Here is a very short list of basics:
Food, water, shelter, adequate fencing, farrier, veterinary care.
Sounds simple, huh? Well, it can be overall, but there is much to know about horses that can’t be listed on a “basics” page! But that aside, lets tackle each of those items.
What you feed a horse depends on several factors; geography, workload, purpose, etc.
Depending on where you live, some horses have very little need for food above and beyond what they can eat off pasture (as long as there’s enough pasture). Unfortunately, considering we live in North America these areas are few and far between. There’s either winter or arid conditions to deal with. So lets go with both of those:
Areas that have a winter: horses will need to be supplemented with hay daily, and possibly with grain and other nutrients.
Arid areas: horses may need to be supplemented with hay daily year round depending on how arid it really is. They also may need other nutrients and grain.
For more information, try Googling for information that pertains to your locale. You could also speak with a local horse vet, neighbors, friends in the area, etc. to gain a better understanding of the nutritional requirements for your geographical area.
Horses should have access to water 24/7. Period. That water should be clean.
Sounds simple, right?
It is until you factor in weather (water freezes in the winter, dries up in the summer, etc.) and the fact that horses drink 8-15 gallons of water every day. If you live in an area that has a harsh winter, providing water can be a chore. If there is no stream that doesn’t freeze over accessible to the horse, you will need to provide water yourself. This can be done in several different ways with varying degrees of effort.
Stock Tank & Heater – Winter
The stock tank can be your best friend in that it can hold a lot of water (generally a 100 gallon stock tank for three horses will last two days) and if you have a heater installed it won’t freeze. This can be a very reliable situation IF you have access to water to fill it AND you have electricity nearby to plug the heater in. Be aware that filling that tank on a very cold day bring its’ own set of issues such as hoses freezing, fingers getting wet and freezing, etc.
Even if you have a stock tank and heater, the tank should be checked several times per day to ensure everything is working correctly. If your heater fails and you fail to notice – you will have a huge heavy ice cube that will be difficult to deal with at the very least, and thirsty horses to boot.
Stock Tank – Summer
Obviously you wouldn’t need the heater in the summer, so it is best you remove it. Some issues regarding using a stock tank in the summer are mold, dirt and debris, etc. Mold does tend to grow on the insides of the tank, and needs to be cleaned regularly (at least once/week with a scrub sponge and then rinsed). Dirt and debris such as hay will regularly get into the water and (usually) sink to the bottom. This comes off the muzzles of the horse as they dip in for a drink (and some horses love to dunk hay in the tank, leaving debris behind). While the debris is at the bottom, it does cause problems! The vegetation will start to decompose, putting chemicals into the water that the horse then ingests. If you get close, you can smell it – it often smells like an uncleaned aquarium.
Stream or Pond – Winter
A stream that moves water through is not a bad place for a horse to get water. As long as the water is clean and moving, it’s probably ok. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to have the water tested (often times the county or area you live in tests water for free or a nominal charge). The issue surrounding a stream is that it can freeze over in the winter. You absolutely must have a backup plan in place.
Stream or Pond – Summer
Ponds often don’t move water through enough, and the water becomes stagnant. Streams can dry up in summer, just when your horse needs the most water due to heat.
At its’ simplest, shelter can be a good stand of trees. This can depend on geographical location, but trees can provide shelter from rain, snow, etc.
What is probably better, is a shelter built specifically for horses. The shelter needs to be 10×10 for the average horse, and grows exponentially for each horse you own. If they’re all in an area together, the shelter must be big enough for all the horses to get in without fighting occurring. The shelter can be three-sided, providing shelter from winter winds, rain, and the heat of the day (shade). Horses will also shelter in there from the bugs, which will bother them less in the shade.
The shelter, if open on one side, should face the prevailing winter winds.
A barn is a nice shelter, and when the horses are inside they provide moisture to keep the wood from drying out. It’s a win-win. The detriment of a barn is often unnoticed and unknown though… If your hay is not fresh, or is too dusty, a barn provides a nice enclosed space for all the horses to inhale the dust and mold from the hay. This causes illnesses that can be life or death for your horse, including “heaves” which is like emphysema in humans. It’s an expensive disease to treat, and is not something that goes away once it inflicts your horse. Eventually, the horse is suffering enough you have to put it down.
Instead of, or in an addition to, structures for shelter, there are a variety of blankets available on the market. If you are in an area that gets lots of snow and it’s quite cold, whether you have a barn or not you may want some good winter blankets. In actuality, if a horse is left outside over winter, it will grow a good coat of hair (the first year being outside the coat won’t be as thick and you should pay careful attention to your horse). If you resist putting a blanket on the horse until the worst of the worst weather, you will actually be doing your horse a favor. If you put the blanket on at the first sign of cold, your horse will probably not grow as thick a coat, and then will be chilled when you remove the blanket.
And don’t forget, eating hay generates heat for the horse! Save their biggest meal for their last meal of the day, and try to feed it as late as possible in the evening. Give them a little extra hay if it’s going to be a particularly cold night. It helps keep them warm, and also releases at least some of the boredom of a long winters night. Try to feed a bit lighter in the daytime though, as you don’t want your horse overweight!
There are many different types of fencing on the market today that are fantastic for horses. There is post and rail fencing (which you might want to add electric fence to, as the horses will lean on the fence and scratch themselves silly, thereby making the fence lean over or even knocking it down), Horse Guard type fencing (http://www.horseguardfence.com/index.php) which looks great and works great.
The one thing I will warn you about is not to use barbed wire fencing. Barbed wire fencing is meant for cattle, who have thicker skin and are less prone to flight. When a horse spooks and runs into a fence, it can receive extreme injuries that end up with highly costly vet bills, or even death. Horses have been “de-gloved” from barbed wire.
Similarly, the electric fence that is similar to a thin rope or string can de-glove. This should only be used as a deterrent to scratching on wooden fences.
Sometimes, if people purchase a farm that has barbed wire fencing, they place electric fencing in from the barbed wire, to keep the horses away from it. This works, until a freak storm or wildlife spooks the horses into running into it.
There is horse fence, which is similar to page wire (but more expensive of course) but with narrower openings. This fence is excellent but definitely one of the more costly alternatives. The great thing about the narrower openings is that horses can not fit a hoof through the opening.
One last note, if you use t-bars to hold page-wire (which is not recommended – horses can put a hoof through the hole in the fence and get hung up, especially when rolling) or horse fence, you absolutely should put caps on the tops of the T-bars. Horses have impaled themselves on the t-bar, and it ends (again) with costly vet bills and/or death. For a few bucks per t-bar, it’s cheaper in the long run to put the caps on than to hedge your bets.
Unless you are actually trained to trim and shoe a horse, I would strongly advise you to hire a farrier. Where I live, it’s 35$ for a trim, and 85$ for a trim with front shoes. The farrier has gone to school to do this – don’t pretend you can. Don’t guess you can. No matter how often you’ve “watched” a farrier. There are many things at play when it comes to trimming and shoeing a horse. Not the least of which is the angle of the bottom of the hoof. This is very important when it comes to the least amount of strain on the legs and back. Imagine the difference between tottering around on stiletto heels or walking about in flat sandals. The heels are nice for the short-term, but you’d not want to be forced to walk on them 24/7/365.
Farriers usually need to trim anywhere from every 5 to 8 weeks.
At the very least, your horse should have a veterinary visit annually. This will cover shots and possible floating of teeth (horses teeth can get sharp points on their teeth which causes pain in the mouth – a common issue in neglected horses who start losing weight even on pasture). You may also need to call in the vet if your horse gets injured. Trust me when I say your horse will probably need a vet call at least once/year for injury. I often say a horse could injure itself wrapped in bubble wrap in a padded room. They seem to look for trouble. So be sure there are the fewest things they can injure themselves on in their environment as possible.
Leaving a horse injured without veterinary care causes the horse suffering, and can open you up to a mess of trouble – including criminal charges of neglect and/or abuse as well as fines and jail time.
Please see “When to Call the Vet” for further information.