A happy, healthy horse is a joy for many years, whether as a pet, in competition, or at work on the family farm. Just like anyone else in the family, however, health and happiness doesn’t just happen: it takes time and attention, and sometimes a little investment, but the results are worth the effort.
Here are seven tips to providing your horse with everything he or she needs.
Balanced nutrition not only ensures your horse’s health and prevents illness, but also maintains energy levels, a beautiful coat, and healthy weight. Start with a good quality pasture to provide the best foundation for your horse’s nutritional needs. The right mix of grasses, forage and herbs will vary according to your horse’s needs, the region you live in, and what type of soil or terrain you have.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your pasture is balanced year-round, providing as much variety and nutrition in the spring, as it does when autumn-growing grasses appear. Your state university’s Extension office can advise you on what seed mixes will suit your situation and your horses, including appropriate grasses, both healthy and toxic, and how to establish pastures and prepare seedbeds.
Beyond the pasture, your veterinarian can advise you as to the necessity or amounts of supplements such as hay, grain, pellets, and mineral licks. Nutritional needs can change as a horse ages, or during times of heavy training, pregnancy, or illness.
Shelter needs vary depending on your local climate and your horse’s breed, age, and health. Many horses are fine with a basic three-sided shelter in the pasture, or even a grove of sturdy shade trees. Others will need a solid stable with clean dry floors and good air circulation.
Whether inside or outside, always consider extreme weather risks when providing shelter, especially in areas prone to freezing, flooding, high winds, extreme heat, and other harsh conditions that can potentially be unsafe.
Horses kept inside for all or part of the year will rely on regular exercise to stay fit, more so than the horses who run at will in pastures. The weight-bearing exercise of riding helps maintain strong bones, while lunging in a round pen contributes to cardiovascular and respiratory health.
At minimum, all horses should have a regular opportunity to exercise freely in a corral or pasture, ideally with other horses, enjoying the opportunity to walk, trot, or play at will.
Exercise provides more than physical benefits, especially when it includes the company of people and other horses. The mental stimulation of interaction, getting outdoors, a change of scene, or fitness training also benefits mental health and contentment. A bored horse soon becomes an unhappy horse, and that can lead to bad habits like biting, kicking, overeating, pawing at the floor or chewing on stall fixtures.
If your horse must be inside for long periods, boredom can be alleviated in several ways. First, be sure he always has plenty of clean water and sufficient hay to munch through. Next, make sure he has company in other horses, familiar people, or even goats. Toys can be beneficial too, as well as surprisingly simple and affordable, such as a milk jug filled with rocks to rattle, or a knotted rope secured to the stall wall.
Another excellent way to keep your horse mentally stimulated and happy, and prevent future problems, is to train regularly. Training can be as simple as learning basic good manners, such as standing still during feet cleaning. Teaching your horse little tricks like smiling or making a simple bow will also help keep your horse occupied and happy, and give you both some together time.
Grooming is a great way to spend time and attention on your horse, and offers some vital benefits. First, curries and brushings will stimulate circulation, help the hair shine, and rid the coat of shedding hair and dirt. To go the extra mile for shows and special occasions, your imagination’s the only limit on braiding styles and mane rolls.
Second, your hands-on attention and gentle touch help build his trust and a connection between you. Third, and perhaps most importantly, going over your horse from top to toe every day will alert you immediately to any injuries or health issues.
7. Vet Care
When those health issues do appear, immediate attention is vital. Prevent serious conditions with regular checkups and a hoof-trimmings with the farrier, to keep your horse in perfect shape. Even with the best care, accidents and illnesses can happen quickly, so it’s essential to keep a first aid kit ready in the barn. Always keep your vet’s phone number in easy reach.
Hope you’ve learned something from our friendly tips on raising a healthy horse. A healthy horse running around the ranch is one of the reasons we all do what we do. Nothing quite like it!