When I got my first horse at age 12, I knew a lot more about horses than my parents did… which is kind of scary, now that I think about it.
As a horse professional, I’ve seen families work hard together to make sure that their decision to get their child a horse was a good situation for everyone – including the horse. I’ve also seen families who have just kind of wandered into horse ownership – fortunately proving more often than not, that God really does protect fools and the innocent…
There are hundreds, if not thousands of things you need to know about horse ownership – but you don’t need to learn it all at once, and you don’t need to know all of it before you get your first horse – (if you did, it would take so long that this blog would be called “So Grandpa Wants a Horse”…)
I’ve rounded up 10 essentials – things you really do need to know before you should even consider owning a horse. And even if your kid knows all about every item on the list, you should still familiarize yourself with the impact these 10 things will have on your family’s time, money, and lawn (50 pounds of waste a day is a lot of waste!!)
- Horses are herd animals. What this means in a practical sense is that most horses would be happier not living alone. Some horses are OK with companion animals such as goats, cats, or even ducks or chickens. Warning – your very clever daughter or son will use this as an excuse to try to get you to get 2 horses. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
- Horses are prey animals. You might be thinking that since you don’t have a lot of Saber-Toothed Tigers wandering around your neighborhood, this shouldn’t be an issue. Think again. Part B of this item is that humans are predators. Think about that for a minute. Can you see why a lot of jumping around or yelling or waving your arms or moving suddenly might just scare some of that 50 pounds of waste (see item 9) right out of your horse? I knew you’d be able to figure it out.
- Horses are big… and fast. An average sized horse – one of about medium height and medium build,
weighs around 1000 pounds, give or take. A thousand pounds – as in half a ton! You do not want a horse stepping on your foot, sitting back to scratch his backside on your fence, or traipsing through your vegetable garden. And the fast part? Depending on the horse (and the situation – see item 2), horses can clock anywhere from 30 – 50 miles per hour. Now you’re beginning to see why you don’t want to stand in front of a horse that’s likely to feel threatened, aren’t you?
Horses can eat upwards of 30 pounds of hay per day. If you’re feeding the traditional square bales (which are actually rectangular, not square – but that’s a subject for a different post), you’ll need up to a bale and a half per day. A horse needs anywhere from 1% to 3% of his body weight in roughage. If you have ample pasture available, that’s great – horses do best with plenty of turn out, and decent grazing. If you don’t have lots of good grazing – the roughage has to be replaced, typically by hay, to keep the horses’ digestive system healthy (see item 9 again). Hay needs to be good quality, as various molds and toxins can make a horse seriously ill (yup, item 9).
- Horses drink an average of 5 – 10 gallons of water per day. This is the equine version of drinking 6 – 8 glasses of water per day. Water is an essential part of keeping a horse healthy and the digestive system working (just go ahead and memorize item 9). Some important points to remember: the water bucket or trough needs to be kept clean, if it’s hot, the horse may need more water than normal, and if it’s very cold, buckets and troughs freeze, but the horse still needs to have access to water – preferably slightly warmed to encourage him to drink enough.
- Horses produce an average of 50 pounds of waste per day. Yes folks, I said 50 pounds! Now,
tobe fair, that includes both manure and urine, but no matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of waste, and your neighborhood association might not take kindly to having that piling up in your back yard.
- Horses need to see a farrier every 6 – 8 weeks. Whether you call them a farrier or a blacksmith, your horse needs to have his feet attended to every 6 to 8 weeks on average. If you’re like many horse owners, your horse won’t need shoes, just to have his feet trimmed regularly. A good farrier is an incredibly important part of your support team. We’ll get into the care and feeding of your farrier, vet, trainer and other people in a later post.
- Horses need regular vaccinations. Depending on your area and whether your horse is kept in a small group or a large herd, your horse will need vaccinations a minimum of once per year. Your veterinarian will be able to let you know the risks specifically for your situation.
- Horses can’t vomit. I know you’ve been waiting for this one since you read the title (and if you paid
attention earlier, you should already have this memorized!) Horses, despite their size (see item 3), are rather fragile creatures. They weren’t meant to stand in a barn, eat big servings of grain, and only get exercise for an hour per day. If you remember that a horse is a grazing animal who needs to have access to roughage pretty much 24/7, you can go a long way to keeping your horse’s one-way digestive tract healthy. Think about a horse’s natural existence – grazing and moving most of the day. Give your horse the closest you can come to his natural environment, and he’ll thank you for it.
- Horses need care 365 days per year. I left this one till last, because it’s by far the most important. A horse isn’t like a bicycle or a car. You can’t just put it in the garage on the cold days or the rainy days, or the days where you just feel like sleeping in till noon. No matter what your circumstances are, they’re not your horse’s problem. By taking on the responsibility of a horse, you’ve pretty much signed a contract saying you’ll be there for him, no matter what…
To paraphrase the quote on the James Farley Post Office building in New York, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these horse owners from the eventual completion of their appointed chores.”