Are you interested in experiencing the joys of horse ownership? While sharing your life with a horse can be a rewarding experience, it also means accepting the responsibility of caring for your equine companion for life. Here are some general guidelines for caring for your horse:
General Horse Care Guidelines
- Even routine horse care is a significant and ongoing expense. In fact, the cost of purchasing a horse is often much less than the cost of maintaining one for a year. Make sure you are realistic about your ability to afford quality care before you adopt an equine companion.
- Horses need a regular supply of food. In most cases, they need to have hay or pasture throughout the day, with additional grain feedings twice a day. An average-size horse will eat about 20 lbs. of food a day and drink at least eight gallons of water. Because their stomachs are relatively small and their digestive systems surprisingly delicate, horses need to nibble or graze throughout the day, rather than have one or two meals a day.
- Horses need regular hoof care. Plan to hire a farrier (blacksmith) every six to eight weeks for routine hoof trimming or shoeing.
- Horses need regular veterinary care. At least once a year, your horse will need to be vaccinated against tetanus and other diseases. The veterinarian will also provide routine dental care. Keep in mind that medical emergencies, which are always an unfortunate possibility, can cost several thousand dollars to treat.
- Since horses are constantly exposed to intestinal worms from the ground they graze on, they must be dewormed every six to eight weeks. Carrying a heavy burden of worms can cause serious illness or death in equines, so regular and timely treatment is crucial to your horse's health.
- Horses need constant access to a dry, safe, comfortable shelter to protect them from rain, wind, and snow. In warm and sunny weather, the shelter you supply will provide your companion with much needed shade. At a minimum, you should have a well-constructed, three-sided shed into which your horse can retreat at all times. You will need to remove manure from the stall or shelter every day.
- Horses need exercise. To supplement the exercise your horse will get when you ride him, he should have a paddock or pasture in which to relax and stroll. No horse should spend all day confined in a stall, except on a veterinarian's recommendation. The pasture should be bordered by safe, sturdy fencing that will keep the horse safe and secure. Barbed wire is not an acceptable fencing material?it has been the cause of many serious injuries.
Preventing Horse Barn Fires
Barn fires are one of horse owners' biggest nightmares. In just a few minutes of heat, smoke, and fury, thousands of dollars of saddles, bridles, hay, grain, and equipment can be lost along with the barn. That your horse could be trapped inside is almost too painful to imagine.
Most barn fires are preventable, and a new booklet from The Humane Society of the United States, Making Your Horse Barn Fire Safe, will help horse owners prevent tragedy and protect their horses and barns from fire. This booklet is full of helpful information including precautions for existing barns, how to respond to a barn fire, building a fire-safe barn, and where to find additional resources.
Copies of Making Your Horse Barn Fire Safe are available for $2.00 each (plus $3.00 for shipping and handling). Send check or money order to:
The Human Society of the United States
"Making Your Horse Barn Fire Safe"
2100 L St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20037
Protect Your Horse From Being Lost or Stolen
Horse theft is not just a legend of the Wild West. Every day, horses are reported missing or stolen -- an estimated 40,000 annually in the United States. Horses can also disappear following natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires, and floods. Once lost, horses are very difficult to recover; many are quickly sold at auctions to slaughterhouses. To keep your horse safe, follow these tips.
- Keep proof-of-ownership documents in a secure place. Photos, registration papers, and health records will help identify your horse and prove ownership in the event your horse is missing. The photographs should be clear and current and show your horse from all four sides to highlight his identifying marks.
- Have your horse permanently identified. You can have your horse permanently identified by microchip or freeze brand. If you have your horse microchipped, be sure to register the microchip with a national registry.
- Don't leave a halter on your horse. Halters make it easier for thieves to catch horses. This is a safety issue, too: A halter might get caught on something and cause your horse to be trapped. Also, do not leave halters hanging near gates where thieves might enter.
- Lock gates and barn doors. Locked gates and barn doors often will deter a thief, but be certain that they do not create a fire hazard.
- Erect sturdy fencing around your property. Wire fencing is easily cut by thieves.
- Restrict access to your property. To prevent easy access to your horse by unauthorized vehicles, block farm lanes and driveways that are in remote areas or far away from your residence.
- When possible, move your horse to an area where she can be seen from your residence or the roadway. This is particularly important at night, when theft is most likely to occur.
- Install motion-activated lights to illuminate the areas where you keep your horse at night. Mount the lights on barn buildings or fences so they will turn on if anyone approaches the barn or field.
- Consider purchasing monitors or alarms. Video monitors and alarm systems can be wired to your residence.
- Inform your local animal control agency and police department of any suspicious activities. Be sure to write down a description of the people and vehicles involved, including the vehicle license plate number. Encourage your neighbors to watch for suspicious activity, too.
- Immediately report a horse theft or disappearance to the appropriate law enforcement agency in your area. Also, provide a written description and photographs of your horse to livestock auctions in your area and in surrounding states. Post flyers offering a reward for information leading to the safe return of your horse. Contact local media with your story. Finally, consider visiting horse slaughterhouses in your state and in neighboring states; there have been several cases of horses being recovered at these facilities when owners have acted quickly. The Humane Society of the United States can provide you with a list of horse slaughterhouses in the United States.
Your horse depends on your love, care, and commitment. You'll show your love through grooming, petting, riding, and the occasional treat. You must also show your commitment by providing for her needs 365 days a year, in good weather and bad. With good care, your horse can live 35 years or more, so plan to enjoy a long and mutually rewarding relationship with your horse.