Care of the Horse

"If you have seen nothing but the beauty of their markings and limbs, their true beauty is hidden from you."
    ~ Al Mutannabbi, 9th century A.D.

    If you want to know how to take care of your horse (or other equine), this will eventually be the place you will find information.  I don't intent to give a set of rules that will go for every animal; just some guidelines that hopefully hold true for all.  If you already own horses (or other equines), and can give me some information about what you do, please contact me.  For now, I will include some basic information about the horse on this page, until I decide where I want to put it.  ____________________________________________________________________________________

    The average life span of a horse is about 15 years, and the age is calculated from January 1, regardless of what time of year the animal was born.  By the time a young horse is 12 months old, it will have reached about one-half its adult weight.  It will continue to grow and develop until it is 5 years old, one year of a man's life equaling 3 years of a horse's.  Many horses live--and work--until they are 30 years old or more.

Life History

    A horse is born after a gestation period of 11 months.  Within a half hour or so after birth, the long-legged baby learns to stand up and to feed on its mother's milk, its chief nourishment for about the first six months of life.  After this, as a "weanling," it has its milk teeth and feeds on grains and grass.  Growth continues to age five and full weight is reached at seven.  From weaning through age four, the young female is called a filly, the male a colt; after that they become mare and horse (or stallion) respectively.
    Properly handled and cared for, a horse should be fully serviceable for perhaps ten or more years after reaching maturity.  Since it ages at the rate of three years for every one in the human life span, at 21 it is the equal in age of a 63-year-old man.  A horse that lives past 30--as some do--is in extreme old age.  Trivia:  The oldest horse recorded was Old Billy. Foaled in 1760, he died on November 27, 1822, having reached an incredible 62 years of age.  The oldest Thoroughbred racehorse was Tango Duke. Foaled in 1935, he died on January 25, 1978 at the age of 42.  Old horses will often grow white hairs around the face and their muzzle.


What foods?

    The horse is a plant-eating animal, eating hay or oats with its lips and grass by biting the blades off with its teeth.  Its stomach can hold 18 quarts of food, stored in its intestines.
    If you keep your pony in a field, it may need no extra food during the summer, providing there is plenty of good grass; but watch that it doesn't overeat.  During the winter, when the grass has stopped growing and is very poor, your pony may need up to 12 pounds of hay a day, and even more in frosty or snowy weather.
It takes about three days for a horse to digest an oat.  Feeding garlic to horses is believed to help combat some worms, repel flies, aid respiratory disorders, and have a cleansing effect of blood. There is, however, no scientific evidence to prove this, and it does cause halitosis (chronic bad breath).

Grains and Short Feeds:  As well as grass or hay, a pony may need high protein "short" feeds.  These are a mixture of corn or cubes and a bulk food like bran or chaff.  Put short feeds in a manger or galvanized bin.

    You can use these foods to make up a short feed for your pony:

Grass:  Horses should be able to graze several hours a day.  Grass is nutritious and need be the only food of a non-working horse.

Hay:  A horse kept in a stable eats hay instead of grass.  In winter all horses need, within reason, as much good hay as they will eat.  The best type of hay is meadow or mixture hay--alfalfa, clover and timothy.  Put hay in a rack or hay net to prevent it being wasted.  Nets should be hung high enough not to entangle the feet when empty.

Salt:  Remember to leave a salt or mineral lick (block) in your pony's field or stable.  A horse should have one to two ounces of salt each day.

Water:  It is preferable to give water to a horse before it eats.  Special care should be taken if a horse is unusually overheated.  Give it one swallow at a time until it is satisfied.  But remember:  You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink!

How much?

    Each horse and pony will need different amounts of food.  How much depends on temperament, size and health, how much work the animal has to do, the time of year, where it is kept, how much good grass is available, and how much the it has to eat to keep its weight up.  In their natural environment, horses and ponies eat small amounts of bulk food (mostly grass) almost nonstop throughout the day.  Stabled animals need three meals a day, at regular intervals, the largest, including most of the hay ration, at night.
    The general rule is to feed a horse 1 1/4 pounds of hay and 1/2 to 3/4 pounds of grain for every 100 pounds it weighs.  If the horse does not work hard, it should be fed more hay and less grain.  Most ponies, and some horses, need their summer grazing restricted in order to maintain the proper weight.  They can be shut in by day and given a few hours of grazing in the evening with water always available and, if competing, some concentrated feeding such as cubes or oats, etc. 

How to feed?

    These are the basic rules for feeding a horse or pony:



    Grooming should be done daily.  In winter, the grease in the coat keeps out the wet, and profuse manes and tails help maintain warmth.  Shaggy coats can hide poor condition, and thin horses and ponies are cold ones.  Healthy animals have bright eyes, skins that move easily under the hand, and are willing and interested in their work.  Brushing removes dirt and dandruff while helping to keep the coat shiny.  Areas touched by the saddle and girth need special attention.  Trivia:  Horses will generally begin to grow their winter coats in September, when the hair thickens and becomes coarser and dull. This gives rise to the saying, "no horse looks well at blackberry time."  When clipping a horse's coat, the first clip is usually done in October and the last clip should not be done any later than the last week of January. Clipping after this time will affect the spring coat growing through.

    The usual grooming routine is as follows:



    Most working horses and ponies need to wear metal horseshoes, to keep their feet from getting worn down.  Shoes also keep the hoof from becoming cracked, bruised or out of shape.  If a horse or pony works a lot, it will need new shoes every six weeks.  In that time, the shoes may wear smooth, and the animal's feet will grow out of them.
    Horseshoes must be made to fit properly.  The blacksmith (or farrier) takes the old shoe off first.  Then he trims down the wall of the hoof and fits a new shoe.  The shoe will fit better if it is hot and pliable.  The shoe is nailed to the wall of the hoof where it won't hurt the pony.  Finally, the blacksmith files the surface of the shoe smooth.  Trivia: 
When a horse or pony loses a shoe, it is sometimes said to have "thrown a shoe."  Horses' hooves grow approximately 0.25 in a month, and take nearly a year to grow from the coronet band to the ground.



Crossbred ponies are physically and mentally adapted to living outside all year, but "blood" ponies and most horses, especially Thoroughbreds and Arabians, do not thrive wintering out and should not be expected to do it.  Stabled animals, however, do entail both extra work and expense.
    To be fully fit and conditioned, show horses and ponies and show-jumpers, should be stabled during the season - although an occasional hour night-grazing is beneficial.  The "stars" are normally roughed off for the winter, and then only stabled at night.  Full-time hunters summer out and winter in.  The general "all-rounders" can be stabled, according to work and weather.
     Animals that have been clipped can go out for a few hours in suitable winter weather, provided they wear blankets, which are adequate covering for most days.  This works well if the horse is trace-clipped (the hair removed only from under the neck, sides and belly).  Stabled horses sometimes wear cotton summer sheets.  For winter they need a lined blanket.  Blankets buckle across the chest and must not strain over the withers.


    In the wild, horses and ponies live in herds; they move about a great deal, grazing and drinking, and rest for only a few hours at night.  There are many things they may miss in captivity.  If you keep your pony in a field, try to give it:

    Horses kept outside cannot be as fit as stabled animals, nor capable of the same work.  They come of stock used to a wide range of varied and sometimes scanty grazing.  Lush, clover leys will make them very fat, and susceptible to Laminitis, a painful foot fever.


    It isn't natural for ponies to live indoors.  If you keep your pony in a stable, it will need special care.  It will need:

    If you want to change your pony's feeding or exercise pattern, do it gradually.  Ponies need time to get used to new routines.

How Horses Sleep

Horses need sleep just as much as humans do, but they don't need the same amount.  They need about 4 hours sleep out of every 24, and take it in roughly half-hour snatches rather than all in one go.  The reason for this is, again, their prey/predator lifestyle, which so frequently spills over into domesticity.  As creatures of wide open spaces, often with little natural protection such as a lair or den, the horse needs to be constantly on the alert for danger.  If it were to spend several hours at a stretch deeply asleep, it would be easy prey for a hunting animal, so it has evolved to sleep for short periods.
The horse does not always sleep at night, but takes some of its sleep during daylight, if allowed to.  Many horses that have had morning exercise like to lie down for a nap after their midday feed, imitating the sleep pattern they would adopt in the wild.  This can also be seen in horses turned out in fields, who often lie down during the day.
    Apart from dozing, there are two kinds of sleep, SWS (short wave sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Experiments using electrodes to detect electrical brain waves have shown that in shallow sleep the brain waves are of a short frequency (SWS):  the brain is quite inactive but the sleep is fairly shallow and the horse can be easily awakened.
    Deep sleep is experienced when the brain waves are longer.  The brain is active during this type of sleep, but the body goes almost into a torpor, making the horse easy to approach but difficult to wake up.  During this sleep, the eyes move rapidly from side to side beneath the eyelids, which is why it is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  Because the body seems to lose muscle tone during REM sleep, the horse has to lie completely relaxed and flat out on its side in order to experience it, whereas in SWS it can sleep propped on its breastbone.  It is likely that horses, like humans, dream during REM sleep.
    Lying flat out is obviously dangerous in the wild as it takes a horse several vital seconds to get to its feet and gallop off.  It is much safer for the horse to lie propped up as it can get up much more quickly.
    From a management point of view, it is essential to give a horse a large enough stall to allow it to lie flat out and experience the deep, refreshing and essential REM sleep, and to give it a dry, clean, soft bed so it won't be reluctant to lie down and rest.  The horse must have enough room that it does not become cast, which happens when it rolls over and becomes trapped on its back because its legs strike the wall of the stall.  Horses always pick a smooth, dry spot to sleep when they have a choice:  those kept on wet land in winter may be reluctant to lie down often enough, particularly flat out, and may deprive themselves of sleep as a result.  Such horses should have access to a well bedded down, roomy run-in barn or large shelter.

Can horses sleep standing up?

Yes, they can and do.  Again, this is a safety feature from the wild.  If they are already on their feet (in which position they can either doze or experience SWS) they can be off at a gallop within a couple of seconds of being alerted, usually by other horses or by a sound.
    There is a special arrangement of "locking" joints and ligaments in their elbows and stifles (another safety feature) which props the horse on its forelegs keeping it upright.  It can rest one hind leg (joints bent, hip down) during this process and still not fall over, but not a foreleg.  When alerted, up comes its head throwing the weight on to its hindquarters, which gather underneath it ready to propel it forward out of danger.

In this position (standing up) a horse will doze, and can also experience short-wave sleep (SWS), a shallow kind of sleep.  To be able to sleep standing up was a great advantage to the horse in the wild, because it could be off at a gallop within seconds.
    Horses need to lie flat out in order to experience REM (rapid eye movement) or deep sleep.  Horses whose stalls are too small, or who feel that they don't have room to lie out like this may deprive themselves of this type of sleep, and become over-tired, short-tempered or even neurotic as a result.
    Horses have a special arrangement of "locking" joints and ligaments in their elbows and stifles.  When the horse sleeps standing up, these joints lock, propping up the horse on its forehand.  It can even relax one hind leg and still not fall over.

(Note:  I chose to take the entire section below from its source—The Young Specialist Looks At Horses—because it was an older publication and had a lot of information that was somewhat unfamiliar and very interesting to me.  The picture is also taken from the same book.  It may be noteworthy that this book was published in England.)


The correct feeding and maintenance of the horse, dependant upon the work it is called upon to do, should certainly be one of the most important tasks to be undertaken by the owner who wishes to preserve the intrinsic value of the animal, and to enjoy possessing it for as long a period as possible.
    Of all the feeding stuffs, oats most decidedly take pride of place.  Indeed, they can hardly be replaced by any other fodder over a long period without doing harm to the working horse.  Good quality oats are bulky, dry, polished, and have no unpleasant smell; the grains are uniform in size.  Generally they are given whole.  Oats should be crushed only for young horses while they are changing their teeth, or for old, or very run-down horses; otherwise they may become mouldy and musty, and so cause colic.  The amount of oats given varies according to the age and work of the horse.  Bloodstock, carrying out strenuous work, requires more energy-giving fodder than a heavy animal, as much more work is required of it.  The heavy horse must, on the other hand, receive more raw fodder.  Horses which bolt their food are fed a mixture of oats and chopped rye or wheat straw, as they then chew it more thoroughly.  A few pebbles about the size of the fist may be placed in the feeding trough to force the horse to sort out the oats, and so eat more slowly.
    To some extent, oats may be replaced by other fodder.  Barley and maize are particularly suitable, but from the horse's point of view there is no fodder which he likes better than oats.
    An excellent addition to oats for hardworking horses, race horses in training, or hunters during the season, is the so-called mash.  Boiling water is poured over bran, perhaps with some linseed added, allowed to cool, and given lukewarm.  Equally recommended for horses which decline to take food because of exhaustion is gruel, an oatmeal drink made from a few handfuls of oatmeal dissolved in a few pints of warm water.  Molasses can be given where the animal is suffering from loss of appetite; it is very nourishing and has a high sugar content.  Usually, however, the animal sweats more after having molasses than it does when working.
    Apart from the energy-giving feeds, the horse's digestive tract requires adequate amounts of fresh forage, to enable it to function properly.  A good hay is they most important in this respect, besides which, it is essential because of its mineral content.  Good hay should be bleached green in colour, of crisp, coarse structure, and have a sweet aroma.  Clover and timothy grass are particularly nutritious, though too much is inclined to be fattening.
    Extra vitamins are not so essential for the horse as for other domestic animals, as he is able to derive nearly all he needs from his food.  Moreover, the addition of a few carrots each day is an excellent stimulant to his digestion.
    If, despite adequate daily work, and hence not through boredom, the horse is seen to lick the walls of his stall or box, the cause is usually to be found in a shortage of minerals.  This can best be remedied by giving him a salt-brick to lick.
    There is a widespread belief that the horse should only be given water which has been standing for some time.  But horses, like human beings, much prefer to drink fresh water.  The danger of catching a chill, through drinking when he enters the stable still hot from his work, can be avoided by laying a bundle of hay over the water, or by leaving the bit in place to make the horse drink more slowly.  Generally he is watered before feeding.
    The horse should be fed, if possible, three or even four times a day, the largest portion being given in the evening so that he has plenty of time to digest it during the night.  During feeding there must be absolute quietness in the stable.  Such tasks as grooming and cleaning out the dung should be postponed, so as not to disturb the horse and distract his attention from his food.
    Although it might appear that grazing would be the only correct way, physiologically, of feeding, this method is not good for the working horse.  His efficiency will fall off due to lack of carbohydrates and his digestive organs will be distended by the volume of food, as quality will be replaced by quantity.  Old horses unused to pasture, also suffer in particular from cold and heat, insects, hard ground, etc.  Grazing, however, is essential for rearing foals, pregnant mares, or mares feeding their foals.  It is also recommended for horses with leg and hoof trouble.  These two, however, must also be given energy-giving fodder.

General Care

When building the stall or stable, it is important to remember that this is where the horse will often have to spend nine-tenths of his life.  Try to make it as comfortably pleasant as possible, so that he does not become dull.  Above all the stall must be bright, well-ventilated and free from draughts.  Ammonia vapour damages the horse's lungs, so a good manure gutter must be provided, and the manure barrow should be kept outside the stable.  If possible, the horse should be given ample room to move about, by providing a sufficiently large box, preferably one permitting him to look out of the door.  If he must be tethered, the rope should not be too long, otherwise he may become entangled should he paw the ground or scratch his head with his hind leg.  The side-walls or posts should be covered with coconut matting or straw, to prevent the horse from hurting himself if he should kick.
    A shaped manger, extending inwards, is useful in preventing the horse from spilling his oats, but it should not be fixed too high, as this may cause the back of a young horse to sag; nor should it be fixed too low, otherwise a temperamental horse may damage his knees by knocking against it when feeding.  Hay-racks are best located close to the manger, with the bars close together so that the horse cannot catch his hoof in them.  A hay-rack located above the manger is as unsatisfactory as too high a manger; besides this, the horse's head will always be covered in dust and stubble.

    The usual kinds of bedding for horses are either peat, sawdust or straw, and the general practice is to clean the stable floors daily by taking out the manure from the clean bedding, sweeping up the floor and replacing the clean straw, adding fresh straw where necessary.  Clean, dry wheat straw provides the most satisfactory and warmest litter, and it should be amply laid to a depth of at least six inches.  Barley and oat straw are not satisfactory, both break easily into chaff and the barley awns are apt to get into the horse's skin, ears and eyes.  Abroad, the system of deep-litter bedding is often practised, and the wisdom or otherwise of this has aroused quite a lot of discussion in Britain.  This means that the entire bedding is cleaned out only every two months or so, but whilst additional clean straw is added daily, droppings should be removed as often as possible and it is also necessary to fork out the middle part of the litter in the case of geldings and stallions and the end part in the case of mares, and to replace with fresh clean straw.
    These are two methods of management for stabled horses; the former was always used by the old-time grooms and is still practised in most well-run stables today where there is sufficient help to ensure efficiency.  The second method was originally practised not through shortage of labour but because the warmth of a clean deep-litter bed is necessary for the well-being of the animals in the usually very cold Continental winters (Great Britain has the advantage of the Gulf Stream) and, secondly, it is a satisfactory way of making manure.  If the actual dung is frequently removed there is no reason why the horse's feet should become diseased or damaged, since they should be cleaned and scrubbed daily whichever method is used.
    Daily grooming of the horse with body brush and curry comb is carried out for two reasons.  Firstly it clears the skin of dust, dirt, and skin excretions such as sweat and dandruff.  Secondly, this daily massage stimulates the circulation of the blood through the skin and the subcutaneous tissues and ensures their nourishment.  At the same time it distributes the natural grease over the whole coat, giving it an even gloss.  Long, clean strokes with the brush, exerting light pressure, and following the grain of the coat serve both purposes.  In order to give the horse the highest gloss, a final rub down with a soft woollen cloth is most effective.  The body brush should not be too close-set, so that it can penetrate the winter coat down to the skin.  A rubber curry comb may be used to help circulation.  The mane and tail need to be carefully picked out by hand each day, and, if necessary, washed.  The dock also should be well brushed out.  Wash the eyes, muzzle, nostrils, sheath or udder, rectum and vulva every day with a sponge.  Frequently the hooves require daily cleaning with a hoof pick; after work they should also be washed with a hard brush and sponge, especially inside.  Grease should only be applied, if at all, to a perfectly clean hoof—and then use only the finest, colourless grease on the inside and the coronet edge.  During the warm season, massage of the legs with a not-too-strong jet of water is quite beneficial.
    Clipping varies a great deal from breed to breed, and is very much subject to fashion.  However, it must never be forgotten that the mane and tail-hair have a special purpose in warding off insects, and that cutting them may mean discomfort for the horse that could have been avoided.  Docking the tail is forbidden in Britain, Germany, and many other countries.  A horse which, because of inadequate care, cold stabling, or some other reason has acquired an excessively heavy winter coat, should be clipped.  For after sweating into a lather at work, such a coat takes a long time to dry out, and in some circumstances the horse may break out into a sweat later, with a risk of catching cold.  In the latter case it is better to rug him up, first placing handfuls of straw on his back—when he is quite dry, the straw may be removed and a fresh rug put on.
    If an owner wishes to keep his horse in an efficient and active condition then he must pay special attention to correct shoeing.  Although it is ideal when a horse can be used unshod, this is so unusual that care must be taken to see that he has a new set of shoes every six to eight weeks.  Faulty conformation of the limbs of a foal and even of older horses, as well as the possibility of injuries resulting therefrom, can be removed, or at least minimised, by appropriate treatment, by prescribed standard shoes, or by special orthopaedic shoes.
    The axis of the toe of the correctly shaped hoof, with or without shoes, and viewed from the front or side, forms a straight line with the fetlock, running from the point of the fetlock joint to the toe.  Unless very necessary, the frog should not be trimmed back at all, and as much of it as possible should come in contact with the ground, otherwise it may become deformed and cause lameness.  The completely flat shoe should be made to fit the completely flat-trimmed hoof, not the reverse!  Whether the shoe should be burned on is still a moot point, for burning tends to dry out the hoof.  On the other hand, it gives a much simpler and more exact fit by ensuring a very much flatter surface for the shoe.  The outer edge of the shoe must be slightly wider than the inner, at the same time protruding very slightly beyond the sole of the foot.  The heels of the shoe must end at a line more or less perpendicular to the edge of the horse's heel, in order to give the hoof adequate support and minimise strain on the tendons.  The heels of the shoe should not be too close together; the shoe itself must be nailed to the crust of the wall of the hoof, great care being taken not to drive the nails too close to the sensitive part of the foot.
    To keep the horse in top physical condition, an essential factor is his daily work.  This must be so arranged that the horse undertakes it each day with pleasure.  The work may well tax the horse, but only then will he spend the rest of the day free from boredom and the vices arising therefrom.  Ideally, the horse should be exercised twice a day—once on the lunge and once saddled.  The work should always end at its height, when the horse is giving his best performance, and not when he is already beginning to resist through fatigue.  Always end with a lesson the horse finds easy and therefore likes doing.  By following this rule closely, you will find that the horse's physical capabilities improve with each outing.  It is a good idea to add variety by riding cross-country, or working over the cavaletti and on the lunge, for nothing makes a horse so dull (and, of course, his rider too) as the stupefying regularity of the daily grind.  Regularity is only essential for grooming and feeding times in the stables.  The horse immediately responds to variety with a greater willingness to work, and keenness to learn.  An alert but quiet appearance on the part of the trainer, and consistency in the treatment of the horse are important.  Generally the horse is a good pupil, yet too much should never be asked of him.

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