Basics of Horse Care


The importance of a clean and adequate water supply for the horse cannot be over stressed. There are many different ways to provide water for a horse. Here are a few examples: (1) Water tank in the stable yard. During the winter an electric heater can be placed in the tank and fresh, unfrozen water will be available to the horse in spite of freezing weather. These tanks should be kept clean and fresh water put in every day. (2) Water bucket in the stall. These should be kept free of ice during the winter and cleaned out regularly. (3) Automatic drinking bowls: These are filled by a lever which the horse operates himself. This requires special plumbing and unless they are watched, are liable to become clogged or frozen during the winter months.



Grazing is the natural system of feeding and grass the natural food; eating a little at a time and throughout most of the day or night is the natural method. Hence, a well maintained pasture of natural grasses (not weeds, dirt, stones, gravel, etc.) will usually provide more than adequate feed for a horse or pony during the spring, summer and early fall. During the winter months additional feed must be provided using the guidelines given in the following paragraphs.

Because most of us do not have enough acreage to provide adequate good grazing land for our horse or pony we must year-round provide food for the horse or pony we own. The following guidelines will provide an adequate beginning feed program for the horse owner. Adjustments can be made as you get to know your own animal and as you consult your veterinarian regarding the care of your particular horse or pony.


Hay offers all that can possibly be required as a bulk food and substitute for grass. Hay should be clean, bright, greenish or grayish (occasionally brownish, but never yellow). Hay should smell sweet and clean. No stale or musty odor. It should be free from dust and not lumpy. Bits of hay stuck together are probably moldy. You should NEVER feed old, musty or dusty hay to your horse. It may make him sick, give him a cough, or cause respiratory problems. Second and third cutting hay is better than first cutting, as first cutting tends to have more stalk and less leaf (the leaf carries the protein). You should try to get hay that has been cut before it has flowered (alfalfa especially), as after it has flowered and dropped its seeds, it has lost most of its protein. Hay should be stored inside a well-ventilated place. Hay over one year old has lost some of its feeding value. Hay usually comes in 3 or 4 grades of quality. For your horse's sake, learn to tell Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor hay - and get the best or near best.

IN ADDITION TO HAY, GRAIN SHOULD BE FED TO YOUR HORSE, ESPECIALLY DURING THE WINTER MONTHS OR WHEN THE HORSE IS GETTING REGULAR USE. Oats offer a balanced, nutritive and readily digested food on which horses do well. Oats may be fed either whole, bruised, or boiled. They should be fat, plump and clean. Corn is a good addition to oats during the winter months, as it provides lots of body heat. Commercial grain mixes containing oats, bran, barley, etc., are also available for year-round feeding of a concentrated food. Of course, hay is always the staple food for the horse or pony.

A general gauge for feeding riding horses is: ½ bale of hay a day divided into two feedings and from 3 to 8 quarts of grain per day divided into two feedings. A horse should maintain the same level of hay but the grain should be decreased or increased according to the amount of work required of him. All increases should be given gradually, over a period of weeks, to prevent founder. If in doubt about proper feeding of your horse, it is advisable to consult a veterinarian to assist you.

The following are rules for good feeding:



Every day your animal must be fed and watered without fail.





SOME FORM OF SHELTER MUST BE PROVIDED FOR YOUR HORSE OR PONY. It may be in the form of a barn or may be a run-in shed. It should be a dry area protected from the wind, rain, etc. Shelters should be kept clean and free of debris. This will keep the area relatively free of flies and other insects that pester your horse in the warmer months. 

A stabled horse must be allowed outside to exercise and get some fresh air EVERY DAY. Horses and ponies must not be closed in dark stalls. THEY NEED SUNSHINE AND FRESH AIR just as we do. This point cannot be stressed too much. Many of the health problems of horses could be avoided if they were given ample time to exercise in the fresh air. It is unnatural and unhealthy for a horse to be confined in a stall day after day without the opportunity to move freely and have fresh air and sunshine.


If any part of a horse is more important than another part, it is the feet . "No foot, no horse." Yet the feet are often the most neglected and abused part of the animal. What about care of the horse's feet? The nearer to nature they can be kept, the better. Horses and ponies ridden on hard pavement or across rough ground need to be shod in order to protect the feet of the animal. The shod foot calls for care and attention, just as much as does the unshod foot. If you keep shoes on your horse they should be replaced approximately every six weeks to keep the feet in good condition. If your horse or pony is unshod, his hooves should be trimmed by a blacksmith every six to eight weeks to avoid cracking, chipping and spreading of the feet. Be sure to pick out the feet at least once a day - whether the horse is shod or barefoot. Small stones or dirt clods can get caught under the shoe, causing lameness.

If the stalls or sheds are not kept clean, you are apt to pay for this neglect by having your horse turn up with a disease in the feet called "thrush." Thrush is caused by dirty stalls, i.e., by the horse standing in accumulations of manure and liquid manure. How will you recognize thrush? By a bad color and a dark discharge. Both will be coming from a cleft in the frog of the foot. Long continued thrush causes lameness. The vet can recommend a medicine to clear it up, but this will take time and attention . The best thing is to keep your stable clean so that thrush will not develop. Be sure to pick out the feet at least once a day - whether the horse is shod or barefoot. Small stones or dirt clods can get caught under the shoe causing lameness.


As a horse ages, his teeth become longer, frequently becoming sharp points that cut the inside of his mouth as he chews, thus causing the horse to "go off his feed" and lose weight. When you have your horse wormed, you should have the vet check his teeth and "float" them, if necessary. This is a process where the vet files the sharp points off his teeth.


Should your horse or pony appear ill, often evident in his refusal to eat, consult your veterinarian. Any evidence of lameness - irregularity of action including stiffness or soreness - should also be handled immediately. First check for stones or dirt clods in the feet or any evidence of swelling or soreness in the feet or legs. Contact your vet if the lameness continues whether slight or severe.

For first aid for minor injuries it would be helpful to have on hand the following : hydrogen peroxide, cotton or clean soft rags, vaseline and salves for ordinary cuts or scratches. There are a number of these healing lotions or salves on the market. Your vet will be able to supply you with some of these that will serve the purpose for minor injuries. Hydrogen peroxide or alcohol are good cleansing lotions for cleaning out a wound before applying needed medicine. Vaseline is good to use when trying to grow hair back on a healed cut. Thorn or nail holes or other deep punctures or deep cuts should have the immediate attention of a veterinarian. For deep cuts over an artery, stop the spouting of blood by binding tightly above the wound until expert help can be secured.


Every horse owner has a responsibility both to himself and others as well as to his horse or pony to follow basic rules for stable safety.

The horseman must see that he does not allow his hands or other appendages to become entangled within ropes or harness attached to the horse, and at no time should he be tied or otherwise attached to the horse.

While horses have good peripheral vision, the new horse owner must learn to talk to his animal when approaching him from the rear to make the horse aware of his presence and thus avoid startling the animal into bolting or kicking. Perhaps most basic in stable safety is to remember that any horse or pony might be provoked or frightened to kick or even bite. All those associated with your horse or pony, especially children, must be educated so that they use caution and wisdom when working in and around the animal. They must not stand behind him or place fingers, faces or hands in a position where the horse might nip or bite looking for a carrot or other treat. Certainly shouting and running in the stable should be prohibited.

Tying horses or ponies is another area in which basic safety rules must be followed. These include tying a safety knot which will release easily in an emergency, and tying the animal short enough that he will not become entangled in his rope nor be able to place himself in a position of distress. Tying a horse properly when transporting him is also very important. The lead line must be kept short enough so that the animal cannot rear in the trailer injuring himself or the trailer.

Staking horses or ponies for grazing in an unfenced area is not recommended. If a horse owner does stake his animal, he must use extreme caution and constant supervision to insure that the horse or pony does not become entangled in the rope. The natural defense of a horse or pony is flight. If he should become caught up in his rope he is apt to attempt to run and cause severe injury to his legs. Any rope used in staking should be threaded through a garden hose. This precaution will help avoid entanglement. A "quick-release" snap on the staking rope will be handy in an emergency.

Halters can be a source of injury to horses and ponies when worn in the pasture. If you must pasture your animal wearing a halter, it is advisable to use a leather or rope construction type versus a nylon one, as these materials are more likely to snap, releasing the animal should be become "hung-up." One final note on the subject of safety. Proper placement of stable tools, especially pitchforks and other sharp pointed tools is most important for the horse owner's and the animal’s safety. Proper housekeeping in and around the stable including keeping fences repaired, storing equipment properly, and keeping the pasture and paddock free of debris will keep your horses and your family safe.


It is advisable, before purchasing a horse, regardless of price, to have a soundness examination performed by a veterinarian to avoid a great deal of heartache later on. If a seller refuses a veterinarian examination before purchase, by all means - go elsewhere! "Let the buyer beware."

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