Who among us didn’t desperately want a horse of her very own?
I know many of us dreamed of having a horse when we were younger, and some of the lucky ones actually got to fulfill that dream.
Well, you’re all grown up now, and you still want a horse — but you have no idea how to take care of one.
The truth: Horses require a tremendous amount of care and knowledge in order to survive and thrive.
There is so much information about horses out there that a lot of people get overwhelmed when starting their equine education, so the following is an overview and a place to start.
Here are 5 factors to consider if you want a horse:
The first thing to consider is also the most boring — your finances. Understand right from the beginning that a horse is not self-sustaining and that you will be providing most, if not all, of the feed and care.
It won’t be just about the initial cost of buying your horse; it will be for the long term.
Just as with any animal, a horse needs food, shelter, water, medication and tools. Unless you plan on never going on vacation again, you’ll also need to factor in boarding or paying someone to care for your horse in your absence.
Then there are the ever unpopular vet bills, and with horses you’ll be seeing your veterinarian regularly. You may even get to the point where your vet is practically showing up for family dinner on Sundays, depending on the condition of your horse when you acquire him, the horse breed and so on.
Different strokes for different folks — we’ve all heard that expression, and it applies to feed for horses as well.
Every horse is an individual, even those of the same breed. Age, activity level, health condition and external factors such as weather and space are all going to alter the type and amount of feed you buy for your horse.
I cannot emphasize the following enough:
Your horse will not consume enough grass to support himself entirely.
This applies even if you have a field roughly the size of Iowa.
Your horse will need other items in his diet, and horses are master grazers — your field eventually will get chopped down by those teeth and need time to recover.
Yes, those horses in The Man From Snowy River were able to support themselves admirably, but times have changed. Horses have adapted to domestication. Grains, hay, protein, salt — all are required to create a well-balanced diet and a happy horse.
Please don’t buy a horse and then keep him in your backyard, unless you happen to have a huge lot. The general consensus is that you should have around 1 acre of space for your horse to move around and get some exercise.
Horses need exercise and play time. There should also be plenty of shelter so that your horse will have somewhere to go on hot days or stay out of the wind on lousy days.
This video discusses the space needed for a horse and several other useful tips:
First, you’ll need to brush your horse regularly. That means brushes.
Hoof picks are also necessary for cleaning out hooves. Horses’ hooves can pick up a lot of crud like mud and stones, and it is imperative to keep their feet clean. Rocks can have sharp edges, and the inside of a horse’s hoof is very sensitive. A sharp edge on a rock can cut the foot, bringing not just pain but infection as well. Mud also carries bacteria and sometimes manure (ew!) and again, this invites infection.
Your horse will also need usually a few blankets. They should be well kept, waterproof and well fitting. Old and ripped blankets aren’t going to be of much use. Your horse does have a coat, and it even gets thicker in the winter just as a dog’s coat does. However, it’s not sufficient to keep out the elements entirely.
Just like people, horses get lonely! It is recommended that your horse have some sort of companion animal to spend their time with.
This can be a goat or other barn animal, but another horse is best. So really, you’re looking at all those above costs doubled so that you can provide the best environment for your horse.
While the debate about horse intelligence rages on, it can safely be said that horses are not stupid creatures. Horses may have a different type of intelligence from our own, but intelligent creatures they are and that should be respected. Give them a pal to “horse talk” with, and they’ll thrive.
There is so much more to learn that just what we’ve discussed here. I highly recommend that if you’re thinking about purchasing or adopting a horse, spend some time in a stable yourself:
- Try to volunteer at a local stable.
- Offer free work in exchange for some hands-on education. Shoveling manure is where you’re going to start — hey, we all need to start somewhere! With a horse of your own, you’ll be doing plenty of that anyway.
In a stable, you’ll be able to really spend some time around horses and get to know these creatures safely before you have one entirely in your care.
You should also have a discussion with your veterinarian before you purchase a horse. Some vets do not handle large or farm animals and may need to refer you to a different veterinarian. Meet with your vet and allow her to give you an outline of some of the medical expenses and overall care your horse will need.
Do a lot of reading. Even better, talk with current horse caretakers in your area to find out how they deal with the climate and some of the challenges they have faced as horse caretakers.
Once you feel like you’re the new Horse Whisperer, it’s time to get your horse! Go out there and shop for all the things your new friend will need — and don’t forget the shovel.
- Top Mistakes People Make Buying a First Horse
- Questions to Consider Before You Buy a Horse
- Guide to First-Time Horse Ownership
- How to Avoid Contributing to the Unwanted Horse Problem (PDF)