"The horse is prepared against the day of battle; But safety is of the lord." proverbs 21:31
What should I feed my horse? For our purposes, feed for horses can be divided into three categories: pasture, hay and concentrates.
The most natural food for horses is good quality pasture. Most mature pleasure horses doing light work will do well on pasture alone if they have sufficient grazing. However, horses are selective grazers and need a large area to meet their nutritional needs. Just because a field is green does not mean it contains sufficient grazing for a horse, and depending on where you live, for a large part of the year pasture is not available.
You can optimize the amount of grazing available by dividing your pasture into sections and rotating your horses through the different paddocks. That way, you give the grass a chance to grow back and can pick up the manure.
Hay is the basic food of domestic horses. Only feed good quality hay to horses. Inspect hay carefully before buying it, asking the seller to open a bale. Make sure the bales are green and dust and mold free. Stick your hand down into the centre of a bale to make sure it's not warm. Feeding moldy hay can cause colic and dusty hay can cause respiratory problems. (To avoid dust, it's a good idea to pull the flakes apart and shake them out well before feeding. As a precaution, you can also soak hay before feeding.)
The type of hay available varies according to the area you live in. Three basic types in Alberta are grass hay, alfalfa hay and grass/alfalfa mix. Common grasses are timothy and brome. Alfalfa has a higher protein content than grass. Many horse people consider a grass/alfalfa mix the best for horses, and timothy/brome/alfalfa is a common combination.
Do not feed your horse grass clippings as they can cause founder.
Concentrates Hay alone cannot provide enough nutrition for hard-working horses, pregnant and nursing mares, or growing youngsters. They need concentrates to supplement the hay. However, hay should still provide the bulk of the diet. Feeding too much grain can cause problems.
Concentrates include grains, sweet feed and manufactured. You can buy bags of feed specially formulated for every stage of a horse's life from creep feed for foals to feed for senior equines.
Beet pulp provides additional bulk. Beet pellets must be soaked before feeding to allow them to expand. If you use hot water, they expand in about an hour, but with cold water, allow overnight soaking. Only prepare enough for one day's feeding at a time.
Does my horse need anything else?
Horses need lots of drinking water and an adequate amount of salt and minerals.
Water Fresh water is a vital part of your horse's diet. Horses drink from 5 to 10 gallons a day.
Clean water should be available at all times except when the horse is very hot from work. As you cool out your horse, allow him to take several small drinks rather than giving him free access to water.
While horses can survive on snow in the winter, it is far from ideal. The horse's body has to melt a lot of snow to get enough water, thus wasting body heat. A horse not getting enough water is more liable to impaction colic. An inexpensive stock tank heater can keep the water trough ice-free.
Salt and Minerals A mineralized salt block should be available free-choice. You can also buy a variety of other vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements. Consult your veterinarian.
How much food does my horse need?The amount of food a horse needs will depend on such things as size, breed, age, and activity. In cold weather, a horse living outside needs more food just to keep warm.
As a general rule, a horse needs 2 to 2.2 pounds of feed for every 100 pounds of body weight. (You can buy a weight tape to measure how much your horse weighs.) For example, an average 1000 lb horse would need 20 to 25 pounds of feed a day. Most of that should be hay. A typical diet for a horse being ridden for one hour five days a week would be 2 to 5 pounds of grain and 15 to 20 pounds of hay a day, split into at least two separate meals.
Common sense and ongoing awareness of your horse's health and body condition should let you know if you need to make changes. Use a weight tape on a regular basis and keep a record. If your horse is gaining or losing, adjust his feed. Your horse's weight should remain stable regardless of how much work he is doing or how cold the weather is. As a responsible owner, it's up to you to adjust the amount you're feeding accordingly. In winter, look with your hands as well as your eyes. A heavy winter coat can easily hide a thin horse. Feel under that hair. If you are unsure about how much to feed your horse, ask your veterinarian for advice.
How often should I feed my horse? The basic rule for feeding horses is to feed little and often. The more meals you can split the day's feed into, the better for the horse. For practical reasons, most people feed two or three times a day. Keep to a regular schedule and allow the horse an hour between work and feeding.
Can a horse eat too much? Overfeeding can be a problem. While some horses will eat only what they need, most will eagerly overeat if given the chance. This can lead to founder or laminitis. Keep an eye on your horse's weight and adjust meal size as required. Don't feed concentrates unless your horse needs them. If your horse is pastured, it may be necessary to confine him in a dirt corral for part of the day. In some ways, a fat horse is as unhealthy as a thin one.
How can I can tell if my horse is the proper weight? A system called "body condition scoring" has been developed to determine just how fat or thin an animal is.
To a large extent it is based on common sense, looking at the amount of flesh on the ribs, on the base of the tail, between the hips and on the bony prominences. These are the bones that stick out from the spine behind the rib cage.
In a horse carrying ideal weight, the ribs have a slight fat covering but you can feel them. The base of the tail has a smooth shape with slight fat covering. The neck is firm but, except for stallions, has no crest.
You can learn more about body condition scoring by going to the web site of the Equine Research Center at Guelph, choosing "Horse Health Care" from the first menu, then "Management" from the second.
I have several horses. How do I make sure they're all getting their share? If you are feeding more than one horse, you'll have to make sure each horse gets enough food. Horses have a strong social order and the top horses will take more than their share. To give the bottom horses a chance, spread the hay out with one more pile than the number of horses. It's best to physically separate horses to feed the grain ration. At the very least, use separate feed bins spaced wide apart. If you don't, there's a high risk of injury as each horse fights for his spot at the feeder, and the bottom horse will probably stay away altogether.
Is there anything else I should know about feeding my horse? Find a diet that works for your horse and stick to it. Make any changes in feed slowly, spread out over several days. If your horse is not doing well even though you are feeding him enough, the problem might be teeth or worms or your horse might be sick. Check with your veterinarian.
How can I make sure my horse has adequate shelter? Healthy horses with a full winter coat can stand a lot of cold as long as they are dry and out of the wind. In the summer, horses are vulnerable to flies. The best long-term solution for all season protection is to build a three-sided horse shelter. Many Departments of Agriculture or farmer's supply stores carry plans for a standard shelter. The size of the shelter, its location and what it's made of are all important elements to consider.
Size of Shelter The size of the shelter depends on the number of horses. For an open-front shelter, allow at least 64 square feet per horse. The ceiling should be at least 9 feet high.
Horses have a very strong social order, and for safety, the shelter should be wide rather than deep. Otherwise boss horses standing in the entrance-way can block other horses from going in, or a lower status horse can get trapped in the back.
LocationThe shelter must be built on either well-drained land, or the floor built up to make sure it stays dry. The open side should face away from the prevailing wind.
Building Materials Anything to do with horses must be built strong enough to withstand considerable abuse. A flimsy shelter will not last long and can become unsafe.
Does my horse need bedding? In the wintertime, clean straw bedding in the shelter will make your horses more comfortable. Bedding is necessary for foals because they spend a lot of time lying down. Similarly, old horses should have bedding. A horse kept in a stall needs bedding year round.
What about fencing? Fencing for horses must be secure and safe. It must keep the horses where they're supposed to be without injuring them in the process.
Security Horses who get out on the road can cause automobile accidents and be badly injured or killed themselves. Even if they don't head for a road, they can cause damage to neighbors' property.
Safe Fencing It has been said that horses are an accident waiting to happen. It's up to the owner to make the surroundings as safe as possible for horses and people.
Never use wire for corrals or for fences separating horses from each other. Horses playing or fighting through the fence can injure themselves badly.
Fencing must always be kept in good repair. If pastures are fenced with wire, the four or five strands of wire must be kept tight and should be marked for visibility. A "hot wire" on top of the fence will keep horses at a safe distance.
Spring Horse Care Spring is the time to gear up for the outdoor riding season. The horses are shedding those big winter coats, everything is covered in hair and a horse groomer's best friend is a shedding blade.
It's spring tune up time for horses. (Think of it as getting the oil changed on your car before the motor seizes up except more important because a car has no interest in its own well-being.)
Get the vet out to give your horse a checkup and vaccinations before the mosquitoes hit. Except for tetanus, most diseases we commonly inoculate against are carried by biting insects.
Because of the way horses chew, their molars wear unevenly and can develop points that cut the inside of the cheek. An annual checkup catches potential problems before they affect your horse's comfort and health, and possibly your safety. If necessary, your veterinarian will float the teeth to smooth sharp edges. Why wait until your horse is dropping his feed or tossing his head while ridden?
Depending on your horse's feet and the kind of riding you plan to do, you might want to talk to your farrier about shoes. "Au naturel" is best for a lightly ridden horse with good feet, but when hooves wear excessively or split, or your horse moves gingerly on anything but soft ground, shoes are a necessary evil. In any case, proper farrier work is essential to your horse's comfort and soundness. Avoid problems with a regular six to eight-week trimming schedule whether the hooves look as if they need it or not. (Do you let your fingernails get long and ragged before you file them? Probably not and your fingernails don't support one thousand plus pounds of horse.)
With nice weather, we want to spring into riding and summer pleasures, but if we overdo it in the first flush of spring, we may not have such a good summer.
Unless you've been riding all winter, you and your horse will both need to get back in condition. And if you have used an indoor arena all winter, be prepared for some high spirits the first ride or two outside. Start slowly with lots of walking. Build up muscle and wind gradually over a couple of months before you head out to the mountains. Consider also that your horse's skin will need to become re-accustomed to saddle and girth. Watch for signs that the girth is rubbing before a sore develops.
Spring is also the season to guard against laminitis. Introduce your horse gradually to pasture. During the transition to rich spring grass, continue feeding hay and limit the amount of grazing. It's a great temptation to simply turn the horses out on grass as soon as possible, but if your horse does founder, he'll be compromised for the rest of his life.
Winter Horse Care Horses are well adapted to cold weather. As long as they have shelter from wind and wet, horses can stay comfortable when the temperatures plunge. A south-facing three-sided shelter with straw bedding will see a well-fed horse through the roughest winter weather. However, make sure the shelter is wide rather than deep or you'll find horses low on the pecking order afraid to go in.
Stabled horses need blanketing when they're turned out during the day, but the best blanket for an outside horse is his own full winter coat. If you do blanket your horse, make sure you take it off and brush him often. Also, realize that a blanket that is not warm enough is worse than no blanket at all. In cold weather, the hair coat stands up to trap additional warm air close to the body. A blanket keeps the coat flat.
When temperatures dip, the best heat source for your horse is extra hay. The first step to winterizing, which you've already taken care of, is to get in enough good hay to last through until next year's hay crop. To calculate how much you need, figure on half a square bale per horse per day then add some to cover for the occasional moldy bale or extra cold weather. It's a good feeling to look at that stack of green, sweet smelling hay safely under a tarp and know that the horses won't go hungry.
For most of us, winter means feeding in the dark before going to work and after dark again when we get home in the evening. To guard against accidentally feeding a moldy flake which you didn't see in the dark, put aside any hay that doesn't smell nice until you can inspect it in daylight. It's also a good idea to shake out the flakes in case there's any dust in them.
To make sure all your horses get their fair share of hay, spread out one more pile than the number of horses. That way, when the boss horse keeps thinking another pile looks better than the one she's presently eating from, the other horses can move to new piles too.
A horse shouldn't lose weight in the winter. In fact, a little extra layer of fat to fend off the cold won't hurt. A thick winter coat can easily hide weight loss so it's important to use hands as well as eyes to monitor winter weight. By the time you see that the horse is getting thinner, it's too late.
Watering horses in winter is a little more difficult than in summer. In winter, I move my water trough up to the front of the field so the hose, which I keep inside, will reach from the house. When it's time to refill the trough, I use a hairdryer to melt the outside tap, bring out the hose and fill the trough. A stock tank heater keeps the water above freezing.
Some people believe horses can get by on snow. "Get by" they might, but so could we. Horses require a lot of water to digest dry feed. How much snow would they have to eat to provide the 5 to 10 gallons of water they need? If you're not convinced, ask your vet about the greater risk for impaction colic.
Hoof Care Foot refers to the hoof and all its internal structures including bones and sensitive structures. Hoof is only the hard outside covering of the foot including the wall, the sole and the frog. The hoof has no blood supply or nerves.
Inside the hoof are the sensitive structures which produce and nourish the hoof and attach it to the bones of the foot.
Cleaning A hoofpick is probably the most important tool in a grooming kit. Always clean your horse’s hooves before and after riding. Whether or not they are ridden, horses kept in stalls or confined areas should have their hooves picked out daily to prevent thrush. Horses on pasture should have their feet cleaned periodically.
Trimming Like our fingernails, a horse’s hooves grow continuously. They need to be trimmed every six to eight weeks to keep them in proper shape.
Trimming is a job for a trained farrier. An inexperienced person can easily trim the hoof wall too short or pare too much sole, causing the horse to be sore. More importantly, the hoof must be balanced precisely to the horse’s natural way of going or he’s going to end up lame. The skill required to keep a hoof properly balanced takes a lot of training and practice to develop. In the long run, it’s cheaper to pay for a good farrier than risk ruining your horse.
Shoeing Horses who are doing a lot of work or working on hard ground will need to be shod. Some horses with weak hoof walls, flat soles or other problems might need shoes even if they’re not working. Consult your farrier or veterinarian for advice.
Shoes need to be reset every six to eight weeks. Leaving them on too long can damage the hoof. If a shoe comes loose without coming off completely, it can also injure the horse. (Never pull off a loose shoe without cutting the clinches first.)
What hoof problems should I watch for? Most foot problems can be avoided with proper care. Keep your horse on clean, dry footing. Feed him properly. Pick out his feet on a regular basis. Have his hooves trimmed or shod regularly by a competent farrier. Protect his feet with properly fitted shoes and pads if necessary.
Thrush and CankerThrush, the more common of the two, is an infection of the frog. Canker (hoof rot) is an infection of the whole foot. You’ll recognize both from a foul odor and discharge from the disintegrating frog. Both are caused by keeping a horse in wet, dirty conditions.
If you find that your horse is just starting a thrush infection, you can treat it with brush-on medications available in tack stores. For more advanced cases, consult your veterinarian or farrier.
Corns and Bruised Sole Corns are caused by constant, small repeated pressures to a part of the foot. Common causes are a poor shoeing job or shoes that are left on too long.
Bruises are caused by a single, traumatic blow to the foot, such as stepping on a piece of gravel. Bruising is more likely to happen if the horse has naturally flat soles, or if the sole and frog have been pared too thin in trimming.
If the bruise or corn has not abscessed, removing the cause of the problem is usually all the treatment required. If your horse bruises easily, he may need protective shoes and pads.
Abscesses If your horse suddenly goes dead lame on one foot, an abscess is the most probable cause. It could be caused by a puncture wound or by a corn or bruise.
Your veterinarian will drain the abscess and prescribe follow-up treatment. She will probably also give the horse a tetanus shot.
Cracks Cracks in the hoof wall can start at the bottom and go up or at the top and go down. The seriousness of a crack depends on how deep it goes and where it is located. If the crack is deep enough that it bleeds after the horse has exercised, infection is likely.
Cracks that start at the top of the foot are due to disturbances in hoof growth resulting from coronet injuries such as wire-cuts. Cracks that start at the bottom of the foot are caused by dry or thin hoof walls or improper trimming.
Serious cracks may require corrective shoeing.
Seedy Toe Seedy toe is a separation of the hoof wall from the white line in the toe region causing a hole between the hoof wall and the sensitive laminae. The outside of the hoof wall looks sound, but the inside becomes crumbly.
Poor foot care is the most common cause. Seedy toe is easily caused when the hoof wall is allowed to grow too long. It also commonly occurs with chronic laminitis.
Laminitis or Founder Laminitis, commonly called founder, is an acutely painful inflammation of the foot. It occurs most often in the front feet although it can affect the hind feet as well. The most common cause is overeating.
If your horse is lame on and off with no apparent cause, your veterinarian may suspect navicular disease. The pain is caused by degeneration of the navicular bone, a small bone inside the foot, and the tendon which passes over it.
Parasite Control More than 150 internal parasites afflict horses. Among the most common are large strongyles, small strongyles, ascarids, pinworms, bots and tapeworms.
Any or all of these parasites can be present in a horse at one time. Different worms harm the horse in different ways. They can damage tissues and vital organs, cause obstructions and ulcerations within the digestive tract, and cause irritation as they lay eggs.
How can I tell if my horse has worms?
Contrary to popular belief, many horses that have dangerous parasite levels appear to be perfectly healthy. It's safe to assume your horse has worms. The only way to be sure about the degree of infestation is to have your veterinarian perform a fecal laboratory examination.
Some horses, particularly young ones, do show obvious signs of carrying a heavy worm load. Symptoms may include:
dull rough hair-coat
lack of energy
coughing and/or nasal discharge
tail rubbing and hair loss
loss of appetite
loss of condition
How do I protect my horse from worms? The best protection is to combine a de-worming program with manure control. That way you kill the parasites already living in the horse and lessen the amount of re-infestation.
De-worming There are many safe, convenient products available today. Consult your veterinarian to set up the best program for your situation. A minimum de-worming schedule is twice a year, but more frequent de-worming is called for in many situations.
De-worming medication for horses comes in three formats. Most people today use paste de-wormers which come already packaged in an easy-to-use oral syringe. You can buy them at most tack and feed stores. You can also buy de-wormer as a feed additive. Veterinarians sometimes administer liquid de-wormer by stomach tube.
Whatever type you use, it is important to follow directions and make sure the horse gets the whole dose. You can buy a weight tape to figure out how much your horse weighs. It's also important to worm all horses on the property at the same time.
There are six different drug classes of chemical de-wormers, but many different brand names. Most experts recommend rotating among the classes to prevent the worms from developing a resistance. When choosing products, make sure you're going by the class of de-wormer not the brand name. Your veterinarian can help you choose the best de-wormers for different times of year.
Manure Control Since parasites are primarily transferred through manure, picking up and disposing of droppings in paddocks and corrals at least twice a week will go a long way toward controlling worms. Mow and harrow pastures regularly to break up manure piles and expose parasite eggs and larvae to the elements.
Is there anything else I can do? Remove bot eggs from the horse's hair-coat before he can lick them off. A safety razor works well or you can buy specialized bot remover.
Use a feeder for hay and grain rather than feeding off the ground.
If you can, rotate pastures with other animals. Allowing sheep or cattle to graze in rotation with horses will interrupt the life cycle of equine parasites.
Keep the number of horses per acre to a minimum to prevent overgrazing and reduce the fecal contamination per acre
Finally, you can monitor the effectiveness of your de-worming program by periodically having your veterinarian do fecal egg counts.
Fleas, ticks and lice Although not common, horses can pick up fleas in an infested barn or stable. In certain parts of the province, ticks can attach themselves to horses. A horse can become infected with lice if he comes into direct contact with another horse who is already infested.
Proper grooming is the best prevention for external parasites. If your horse does become infected, various insecticides are available. Consult your veterinarian for the most appropriate treatment.
Mange Mange is a very contagious disease caused by several species of mites. Contagion can be spread by blankets, pads, saddles, bridles and grooming equipment as well as direct contact with the horse.
It is more prevalent in horses in poor condition. The best prevention is frequent grooming and good health. If your horse does get mange, consult your veterinarian.