Taking care of a horse is an ongoing commitment. Even routine horse care requires significant time and resources.

Horses need secure environments, adequate exercise, social companionship and a balanced diet to thrive. They also have unique digestive systems susceptible to colic and other gastrointestinal health issues if not fed appropriate forage.

Horse owners rely on a team of equine health professionals to provide regular veterinary, dental, and hoof care. Trusted practitioners such as your veterinarian, farrier, nutritionist, and trainer are your best resource for learning more about horse care and management.

This article will review everything horse owners should know about basic horse care, discuss the role of your professional healthcare team and outline essential daily tasks that can help keep your horse healthy.

Caring for your Horse’s Basic Needs

All horses need a secure environment that provides access to shelter, room for adequate exercise, and social contact.

Ultimately, the best living situation for your horse will depend on many factors, including what is available where you live, the activities you engage in with your horse and any special considerations required for you or your horse. [1]

Boarding vs. Keeping Horses at Home

Deciding whether to board your horse or look after him at home is one of the first horse care decisions that owners need to make.

Boarding barns are facilities that house and manage the care of your horse. Levels of care can vary from self-care to complete care, sometimes including even riding, blanket changes and boot changes daily. Boarding gives horse owners more flexibility and easy access to skilled professionals who can help advise on horse care and training.

Horse owners with the space, facilities and time to care for their horses at home can control every aspect of their care.  However, research suggests that many equestrians overestimate their horse care knowledge. [2]

Make sure you’re ready for the responsibility and time commitment before you bring your horse home by learning as much as possible from experienced horse people.

While boarding allows owners to outsource their horse’s daily care to professional staff, learning about basic horse care will help you pick a suitable boarding barn.

Shelter

Providing shelter for your horse doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them in a stall. While climate-controlled barns appeal to humans, healthy horses cope well with varying temperatures.

Harsh weather can impact your horse’s ability to regulate its body temperature, making access to a safe shelter that protects against wind, precipitation, and sun a top priority. [3]

A run-in shed provides shelter for horses that live outside 24/7. Other horses prefer indoor stalls in inclement weather. Stalls with dry bedding also help maintain optimal hoof moisture balance when the ground is muddy and wet outside. [4]

Your horse’s shelter should also have adequate ventilation. Horses kept indoors can develop respiratory problems, but open windows and barn doors can help maintain airflow. [5]

A well-ventilated barn will feel chillier during cold weather but will be healthier for your horse than an enclosed structure. If your horse needs help staying warm, try blanketing instead of closing the barn.

Turnout and Exercise

Studies of feral horses in unrestricted environments report that these horses naturally travel an average distance of 15.9 km (10 miles) per day. [6]

This lifestyle is very different from the daily routine of most performance horses today. Research suggests that freedom of movement provided during turnout in a field can also have significant welfare benefits for domestic horses. [6]

Other studies have linked increased turnout time with a decreased risk of soft tissue injury. [7] Exercise during turnout stimulates adaptive changes that strengthen the horse’s bones and tendons. [8]

Horses confined in stalls often exhibit restless behaviours. Turning your horse out can improve his behaviour on the ground and under saddle. [9]

When turnout isn’t possible due to injury or other factors, controlled exercise can help maintain fitness levels. [10]

Companionship

Horses are herd animals that rely on group living as a survival strategy in the wild. [11]

Social interaction with other horses is essential to keeping domestic horses happy and content.

Multiple studies have linked social isolation to increased stress and stereotypic behaviours in horses. [12]

Research also shows that group living can positively affect behaviour during training and weaning in young horses. [13]

When group turnout isn’t feasible, housing designs incorporating safe opportunities for social contact between horses can improve welfare. [14] Ensure your horse can always see other horses in his living situation.

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Basics of Equine Nutrition

Providing your horse with proper nutrition and a balanced forage-based diet is one of the most vital aspects of basic horse care.

Many owners are unsure how to formulate a balanced diet for their horses. Here are some fundamentals to help you evaluate your horse’s feeding program.

Water

Horses need access to clean water at all times. This nutrient is essential for nearly every bodily function, and dehydration can seriously impact horse health. [16]

The average horse drinks 5 to 15 gallons of water per day. [15] Requirements increase in hot weather or when exercising.

If your horse’s water is dirty or has an off-taste, they may reduce their voluntary water intake. This increases the risk of impaction colic, kidney problems and other health issues. [17]

A water analysis can identify impurities in your water source that might affect palatability.

Forage

Forage should be the foundation of your horse’s diet. Forages are fibrous feedstuffs such as hay and grass that horses digest through fibre fermentation in their hindgut.

The horse’s digestive system has evolved to graze on roughage continuously throughout the day. Limited access to forage can lead to behavioural issues and gastric ulcers. [18]

The average horse should consume 1.5%-2.5% of his body weight daily in forage. Free-choice hay is the best way to mimic the horse’s natural feeding patterns if your horse does not have 24/7 access to pasture.

High-quality hay will meet the majority of the horse’s nutritional needs, but exact nutrient content can vary depending on growing conditions, geographic location, plant species and cut. [19]

Getting a hay analysis is the best way to understand the nutritional composition of your horse’s diet so you can select feeds and supplements to balance their feeding program.

Feed and Supplements

Not all horses need grain. However, some high-quality feeds offer a good source of concentrated protein and calories for horses with higher energy demands.

Other horses may be unable to chew long stem forage due to dental problems. Senior formulas can help replace fibre missing in their diet. [20]

High-quality commercial feeds also provide amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that fill nutritional gaps in hay. But large meals of high-starch sweet feeds can disrupt the intestinal microbiota and lead to hindgut acidosis. [21]

Ration balancers and supplements contain higher levels of essential nutrients in a smaller serving size. An equine nutritionist can help you find the best formula to balance your forage.

Mad Barn’s Omneity, is a vitamin and mineral supplement designed to balance a wide range of forages and feeds. It is formulated with higher quality organic trace minerals, 20 mg of biotin per serving, yeast and digestive enzymes, and no added sugars or fillers, making it appropriate for all horses.