Horses are a big responsibility. Not only do they require a lot of time and attention, but they also need proper care. Here are some basic tips to help keep your horse healthy and happy written by a contributor to this site.
Daily Horse Health Checks
There are several horse health checks you can do yourself and should do daily. The important thing is to get to know your horse. If you know what is typical for your horse, you will notice when things are different.
By catching problems early, you can avoid more serious problems. It is important to assess your horse’s condition often. Observe your horse daily or run through the checklist whenever something alerts you to a possible problem.
Is your horse off his feed? Many horses (and people) lose their appetites when they’re not feeling well.
Has the horse had a behaviour change? Baldy and Scarlett are good examples of noticing behaviour.
- Baldy – I started to mount him bareback and received a big bite on my rump.
- Scarlett – I started to mount her bareback and she knocked her head on my shoulder while dancing away.
Why did this happen? With Baldy, that was his typical behaviour. If I didn’t watch him carefully, he would bite at every chance. With Scarlett, that was a behaviour change. She was a very gentle mare. I usually would catch her in the field and ride her bareback to the barn before grooming and saddling. Immediately, I started to check her over. She had a sore on her back from her owner putting on the saddle blanket and saddle wrong the previous day, riding her hard and then turning her out into the pasture without grooming her.
A normally curious horse who nickers when it sees you should be checked if it suddenly fails to respond to its normal stimulus. Standing in a hunched position with its head down could be a sign that the horse is not feeling well. It’s fine for a horse to roll to scratch its back on the ground, but if your horse is acting distressed or uncomfortable while rolling repeatedly, it could be a sign of colic.
The perfect time to assess the condition of your horse is during the daily grooming session. While grooming your horse, check the face. Are the eyes bright and clear? Is there any discharge from its nose or eyes? How is his coat?
Run your hands up and down each leg checking for swelling, heat or sensitivity to touch. Horses can get hurt in their stall or pasture, you’ll need to check all over for any lacerations or other injuries.
Before riding, you should check the hooves. Using a hoof pick, clean the hooves. Make sure there are no objects embedded in the hoof such as small rocks or clumps of mud. Is there a discharge or bad smell? Are there any cracks in the hooves? Are the shoes loose?
Check your horse’s manure. If the manure is too dry – your horse is not drinking enough. If it is runny – it could be stress or illness or simply too rich of a diet.
Seasonal Horse Health
When I was 10 years old, I was forced to ride a horse for the first time. While having no experience, I was put at the back of the line and instructed that if the horse got too far, I was to hit it with a metal coat hanger. As the trip took the group up and down mountains, I lagged. Following my instructions, I struck the horse, which sent him into a furious rage down the mountain. I was terrified that I would die.
Years after this traumatic experience, I have grown to understand the reaction of the horse, and I have grown to understand the magnificent creatures for what they truly are. Now, the owner of several horses, I have taken it as my mission to educate on proper horse handling and care.
Winter Horse Health
In my area, winter can be dreadfully cold and quite damaging to the horse. To protect them, I have adopted some methods of horse maintenance. Proper blanketing, with a blanket thick and warm enough to keep horse hair down, is a great way to ensure that the elements do not harm the horse. After the blanket is removed, a brush should be used to keep the horse’s hair fine and even.
With winter also comes extra feeding. It’s very important to ensure that the hay is not mouldy or too dusty, either of which can damage the horse’s digestive system. As the horse eats, the extra weight will provide some insulation against cold temperatures.
Finally, one should be extra cautious while riding in the winter as ice can be damaging and painful to a horse. Always try to keep a slow, steady, walking pace unless the ground has some cushion on it such as snow, and there is no danger of ice underneath it. With proper winter care, your horse will be happy and healthy for the spring months.
Spring Horse Health
With spring, it is time to ease back into a riding regimen. First, it is advised to help the horse shed their winter coats by use of a shearing blade. With the extra weight, the horse will be ready for conditioning. It’s advised to schedule a veterinarian visit as soon as possible to check for any issues.
Once this check-up is complete, horseshoes is the next step if your horse uses them. Usage of horseshoes varies from owner to owner, but considering the damage that the hooves can go through, it can be a necessary thing for helping your horse’s health.
Finally, before riding full-out, a horse must be slowly conditioned if they have not been ridden during the winter months. This conditioning will allow a horse to have a more enjoyable spring, free from injury.
Horses are wonderful animals, who with a little work, patience, and perseverance, can offer lots of fun and excitement in return. As with all animals, they require special care and attention, but the dedicated horse owner will find this care just as rewarding as riding.