While having a horse in the family can be a rewarding experience, it also involves a great deal of time, money and continuing commitment to the care and well being of the animal. A horse will be dependent upon you to provide for his needs 365 days a year, in good weather and in bad! Whether you keep your horse at home or at a boarding facility, basic care will cost several thousand dollars a year. The purchase price of your horse will most likely be less than the cost of maintaining him for just 1 year. So, before you acquire an equine companion, make sure you are realistic about your financial ability to afford quality care for him.
As a general rule, your horse will need to have pasture or hay throughout the day, with additional feedings of grain twice a day. An average size horse will eat approximately 20 pounds of food a day and drink between 8 and 12 gallons of water a day. Because a horse’s stomach is relatively small and his digestive system is delicate, he needs to nibble or graze throughout the day, rather than eat one or two meals a day. Horses require a constant supply of fresh water. If you use a watering bucket, it will need to be refilled at least twice a day or whenever it is empty. To prevent the bucket from being easily tipped over, place it inside an old tire.
At least once a year, you will need to have your horse vaccinated against tetanus and other diseases. Routine dental care, de-worming, and hoof care are also necessary for the health and well being of your horse. Every six to eight weeks, your horse will need to be seen by a farrier (blacksmith) for hoof trimming and shoeing. Also, keep in mind that medical emergencies are always a possibility and some can cost thousands of dollars to treat.
Horses are constantly exposed to intestinal worms from the ground they graze on. Therefore, they must be on an anti-parasite regimen which your equine practitioner will prescribe for him. Serious illness or even death to your horse can result if he is carrying a heavy burden of worms. Regular and timely treatment for parasites is crucial to your horse’s health.
Your equine companion will need constant access to a safe, comfortable and dry shelter to provide him with protection from rain, wind and snow. In sunny warm weather the shelter will provide needed shade and relief from biting insects. At the very least, you should provide a well-constructed, three-sided shed built so the back wall faces the prevailing wind, for your companion to retreat to at all times. It will also be necessary to remove manure from the horse’s stall or shelter on a daily basis. Proper bedding is essential for horses kept in a stable or barn. Straw is a good choice because it is warm, comfortable and inexpensive. Dust free wood shavings are a clean and hygienic choice. Rubber matting can be used for a soft resting or standing surface. In colder weather, straw or wood shavings should be put on top of it to provide warmth.
You should provide your horse with a paddock or pasture in which to stroll or relax. No horse should be confined in a stall all day except when recommended by a veterinarian for medical reasons. Although there is no exact acreage requirement for horses, one acre of pasture per horse is generally sufficient. The paddock or pasture should be bordered by sturdy, safe fencing that will keep your horse secure and safe. Barbed wire should not be used as fencing material for horses; it has been the cause of many serious injuries.
First-time horse owners should not go horse shopping unassisted. A friend or acquaintance who is knowledgeable of horses is a good resource and so are the hundreds of horse rescue organizations across the country. These organizations take in adoptable horses and match them up with appropriate adopters. A rescue’s primary interest is to ensure the horse and owner are a good match, unlike trainers or breeders who hope to gain from selling a horse. Rescue organizations have a variety of horses to choose from and in most cases if a horse doesn’t work out, they will take the horse back.
Remember, a horse can live well into his thirties and many remain rideable well into their twenties. Before you adopt an equine companion, be sure you are committed and able to provide him with good and loving care for the remainder of his life!