Buying a horse comes with a whole lot of responsibility. Before introducing your new companion to its stable, there are many things to consider. To note a few, horses need ample care, and time and attention are to be devoted to their living conditions, healthcare, and nutrition. Our primary horse care for beginners guide aims to equip new owners with essential knowledge.
Without overwhelming you with equine science, we have broken down horse care basics across six critical topics to discuss. Rest assured, by the end of this guide, you will be aware of your horse’s basic needs.
Horse Care Essentials
To properly take care of your horse, you will need daily, weekly and monthly schedules. Keeping a record of the essential horse care tips and tricks, and planning per that will be of utmost importance.
Daily Care: At the bare minimum, a visual check for any signs of illness is required. Apart from that, make sure that your horse has plenty of clean water available. Most horses need a place to shelter them from wind and rain. For that reason, it is essential to have an appropriate shelter design.
Weekly Care: There are a few horse care essentials that need to be monitored every week. For instance, providing them with clean, manure-free surroundings is a good start. Regular cleaning can save your horse from the flock of flies that can bring along unwanted illnesses. It is also equally important to have enough bedding and fodder as well.
Monthly Care: In a period of 6 to 8 weeks, it is wise to trim your horse’s hoof. Letting them grow for long can be hard on their legs. Moreover, make sure that you’re following the deworming schedule. Once the fly season is over, they will need the medication to grow optimally.
Tying the Horse
After you buy your horse, you will need to tie them for saddling. Tying a horse safely is commonly done in three main ways. For your horse’s sake, it is best to learn some tying techniques that can help you get a secure grip.
Trailer ties work best if you are tying your horse to a post. For a comfortable tie, the length of your rope needs to be long enough so that your horse gets ample space to move around. Generally, trailer ties are 18″ long, which is not enough for your horse to move around naturally. An ideal tie should have a length of 36″ with quick-release snaps. It is recommended for a comfortable fit.
Before riding your horse, make sure that your snaps are not frozen or stiff. Stiff ties are hard to work with, especially in case of an emergency. Besides being frozen, trailer ties can also go bad over time with rust.
Lead ropes made of cotton are ideal for your horse. While certain beginners’ guides to horse care might suggest otherwise, lead shanks made of leather or webbing do not make perfect ties. Ropes and loops made of string or garment elastic can also be easily broken when tied around a fence post.
In any case, the lead ropes need to be higher than the horse’s feet. But not high enough to restrict their head movements. If you wish to make a solid tie, it is best to check your ropes for wear. For maximum comfort, you can opt for a quick-release knot. This knot will help you break your horse free if they are struggling.
When it comes to tacking up or grooming, cross ties can provide you with a lot of space to work with. On average, cross ties are the longest. But still not long enough for the horse to step on them. Like lead ropes, cross ties can also be tied with a quick-release knot.
Some owners like the idea of the tie stretching a bit when their horse pulls on it. If it resonates with you, you can use a half-inch garment for the rope to flex. Although if the horse struggles, it can quickly become the point of the break.
Chains do not make comfortable substitutes, because if the horse struggles and breaks free from a crosstie, it can harm both the rider and the horse.
Basics of Equine Nutrition
Learning about horse care for beginners can be overwhelming. When searching for horse food essentials, you cannot miss out on the benefits of feeding them the correct food. It is a good practice to offer them quality roughage. Although grass is a natural horse food, it is not ideal for keeping your horse on a strict grass routine. As long as you are providing your horse with fresh water, good hay, and avoiding toxic plants – your horse’s health will flourish in no time.
Hay can differ in texture, taste, or nutritional value. There are many types of hay. In the equine world, the two commonly used hay for horses are legume hay and grass hay. Depending on your geographical location, you can get a variety of grass hay. Namely: timothy, oat, bermuda, orchard, brome, and ryegrass.
Timothy grass is more famous for its fine texture than other grass types. It is also higher in proteins and comes with a good balance of fiber and calcium. Between the milk and soft dough stages, oat grass is cut to get the hay. It is often combined with alfalfa to make it increase its nutritious value.
Although challenging to get during a drought, Ryegrass is relatively palpable and sensitive to fluctuations in moisture. Bermuda being common grass, hay is a good source of quality forage. It is also one of the cheapest hay in the market.
Orchard hay, although thicker, has a softer texture than timothy hay. Despite its low levels of protein, it’s still a horse favorite. Conversely, brome is regional hay that is usually available in Colorado. Brome is typically lower in calcium but higher in protein.
Horse Water Do’s and Don’ts
A beginner’s guide to horse care will not be complete without stressing the importance of freshwater. After long trail rides, horses need to get plenty of drinkable water to avoid dehydration. You can deduce the amount of water your horse will need based on different factors. Some of these include:
Lack of water for a horse can lead to deadly illnesses, including colic and other bacteria-based infections. Some horse owners have automatic horse waterers, while some keep a bunch of buckets. Because of the noise waterers make, most horses aren’t great fans of automatic waterers.
Although the buckets are heavier to carry, they are easier to clean. If you live in an area where the water can freeze up, you will need to take extra precautions to avoid dehydration in your horses.
If your horse is in the pasture, it is recommended to have a natural source of water nearby. Preferably a stream or a spring-fed pond. However, the quality of the stream or the pond should be frequently checked.
It is of utmost importance to clean the water of leaves, insects, or chaffs daily.
Toxic Plants to Avoid
Whether you keep your horse in your home or at a boarding facility, basic horse knowledge on toxic plants can save your horse. Naturally, your horse is inclined to avoid poisonous plants because of their bitter taste. Even still, there are a few plants that can cause liver damage or respiratory failure even after a taste.
The primary toxic plants to avoid include:
- Rhododendron – also known as mountain laurel, rhododendron is an ornamental shrub. It is widely found in the Appalachian mountains and has bright-colored flowers. Unfortunately, only a few leaves of rhododendron can cause severe problems for your horse.
- Ragwort – this plant has many other names, including stinking willie, between, cushag, or just tansy. As a common weed, it attacks the liver, causing a buildup of toxins. Some signs of ragwort intoxication look like lethargy, weight loss, difficulty breathing, and staggering.
- Oleander – otherwise known as nerium, is a small shrub with pink, white or red flowers. It is usually used as decor but is super lethal for your horse. Most horses hardly survive 8 to 10 hours after consuming oleander. Colic, diarrhea, ataxia, and muscle tremors are some of its significant symptoms.
How to Shelter Your Horse?
Your horse will need some sort of shelter if it’s to live in your home. You can choose to build a roomy shelter or a run-in stable. In either case, there are a few advantages and disadvantages to both types of housing.
Run-in sheds are relatively low maintenance which means less work for the owner. They can be occasionally cleaned with a tractor. And offer better ventilation that adds to the healthy growth of your horse. They are also considerably less expensive and minimize the risk of fire. With minimum assembly required to build, they can easily be bought in kits. Luckily, some of the run-in sheds have portable designs. Depending on the weather, you can quickly move your horse to greener pastures or better drainage.
On the downside, they are not ideal shelters for injured horses. Besides, it’s tricky to handle saddling and grooming in them. Moreover, if your horse dominates, it can be pesky about letting other herd members enter the shelter.
A barn or a stable allows the horse to rest easily. It lets them have their own space, which is ideal for pregnant mares or injured horses. A stable also lets you train your horse with ease. Besides that, it is also much easier to groom or saddle them within the comfort of their stable. A well-built stable offers maximal protection from the wind and the weather.
Stables can also accommodate other herd members with a guarantee of their safety. They can also be moved around easily when threatened by a dominant member. The comfort of a stable also makes the horse stay cleaner before a show. It protects them from rolling around in the dirt.
Unfortunately, stables are also built at a higher cost. They are at significant risk of fire, and the stalls need to be cleaned daily. They also don’t offer much ventilation for the horses, thus, leading to exposure to higher dust levels.
Most horses can easily be bored of stables. Boredom in the barn can often lead to developing irregular behaviors. Thus, a stable makes for a suitable shelter only when the horses are exercised daily.
Equine Health Care Basics
The key to good horse health is to prevent diseases and immediately identify symptoms. Learning about the symptoms of significant horse illnesses is the tricky part of owning a horse for beginners. The vital signs of your horse include pulse, temperature, and respiration rates. They are critical signs that can tell you how lightly or seriously ill your horse is.
Knowing what is normal for your horse includes learning about the optimal pulses or breaths per minute. Their vital signs can confirm your doubts and help you organize an effective treatment plan.
As a horse owner, it is essential to keep a first aid kit nearby the shelter. In case of an equine emergency, administering first aid can save your horse from the worst. As a part of your daily routine, visual checkups for any cuts and bruises can give your horse adequate professional care if needed.
While keeping a kit is important, it is also equally crucial to learn how to act in an emergency. Owners that can take charge and guide their horse to safety are better prepared for emergencies. In any case, it is also beneficial to have the contact numbers of a few vets written in a first aid box.
Measuring Your Horse’s Vitals
Taking a temperature rectally for horses can be done from both a traditional or a digital thermometer. A digital temperature reader is quick to read but comes with a few drawbacks. To get an accurate reading on a digital thermometer, you will need to insert it deeper. In most cases, having to hold onto the thermometer is an inconvenience in and of itself.
To measure an average normal, it is important to measure your horse’s temperature for several days. In many cases, the temperature readings can vary based on the activity level, feed, and time of the day. Hence, taking many readings under similar conditions can give you a baseline reading.
When measuring your horse’s breath, count a complete inhale/exhale cycle as one respiration. Additionally, you can also use a skin turgor test to measure hydration levels. With serious colics, your horse is likely to get dehydrated after a loss of fluid.
Dehydration checks can also be measured with a capillary refill test. As dehydration may lead to a heat stroke, it is best to check your horse’s gums. A bright pink color indicates a healthy and hydrated horse.
To measure your horse’s pulse, it is ideal to learn how to check your pulse at first. The facial or tail artery of your horse can give you an accurate pulse rate for your horse. Once you find the pulse, count the number of breaths for 15 seconds and multiply it by four to get a one-minute rate.
To avoid your horse from developing an infection, it is vital to look at their cuts or abrasions. The location of the wound affects the severity of treatment. Hence, it is critical to learn more about the types of wounds on horses.
- Incised (clean-cut) – this is a straight clean wound that is caused by something sharp. It can be severe if it is more profound than you can see and cause blood loss.
- Lacerated (torn) – this is often caused by barbed wires. The edges of the torn wound are jagged and irregular, alongside some swelling.
- Abrasions (grazes) – these are usually a superficial wound but may have a large surface area open to the risk of infection. They come alongside bruising and take a while to heal.
- Puncture – this is caused by a sharp object like a thorn or a nail. Puncture wounds can be far deeper and, in most cases, are often overlooked.
- Bruises/Swellings/Lumps – this can indicate a presence of an underlying illness or injury. It is best to contact your vet for further assistance on its treatment.
Horse wounds are often treated by disinfecting the area or stopping the blood through different techniques. Swelling and inflammations can be treated through topical cooling creams. To cleanse a wound, you can use several swabs with water and an antiseptic.
To soothe an injury, a cold hose of the steady stream can wash over the injury for no longer than 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can also use hot poultices to increase the blood supply near the damage. A hot poultice is an excellent practice for drawing out any infections.
Basic Horse Grooming Tips
It wouldn’t be an ultimate horse care guide for beginners if it didn’t include essential notes on grooming. Before driving or riding, your horse needs to be groomed. It includes having a look at their hooves, skin, and coat.
If left uncleaned, the grit below the saddle can develop girth sores on your horse. Hence, ideally, it is best to groom your horse daily.
Best Tools to Use
Beyond a sharp appearance and an energizing massage, grooming your horse with the right tools can keep it healthy and happy. It is an excellent practice to arrange all your grooming tools in a safe place for your convenience.
Although you can get different grooming organizers from the market, all you need is a separate bucket for the brushes. Ideally, it is best to keep your grooming bucket away from your horse, so it may not trip over or knock it out.
Before beginning your grooming routine, it is handy to tie your horse safely with a quick-release knot. Additionally, a crosstie is also a secure way of keeping your horse centered.
Now to begin your routine, you will need:
- Grooming Mitt/Curry Comb
- Hoof Pick
- Soft Bristle Finishing Brush
- Stiff Body Brush
- Tail Comb
- Mane Comb
Apart from the tools listed, you will need either a soft cloth or a clean sponge, a good grooming spray, and some hoof ointment are recommended.
Combing and Brushing
To begin, use a grooming mitt or a curry comb to loosen the dry dirt on your horse’s coat. Getting rid of the grit, mud, and debris is more accessible with circular sweeps over the bony areas. If your horse responds by swishing his tail or laying back his ears, then it is a clear sign that you’re brushing too hard.
Afterward, use a mane/tail comb to detangle in a downward motion. You can start brushing from the bottom and move up as you detangle. When brushing its tail, it’s best to pull the tail gently at one side. As standing at the side will take you out of the way from any potential back kicks.
After currying, the body, use a body brush for a deeper clean. The body brush has long bristles that will whisk out the debris to the surface. Make sure you use a body brush in a sweeping motion and the direction of the body hair. Rather than a curry comb, a body brush is more useful when cleaning out the legs.
After you are done, use a finishing brush with soft bristles. A finishing brush brings out the shine in the coat. It can also be used to clean the face, throat, and ears. In the end, apply a grooming spray as this can provide your horse’s coat with UV protection.
Keeping your horse’s feet healthy will help them live a better life in the long run. Depending on when your horse’s hooves need to be trimmed, it is a good practice to cut them then and there.
In the summers, the hoof needs to be trimmed every six to eight weeks. During the winters, they can be trimmed every six to twelve weeks. Unless you have a performance horse, in which case, it’s best to have a look before each show.
A crucial part of hoof care is the hoof balance. A well-balanced hoof will put less pressure on your horse’s joints and ligaments. An ideal hoof will have:
- Straight Hoof-Pastern Angle
- Medial Lateral Balance
- Easy Break Over
- Adequate Heel Support
During dry weather or frequent weather changes, your horse is prone to develop hoof cracks. Unfortunately, some horses are born with bad hoofs and need more hoof care than your average horse.
If this sounds like your horse, it is best to invest in a hoof moisturizer. Additionally, you can also give them some hoof supplements. In the winters, snow can gather up under the hoof, thus causing imbalance and bruising. To avoid that, you can either leave the shoes off or invest in snow pads.
Most hoof problems can be resolved by regularly trimming, maintaining a good balance, and providing proper shoeing for different weathers.
Successful Horse Boarding for Beginners
Your boarding place of choice will have a significant impact on your horse’s health and happiness. Depending on your needs, there are different types of boarding facilities available. In every case, finding a friendly stable is a good way of caring for your new horse. If you are considering boarding as an option, here are a few things you need to know beforehand:
Cost to Board a Horse
Depending on factors such as location, quality of care, and level of facilities, the cost of boarding your horse can differ. Generally, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $600 per month for your horse.
If you plan to spend some time with your horse every day, it is best to look for a stable not too far from home. In this case, an optimal traveling distance of 30 to 45 minutes is recommended. A shorter distance to the stable will also save you the cost of fuel. If you are looking to board your horse further than this, it will be pretty much unrealistic to see him every day.
To assess a boarding facility, look at how large the pasture is and how many horses will be living alongside. Besides, getting a good look at the manure buildup and the water are also good indicators of a boarding facility’s quality.
If you can chat with horse owners from the boarding facility, it will be a good measure of the stable’s quality. Another decision you need to make is whether you want to opt for self-care or full board.
Self-care is hard work, and it is best to choose a full board option. A full-board would mean regular checkups, adequate hay, feed, and bedding. And, of course, a guaranteed quick call to the veterinarian in the event of an emergency.
Types of Horse Boarding
A full board option, as the name suggests, accounts for all the necessities of your horse. It does not require daily visits. And if you don’t have much time on your plate, then this is an ideal option. In some facilities, full boards also include training lessons for specific riding.
Partial boarding is another option. You can share your horse with another person in partial boarding in exchange for a lesser boarding cost. However, this would mean giving up and dividing the quality time with your horse.
If partial boarding seems like an ideal option, it is recommended to find someone who has similar handling and riding skills. Other than a part-board, you can also opt for a pasture board.
In a pasture board, your horse lives outdoors with a run-in shelter. During the winter, the manager may charge extra to provide additional blanketing. For a horse that does not like living in a stable, this could be an ideal scenario.
Apart from that, some boarding facilities also offer a reduced rate in exchange for stable services. They seek contributions to work in the stables in exchange for a lesser boarding fee. Whatever the boarding arrangement you decide, the horse’s health is still your responsibility.
If you are taking up the boarding facility, it is a good practice to visit frequently.
Best Practices for Horse Care
The best management practices for a horse can reduce soil erosion on a farm. The development of areas in the farm can be done by increasing canopy covers. The grazing pressure from the horse can also be reduced by drafting rotational grazing. Rotational grazing can help the horse shift on a daily or a weekly basis. Thus, keeping them active and entertained.
Horses are social animals and often thrive in herds. They are less destructive when they have a companion. And it is best for their emotional and physical health to not be alone in a stable. To give them the best environment, you can opt for another horse, a non-equine friend, or look over a boarding option.
A horse can live well up to its 30s. Hence, due to their increased life expectancy, it is crucial to take better care of them. If you have a mature horse, you can observe signs of aging to provide them with the best care. Although you can’t accurately guess their age by seeing their teeth, you can get an approximate figure.
Another best practice for taking care of your horse is having a look at their bedding. Most beddings are made of straw or shavings. But you can also opt for hay, hemp, moss, and wood pellets. But if you have a pregnant mare or a petite horse, it is best to opt for straws.
FAQs Related to Horse Care
Learning to house, feed, and care for your horse comes with many horse care questions. To address your queries, we have dedicated a section to answer all prevalent dilemmas to horse care.
Horses are easy to maintain and pet. Their basic needs include food, water, shelter as well as the need for security, and social relationships. While horses and people have similar basic needs, we humans should remember that the horse’s demands are vastly different from ours.
A horse you love is the easiest to care for; otherwise, horse upkeep is dependent on use, age, and environment. Horses in their natural state do not require our assistance; but, the more we confine them, the more maintenance is required.
The demands determine the additional care needed to keep them in the desired condition we place on them.
But a quarter horse is relatively easy to take care of, as it does not require special expensive feed or additives.
They rarely, if ever, need special or corrective footwear. They respond well to training, learn rapidly, and have a reputation for being sane, calm, and dependable.
Being consistent and predictable is the number one way to develop trust. Maintain a consistent energy level, emotions, and demeanor around your horse. Keep your communication consistent by sending and receiving messages the same way – a method that both you and your horse understand.
Finally, continually recognizing your horse’s efforts is a terrific method to earn their trust. Giving your horse a few treats after a hard workout, cleaning them, and spending time with them while they graze are all ways to thank them. Even if you don’t have an intensive training session with them, just being around them will help them begin to trust you more.
When buying a new horse, one of the first things you should do is find a veterinarian and a farrier you can trust to work on your animal. Farriers and veterinarians are specialists who provide services to your horse and offer advice on caring for it. If you schedule them ahead of time, you won’t have to hurry to find a veterinarian or a farrier for your horse in an emergency.
These professionals take the time to get to know your horse. When seeking these professionals, use caution and due care. You’ll want to find someone you can trust to look out for your pet’s best interests.
A horse, like all domesticated animals, can create a profound attachment with his human companion. Your horse may take a long time to form a bond with you. But when he does, he has a strong sense of trust.
Naturally, if you feed, wash, and care for a horse properly, he will grow to like you. A horse can display his affection for you in a variety of ways. A horse will only follow directions from people he likes. He’ll also be ready to follow you around or be with you. If your horse wants you, he will occasionally groom you back.
He will, without a doubt, miss and even yearn for you. Furthermore, horses only eat from people they know and trust. It’s a significant show of confidence if a horse remains relaxed around you.
The ideal horse for first-time horse owners is likely to be between the ages of 10 and 20. For a first-time horse owner, younger horses are usually recommended as they are not quiet or experienced enough. Horses can live for 30 years or more with proper care, so don’t exclude elderly horses from your search.
Temperament should be the most crucial consideration when purchasing a horse. Old horses will be kind, quiet, and peaceful, and generally don’t kick or bite. When handling and riding your new horse, you and your child will make mistakes, and you want him to be kind and forgiving.
When you have enough money saved for all of the upfront costs, emergency costs, and monthly upkeep, you know you’re ready to buy a horse. You have an excellent trainer and solid fundamental riding skills.
Having a horse is a significant commitment. It requires an investment of time, emotions, and money. You must ensure that you and your child are both ready to ride a horse.
The amount of time you’re willing to invest and the horse’s personality or history will impact how long it takes you to bond with a horse. The more time you spend getting to know the horse, the more likely you will connect with them.
It may take longer if you’re working with a very stubborn horse or a horse that has a history of abuse. Never underestimate the power of a single session with your horse, though.
Even simply introducing yourself to the horse, spending some time with them, and being confident and forceful can have an immediate effect. With just a few minutes of preparation, respect may be earned. Giving lots of praise for obedience helps reinforce a good bond.
Horses are mammalian creatures that are tamed. Many first-time horse owners are apprehensive about bringing a new animal into their home, especially if it isn’t a dog or a cat. Taking care of an equine is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The saying “you learn something new every day” is exceptionally authentic for horse care and knowledge. As a horse owner or potential horse owner, you will constantly be learning new things and should strive to read as much as possible.