Basic Horse Care
By Rob Daniels
Horses are amazingly beautiful and sensitive creatures. Horses require not only understanding and patience to have a horse as a pet, it also requires a whole lot of care.
Observe horses in the herd system, each horse’s welfare in the wild depends upon an instinctive submission to the discipline of the herd. The instinct is for immediate action. To the horse, action is survival. When horses live in an herd environment, they often take turns sleeping and standing guard for any predators. When the leader of the herd signals danger they take flight.
Learning respect and ascending to authority starts on the first day of life for the foals, there is a distinct pecking order in herds of horses.
It is important to keep a quiet profile around horses. Horses naturally do not like unnecessary noise because in the wild their survival depends on detection of predators with their hearing. Extraneous noise interferes with this predator detection. This predator detection is tightly coupled with a horse’s flight reflex. Due to these survival genetics, horses have a physiological wiring in their brains that predisposes them to prefer quietness and to become bothered by unnecessary noise. Many horses can get startled easily from abrupt noises and this could result in injury to the horse, the rider, or people around the horse. Talk to your horse in a quiet, reassuring voice.
Relationship With Horses:
A horse will love you if, first and foremost, you treat it fairly, and secondly, if you allow yourself to develop a relationship with it in the same way you would a human partner. There are too many who will look after the horse’s material needs but put nothing back into the partnership itself. The horse born in captivity will identify with an alternative provider and companion, resulting in a healthy relationship from the beginning. A healthy relationship with your horse requires: trust, coupled with respect, fondness with compliance, and a desire to please.
Check Your Horse:
Examine your horse every day and especially prior to riding the horse. Carefully examine the horse’s legs and back for any unusual heat or lumps. Make sure that the horse’s eyes are alert and not glazy. Listen for any excessive noise or gurgling sounds coming from your horse’s stomach. Catching problems before they become serious is critical to keeping a show horse sound and alive.
Exercise caution and discretion when around stallions and mares when they are in heat. They are dealing with hormones on an order of magnitude that you probably can not comprehend. Stallions typically bite and some may be easily triggered into violent behavior.
Keep your horse clean. Keep your horse’s entire coat free from dirt, mud, sand, and sweat. Brush your horse every day. Pick out your horse’s feet every day. Wash out any sweat residue from the saddle pad or girth every day. Wash out any dirt or sand residue, as from the riding arena, on your horses legs every day. A number of different problems can result if a horse’s coat is not kept clean.
Keep your horse’s stall clean. Make sure that your horse’s stall is cleaned every day. Be sure that any wetness is removed with the manure. Replace the removed bedding with fresh, clean, dry bedding. Water should be dumped from buckets every day without exception. Unhealthy dirt and bacteria can build up in a bucket if it is not cleaned on a daily basis. Clean water is essential to maintaining a healthy horse. Make sure your horse always has clean, fresh water available.
Training A Horse:
The intelligence of the horse increases rapidly with education. An intelligent trainer can make an intelligent horse. A kind but firm trainer will result in a disciplined but pleasing horse.
Feed your horse(s) at the same times every day. A horse may get upset and colic or injure themselves by kicking the stall or pawing, if not fed when feeding is expected. You should not make radical changes in a horse’s feed program. If you must make a change in the feed program, make the change gradually. Drastic changes in a horse’s feed program can cause the horse to colic and in some cases, may die. Your horse’s stomach is a highly sensitive bio-reactor that maintains a delicate balance of the organisms that digest food in your horse’s digestive track.
Visitors should not feed a horse that you do not own without the owner’s permission; no carrots, no apples, no treats, nothing. The horse could potentially, get sick if they have an allergy or sickness.
Pay attention to everything that goes into your horse; that means all feed, all hay, all water, all treats, all supplements, all pills, and all shots. This knowledge could save your horse’s life in an emergency situation. Post this information on your horse’s stall door so that it is available to a vet if you are not around in an emergency. Make sure that your horse gets high-quality feed and hay. Your horse’s health and soundness depends on the nutrition that you provide for them. Take good care of your horse. A rider without a horse is no rider at all.
Make sure that you have a good equine veterinarian. A good vet will save you money in the long run and may save your horse’s life some day. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make sure your horse has all the vaccinations that are normal for your geographical location. All horses should be on a good worming program to control intestinal parasites. A horse should be wormed by a vet at least twice a year.
In the summer spray your horse trailer down with fly spray about 10 minutes before you load the horses. The flies should leave, and your horses will be without those pesky flies!
Never spray a hot, sweaty horse with cold water immediately after working the horse. This can cause muscle spasms and binding, or shock that can lead to death. Wait until the horse is breathing regularly, and use warm water if it is available. If a horse has heat shock, consult your vet and the vet may instruct you to cold hose the horse, even if still hot and sweaty. Never put a horse in a stall or confined area while sweaty or while they are still breathing heavily. This can result in shock and/or colic that can lead to death. Walk the horse until the horse is cooled out and the breathing is normal.
Horses’ hooves generally grow approximately 1 cm in a month, and take nearly a year to grow from the coronet band to the ground. Horse’s hooves need to be trimmed regularly (about every 6-8 weeks). Shoeing a horse does not hurt them. If you were to grow out your finger nail, you could put an earring/pin through it without causing discomfort; however, if you pushed the pin through the part of your nail that is attached to the soft tissue of your finger, it would hurt. When horse shoes are nailed in, they are nailed at an angle so which the horse doesn’t feel it.
Make sure that you have a good farrier, especially if you show your horse over jumps. The concussion from landing from jumps amplifies any problems in a horse’s shoeing. If a horse gets sore feet or legs from bad angles or bad shoeing, the horse can not just take his shoes off, sit back on a couch, and rub their feet, or find another pair of shoes like you can. Bad shoeing can result in your horse becoming lame due to a number of problems including: bowed tendons, popped splints, or shoulder/back soreness or spasms. Bad shoeing can ruin a good horse, so don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish where shoeing is concerned. A laid-up horse is far more expensive to maintain than a good farrier. And remember not all horses need to have shoes, only if they are competing, walking on hard/rocky surfaces, or have hoof problems.
Horses do lay down to sleep, but only if they feel completely comfortable in their environment. It is not enough to provide a dry stable, food and water. Horses will often sleep standing up by locking their knees. Horses are one of the few animals that can put one half of their body asleep while the other half is wide awake. Emotionally and mentally, all horses need to feel they have and be comfortable in their own space!
To fully enjoy a horse’s finer qualities you must treat them with both kindness and quality care. In the end, a happy horse will mean a nicer ride and a happier rider.
Rob Daniels has been an equestrian rider for 25 years. He has studied various disciplines additional articles are available at: Riding Stable – http://www.riding-stable.com and Horse Stall http://www.horse-stall.net.
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