Last month, Horse Tales discussed buying your first horse and how to go about finding the “right” horse. Now that the horse is purchased and the dust has settled, the new horse keeper is finding out there are a lot of responsibilities that come along with it!

The new horse, whether a youngster or oldster, will need to be introduced to its new surroundings in order to feel safe and to give you peace of mind as well. It’s important to spend as much time as possible with your new horse right away to establish a bond that will grow through the years.

Take time to show the horse all around the barn where it will be kept, giving it enough time to observe, smell and explore its new home. Horses operate very differently from people, and things that we take for granted as ordinary objects may appear fearsome or frightening to them. A log with a prominent round knothole, a culvert with a visible opening or even a spare tire can spook a fearful or nervous horse – the round hole can appear as a giant mouth belonging to a horse predator.

Be sure your fencing and turnout area is in tip-top shape, with no broken, loose or downed sections of fence. Remove branches or other obstructions and pick up any junk or stray pieces of equipment that might cause injury to a galloping horse. Your horse will act and react differently in a new location until they feel comfortable in the new setting.

Walk the fence lines with your horse, stopping to examine gates, hay feeders, watering and feeding stations or anything that the horse may encounter on its own that it should be familiar with. Fences should be readily visible; barbless wire, electric or high tensile wire fences should be marked with flagging or other visible markers to prevent an excited horse from running through.

Turnout pastures or paddocks should be well drained, especially near hay stations, feeding and watering areas, to prevent the horse from standing in mud or muck or slipping on icy spots once cold weather sets in. Provide a salt block near the feeding/watering station (as well as in the stall) if the horse will be turned out during the day.

Once your horse is familiar with its new surroundings, it’s important to introduce them to any other animals it will be stabled with or come in contact with. If it’s another horse, be sure to introduce them slowly – ideally with a fence or barrier between them so that they can sniff each other and make eye contact without fear of being kicked or bitten. Take your time to introduce the new horse to others and go slowly if the reaction is not favorable.

Establish a regular time each day for feeding your horse and cleaning up after it. Horses need regular feed schedules and will look forward to their morning and evening feeding time. Be sure your horse has the proper type and amount of food for the amount of work it’s doing, as well as its age and body condition. A horse should be given enough hay and roughage (grass) to last all day – ideally, free choice. Adequate water is also a must – an average adult horse (1,000 lbs.) will need five to 10 gallons of fresh water a day, based on the amount of work it’s doing, outside weather conditions, etc.

If your horse spends time in a stall, you’ll need to muck out the stall at least once a day. For horses that are turned out during the day, clean the stall each morning after you turn them out. Remove all manure and wet bedding and replace it with dry. Horses that are forced to stand in manure or wet bedding can develop thrush or pick up fungal infections. Be sure to turn your horse out to get fresh air and exercise each day.

Horse Tales: Caring for your first horse

Grooming is a good way to bond with your new horse. Photo by Judy Van Put

In addition to food, water and a safe environment, there are other needs to attend to. Before purchasing the horse you should have obtained a health record showing a list of immunizations and a negative Coggins test. You’ll need to establish which veterinarian you’ll be using for the horse and have that contact information handy in the event of an emergency. Set up a schedule to have the vet come out to administer any vaccinations that are due.

Horses should also be tested for parasites, and if present, be put on a deworming program. Our two horses rarely came in contact with others and were turned out on about 15 acres of pasture, so rather than administering dewormers on a regular basis, we would drop off fecal samples at the vet’s office seasonally to determine if they needed deworming.

Your horse’s teeth should be checked in spring and autumn to determine if they’re chewing their food and hay properly or have any problems associated with bridling or tossing their head while riding due to pain from “sharp” teeth. Although most veterinarians can examine and “float” or rasp your horse’s teeth if necessary, an equine dentist is a specialist who will do a much more thorough job. Horse teeth continue to grow over their lifetimes. The teeth are kept worn down by the process of chewing grass, hay and other roughage; however, if the horse has a habit of chewing wood (cribbing) or wears its teeth unevenly it will cause problems with digesting its food properly and can cause pain in its mouth.

Don’t forget about your horse’s feet! You’ll need to have a farrier or trimmer come at least every six weeks to trim and/or shoe your horse. The horse’s hooves continue to grow and will need regular trimming to prevent lameness or unsteady gaits. If your horse is wearing shoes you may want to use the same farrier if possible.

As the main caregiver of the new horse, be sure to spend extra time bonding with them. One of the best ways to do so is grooming. Grooming will not only keep and maintain a healthy coat and make you aware of any cuts or ticks or burrs that need to be removed, but it’s a pleasurable activity that will establish your relationship as caregiver of the horse and help to form a bond of trust. Horses will groom each other – a practice that begins with a newborn foal and its mother, and one that remains with the horse over its entire life with other horses it is kept with.

Horses are herd animals, and in many instances, their caregiver is the most important part of their herd. They look up to the lead or alpha horse, and if they believe you are the one that they can depend on for safety, you will become that alpha horse.

Spend time with your horse every day; it’s important that your horse feels comfortable with you and trusts that you will take care of them in their new home. Enjoy the special time you have bonding with your horse and growing your relationship for years to come.

by Judy Van Put