Owning a horse is a life-long dream for many. Horses are wonderful companions and form strong bonds with their caretakers. They’re a source of exercise, whether you want to ride your horse or just work with them on the ground. They also can be a foundation for family bonding and teach younger family members responsibility. Here are 10 tips to know if you are considering horse ownership.
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Type of Horse
There are many different types of horses used for a multitude of activities or disciplines. Familiarize yourself with different horse breeds. A healthy horse can carry 20% of its weight (rider and tack), so it is important to consider size if you want a riding horse. Past training and current ability figure extensively into a horse’s price. It’s important to rank a horse’s safety and experience highly for any prospective owner, especially a first-time buyer.
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Where to Keep Your Horse
A horse owner may either keep their horse at their home or pay to board it elsewhere. At minimum, a horse needs an area cleared of debris for exercise, a covered shelter, access to clean, fresh water, and good-quality grass or hay.
Even if a home has enough land to keep a horse, it requires a lot of work to keep the area clean and your horse fed and watered. The price to board a horse depends on the area that your horse is kept in as well as where you live geographically. The amount of care the facility provides will also influence cost. Full-service barns provide daily feeding and stall cleaning but cost more than barns where owners are responsible for these tasks.
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Horses need to live in a clean area. If they are in a stall, the stall should be cleaned at least once daily (preferably twice) of any manure or wet spots from urine. Horses can doze standing up, but they lay down for deep sleep. Bedding materials such as straw or shavings soak up urine and provide a good sleeping area. Corn cobs and black walnut shavings are dangerous bedding materials and should be avoided.
If horses don’t have a lot of turnout (access to a drylot or pasture to play) then enrichment materials can help stave off boredom. Horses are happy in turnout especially with socialization, but it is important to integrate new members of the herd slowly and judiciously, as injuries may occur as the pecking order is determined.
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The main part of a horse’s diet is called roughage and is in the form of pasture or hay. Horses require an average of 1-2% of their bodyweight of hay daily to maintain their body weight. Small, frequent meals may protect them from gastrointestinal upset or colic.
Most pastures do not supply enough year-round to feed a horse, so high-quality hay is usually necessary. If available, pasture should be evaluated to ensure it is free of toxic plants. Also, some horses get overweight and are prone to diseases such as founder on rich pasture, so consult with your veterinarian on diet.
All horses should also have access to a mineral salt lick and fresh, clean water. A horse drinks 5 to 10 gallons of water daily and may need more if it is hot or the horse is in exercise. Grains are used to supplement calories if hay alone is not sufficient. It is important to feed grain made especially for horses, as livestock feed contains additives that are toxic and may be deadly for a horse.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Brushing your horse and caring for its feet is an important part of daily healthcare, termed husbandry. It is also a good source of bonding between horse and caretaker. Specialized tools will help maintain a quality haircoat and clearing the nooks and crannies of the soles of the hooves (“picking out the feet”) is essential to keep the horse sound.
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Horses eat by grinding down grass, hay, or grain. As a result, they have evolved teeth that continually grow and modify in shape throughout life. Uneven wear leads to painful hooks and points, especially on molars. This can impact ability to eat and can even shorten your horse’s lifespan. Every horse should have their teeth checked annually and the points rasped down (floated) by a veterinarian if needed.
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Preventative and Emergency Care
It is very important to have a veterinarian available for healthcare. Vaccination and parasite control (deworming) will extend your horse’s life and reduce the risk of disease. Your veterinarian can also help you if your horse becomes lame or suffers an injury or illness that needs emergency attention, like a laceration or colic. It is also important to have a plan to transport your horse in case of emergency, such as a wildfire or if your horse needs to be hospitalized.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Tack is the term for any piece of equipment that contributes to the performance of a horse’s discipline. This includes the bridle and saddle if a horse is to be ridden, or the harness if you have a carriage horse. Saddles are different between disciplines and fit is very important to keep you and your horse comfortable. All tack should be cleaned after riding and regularly conditioned and checked for damage.
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You probably will want to ride your horse if you have any energy after all of that care. Riding lessons or training for your horse may be helpful. Boarding facilities often have trainers on-site, or you can hire a trainer to come to your horse. Horse riding is a sport; receiving feedback on your riding and your horse's performance can be important regardless of your level.
All in all, the choice to acquire a horse should not be made lightly. However, horse ownership can be one of the most rewarding decisions you can make for yourself and your family.
Powell, Debra M., et al. "Evaluation of indicators of weight-carrying ability of light riding horses." Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 28.1 (2008): 28-33. doi:10.1016/j.jevs.2007.11.008