Taking charge of a horse marks a significant commitment and often involves a steep learning curve, especially for first-time owners.
From feed and water, to exercise, shelter, and what to do in an emergency, there’s a lot to grasp for a new or aspiring horse owner. The benefits of owning a horse, however, are plentiful, both in terms of companionship and activity. Whether a horse is used for competitions, pleasure riding, or kept purely as a pet, the care basics are essentially the same, according to Suzette Bernadine Belgarde.
An equestrian expert and advocate of equine-assisted therapy from Faribault, Minnesota, Belgarde suggests addressing feed, water, and shelter first and foremost. “Regarding feed, horses must have access to adequate good quality roughage to keep them in tip-top condition,” she explains. Roughage largely consists of pasture, hay, or chaff. Belgarde advises feeding 1-2 kg per 100 kg of body weight, per horse, per day. “A salt lick or mineral block should also be provided,” she adds, “and, of course, working or competing horses will need additional feed.”
Next, Belgarde points out that fresh, clean water must always be made available, with a self-filling trough the preferred option. “Where this isn’t possible, water must be checked on a daily basis as a minimum and refilled as necessary,” she adds, also highlighting that a horse can drink up to 45 liters of water per day, especially in hot weather.
Of shelter, the equestrian expert advises a walk-in shed or stable, noting that tree cover also offers a degree of shelter from less inclement weather. Belgarde further suggests using a waterproof rug during wet or cold spells but points out that this must be checked daily to ensure that it isn’t rubbing, slipping, or leaking.
With shelter, feed, and water covered, Belgarde moves on to exercise and space.
Horses should be exercised daily or otherwise provided with adequate space to walk or run around of their own accord, according to the Minnesotan. “The only real exception here is where a horse is injured or sick and has been confined to a stable at the request of a veterinarian,” she adds. The equestrian expert also reveals that while tethering is acceptable in the short term, or as a temporary measure, it should not be seen as a way to contain a horse in the long term. “A tethered horse must be constantly monitored, and kept on completely flat terrain,” she explains.
Lastly, Belgarde addresses what to do in case of emergency, and how best to prepare. “Make sure there’s a solid plan in place for your horse in case of an emergency,” she says. “Whether something happens to your horse or to you personally, it’s important to define a plan which covers all eventualities.”
Belgarde continues, “Which veterinarian should someone call if your horse falls sick in your absence? Equally, if you fall sick, who will take care of your horse at that time?”
“Also,” she adds, wrapping up, “ensure that your horse is microchipped, as this will always allow your horse to be identified if an emergency arises, whatever the circumstances.”