So, did you move to the country and have room for a horse or did you talk your parents into one and are going to board it at a local stable? There are several aspects of horse ownership you should consider before rushing into purchasing your first horse. First, why are you going to buy a horse — to trail ride, a 4H project, do wagon rides or just a pet to take care of (that’s what we call a pasture ornament!). And that’s the easy part. Other factors include how much and what to feed, what veterinary care is needed, finding a good farrier and avoiding common medical problems.
Housing Your Horse
Did you decide on a miniature horse or pony, a regular sized riding horse or a draft horse? Which one you chose plays an important part in everything else that follows. How much space you need for grazing and a barn stall (for bad weather) depends largely on the size of the horse. A 250-300 pound pony or miniature horse needs only a small barn stall and very little pasture, but needs hay for the whole year whereas, a 1500+ pound draft horse needs quite a bit of pasture unless you are going to feed hay (a lot of it!) all year long and requires a much larger barn stall.
You will also need to consider manure removal if a barn stall is used the majority of the time. A compost pile is a nice place for this if you have your own farm (nice for the garden in a year or so).
What to Feed My Horse
Again, the feed that is required depends largely upon the size of the horse. As you can expect, the larger the horse, the more feed one needs (and hence the higher the cost to you). Activity also plays a role in feeding. A performance or working horse needs more than the usual pasture ornament or non-working horse. Age is a factor as well. Is your horse a growing colt, a pregnant or nursing mare? They obviously need more nutrition.
My Horse Health
Equine veterinary information is best obtained from your local veterinarian that deals with horses on a regular basis. If there is a breeding farm or stables near you, they should be able to help you with finding reliable information. What you and your horse will be doing is the most important factor involved with what vaccinations are needed. If you never leave your farm, there are no close neighboring horses and only trail ride by yourself, minimal vaccinations are needed such as tetanus, rabies and west nile (if you live in an area with lots of mosquitoes) vaccinations.
If you have a 4H horse, go all over the country on trail rides or go to the local fairs and festivals, a Coggins test (blood test for Equine Infectious Anemia) is mandatory and most veterinarians would also recommend a five-way respiratory vaccine, rabies, west nile and possibly a Potomac Horse Fever vaccination protocol to keep your horse protected against anything he/she might come into contact with at these multi-horse events. A good farrier is a must to keep your horse’s hoof health at it’s best.
Parasite Control in Horses
Deworming is an important part of health care for your horse. The biggest factor here is space. Do you have a 100 acre pasture for 1-2 horses to run on, or is it in a barn stall the majority of the time or in a small paddock and how many horses are in the close area (manure pileup is important to parasite prevention). There are many different types of horse deworming medicines on the market and which one you use depends on what area you are located in.
Some advise a monthly deworming, some every 2 months. If you are unsure, an intestinal parasite examination (known by most as a fecal) can be done by your veterinarian occasionally to see about worm burdens in your area especially if you are on a new farm or area. There are many types of dewormer products on the market such as pictured here-Equimax and Pyrantel as well as Panacur pastes.
When I moved to where I now live, I did fecals for a few months to determine what type of worms were in my area and therefore what type of deworming rotation was needed. This has been very helpful for my clients when they are not sure how often deworming is needed. There is no need to medicate your horse if it is not needed. The biggest problem I see with this area is wrong dosages, in other words, make sure what you buy treats the size of your horse. A lot of the cheaper products on the market only cover 1000 pounds of horse, when the typical riding horse in my area is usually 1100-1200 pounds. Too low a dosage is a total waste as it does nothing. Often local fairgrounds have a scale that they weigh market steers on and may be able to help with this or a local feed mill or if there are any horse or pony pullers in your area, often they have scales to keep track of their horses weights. Most horse owners are helpful to new horse owners in their area so don’t be afraid to ask questions of your neighbors.
Horse Medical Problems
There are some common horse medical problems that can be avoided with proper management practices such as regular veterinary and farrier care, proper feeding and appropriate vaccination and deworming schedules. Colic is one that may be avoided but can also happen due to factors beyond or out of your control such as sand colic which can be seen in states such as Oklahoma and Texas where some soils of the grazing land is very sandy and if overgrazed, can cause problems. Other problems such as cuts, bruises, wildlife attacks (coyotes, mountain lion or bears), reproductive issues and lameness from the icy or muddy weather are very hard to control.
With proper care and consideration, a new horse can be quite a nice addition to the family. Just remember, if you want to have a working horse (be it trail riding, team penning cattle or barrel racing) that they should be treated like the “athlete” that they are and need to be conditioned and trained for the events that you are interested in pursuing so that a lot of problems can be avoided. After all you don’t run a marathon without training first do you?