After a few years of leasing and lessons your family has decided to find the perfect horse or pony for your daughter (with the help of your trainer of course!).
But BEFORE you even find him/her you need to get prepared. There are A LOT of things that go into having a horse at home.
You can always take the guess work out of the process and hire a consultant or your trainer to help you. But, if you decide to go it on your own there are three areas to focus on in preparation for bringing your horse home:
Being a Horse Hippie means I really care about impacts to the environment from my farm and my horse care so look for my added ECONOTES throughout this article for ideas.
Let’s begin by looking at what kind of shelter and turn out you will provide your equine friend...
1 1) HOUSING:
Fencing and Shelters
Your horse’s health and safety depend on appropriate fencing and shelter.
The first fencing to consider is post and rail fencing. It is very safe and looks the best if esthetics are important. The downside to post and board are the costs and maintenance. Rails require frequent attention to make sure that the boards are in good condition and haven’t split or warped.
Horse wire fencing is a great option that is both economical and a safe choice. For horses it is best if the gaps in the wire are only 2 inches wide. Anything larger and a hoof can get caught and this can lead to accidents. Topping this kind of fencing with “hot” (electric) wire, or a board is important to keep your horse from leaning on and damaging the wire fencing.
Other options to consider are electric tape and vinyl fencing, each has it own set of pros and cons. Barbed wire is dangerous and should not even be considered for horses. The difference in cost between barbed wire and other fencing could be less than the cost of a vet visit to repair a barbed wire injury.
EcoNote: Use a solar fence charger to reduce energy/electricity demands.
A nice over view of options can be found at http://www.qualityhorsefence.com/horse-fence.html
Turn Out/ Pasture
Since having a pasture with grass is not an option for some areas we will label anything that’s not a stall or run-in shed as “turn out”. If you are counting on your turn out to be part of your horses diet than you will need at least 2 acres of good pasture PER HORSE. In the areas where grass is not an option so turn out is just providing exercise, an area with less acreage can be considered.
If your turn out is pasture the seed you use should be the correct one for your climate and growing conditions.
EcoNote: Always start with a soil test so you know your current soil conditions before applying fertilizer.
There are many great resources for pastures but I really like this one http://www.naparcd.org/documents/NRCS_HorseManagement-basiclandstewardship.pdf
Another great resource is your county extension service. Extension service has tons of advice on proper pasture mixes for your area and manure management ideas. http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/
Unless you want to deal with mud your turn out should be either thick grass or a surface that drains well.
Your turn out area should also be checked regularly for noxious weeds. Most horses with adequate forage will avoid eating these, but if the area has poor grass coverage, or you do not provide enough hay, they will eat the weeds and it can become a serious health issue.
The turn out (and any area where your horse may have access) should also be free of debris and rubbish. Be careful and remove anything that your horse is likely to get tangled in or hurt himself on.
If your horse is going to be turned out during the day, you’ll need to provide him with shade. If you have a pasture trees are one way to accomplish this. Be careful, though, as too much shade will depress grass growth.
Another option is to provide a simple run-in. For ideas on run-in sheds http://myhorse.com/blogs/barns-farms-ranches/build-your-horse-a-run-in-shed-with-good-planning/
If you have the budget you may decide to build a barn with stalls, feed & tack rooms and a storage area. I would highly recommend you work with a barn builder to assess proper placement, soil considerations and design.
Your horse should be fed a diet that includes all essential nutrients including fiber, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. The diet should reflect a horse’s individual maintenance needs plus any additional demands such as age, breeding, exercise, and health issues. For more read http://wp.me/p3rWHk-3N
A shiny coat, well covered ribs, clear eyes, strong hooves are all signs that your horse is receiving adequate nutrition. Learn to body condition and weight tape your horse so you can better assess his health and needs.
Horses are nomadic grazing animals which mean that in the wild they may travel over 12 miles a day grazing. So if you only have a small space and/or your horse is stabled, you must provide plenty of hay for them.
There’s a wide variety of healthy hay mixes that will benefit your horse. Choose a hay type based on local availabilities and caloric needs.
EcoNote: Use slow feeders for feeding hay. They are a great way to assure horses waste less. Eating slowly and gradually is how a horse eats naturally. Slow feeders help avoid boredom and can discourage behaviors such as wood chewing.
You should balance your hay with a vitamin/mineral supplement and if needed a formulated commercial feed. Pelleted feeds and grains are popular for many horse owners. Commercial feeds are specially formulated and come in different nutritional contents to suit horses of varying activity levels and demands.
A horse ridden every day will require more energy than one that is ridden only on the weekends. Feeding your horse too much can be nearly as bad as not feeding him enough. Both can cause medical problems which for which veterinary assistance may be needed.
Be sure to ask the previous owner what the horse’s diet was when you bought him and MAKE ANY CHANGES GRADUALLY OVER TIME!!!!
The most important nutrient you must provide your horse is water. Access to good, clean water is essential to horses, as they can drink from 15 to 30 gallons of water per day, especially in summer.
EcoNote: Avoid letting your horse drink from water sources on your farm. Fence them out of streams and ponds. Manure carries pathogens and nutrients that are best kept out of water sources.
Old bathtubs make great water troughs and there are also plenty of commercial troughs out there in a wide range of designs and sizes. Troughs need to be cleaned regularly to keep your horse drinking. A costlier but the most convenient way to keep fresh water available is an automatic waterer. These can be easily installed and in some areas there may be financial help through your county environmental initiative.
You should plan on checking on your horse daily. Knowing your horse, what he looks and acts like when he’s well will help you to know when he’s not well. A good, thorough grooming will allow you time to bond and to check for injuries, rashes or changes that might need attention.
EcoNote: There are many biodegradable and organic products you can use on your horse. The fewer chemicals you use on your animals the better.
Your horse’s feet should be checked/cleaned daily and trimmed or shod on average every 6 – 8 weeks by a qualified farrier. Ask your trainer for a recommendation based on your horse’s feet, exercise demands and affordability.
Your horse will need to be examined by your vet annually for health check-ups, vaccinations, dental and fecal exams. Necessary vaccinations can vary based on whether you are showing, exposing your horse to other horse’s and on your region. Be sure to discuss this with your trainer and veterinarian. An annual Coggins test will be required if your horse ever leaves your farm.
Regular fecal exams will determine what parasites your horse needs to be treated for. There is research indicating that using broad spectrum wormers without knowing what you are treating is leading to resistance building in parasites.
EcoNote: Chemicals that are not needed are excreted into soil and water so the less is best! Also, put your empty syringe into a plastic baggie before you throw it away so the chemicals don’t leach into the soil at the landfill.
Exercise or access to a paddock (so that your horse can self-exercise) is vital. It is unnatural and harmful to lock a horse up in a stable 24/7 without proper exercise. Bored horses can develop a range of bad habits, from cribbing to eating their shavings/bedding. Frequent turn-out is essential for a happy and mentally sound horse. Frequent riding and lunging can also help to mentally stimulate your horse, preventing physical and mental health issues. You should consider this when planning your farm as a paddock area and riding ring or trails should be included in your plans.
Illness and Diseases:
Knowing the signs and symptoms of common illnesses and diseases is essential to responsible horse ownership and basic care. It’s also important to know how to take your horse’s vital signs.
You should be able to recognize the signs of laminitis and colic, as these are serious, sudden, and potentially fatal conditions.
It’s also important to be able to spot lameness and understand common causes and treatments. You should know how to treat minor wounds, such as shallow cuts and abrasions.
Remember that when in doubt, call your veterinarian! A vet can give you some comforting advice, even if the condition is not serious.
Following the guidelines above, developing good working relationships with your trainer, your vet, your farrier and your feed store should get you ready for the big day when your new horse or pony arrives!
Peace and good rides, til we meet again...