So you are about to take the plunge into Horse Newbie Land; good for you. You’ve had that yen to own a horse since you were a toddler and watched their magnificence on both the large and small “silver screens”. Will life with your first horse be as magnificent as it always appeared on film ? It certainly can be as wonderful and fulfilling as anything you can imagine – as long as you are prepared.
Don’t expect horse care to come natural to you. There is nothing natural about caring for a horse whose natural environment allows him to run wild and free. So the first thing you should learn as a horse newbie is the nature of a horse. What are horses like “naturally” ? Know that before you can possibly begin to know what to expect from your horse in an “un-natural” environment – which is where you will keep him – your environment – not exactly wild and free.
Your horse is big – how big will depend upon his breeding, and what activity you have purchased him for. He will likely weigh anywhere from about 1,000 pounds to 1,400 or even up to 1,600 pounds. Combine his size and weight with the fact that horses are naturally flight (first instinct when afraid) or fight (second fear instinct if flight isn’t looking possible for him) creatures, and you have a potentially explosive and dangerous situation on your hands, IF your aren’t prepared.
Just so you can be safe around him, and he around you, study what is natural about horses; and for sure, know what types of things might scare any horse, and especially your horse. As a newbie to horses, you should have made sure that you bought what we call “a bomb proof horse” – nothing will possibly frighten this carefully trained and processed horse ! That’s what you want for your first horse.
If you are going to be the prime caretaker of your first horse, you can’t be afraid of him. Size, weight, yeah, he could be domineering and scary. So be prepared. Study up. Know what to expect from your horse so you won’t rack up negative experiences that will be hard to overcome.
So your new horse is yours to care for. Did you ever think that you’d get to be the nurse maid, servant, and butler to a large, four-legged money-guzzler ? Yeah, that’s the other thing you need to know about that new horse – he will be expensive. So go into it knowing that; have money budgeted for taking care of a horse so you won’t be financially devastated by that reality. If you’re not prepared for the financial responsibility of owning a horse, you will end up hating the experience, and hating the horse personally. So be prepared for the cost of horse ownership.
Daily care and supervision is your next “need to know”. You will become more of his servant than he yours. He won’t take care of himself. You’ve confined him to your environment, so you will need to provide feed, fresh water, a safe physical environment, free from harm or possible injury. You won’t be looking in on him just on weekends, unless you are boarding him somewhere and paying for that service as part of your monthly stabling agreement.
Horses naturally spend the majority of their awake hours foraging for feed and grazing. Naturally they are even used to traveling great distances for feed and water, and this will keep them fit and healthy from an exercise point. If you will be confining your horse to a stall or small fenced in area, you’ll be hand feeding him forage feeds, possibly some grains and supplements, and keeping fresh water in front of him 24/7. So you will need to provide the exercise on a regular basis.
If your horse will spend most of his time indoors in a stall, you, or someone you hire to do it, will have to clean that stall, probably twice a day, and replenish it with fresh bedding, depending upon his access to the great outdoors. So, feeding, watering, bedding, and cleaning up after him will require a fair amount of time every day – 365 of them a year. Grooming him and keeping him clean and healthy will also need to become part of the daily ritual. If you aren’t seeing a pattern of time commitment here, you need to rethink this whole horse dream.
Horses in the wild can roll on the ground, rub on trees and branches, and scratch on nature to keep themselves clean and their hair “groomed”. If he doesn’t have access to those handy items of nature, you’ll have to do it for him, by brushing him on a regular basis. So add to that list of tack to buy, at least three different types of brushes (soft, medium and stiff), mane and tail combs, hair detangler sprays (2-4D works well in a pinch), clippers, and a curry comb, sweat blade and shedding blade. When spring rolls around and he starts shedding that winter coat, you will want to help him to lose it as fast as possible in sheer self-defense, so you don’t end up with it all over yourself for a month or so.
To blanket – or – not blanket… that is the question. You can read up on both sides of that issue. It’s a personal decision for you if you will want to blanket your horse in bad and cold weather. Just remember, that once you start giving him un-natural extra insulation and cover, don’t quit it in mid-season. If you are going to winter blanket him as soon as the weather starts cooling down, he won’t grow his full and natural winter coat. So you can’t quit blanketing him come the dead of winter. Do it, or don’t do it; but be consistent. Summer and warm weather blanketing is purely a choice to satisfy your needs, not your horse’s.
A driving reality check for you in caring for your horse, is to ask yourself what is best for your horse – not what is best for you. You have committed to owning a horse – realize that you are there for responsible for his health, welfare, and well-being, 24/7 – 365.
Always have fresh water in front of him; always have plenty of feed on hand for him; always keep his environment clean, dry, and free of debris and harmful object, and always be ready to be your horse’s first responder in case of emergency. Have a first aid kit in the trailer, and one in the barn for him to come home to the first day you bring him into your environment to co-exist with you.