THE BASICS OF HORSE CARE
Proper care and maintenance of the horse or pony is the responsibility of the owner. These guidelines are provided to guide the owner in this responsibility.
If your horses are kept on pasture, they should have access to a water tank at all times. In summer, the tank should be scrubbed and rinsed regularly. Scrub tanks and water buckets with baking soda: it’s effective, safe, and inexpensive. If possible, keep the water tank in a shady area. In a sunny location, algae will grow very quickly in the warm, still water, making the water undrinkable long before the tank is emptied.
Check your water tanks every day to be sure that the water is clean. It is a good idea to keep a large stone or floating log in the water trough, so that small animals like squirrels and mice that may fall into the water can find a way out. Horses will not drink from a tank where an animal is struggling or has drowned.
In the winter, the tank should be kept free of ice by installing a water tank heater. Horses need access to unlimited fresh water at all times of year, and the water should be warmed in the winter.
If your horse is kept in a stall for all or part of the day, he should have at least one five-gallon bucket of water in front of him at all times. Be sure to check it twice a day. Just checking the water level of the bucket is not enough; debris from the stall’s bedding, dust and manure can make the water foul and undrinkable. Even if the water stays relatively clean, buckets should be scrubbed and rinsed regularly instead of always being topped off. A mouthful of grain can sour at the bottom of a bucket, and the water will look clear but be undrinkable.
Horses are grazers. In the wild, wandering and nibbling as they go, they seldom have more than a mouthful of grass at a time. In managed environments, we rarely have year-round grazing sufficient to meet our horses’ needs. Furthermore, the physical demands we make on our animals in riding and training can make it necessary for us to supplement their grazing with hay and grain.
Hay is the primary food of the domestic horse. Hay may be made from several different types of grass, alfalfa, or a mix of grasses and alfalfa. Hay made from the second and third cutting of a field is generally preferable to hay made from the first cutting because later season hay is finer and more palatable.
Never purchase yellow hay, hay that has musty or moldy odor or hay that is dusty. Mold spores from hay baled while still wet or damp will show up as very fine dust when a flake of hay is pulled from the bale. Clumps of plant matter in the hay that are grayish or brown also indicate mold. Moldy hay should never be fed to horses. Besides creating a potential for very serious colic, moldy hay can cause respiratory problems. At best, it will to uneaten, and will cost you money and time to replace.
Alfalfa is very high-protein feed. Horses enjoy the taste of it, but it should be fed with caution and in limited amounts. Alfalfa can be too rich for many horses and stress their digestive systems. Overweight horses should not be fed alfalfa. If you supplement your horse’s diet with alfalfa, be sure to follow the same guidelines as when purchasing hay. If the alfalfa hay (or the alfalfa in your mixed grass hay) has purple flowers, much of its nutrition has been lost.
The hay that you purchase should have been stored indoors and kept off the ground. If you do not have a hayloft, stack your hay on wooden or plastic pallets; condensation from dirt or concrete floors can cause mold and mildew on the bottom layer of hay. Hay dust can cause severe respiratory problems in horses. If possible, store you hay in a separate building away from the horses’ stalls.
Plan to feed at least one-half of an average-sized, 40-pound bale per horse per day. Buy enough; it is better to have hay left over when the grass turns green than to be looking for hay at the end of winter.
Oats, sweet feed, commercial grain mixes and pellets can be good ways to supplement a horse’s diet. Consult with your veterinarian or a feed specialist if you are unsure about what your horse requires.
Good horsemen are constantly monitoring the body condition of their horses. As you groom your horse of pony, run your hands over its barrel to feel how much flesh is covering the bones. If your horse appears to be getting thin, adjust the amount of feed upward, but do this gradually, over a period of weeks, to avoid illness related to overfeeding.
It is very easy (and very unhealthy) to let your horse become obese. Watch for pockets of fat that develop along the neck, shoulder and buttocks, especially when your horse is not getting much exercise. Exercise is the best way to slim down a horse, but remember that exercise should be introduced as gradually as a change in diet. Begin an exercise program with 10 t 20 minutes sessions, and build up to regular work as your horse gains muscular and cardiovascular strength.
Have salt available to your horse at all times. Feed stores carry inexpensive mineralized blocks that are specially formulated to meet all of a horse’s basic needs. These blocks are available in two sizes: large blocks for the pasture and small blocks for the stall.
You must provide some form of shelter for your horse or pony. Even if you keep your horses in stalls for any portion of the day and turn them out on pasture, your horses should have access to a windbreak, loafing shed or a run-in area of the barn. A dry area protected from the wind, rain and snow provides necessary shelter in winter and gives horses relief from biting insects and hot sun in warmer months. For your horses’ safety and comfort, the shelter should be kept clean and free of manure, garbage and debris.
If your horse is stall-kept, he must be allowed outside for exercise and fresh air every day. A highly social, active animal like a horse will not flourish when confined to a stall 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many of the health, soundness, and behavioral problems plaguing horses today could be avoided if horses were given ample time to move about freely ad interact naturally in the fresh air and sunshine.
Horses’ stalls should be bedded in straw, wood shavings or sawdust. Stray used for bedding should be bright and clean. Wood shavings packaged for stall bedding must not contain walnut, which is highly toxic to horses. Some horses are highly sensitive to dust because of allergies or other respiratory problems; if your horse is coughing or having difficulty breathing, it could be a reaction to the bedding.
Stalls should be cleaned daily. Ammonia fumes accumulate in urine-soaked stalls and damage horses’ lungs, while manure and urine-soaked bedding can create a nasty hoof condition called "thrush." Take the soiled bedding far enough from the barn that rodents and flies are not attracted inside. Arrange to have your manure pile removed on a regular basis.
In the wild, horses live on very rough terrain and move about constantly, thus keeping their feet in perfect condition. Keeping horses in stalls or on soft, grassy pasture allows their feet to grow faster than moving about wears them down. For these reasons, we must trim our horses’ feet regularly. Horses and ponies that wear shoes must be seen by a farrier (horse-shoer) more frequently than barefoot horses. Shod horses should have their hooves trimmed and their shoes reset by the farrier every six weeks; barefoot horses should have their hooves trimmed every eight weeks. Whether shod or barefoot, horses should have their feet picked out every day. Dirt and mud can become compacted inside a hoof, trapping pebbles or debris against the sole and causing painful bruises on the sole of the foot.
Nearly all domestic horses are candidates for "thrush." The unpleasant condition causes horses’ feet to become soft and grainy; and creates a foul-smelling black discharge from the foot. Avoid thrush by keeping your horse’s stall dry and by picking out his feet at least once a day (or before and after your ride); this should keep the condition at bay. If your horse does develop thrush, you will need to redouble your efforts to keep his feet dry and clean. Many topical treatments are available at feed and tack stores; these will clear up a mild case of thrush if applied daily. More severe cases will require your veterinarian’s or farrier’s attention.
A horse’s teeth grow continually during his lifetime. As they become longer and longer, uneven wear can cause sharp points that can affect the way your horse or pony processes his feed. If a horse’s food is not chewed properly, it will not be digested, and the horse will begin to lose weight.
It is important to have your veterinarian check your horse’s teeth once a year. If sharp points have developed, your veterinarian can file them down. This process is called floating the teeth. For horses in serious training or even the pleasure horse that is ridden regularly, a "performance float" is recommended. This involves rounding the horse’s teeth in the area where they may come into contact with the bit.
Well-kept horses do not become sick very often, but even with a great management program, most horses do feel under the weather at some point in their lives. For this reason it is good to have an action plan when you detect illness. If your horse or pony appears depressed, lethargic, or unwilling to eat, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Should your horse consume something unhealthy, (noxious weeds, sand, too much grain, etc.), he may colic. Colic is a general term for a horse’s or pony’s stomach ache. Repeated rolling, pawing, looking at and poking his sides and a refusal to eat are some of the ways that a horse is trying to tell you he is in pain. Call your veterinarian immediately and follow the vet’s instructions carefully until he or she arrives to treat your horse. All colics should be regarded as potentially life-threatening and dealt with promptly.
Internal parasites can cause a variety of illnesses and produce a generally poor appearance. Most parasite infections are easily controlled with a program overseen by a veterinarian and administered jointly with the horse owner.
Past dewormers are easy for the horse owner to administer, and feed and tack stores carry many brands of effective deworming products with instructions for their use in a cyclical parasite control program. Read the instructions carefully, and be sure to keep records of the products that you used on a given date. Use a calendar to help you record and plan your deworming program. If you write down the date and what product you used, you can simply count the weeks forward and write yourself a note on the date when it will be time to deworm again.
VACCINATIONS, EIA TESTING
Vaccinations are an inexpensive way to ensure your horse’s long-term health. Most horses are vaccinated twice a year. Spring and fall shots should be considered standard practice for all responsible horse owners. Show horses that travel to many events should be given additional booster shots because they come into contact with so many other horses. Included in most vaccination programs are inoculations for influenza (flu) and rhinopneumonitis (rhino), Eastern and Western strains of encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness), and tetanus. Other inoculations are available for common illnesses such as rabies and equine distemper (strangles).
Your veterinarian will recommend additional vaccines based on your geographical location and level of activity and travel. In addition to helping ensure that your horse will remain healthy, these vaccinations will give you a chance to meet with your veterinarian and get his or her informed opinion on your horse’s condition.
Equine infectious anemia (EIA) is a disease transmitted between horses by blood-sucking insects. Every state has regulations regarding the requirement of documentation that horses are EIA negative before they cross its borders. An EIA test (commonly called a "Coggins" test) is required at horse shows, clinics, sales, events, and campgrounds as well.
A SAFE ENVIRONMENT
More and more states support versions of an equine liability law that protects horse owners from litigation stemming from horse-related injuries. For example, in Illinois, stable owners should post the following message clearly wherever people and horses are found together:
Under the equine activity liability act, each participant who engages in an equine activity expressly assumes the risks of engaging in and legal responsibility for injury, loss, or damage to person or property resulting from equine activities. This law makes people aware of the general hazards of horse-related activities, although each participant is responsible to his or her companions and to their horses.