So You Want to Own a Horse

posted October 15th, 2010 by
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BY WADE SPRADLEY, DVM

Legacy Equine Medical and Surgical Centre

So you want to own a horse… horses are one of the most magnificent of God’s creatures, in my opinion. Their strength and elegance and versatility to do so many different types of work are amazing. 1200 pounds of muscle and bone that would rather be in a herd environment and not alone make them attractive to us humans because they enjoy our company. They like attention and enjoy being around us, which always makes us feel good. They will respond to something as little as a touch of a hand or leg pressure to move quickly but with purpose. So it is not surprising that many people would like to own a horse. The rewards are indeed great, but there is a lot of responsibility that goes with the ownership as well.

A horse needs the same essentials as most animals; food, water, shelter and health maintenance, but remember you must multiply that by 1200 pounds of care. Food usually means 15-20 pounds of hay per day and 5-9 pounds of grain per day. This is assuming that you have a young and healthy horse. Furthermore, what goes in must come out…so put your doggie scooper away and get out your snow shovel!

Now, what about their living environment? You usually need 5-7 acres unless you want to feed hay all year round or keep them in a stall. If you decide to keep them in stall confinement, this may lead to other issues such as more frequent colic and behavioral issues unless they are ridden often. So, do you have the room for a horse?

Very important factors are food, water and shelter. So what about shelter? An area that provides shelter from the sun in the summer and a shelter that provides protection from the wind in the winter will suffice.

If you expect a show-quality hair coat then you will need artificial lighting. Horses grow and shed their hair according to the number of hours of daylight, not just temperature. So if you want them slick and shiny in the winter like they look in the summer, then you need to trick parts of their brain to cause them to think it is summer. In the winter they would need 16 hours of light per day, 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM. This makes their brain receptors think it is that time of the year to shed and keep their hair coat short. If you are not showing, then let their hair grow that longer, protective hair coat. Also, if you are showing your horse then you will need blankets and a more enclosed shelter to protect them from the weather and colder temperatures.

Moving along, what about fencing? Horses only stay where we want them too because they don’t realize how big they are, and just when you think you have them penned in well they will test the fence, so your fencing should be able to keep them contained without causing them injury. Barbed wire and several other types of wire will keep them in but if they are not used to being confined with that type of fencing, injuries are in your future.

So food, water, shelter and fencing…are you ready? What about healthcare? Horses need the same thing as your other animals: vaccinations, deworming and dental care. There are vaccines and deworming programs that are equine-specific. How about their hooves? They require their hooves to be trimmed or shod (putting shoes on) about every six weeks. The shoes will protect their hooves from the type of work or events that we are asking them to perform or participate in. I am also sure you will get to know your veterinarian and ferrier (horse-shoe specialist) very well throughout your horse’s life. Hopefully you will find that their services will provide lots of preventative health care and education on keeping your horse healthy and functioning to the peek of his potential! They will save you money in the long run, and will many times, when necessary, perform lifesaving procedures. So it is a team effort, you, your horse and your equine health team.

Now you have the basics of ownership. What type of horse do you want? The horse is so versatile. Do you just want a pet? Do you want a horse to trail ride on the farm? A performance horse such as a reiner, hunter jumper or a barrel horse? Do you want to learn to rope? The choices are more varied than the colors of the rainbow.

The best advice I could give if contemplating a performance horse or a pleasure horse is to try one out. Contact someone who owns that type of horse and ask questions. Just like golf and tennis, find a trainer and take some lessons. If you find that you enjoy that type of activity, then ask that person to help you find a horse that best suits your level of experience. Always continue to learn more and seek advice on how to get better. Be smart and approach things with a plan and ask for help. Find someone you can trust to lead you in the right direction and above all, keep you and your horse safe. You will find that horse people are great people to be around. They are usually compassionate, gregarious, and eager to help. They will hopefully help you to not make the same mistakes that they have made.

Well, it should be obvious that a lot is involved in owning a horse, but there is no feeling like watching your horse performing what it was trained for years to do, or watching your new foal trying out its legs in full stride for the first time across the pasture with its mother following stride for stride. They are truly magnificent and worth all the effort, just be prepared and understand the responsibility and you will be rewarded many times over. I have watched many young people over the years gain confidence and a sense of responsibility by owning their own horse and learning what it takes to take care of such a great animal. They carry these lessons with them, throughout life, work and family. Enjoy and have a great ride!

Wade Spradley
Dr. Spradley is a founding co-owner of Legacy Equine Centre, a state-of-the-art equine hospital located on 23 acres south of Tulsa. Dr. Spradley was also awarded the 2010 Oklahoma Equine Veterinarian of the year award.

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