Buying your first horse is life-changing. Even if you have been riding for a while, horse ownership comes with its own rewards — and its own responsibilities. This horse will be your long-term partner, and to maintain an enjoyable partnership, you need to provide quality care. Like most horse owners, you will learn from experience and become more competent over time. However, there are a few key things that are important to know from day one as a horse owner.
Good Farrier Care Is Essential
There’s an old saying that goes “no hoof, no horse,” and it is very true. You cannot have a healthy, happy horse without healthy feet. Routine, quality farrier care will keep your horse’s feet in proper balance.
Not all horses need shoes, but even those who are barefoot should see the farrier every 6 to 8 weeks from a trim. If the feet are allowed to grow too long between trims, the angle of the hoof can become distorted, which can cause strain on the tendons and ligaments. So, you can think of hoof trims as being important for injury prevention. The farrier can keep an eye on your horse’s hoof health and let you know if your horse needs shoes for improved comfort and support.
The Veterinarian Is Your Friend
Ask who the horse’s previous owner used as a veterinarian. If possible, keep using that same vet. They know your horse’s health history, which will allow them to provide more specialized care.
All horses should see the vet once a year for annual vaccines. Your vet can let you know which vaccines are best for your horse, but in most cases, they should be vaccinated for rabies, equine influenza, eastern and western encephalitis, and equine herpes virus. In mosquito-heavy areas, your vet may recommend vaccinating for West Nile Virus.
Your horse should also have their teeth floated annually. This is a procedure in which either your vet or an equine dentist files down any sharp points on the teeth to prevent injuries to the cheek and gums. Some horses, especially seniors, need more frequent dental care.
Chore Routines Keep You On-Track
If you board your horse, the stable will generally take care of tasks like cleaning stalls, spreading manure, and feeding your horse. But the list of chores can still feel insurmountable. You have to clean your tack, groom your horse, pick their feet, wash saddle pads — the list goes on and on.
Most horse owners find that the best way to ensure chores get done is to create a routine. Make a list of four or five things you do every time you go to the barn. Maybe this includes brushing your horse, picking feet, cleaning water buckets, applying fly spray, and wiping down tack. Make a separate list of chores you do every weekend. This might be things like washing saddle pads, cleaning your boots, and sanitizing feed bins.
Your Tack Must Fit
When you enter horse ownership, it is well worth investing in quality tack. Your tack does not have to be the most fashionable, but it does need to fit. A well-fitting saddle will keep your horse comfortable, prevent back soreness, and ensure riding remains a fun experience for both of you. A well-fitting bridle won’t pinch or rub, and will help you communicate clearly with your mount.
If you have room in your budget, it is well worth hiring a saddle fitter to check whether your tack fits, recommend new tack, or make adjustments to the tack you have. Keep in mind: horses change shape as they age and as they become more fit, so you’ll want to have your tack re-fitted periodically.
Water and Forage Are The Keys to Health
Equine nutrition is a complex science, and to some degree, every horse’s needs are a bit different. However, there are two things every horse needs plenty of for good health: water and forage.
You should always keep fresh, clean water in front of your horse so they can drink whenever they feel thirsty. Automatic waterers are convenient, but make sure your horse is comfortable drinking from one. Some are not. Regardless of the type of waterer you use, scrub it regularly to prevent algae growth.
Horses can become dehydrated quickly on hot days, and dehydration often leads to colic. If your horse isn’t drinking enough in hot weather, adding electrolytes to their feed can help stimulate thirst.
Horses are grazing animals, and their digestive tracts are adapted to them eating for much of the day. Horses who go a long time between meals are at risk for gastric ulcers and colic. So, you should keep forage in front of your horse for as many hours of the day as possible. Forage can be pasture grass or hay. If you find your horse is eating their hay too quickly, put it in a slow-feed hay net. This will slow your horse down so they spend more time eating.
Lessons Are for Everyone
Whether you’ve been riding horses for three years or thirty years, it’s important to take lessons and continue to hone your skills. A trainer will see things from the ground that you don’t feel from the saddle. They can help you identify and work through problems in your riding. A trainer is likely to spot a “problem” with your riding early on before it becomes a habit that’s hard to break.
Groundwork Is Important
An important part of horse ownership is forming a bond with your horse. That is largely accomplished with groundwork. Look for different exercises you can do with your horse on the lead line, lunge line, or long lines.
Many groundwork exercises focus on building your horse’s strength, agility, and responsiveness. However, they will also help build your relationship with your horse so you’re better able to communicate with them under saddle. Skills your horse learns through groundwork, such as giving to pressure, will transfer to ridden work.
Horse ownership can be incredibly rewarding. Over time, the bond you have with your horse will only deepen, and you’ll become more acutely aware of their needs. If you’re looking for a way to strengthen your relationship with your new horse, consider the subscription-based videos from Easy Horse Fix. Ou lessons are designed to help you and your horse learn, grow, and work through common problems as a team.