Welcome and thanks for stopping by! If you are here then you are either very close to getting a horse or already have one. Either way, thank you for stopping by to learn more about caring for your horse. Owning a horse is serious business and in order to keep your horse healthy and happy, and for you to sleep sound at night, it’s important to get the basics down pat. If you are still considering owning a horse then please read this first. We hope this ultimate guide to horse care for beginners helps you on your journey.
It is highly advisable to seek help from experienced “horse people”. Ask tons of questions and have them over so you can show them your setup. Learn as much as you can and always keep asking questions. Horse people tend to stick together and love helping one another. In this article we will assume that you have ample room for your horse to run and a barn and stall for them to stay in when the weather is bad or too hot. It also good to have a “run in” or an open shed in your field so they can take cover if need be.
One of the first things to understand is that you and your horse both need a consistent routine. This includes feeding, mucking the stalls, and turning them in and out. Horses need a good routine and you’ll soon find that they know when it’s time to eat. This goes for most pets I guess 🙂
Keep this checklist in mind for your horse:
- Check on horse’s at least twice a day
- Ensure pasture is free from large holes, loose fencing boards, poisonous plants, or other obvious dangers
- Ensure barn and stalls are clean
- Always have fresh water available
- Feed on a schedule and appropriately for your breed
- Have regular health checks and farrier care
- Keep up to date with vaccinations and worming
- Ensure all equipment is in good condition
Fresh water needs to be available at all times. This includes buckets hanging in the stall and a large trough or two in the field.
Stalls should be large enough for your animal to move around and lay down. Fans are recommended if the weather gets hot in your area. We use large rubber mats with layers of sawdust to give cushion and to absorb when they “go”. Regular cleaning of the stalls is a must.
Excellent barn supplies can be found here.
- Feed according to a horse size and weight and workload
- Keep the same feeding routine
- Always allow access to clean, fresh water
- Don’t feed concentrates within an hour before or after exercise
- Make sure the diet is balanced
- Make any changes to feed gradually
- Measure feed accurately
The type of feed and how much food a horse will need will depend on their size/weight, what work they’re doing, and they’re metabolism. As a general rule horses need to eat roughly 1.5% to 3% of their body weight each day, with the large majority of this being hay and grass. This is for a horse averaging 1000 lbs. Do your research and ask your vet about your particular horse or pony.
Horses have sensitive digestive systems, so feeding routines should be kept consistent and any changes should be made very gradually.
Roughage, which consists of grass, hay and haylage, should make up the large majority of a horse’s diet. An important thing to note is that horses cannot eat silage, which is fed to cows. We usually throw out a few “flakes” of hay into the field each day so they get their hay while they graze.
With grain, less is always more, so start with a minimal amount and adjust as necessary. You’ll find the right balance of pasture, hay, and grain for your particular horse’s needs. We feed our horses grain once per day, and the amount is dependent upon size and weight.
Most horses will require a basic vitamin/mineral supplement to ensure they are getting all the essentials they need into their diet. I’d recommend you consult a nutritionist, or your vet, for advice if you are unsure what will be right for your horse. Also, be cautious to only buy products approved for the equine industry.
Fruits and Vegetables
Carrots and apples are commonly given.
Grooming is an essential skill for horse care for beginners and something you’ll do everyday. This is a great time to bond with your horse and earn their trust and show them love.
- Start with picking out the feet, removing dirt and stones using a hoof pick, being careful to avoid the frog of the foot. Always check the condition of the feet and shoes. What is the frog?
- Brush in the same direction as the horses coat and place yourself in a safe position. Gently brush and pet your horse and put them at ease. Use a soft face brush to brush the face, being careful around the eyes and nose.
- Brush the main and tail daily. Try and use a brush so you do not pull too much hair out. A good detangler spray can help.
- Eyes, ears, nostrils, and under the dock, can be wiped with specialist wipes or with clean damp sponges.
- As horses begin to shed their winter coat, shedding blades and brushes can be used to help remove the excess hair are great.
- Feed pan for individual feeding
- Feed container
- Water trough or large buckets
- Water heater or heated buckets if you live in an area that experiences freezing temperatures.
Barn and Pasture
- Large broom
- Manure Fork
- Fire extinguisher
- Extension cords
- Secure bins to store hay/feed/tack/supplies
Excellent supplies can be found here.
Handling and Grooming
- Lead Ropes
- Hoof Pick
- Curry Comb
- Body Brush
- Mane Comb
- Blankets for cold weather if needed
- Sweat sheet if needed
You’ll probably decide to ride either English or Western, and this will help you decide what type of tack to buy. To help with saddle fit, you should probably buy a saddle after you’ve brought your horse home, or had a chance to try any saddle you’re thinking of buying on the horse.
- Saddle with girth or cinch
- A saddle pad or blanket
- Bridle and bit
- Stirrups and stirrup leathers
- Optional: lunge line
- Optional: tendon boots, bell boots, any other leg support or protection the horse may need
Excellent English and Western saddles can found here
Health and First Aid
First and foremost you should know the normal temperature, pulse and respiration.
Temperature: 99.5 – 101.3 °F (37.5 – 38.5 °C )
Pulse: 28 – 44 heartbeats per minute
Respiration: 8 – 16 breaths per minute
Talk to your vet about establishing a baseline for your horse. These numbers can vary depending on size and weight.
General Attitude & Demeanor
As you get to know your horse you will know it’s normal state and behavior. Look for anything odd as in laying too much or excessive rolling, or chewing on fencing.
Eyes and nostrils should clear and free from discharge.
The gums and inner nostrils should be a salmon pink color. Test the capillary refill time by gently pressing an area on the horses gum, which will turn white, then when released, should return to normal in two seconds.
Horses droppings should be fairly well formed, break apart on impact, be a fairly uniform color and contain no large bits of undigested feed.
Keep an eye on
Check hydration by pinching some skin on the shoulder, or lower neck, and letting it go; if it doesn’t snap back within a second or two, it is a sign of dehydration.
Horse flies are a real pain the horse’s butt! There are many things to do to try and keep flies at bay. Try and keep them under control.
- Fly masks can help your horse keep the flies off its face
No matter how well we safeguard against them, injuries do happen, so be prepared. Very minor cuts and scrapes are easily dealt with without any veterinary care, simply assess and thoroughly clean the wound and possibly bandage. More serious injuries will of course need a vet’s attention. When in doubt call the vet.
Lameness is a term used to describe a horse’s change in gait, usually in response to pain somewhere in a limb, but also possibly as a result of a mechanical restriction on movement. We all think of lameness when a horse is obviously limping, but lameness may only cause a subtle change in gait, or even just a decreased ability or willingness to perform.
A horse can become lame from a variety of causes (conditions or ailments), involving almost any anatomic region within a limb. Some conditions are more easily diagnosed and treated than others.
When to call the vet
These are just some of the more common problems you may run into. Always call your vet when you are unsure.
Colic is a general term that refers to abdominal pain in the horse. Signs of pain may range from mild (looking at the flank, lifting the upper lip, no interest in eating, kicking the hind legs up towards the abdomen) to severe (repeatedly laying down and getting up, violently rolling up onto their backs or throwing themselves down on the ground). Colic needs to be taken very seriously. Signs and symptoms may include:
- No interest in eating
- Looking at the flank
- Lying down more than usual
- Lying down, getting up, circling, laying down again repeatedly
- Curling/lifting the upper lip
- Kicking up at the abdomen with hind legs
- Rolling up onto back
- Stretching out
- Increased heart rate
- Visible abdominal distention
- Less than normal to no manure production
- Foals may roll up on their backs or grind their teeth and salivate excessively
If you see any of these signs, act fast. Call the vet immediately.
Pain and injury can occur at any one of the structures within the back. Conditions of the back that can affect performance of a horse include narrowing of the space between the bony projections of successive vertebra in the region under the saddle (“kissing spine”), degenerative arthritis, inflammation of the muscles or ligaments, or fractures of the bones in the spine.
Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae in horse’s hooves. The tissue is a type of connective tissue that attaches the coffin bone to the hoof wall. It is a very serious condition that can result in lameness in horses and may even lead to its eventual euthanasia. Typically, the condition affects the front hooves, but it can affect all four. The condition progresses through four stages, which include the developmental stage, acute, subacute, and chronic. Obesity, high fevers, and working on hard surfaces are considered to be risk factors. If signs do present, always consult a vet. Treatment will usually involve box rest and a very controlled diet. We have had several bouts of this with one of our ponies. Fortunately stall rest did the trick and he is fully recovered. The great Secretariat died from this disease.
Equine Influenza (“FLU”)
This highly contagious virus disease appears suddenly and can leave your horse in a weakened condition. Symptoms include fever, coughing, nasal discharge, and loss of appetite. Infected horse must have complete rest. Talk to your vet about vaccinations.
- Feet – Check your horse’s feet daily. There are different options for shoeing, your farrier will be able to advise you.
- Worming – Very important. Talk to your vet about a schedule.
- Vaccinations – Very important. Talk to your vet about a schedule.
- Teeth –Throughout its life, your horse will need to have its teeth cared for. Most horses will have to have their teeth floated at least once per year. Floating is the practice of filing off any sharp edges or hooks that may form on the edges of the teeth.
- Remember to surround yourself with experienced people, and never be afraid to ask questions or get help
- Get a good veterinarian
- Get a good farrier
- Understand the basics of how to care for your horses
- Learn the basics of feeding and the dietary needs of a horse
- Know how to groom a horse
- Know what equipment you need
- Know the importance of having regular health checks
- Know the basics of horse health and first aid
- Always keep learning
This will become routine and before you know it you’ll be a pro. The bond that you develop with your horse will be priceless. There is definitely a lot that goes into owning a horse. It’s a lifestyle. Good luck and we hope you and your horse live a happy, healthy life together!
Some great places for horse supplies are Dover Saddlery and State Line Tack. Check it out!