Horse care and ownership is a vast subject, which can often be overwhelming for new horse or pony owners. In this guide, we break down the essential components of looking after a horse and remember – never be afraid to ask for help from more experienced owners such as yard owners or more experienced equestrians.
Field vs. Stabled Horses
Regardless of whether your horse is stabled or lives out, they will need checking at least twice a day to make sure they are safe, secure and happy. Hardier breeds will be easier to manage being kept out, but less hardy breeds can be turned out with rugs and a shelter for most of the year, too.
With horses that are turned out regularly, it is important to keep on top of field maintenance such as picking up droppings, checking for toxic plants and making sure the fencing is secure and free from nails sticking out etc.
In the field itself, it’s a good idea to have a purpose-built shelter so they can be shielded from the wind and the rain in winter, and the sun in the summer. If this isn’t an option, having some form of natural shelter such as hedges and trees is helpful.
For horses that are stabled at least some of the time, it needs to be safe and suitable for your horse or pony. Depending on the breed/size of your horse it will need a certain amount of space to be comfortable. A standard size is 10×12 feet for ponies, 12×12 feet for most cobs and horses, and 12×14 feet for larger horses – making sure there’s enough headroom and no areas where they could hurt themselves.
Mucking out a stable is crucial to your horses’ well-being. Removing all muck and wet patches in the morning and evening will keep it clean, whilst adding extra bedding in the evening so your horse has enough to comfortably sleep on. Adding additional bedding to the edges/corners will hopefully stop your horse from getting cast. (Rolling over too close to the wall and getting stuck.)
Feeding & Watering
Feeding your horse can be quite complex, and will vary from one to the next, so here are just some basics to help understand the core principles of horse feed.
- Feed according to their breed, size, weight and workload
- Make sure they have access to fresh, clean water
- Make sure their diet is balanced
- Any changes should be gradual
- Keep to a routine with feeding times
- Feed little and often
According to the British Horse Society, horses will need to eat approximately 2.5% of their body weight every day – with a large proportion of this being roughage. (Hay, Haylage and Grass).
As horses have evolved to be trickle feeders, they should be fed little and often, mostly in the form of roughage. To supplement this, horses that are regularly exercised can be fed with hard feeds such as cereals and grains. Older horses or those that perform in competitions may benefit from additional supplements – but make sure to consult a nutritionist or vet before adding these to their diet.
Lastly, succulents and treats can be given on an occasional basis. Succulents are fruits and vegetables such as apples and carrots – these can be given daily but not in excess. Whilst there are plenty of horsey treats on the market, it is best to limit these to low-sugar or natural/organic products where possible.
Grooming & Foot Care
Grooming your horse or pony is something that will need to be done daily. This usually starts with picking out their feet, making sure to remove mud and stones, whilst checking for cracks in the hoof or any loose shoes.
Using a rubber curry comb or dandy brush, you can rub/brush away dirt from the horse’s body, being mindful of areas such as joints and any clipped parts of the body.
When using a body brush, brush in the same direction as the horse’s coat, keeping in contact with their body as much as possible. Use a smaller, softer brush for their face, avoiding their eyes and nose.
Using a wide-toothed comb or specialist tail brush, you can then work on the mane and tail; working from the bottom up to avoid pulling out too much hair. You can go over with a brush once all of the tangles have been worked out.
Sensitive areas such as eyes, ears, nostrils and under the dock can be wiped with specialist wipes or with clean, damp sponges making sure to keep different sponges for the different areas.
With regards to a horse’s hooves, they will need to be trimmed by a farrier every 4-8 weeks as their hooves grow constantly. Horses that do not work or go out on the road may not need shoes but will still need to be trimmed. Speak to your farrier for the best treatment for your equine friend.
Equipment & Tack
Horses and ponies need a lot of equipment, especially if you intend on riding or showing them. Even without riding tack, you will still need rugs, mucking out tools, feed/water buckets, a grooming kit, bathing items, and clothing for yourself!
- Tack: This includes items used for riding and exercising your horse such as saddle, bridle, reins, stirrups, halters, martingales, bits and lunge equipment.
- Grooming Kit: A standard kit may include a body brush, dandy brush, mane/tail comb and brush, curry combs, hoof pick, sweat scraper and sponges.
- Rugs: Whilst rugs vary in thickness and purpose it’s a good idea to have a couple of rugs on hand for winter, or even specialist covers to protect from flies. Be wary of over-rugging as horses are able to adapt to temperature changes better than we expect. World Horse Welfare provide a good chart to illustrate this.
- Yard Equipment: Rubber buckets, mucking tools, a first aid kit (very important!) and a secure area for haylage and food are significant things to keep in mind for your stable. Keep important phone numbers to hand in your stable area in case of emergencies.
- Things for you: If you are riding, you will need a properly fitted riding hat/helmet, body protector, riding boots, reflective clothing, waterproofs, jodhpurs, and thermal clothing at a minimum.
Horses evolved to be on the move, and with this, it’s important to keep them exercised as this will prevent weight gain and boredom. Exercise doesn’t even have to take the form of riding, it can include turning out, hand walking or lunging.
- Turning out: Putting your horse out to pasture even for half a day is a great way of giving them exercise and helping their digestive tract work correctly. They can interact with other horses, including grooming each other and let out all of their energy.
- Riding: Many horse owners will ride their horse a few times a week and with an array of disciplines and activities available to you there are so many ways to help your horse exercise and improve its wellbeing.
- Lunging: If you aren’t able to ride your horse, lunging is a great way to help them exercise. Using lunging aids, you can control the horse’s speed and gait to improve their stamina and endurance. Lunging can also be used to burn excess energy before a ride.
First Aid & Insurance
Knowing the basics of first aid and spotting signs of ill health is essential for all horse owners. Here we will outline a few basics and things you can put in place to help…
- Demeanour: Your horse should appear alert and interested in its surroundings. It’s good to know what is “normal” behaviour for your horse. Any sudden changes could be a sign of illness or injury.
- Condition: Generally, the ribs shouldn’t be visible, but should be easy to feel with a little pressure. Horses that are overweight may have an “apple-shaped” rump from behind, whereas the hips will stick out on an underweight horse.
- Injuries: Minor scrapes and cuts can be managed at home with a saline solution, antiseptic and a bandage. Any injuries that are still bleeding or need stitches will need a vet’s attention. If in doubt contact your vets for their advice as they may be able to advise you whether or not they need to visit from a video or photograph. Any signs of heat or swelling, even without obvious signs of injury, should always be referred to your vet.
- Colic: This is a very serious condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract and in some cases may require emergency surgery. It is important to be aware of this when owning a horse. Look for signs of depressed behaviour, loss of appetite, sweating, or irritation around the stomach or flanks.
There are many more issues that can affect your horse including lameness, laminitis, mud fever, thrush, strangles, sweet-itch, asthma, gastric ulcers and so on. If you’re ever unsure, seek professional advice.
Due to the various injuries and illnesses that a horse can sustain it’s important to keep up to date with check-ups, vaccinations, dental care and worming. Alongside this, having Horse and Pony Insurance safeguards against unforeseen costs such as veterinary bills, or in the worst case scenario, the loss of your pet.
This is just a summary of basic care needs for a horse or pony – there is much to learn when it comes to the equine world, for example, do you know how much it costs to look after a horse? It may surprise you!
Just remember to surround yourself with experienced people when it comes to looking after your horse, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need help. On a yard or at a livery there will always be people to lend a hand if you get stuck or are unsure about something.