All my life I've wanted my own horse. Actually never planned on having more than one. All those years of wanting, I didn't realize it's wise to have at least two horses, or some kind of companion animal, for a single horse because horses are so intricately wired to herd life of some kind. This was knowledge I gained through my own research and short term experience working at a riding facility. All I ever knew was that I felt, deep inside, horses needed to be a part of my life if I wanted to feel fulfilled.
Honestly, until I worked around horses, cared for them, and saw first hand the real work involved in their keeping, I didn't have a good grip on what was involved. I'm not complaining, I'm simply explaining to anyone who is thinking about owning horses and caring for them on their own, that you need to really research what it takes. Some of it will be trial and error but there is so much good information available, people can be prepared to own horses before they take the leap.
Don't take the leap, then decide it's too much!
I'm a very conscientious person. At times, overly responsible, if that's possible. I think it comes from being an only child. I have a need to do things as right as possible, but I'm flexible. I've had many dogs, cats and other animals in my life over the years but once again, in all honesty, owning horses is different from anything I've experienced in caring for other animals. In my mind, owning and caring for my horses is similar to how I felt raising my sons. Maybe it's just the way I perceive it.
So, I'd like to spend a little time just touching on some things I have learned as a first time horse owner.
I've read a variety of statistics on how much acreage you should have to comfortably keep horses. I've read 2 acres per horse up to 5 acres per horse. Whatever the correct number per horse, I'm here to tell you, it's never enough if you have small acreage. But you know what? You manage. At least we have. We currently have approximately 5 acres per horse (10+) of fenced pasture, the other 52 acres are hill and forest. Although, right now, it's not much of a pasture. The rains started over the weekend. My guys won't be going out to their favorite field for a while.
Horses EAT and EAT the green stuff out there in the pasture. You can rotate their grazing areas, which we do, but we never have enough pasture grass. Therefore, I am constantly supplementing with hay and alfalfa-timothy hay cubes. When I first got into horses, I didn't realize how important their nutrition and feeding needs can be. I have learned, as I've gone along, what works for us. I did have the good fortune of on-the-job training, so I had some experience with the necessities of feeding horses.
Sweet feed versus pelleted. My geldings came to me having been fed a diet of sweet feed and lots of pasture grass. They were, um plump, to be kind. My guys were also a bit hyper for Spotted Saddle Horses (aka TN Walkers), in my opinon. I realize sweet feed is the cheapest or should I say most economical for many, but for me, I got my guys off of it after about the third month I had them. I went to a 10% pelleted feed. They get 1/4 lb in the morning and at night. My guys are easy keepers! Hay is the bulk of their diet but I limit their intake to 2-3 times a day. I have to be careful with their weight. The vet already advised me on this. It's my experience, depending on the horse, sweet feed can keep horses a little hot, a little on the heavy side, and little wired. When I switched to the less sweet pelleted feed, both horses were more mannered at grain time and less pushy. There are lots of variations of feeds out there you have to decide what works for you and your horses.
Deworming. I was SO confused by this topic! I think I'm a little clearer now, after a few years of trying to sort it out. I finally figured out what "rotation" really meant. I'm not going to endorse any one deworming product or any specific rotation. Once again, you have to find what works, but it's not something to avoid doing for your horses. Not always a pleasant job either but one that needs to be done for the health of the horse. If you don't like doing the paste wormers, there are daily in-feed brands.
Mucking and cleaning up the manure. My guys have a run-in stall at the side of our garage/barn. My husband did a great job building their living quarters. Though the horses are not confined to the stall, they still are not polite enough to walk out to the field to drop their waste. So, I do have to clean the stall area daily. Some days are worse than others but its a job you can't just say, "oh, I'll do it tomorrow." I guarantee it'll be worse the next day! Then, it can become overwhelming. The best way to deal with it, is to scoop the poop at least, once a day. My guys love to roll in the fresh pine shavings (which I buy by the bag and try to use economically) I put down for them so I feel a beneft from my "housekeeping" chores.
Yes, some days you feel like that's all you do, feed, water and clean up poop, especially in the up coming winter months. But if you're like me, you do it because you love them and want them to be cared for to the best of your abilities. If you can't do that, then you shouldn't have horses.
Grooming. A simple task really. Every day, you should at least take a brush to your horses. This can amount to 15 minutes if you're rushed. Do I do it every day? No. Not always possible. But I realize grooming accomplishes a couple of things. One, helps you bond with your horse and most of them like it. After all, you're spending time with them as well as making them feel good. Two, you can check over their bodies, make sure everything is looking ok. You'll know when something isn't right if you groom regularly.
Riding. Well, this is something that I just haven't done enough of and I do feel guilty about it. I feel guilty because I never intended to have only "pasture poines" or "pasture ornaments" as my family sometimes teases me about. Not a thing wrong with having horses who fall into that category, but I originally had other plans for my guys. Horses definitely thrive on attention and I believe they do need a job. My guys get bored and tend to eat on the wood planks around the corral area or the trees out in the back field. If I had them in some kind of routine, I doubt they'd be bored. This is something I'm eternally working on.
Farrier. No matter what you think, you need a farrier for hoof care or you need to learn to trim their feet yourself. I do mean LEARN, not just guessing at it. My husband will do some rasping of rough edges, but I'm not comfortable with him doing much more. I'm not comfortable with myself doing much more myself because I feel I might screw up their feet. This, I definietly leave to a professional. Find a farrier you like. One you feel you can trust. One who seems to get along with your horse. Don't expect the farrier to take care of your horse while he/she is working on their feet. Be there! Hold your horse and teach your horse how to stand for his feet to be worked on. I just feel that is common sense! Personally, I wouldn't leave my horse in the hands of a farrier or anyone else without my supervision.
Vet care. I started giving my guys their yearly vaccinations a couple of years ago. I was a little chicken at first, but there's really nothing to it. My vet lets me purchase the vaccines. When I worked at the stable I was taught the correct way to give the injections and the correct areas on the horse to give them in. My thinking, I gave myself insulin injections for years until I went to an insulin pump, there's no reason I can't give an IM injection to my horses. Be aware of reactions though, so you know what to look for. So far, this has been a really easy chore with my guys. They simply stand there as if nothing happened. Couldn't ask for a better deal and it beats having the vet, a strange person, come out and get them a little excited. Learn to take care of minor injuries yourself! Have a first aid kit ready. There are some really good books out there covering first aid for horses. The one I keep on hand is Dr. Kellon's Guide to First Aid for Horses. It's helped me out a few times.
Fencing. Try to have fencing that contains your horse. Please, please stay away from barb wire! I was witness to a horrible leg injury thanks to barb wire and vow I will never have it on my property where my horses are concerned. There are tons of alternatives. We chose a rather expensive horse fencing which has smaller rectangular squares to keep horse hooves out of it. The fencing is stronger than some of the cattle fencing. We did all our own fencing. My husband, sons and I spent 6 months working on it, before I even started looking for my horses. A plus to good fencing, increases the value of your property! I've seen so many horses inside fencing that makes me cringe.
Ok, I've hit on a few things about horsekeeping that I think are important. Things you really need to consider before ever adding that horse to your property. It's amazing that there are people who think they can just buy a horse and put him out in the "back yard" and he'll do just fine. Those horses are the ones that often end up in the rescues or worse, neglected. You can't buy a horse at the local swap meet and just keep him in your yard! That's just not right!
Please, please, think out what it takes to keep a horse! Besides the love you may feel for the horse you find, remember it also takes money, time, and effort to do it right.