fencing — and always be aware of the group dynamics. Horses are herd animals, so they generally prefer to have companionship.
What should those who care for horses do to care for themselves?
Horse care can be exhausting and it is important to be aware of personal health (and sanity!). Even in the midst of regular work, make sure to spare some time for personal care. That may mean scheduling downtime in the barn lounge, going out for lunch, or simply turning on your favorite radio station while cleaning stalls.
Want to show your barn staff some appreciation? Check out our favorite gifts for barn managers.
What changes in horse care with the weather?
Horse care is largely weather dependent, but the most important factors in adjusting for weather center around temperature and precipitation.
It is best to preempt forecasted rain and snow by blanketing horses and getting heated waterers sorted out in advance.
Hopefully this article has provided a quick and efficient resource for equestrians looking to start caring for horses at their own barn or even at a boarding facility. Having clear and steady routines is helpful for both the horse and caretaker, and a quick checklist helps you be sure the animals, and property, stay in tip-top shape!
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