Looking after any animal is an enormous responsibly, and horses are no exception. Each horse comes with its own set of needs, from what he eats to where he sleeps, but there are some horse care basics it’s worth being aware of from the start.
The happiest horses are always those who are living as closely as possible to the way they would naturally. Wild horses travel in groups and graze all day, moving around freely as they go. So it comes as no surprise that horses and ponies like to spend the majority of their time outside with opportunities to graze as and when they’d like, and to hang out with their friends.
They’re very social animals, and thrive on spending time with others so you need to make sure your horse has company; if he’s kept at livery this will be part of the arrangement, but if you’re keeping a horse yourself try to make sure he’s not alone.
The ideal paddock will have plentiful grass, be safely fenced in, and provide opportunities for shelter and dry ground all year round, as well as a constant supply of fresh water. Be sure to keep an eye out for poisonous plants in any field your horse is turned out in — it’s worth learning what the most dangerous culprits look like.
You also need a secure stable with plenty of bedding for when he comes inside: straw or wood shavings make for comfortable and absorbent floor coverings.
Some horses and ponies are ‘brought in’ to sleep inside for part of the year — for instance they might be hunting though the winter, which means their winter coat will be clipped, so they’d be too cold outside at night, even with a rug on. But horses and ponies who can keep their winter coats are usually happy outside ‘rugged up’.
Horses have evolved to eat mostly roughage which comes in many guises, from grass and hay, to haylage. Accustomed to feeding constantly in the wild, their stomachs have evolved to digest this way, so you will need to feed them little and often if they aren’t just turned out to grass, or if their grass is in short supply. Many horses in light work (most horses fall into this category) will also eat fibre cubes, or bran to help digestion, or sugar beet for some slow-release energy. There are many different options, and you’ll need to experiment to find the best diet for your horse. The main thing to know is you don’t need to order in any high-energy cereals unless you are planning on doing some pretty high-level competing.
Horses are animals which thrive on routine, so feed them at roughly the same time every day — you will quickly find you are greeted more than enthusiastically at dinnertime!
All horses require regular exercise appropriate to their level of fitness, and your programme of riding should fit what he is able to do, and consider what you’d like to be doing with him next. Most horses will benefit from getting out and about almost every day, even if just for a quick hack.
When you take on a new horse you should have had it vetted so you’re aware of any past health issues or ongoing concerns. All horses should be regularly wormed, and up to date with their vaccinations: you can talk to your vet about this.
Day-to-day monitoring of the health of your horse is usually built into your grooming routine as well as general observation of his behaviour. It’s helpful to learn some basic equine first aid, and to be able to spot when a horse has gone lame, for instance. Both the Pony Club and the BHS offer qualifications in basic horse care.