Horses are ungulates – mammals with hooves. They also have long tails, short hair, muscular torsos, long thick necks and elongated heads. Due to domestication, they are found all over the world. There are more than 400 different breeds of horses. Horses can be as big as 69 inches (175 centimeters) from hoof to shoulder and weigh as much as 2,200 lbs. (998 kilograms). Tiny horses exist, too. The smallest breeds of horses can be as small as 30 inches (76 centimeters) from hoof to shoulder and weigh only 120 lbs. (54 kg).
Horses are very social animals. They live in groups called herds. In the wild, horses will live in herds that consist of three to 20 animals and are lead by a mature male, which is called a stallion. The rest of the herd is made up of females and their young.
Horses are herbivores. This means they only eat vegetation. Typically, horses eat grass, but domesticated horses are often fed bran, rolled oats, barley and hay, as well. A well-fed horse eats 1 to 2 percent of its body weight in roughage, such as grass or hay, every day. Domesticated horses are also given blocks of salt and mineral blocks to lick. This is to supplement the nutrition that the horses get from their food. Horses only have one stomach, unlike cows, and it is small. So to get enough food, a horse must graze throughout the day.
Caring for a Horse
Looking after a horse is a big responsibility. They have complex needs and require a lot of time, hard work, and money to ensure they stay happy and healthy. Horses can live well into their thirties, so it is important that you have a thorough understanding of the ideal diet, environment, behaviour, and health care before getting a horse.
Making sure you have basic horse handling skills is one of the most important things next to understanding what the basic health care needs of a horse are. And this is simply due to the fact that your safety depends on it! You could literally die by unknowingly putting yourself into a dangerous situation. Your actions and reactions matter when it comes to dealing with a 1000+ pound animal that can trample you, kick you in the head or throw you and/or drag you to your death. If you are new to horses, we cannot stress enough the importance of taking some basic horse handling clinics with a reputable equine professional.
You may not own a farm, but your horse requires a paddock of at least three acres. It is common to agist horses on properties with other horses. This works well as horses are social animals and will appreciate the company. Paddocks should be well drained so mud is reduced. They should also have a good cover of grass. Trees and shelter should also be available. Strong fences are extremely important. Wooden posts and rails are best but if wire is present it should be in good condition (not barbed), and have minimal loose strands. Ensure there are no poisonous weeds, rubbish, debris, tin sheeting or anything else that your horse is likely to get tangled in. Finally, try to find a paddock close to your home as you should check and feed your horse daily.
Horses are emotional and loyal animals, meaning you will be rewarded with many years of joy and friendship. There is also nothing in the world like the freedom and exhilaration of riding a horse at full gallop.
As long as their paddock is big enough, horses will tend to exercise themselves. However, they can become lazy and gain weight if they’re never ridden. Make time to ride your horse as often as you can. Ensure you have the correct saddle and equipment as well as protective riding attire, especially a horse riding helmet and smoothed soled boots for riding.
It is difficult to give exact feeding regimes as this varies significantly with your horse’s level of work or exercise, as well as the time of year and pasture or grass quality. In times of good, lush pastures, supplementary feeding may not be required with horses that are lightly ridden. When pasture quality and grass decreases due to shortage of water (such as in summer), good quality Lucerne or grass hay will be required on a daily basis for your horse to maintain body weight. Horses with high energy requirements, lactating mares and young growing horses, may require feed concentrates such as pellets and/or grains in addition to pasture and hay.
Horses can drink up to 45 litres or more each day, so always be conscious that your horse has enough water available at all times.
Shelter from sun, wind or rain is vital and this could be in the form of a hedge or tight group of trees. If your paddock is rather bare you should provide a shed or stable. Rugs are also a great form of protection from the elements and every horse owner should ensure they have one, especially if your horse is very young or getting old. If your horse is rugged, they will need checking every day. Make sure you keep your rugs in good condition and that they’re not making your horse uncomfortable by being too heavy or rubbing and causing sores.
Horses can injure themselves at any time, day or night. Find yourself a good vet who is experienced in handling and dealing with horses.
How often your horse will need to see a farrier will depend on a number of things. Are you going to leave your horse barefoot or have shoes on it? How strong are your horses hooves and how fast do they grow? Does your horse have any problems with it’s hooves – has it foundered in the past, is it lame, does it need corrective shoeing? Each horse is different, so the best thing to do is ask around, find a good farrier and consult them as to your horses needs. But as a very rough guide, assume that if you wish to have shoes on your horse, you will need to see a farrier approximately 6 weekly.
If you have just purchased a new horse and the previous owner was unable to tell you when the horse’s teeth were last seen by a horse dentist, then it is worth getting them checked. Or if you have a horse that is struggling to maintain condition on good feed, tosses its head a lot while being ridden or seems to be bothered by having a bit in its mouth, then it is worth asking a horse dentist to check them. Once the horses teeth have been done, a yearly check should be sufficient.
It is a good idea to worm your horse every 3 months. Make sure you use the correct dose of worm paste, and if you have more than one horse, treat all horses in the same group at the same time. If you have a foal, begin worming at around 4 – 6 weeks of age and worm 6 weekly until after weaning. After this time 3 monthly worming is fine. Check that the worm paste you use is suitable for foals.