Many of us have always dreamed of owning a horse, but it actually entails a lot of hard work and effort. That’s not to mention the expense of keeping a horse, and all of the costs that that entails.
As a result, you may have been put off or overwhelmed by the idea of taking care of a horse. Luckily, we have created this guide to help beginners learn what it takes to look after a horse.
Horses are wonderful, intelligent creatures, and horse riding is one of the most thrilling hobbies you can have. However, if you are a beginner, there is so much to learn, and it can be a little overwhelming at first trying to take on all of the tricks of the trade.
In this guide, we will go over all of the basics about horses, what you can expect when taking care of one, and everything you will need to keep your horse happy, healthy and thriving. So, let’s dive into the first steps and basics of horse care.
To ensure that your horse is happy and healthy, there are a few things that you’ll have to keep in mind.
Yes, horses are very self sufficient, but they do need a lot of careful care, attention and maintenance if you want to keep them happy and well cared for for a long time.
You may have had dogs or cats before, but horses will take up a lot more of your time, space and energy! The basic needs of a horse are:
Horses will need specific feed, hay and treats. Some horses can have specific dietary requirements, and most will have sensitive digestive systems, so you need to have the right food for them at all times.
Your horse will need to be kept in the best condition. This not only looks good, but makes them feel good too. Grooming your horse can also be a good time to bond with your horse, and ensure that they have no medical or health conditions that need your attention.
A horse will need the perfect environment to thrive and live in. When considering buying a horse, you will have to ensure that there is a suitable living environment such as a field, or stable. If you do not have the room to keep a horse yourself, then you will need to consider a livery.
You’ll also need a lot of equipment for your horse, from accessories like bridles, lead ropes, saddles, blankets, and any other essentials that you need.
If you plan on keeping the horse in your own fields or stable, then you will also need brooms, wheelbarrows, manure forks and pitchforks to keep the stables clean and provide your horse with the best environment.
Health & Wellbeing
Another basic need you have to consider for your horse is their health. You need to keep on top of medical bills, vaccinations, medication and any health needs that your horse has. They’ll also require regular farrier appointments to care for their hooves properly.
Horses need a routine, especially those horses who work, so you need to think about incorporating a routine that suits your horse and their needs.
How To Keep Your Horse Healthy
There are a few rules that you can follow to ensure that your horse is healthy and happy. These are:
- Ensure the grazing area is free of poisonous plants or any hazards.
- Keep fresh water available at all times.
- Make sure there is appropriate feed for the horse’s breed/dietary requirements and workload.
- Check on your horse at least two times a day.
- Keep up with regular veterinarian checks and farrier appointments.
- Maintain clean and safe stables at all times.
- Ensure vaccinations and worming are up to date.
- Keep equipment in good working order and good condition.
Horses Kept In A Stable
Most horses that are ‘kept in a stable’ do not stay there all of the time, and will of course have outdoor time. However, when we say ‘kept in a stable’ we mean that the horse has access to a stable.
Therefore, the horse will be kept inside at night, and outside during the day especially during the winter months, whereas they will be in the stable during the hot summer days and outside at night.
If you are planning on having a stable for your horse, then you will need to ensure that it is of a suitable size for the horse. This will ensure that your horse is safe and has enough room to be happy.
For most ponies and shetlands, you will need a stable of 10 x 12 feet, whereas cobs and horses require 12 x 12 feet, and larger horses need 12 x 14 feet stables.
Keep in mind that these sizes are a rough guide, and are the minimum sizes for these types of horses. If you’ve got the space and the budget to go bigger, then go for it.
You’ll also have to ensure that the stable is safe, with no hazards, sharp objects or anything that your horse could injure itself on.
In addition, you’ll want to ensure that the stable is well ventilated, but is not too drafty so that they will be cold. It can also be beneficial to have a tack room or storage space for the bedding, rugs, tack, feed, hay and equipment.
4 Things To Consider For Stabled Horses
Now that you’ve got the stable sorted, you’ll need to be aware of how to take care of a horse in a stable. There are 4 things to think about when caring for stabled horses:
One of the most important things you’ll have to do with a stabled horse is keep the stable clean and maintained. This is called ‘mucking out’ the stable.
Mucking out involves removing any animal waste, used hay and sawdust from the stable, and adding fresh bedding or hay to the stable so that the horse has a soft, padded and comfortable place to stand and sleep in.
You’ll want to turn over the bedding and ensure that the hay is thick enough to support and protect the horse’s legs and joints if they lay down in it.
When in the stable, you will need to provide ample food, hay and treats for the horse. In addition, you’ll have to have a large plastic or rubber bucket filled with fresh water for your horse at all times.
Horses kept inside will need lots of exercise to prevent boredom, stiff muscles and joints, and can help keep your horse healthy and agile. Therefore, you’ll have to give your horse plenty of exercise either by riding, hand walking, or by allowing them to graze.
Horses kept in a stable will also need to be mentally stimulated as staying inside of a stable can lead to boredom.
To prevent this, offer your horse hay nets to slow down their eating and keep them interested, or offer toys such as hay balls and hang veggies such as carrots and swedes from ropes to keep your horse occupied.
Horses That Live Out
For many people, keeping a horse in a stable is not viable, and they’ll have to keep them in a field or have them live out. Whilst many horse lovers believe that this is the easiest option, that’s not always the case.
Yes, the horses can graze all day and keep themselves busy out in the field, but you will also have to watch what they eat and ensure that the grass is maintained properly all year round.
In addition, during the winter months, the horses will also need hay as food can be scarce or it can become harder to graze.
Horses that live out will also often need to be visited twice a day to ensure that they are okay, and to keep an eye on their grazing. You’ll also have to check the fields for any potential hazards, poisonous plants or food that you don’t want your horse getting into.
However, generally speaking, you have to consider whether your horse is suitable for outdoor living.
The only horses that are suitable to live outside all year will normally be native or hardy breeds, but less hardy breeds can stay out as long as they have some shelter and rugs to keep them warm and protected.
5 Things To Consider For Outside Horses
Horses that live outside will need a few things to keep them safe and healthy. These are:
One of the most important things for a horse is fencing to keep them in the right place, and safe from harm.
You have to ensure that the fencing is secure and not damaged at all, as this can prevent your horse from getting out and possibly injuring themselves, or going near roads and traffic.
You’ll also want to ensure that there are no sharp edges or gaps that could harm your horse, and keep on top of maintenance and any damaged fences, rails, posts or wiring.
You’ll also have to ensure that there is ample shelter for your horse.
Some fields can have purpose built shelters for your horses to stay out of the rain, or any harsh weather conditions, but if yours does not, then you have to ensure that there is natural shelter such as bushes, shrubs and trees enough to provide shelter from the rain or sun for your horses.
Maintenance Of The Field
Despite many people thinking that keeping your horses in the field is low maintenance, this is not always the case as you will have to keep on top of removing horse droppings, getting rid of poisonous plants, removing hazards and keeping the field in the best condition for the horse.
This includes rolling, topping and harrowing the field, which can often be done by the yard, or livery where you keep your horse. However, if you own the field, then this responsibility will fall to you.
Horses that live out have lots of grass and hay to eat whenever they want. As a result, they can be prone to overeating and can become overweight easily.
If you do not keep track of their grazing, then horses can develop laminitis during the summer months, so you may have to incorporate a starvation paddock or mini field, where horses cannot graze all day.
Particularly in the winter months, horses can damage the grass and poach the ground, making the field muddy and full of holes. The grass will need time to return to life, so you will have to rotate fields or paddocks to give the grass time to recover.
Feeding Your Horse
After you have organized suitable living conditions for your horse, you will have to think about which feed you will give your horse, and how much you should be feeding your horse.
According to the British Horse Society, horses need to eat about 2.5% of their body weight every day, with the majority of this being grass, hay and other roughage.
Horses also have very sensitive stomachs, and can have very delicate digestive systems, so you need to be careful how you feed your horse.
For instance, you cannot make changes to their diet drastically, as this could upset the stomach. Instead, you will need to incorporate new foods or alternative feeds slowly and gradually.
You should also know that horses are grazing animals, so need to eat pretty much all of the time, but in small amounts.
So, what you will need to do is ‘trickle feed’ your horse. This means giving them small amounts of food, but very often. However, they eat mostly roughage, so you don’t have to hand feed them all of the time, which makes things much easier for you.
Whilst roughage like hay and grass is the main food source for your horse, and will provide a lot of fiber, your horse will also need hard feed or concentrates. These are generally grains and cereals that can help give your horse some energy.
Horses that work, or go out hacking and riding will also need some hard feed, however, other horses and ponies that do not engage in a lot of activity will not really need hard feed. In addition, your horse can be fed succulents such as fruits and vegetables as little treats.
Horses love carrots and apples, and can even have swedes as treats, just make sure that you cut and chop them down so that they are not a choking hazard.
You may also want to feed your specially made horse treats every once in a while, but sometimes natural treats like veggies are best for them as they have no additives.
Things To Consider When Feeding Your Horse
- You should always give your horse the best quality feed you can afford
- You should always ensure that the diet you offer is balanced
- Feed your horse little and often
- Keep track of overweight horses and monitor grazing/feeding
- Measure the feed accurately
- Feed your horse according to their size, weight and workloud
- Ensure there is always access to clean, fresh water
- Make sure feeding times are consistent and the horse has a routine
Grooming Your Horse
If you are a beginner to horse care, then grooming is one of the most important things that you will learn. Grooming is the best way to create a close bond with your horse, and can help you find any skin conditions, problems or health issues as you will be in very close quarters with your horse.
Grooming the horse is not just perfect for creating a bond with your horse, but it is also good for your horse, as it will be very relaxing and enjoyable for them, too.
You will also be removing any dust, mud and debris, and keep the skin in the best condition. This is why horses should be groomed at least once a day.
You will also want to pay attention to the areas that your horse seems to enjoy being groomed the most, as these may be sensitive areas or itchy areas.
You will be able to tell if your horse is enjoying the groom as they may arch their neck or bunch up their upper lip to show that they are loving it! So, how do you properly groom a horse?
How To Groom A Horse – Step By Step
- The first step in your daily grooming routine should be the process of picking out the feet, and ensuring that no stones are lodged in the hooves. You can do this with a hoof pick, but be careful not to touch the frog of the foot. In this step, you should also be checking the condition of the horse’s feet and the shoes in case any have been lost or damaged. We recommend this hoof pick and brush to get you started.
- The next step is to brush your horse’s coat. To do this, you will need a curry comb. This is used first to loosen any hair, dirt and debris, but it will also stimulate the skin for better blood flow, and to help the production of natural oils to improve the coat.
- Once you’ve used the curry comb over the body, you’ll want to switch to a stiff brush, as this can be used to get rid of the hair and dirt that you’ve just brought up with the curry comb. A stiff brush can be used on the body to brush away any hair, but should not be used around the flanks.
- Next, you will want to use a soft brush to get rid of any grease and particles on the horse’s coat. You can also use a soft brush for the face, which can be very beneficial for the horse and enjoyable for them.
- Then, you’ll want to move onto the mane and tail brush to brush out the hair. You might also need to use a detangling spray to get out any knots.
- You may also want to wipe around the eyes, nostrils, ears and under the dock with horse wipes to remove any mess or dirt from those areas. Alternatively, you can use a damp sponge for those delicate areas.
- If your horse is shedding their winter coat, then you will also need a shedding blade to remove excess hair.
You should be grooming your horse daily, and especially after they have been out hacking or riding. After a ride, you should also wash off any sweat, and once again check the hooves for any rocks or debris lodged inside as they can cause discomfort.
All The Equipment You’ll Need
One of the biggest expenses when having a horse is all of the equipment. Horses require a lot of tack, tools, and equipment just to remain in good condition.
For instance, you’ll need feeding and water buckets, tack and rugs for riding, mucking out equipment such as pitchforks and shovels, along with brushes for grooming. So, let’s take a closer look at all the stuff you’ll need for your horse.
As mentioned in the above section about grooming your horse, there are lots of different brushes and combs that you will need to use to keep your horse’s coat healthy, from curry combs, soft brushes, mane and tail brushes and detanglers.
Tack is the term used for all of your horse equipment for riding. This includes the saddle, reins, bridle, lead ropes and any other accessories needed for your horse. You’ll want to keep all of your tack in a clean, safe place, and ensure that the leather is coated in balm to prevent any cracking or damage.
You should always check that your tack is in the best condition before using. You also need to be checking your saddle once or twice a year for the same reason, and store all of the tack on racks safe and out of the way.
You also have to remember to wash the rugs and keep them as clean as possible to prevent any dirt and debris from causing skin infections. Remember to check all the straps, buckles and clips on your horse’s tack and equipment before using, too.
Your horse will require lots of buckets for feeding, or to fill with water. The best kinds are flexible rubber without metal handles such as these ones. You might also want to invest in some hay nets as a treat, or for slow feeding your horse. You’ll also need rakes, brushes, shovels, a wheelbarrow and lots of other yard equipment.
We also recommend that you always have a first aid kit handy in case of any accidents or emergency situations.
For The Rider
There is also a lot of equipment you’ll need as a rider. For example, one of the most important things you will need is a helmet for riding to keep you safe in case you fall off.
You might also want to invest in a body protector in case of injuries, and you’ll want suitable riding boots. We recommend a helmet and a body protector and riding boots that are sturdy, pull on and durable for outdoor weather conditions.
Whilst those three items are the most important pieces of equipment for a rider, it is also worth noting that thermals, waterproof clothing and outdoor clothing will be perfect for keeping you warm and protected during all weather conditions!
Health & Care
The final step in this basic horse care guide for beginners is all about health. You have to be able to monitor and maintain your horse’s health. Luckily, we have got a few signs below of a healthy horse, so that you can spot any problems quickly and effectively.
Signs Of A Healthy Horse
- Temperature: 99.5 degrees fahrenheit to 101.3 degrees fahrenheit
- Respiration: 8 to 16 breaths per minutes
- Pulse: 28 to 44 beats per minute
It is important to note that these estimations can vary depending on individual horses, due to their size, weight, age and other factors. What is essential is that you are able to notice any changes in your horse’s health or behavior so that you can spot any issues as soon as possible!
Some warning signs that your horse may be unwell are lumps and bumps under the skin, white gums, restless behavior, lameness and many others.
For instance, your horse’s feces should be well formed, and horses will normally defecate about 7 or 8 times per day. If the stools are very loose, then this could be a sign of a health problem that will need to be rectified.
Alternatively, your horse’s eyes and nostrils should be clear and not have any discharge if your horse is healthy. You should also check the gums, which should be salmon pink in color.
You may also notice that your horse is unwell if their behavior changes significantly. Horses may become dull, restless or lethargic if something is wrong.
Most horses are alert, active and bright when they are healthy, but some may begin rolling or kicking out if they are suffering from some discomfort in any way.
Your horse should also be of a healthy size and weight for their breed. You should not be able to see the ribs, but you should be able to feel them if you press down.
In addition, you should not be able to see the hips, but the rump should not be overweight either. If your horse is overweight, then you may need to monitor its grazing and feeding schedule.
Horses can suffer from lameness sometimes due to an injury, and may limp or struggle to walk properly.
If this is the case, then you should contact a veterinarian immediately for advice and treatment. Some injuries can be solved by checking the feet, as there can be stones lodged in the foot, which can often cause horses to walk unevenly.
Another common health issue is colic, which unfortunately can become deadly. Your horse may have colic if they suffer from bloating, a silent gut, excessive rolling and pawing at the ground, laying down for extended periods, lack of appetite, and general distress and restlessness.
If you are worried about colic, then you need to put your horse in a safe area without any hazards, and remove any hay from the horse’s reach. You will also need to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.
You’ll also need to keep on top of your horse’s care by maintaining their teeth, looking after the spine and ensuring that they have no back problems, along with regular vaccinations, worming treatments, and farrier appointments.
Conclusion – Basic Horse Care
To conclude, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to horse care. But for the most part, it’s all about keeping your horse’s welfare in mind.
We hope that this guide will help you understand the basics of what a horse needs, whether it’s living conditions, feeding requirements, and which equipment you’ll need to invest in.
Just remember to take note of some of the basics of horse health and the common issues that horse’s face, so that you keep your horse happy, healthy and thriving.
The good thing about the horse community is that everyone is so welcoming and happy to help, so if you ever need any assistance just reach out to some others who own horses, your local farrier or another rider for advice!
If In Doubt….
One of the best pieces of advice we can give you is to ask for help if you need it. If you are ever unsure of how to care for your horse, or there are some aspects about horse care that you are unsure of, then simply ask for help. You can ask a professional or seasoned horse-rider to give you some advice about looking after your horse.
Alternatively, if you are a complete beginner, then it could be worth leaving your horse at a livery yard, where all aspects of care will be handled by those who work at or own the livery.
With your horse stabled at a yard, you will also get the chance to learn everything you need to know about horse care, and the basics of looking after a horse.
You’ll also meet other horse owners, and you can make friends and acquaintances with like-minded people. These horse owners can also give you tips and advice on how to care for your horse!
There’s so much to learn when it comes to horses. If you need extra information about how to care for a horse, or how much a horse can cost to maintain, then check out some of our other guides and informational content.
If you are a beginner to the horse world, then you might enjoy some of our guides such as:
- What Size Horse Should I Ride?
- How To Ride A Horse In 12 Easy Steps