Your First Horse

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Top Horse’s guide for new owners.

The cost of owning a horse depends on lots things, like if the horse will be agisted, need supplementary feeding and so on. One thing’s for sure...horses are big animals that take a lot of special care. And unfortunately, money!

We could list a rough guide to prices, but these would vary a lot between states and probably be outdated by this time next year. Farrier and horse dentist fees vary, feed prices go up and down according to the season (and right now some feed is pricey due to prolonged drought in many areas). So you need to do a bit of detective work! We can at least give you a push-start by telling you where to begin, so here goes....

If you’re thinking of buying a horse, a good place to start doing homework is at your nearest horse club The instructors there will be happy to give you advice and you might even find a suitable mount for sale. You can look and listen...observe what kind of gear the riders are using, what happens during a rally. During lunch-break and if you’re not too shy, ask a few members to recommend a farrier, vet, feed merchant and horse dentist (take a pen and paper with you to write names down).

Ask an instructor if they can come with you when you go looking for horses...this is the #1 rule of horse-hunting, take an experienced horse person with you! Next, visit any saddle shops in your area to get an idea of can ask to be placed on their mailing list to receive sale catalogues. Most offer a free saddle fitting service and staff there will be happy to give advice. Basic items you’ll need are a saddle and saddle blanket, bridle, headstall and leadrope, grooming kit and rug. Use the internet to visit on-line saddle shops to further compare prices. Avoid buying from on-line auctions such as Ebay until you have a LOT more experience under your belt!

Another good place to do some groundwork is right here on the Top Horse website. Look at the types of horses for sale, what prices are being asked and anything else relevant that may be advertised there. It’s the ‘bible’ when it comes to all things horsey!

Make lots of phone calls, get quotes and list everything down in a notebook to give you a ‘future expenses’ guide.

Again, horses are expensive to care for properly. Don’t go in with the best intentions and stars in your eyes. Love alone won’t feed and shoe your horse...cold, hard cash will. Make allowances for possible vet bills although some will let you pay off larger bills.

How much do I feed my new horse?

If your horse is only being ridden lightly and is on good pasture, he might not need any extra feeding at all. Good pasture has nice green grass with very few weeds and there should be a minimum of 1.5 hectares of grazing per horse (although more is better of course). If the paddock has sparse, weedy grazing, then you’ll need to supply extra bulk in the form of grass hay–around one bale of hay per day, per horse.

Grass has little nutrition meaning horses must eat continuously in order to get enough energy requirements to meet their needs. Their digestive systems have evolved to have food constantly passing through it so if there’s not enough grass, you must provide that bulk in the form of grass hay.

If your horse is being ridden regularly, you should give him supplementary feed to help boost his energy. There’s lots of great pre-mixed feeds on the market and most horse feed companies offer a free advice service, so visit your local feed merchant to find out their names and the range of products they offer.

Pick up manure from your horse’s paddock daily as manure not only reduces grazing by souring the grass, but also spreads worms. The basic rules of feeding are:

• Make sure your horse has unlimited access to bulk feed in the form of either grass or grass hay.

• Give extra hard feed if your horse is being ridden regularly. You don’t really need to worry about feeding according to weight...just that the bigger the horse, the more feed he’ll need. Keep a close eye on your horse’s condition (weight) and if he appears to be losing condition, increase his feed. Ask an experienced horse person for their opinion and follow their advice.

• Your horse might need extra feeding during Winter. Horses burn energy to keep warm during cold weather and if they don’t have enough to eat, they soon lose weight, especially fine coated horses such as Thoroughbreds. One way you can help is providing warmth by rugging. Ask at the saddle shop which rug would best suit your horse.

• Make sure your horse always has unlimited access to clean water.

• Never make any sudden changes to your horse’s diet.

• Be on alert for a purple flowering weed called Patterson's Curse, also known as Salvation Jane. It’s very toxic to horses, causing long-term liver damage.

• Finally, make sure there’s some kind of shelter or windbreak in his paddock.

How often and for how long do you exercise horses?

It’s up to you! Obviously your horse won’t be very fit if he hasn’t been ridden much but if you ride him a little more each day, he’ll soon build up fitness. Be a thoughtful rider and consider your horse’s comfort as you would your own. Get off and loosen his girth at regular intervals, let him have a physical and mental break. Avoid endless might have an aim or know what you’re trying to achieve but your horse doesn’t! To him it’s sometimes endless boredom so try to keep it interesting by giving him a loose rein or hopping over a small jump now and then to break the monotony.

Also avoid losing your temper. This is really, really hard to do sometimes when our horses don’t understand what we want them to do.

Try to think like a horse. If he's playing up, ask yourself 'why'?

Try to think like a horse. If he’s playing up, ask yourself ‘why’? Is he in pain somewhere? Does all his gear fit correctly? Is he being bothered by flies? Imagine you are wearing a pair of new shoes which have given you the blister from hell on the back of your heel and someone forces you to dance. You’re going to be in pain, distracted and grumpy.

Unfortunately we can’t talk horse so he can’t tell us what the problem is, so as a thoughtful rider it’s up to you to try to THINK like one and do all you can to find the source of his discomfort. If in doubt, ask an experienced horse person. Unfortunately some riders have a “show ‘em who’s boss” attitude. I hope you’re not one of them.

What about grooming?

As long as the area where the saddle and bridle go are dirt-free, that’s about all that matters. Most horse owners (especially girls!) like their horses to look nice though, so a grooming session usually goes something like this: Brush off any caked-on mud and dirt using the stiff bristled dandy brush. Be careful not to use this on any sensitive areas such as the horse’s face and belly, and avoid bumping any bony bits.

Next use the softer body brush to help remove dirt and scurf closer to the skin. After every couple of strokes, clean the body brush with the currycomb, otherwise you’re just brushing dirt on dirt. Brush the mane and tail GENTLY! Try not to yank a comb or brush through, otherwise you pull out hairs which will have to grow back and make your horse’s mane and tail look bristly and untidy.

Pick out your horse’s hooves every day and especially before and after each ride. You can also run a damp cloth over your horse to help pick up more dirt. After a ride, cool your horse down by sponging off any sweat and toweling him dry. Lightly rug your horse and walk him around to cool down properly. Avoid washing your horse during Winter as this strips protective oil and grease from a horse’s coat which will leave him chilled. Also avoid trimming the hairs inside the ears and base of the fetlocks...that hair is there for protection!

How often do you need to clean tack?

Regularly! It needs to be kept soft and supple. If you ride every day then a weekly cleaning session is recommended. If you only ride at weekends, then it can get by with less. Saddlery needs to be kept clean and supple, otherwise it can rub and chafe your horse.

One item that needs to be cleaned after EVERY use is your horse’s bit, as dried, caked on saliva can chafe the corners of his sensitive mouth.

Saddle blankets will also need cleaning after every use if your horse sweats a lot.

For a good tack cleaning session, dismantle everything, including the bridle and clean with saddle soap (Pears glycerine soap from the supermarket works well). Dry with a soft cloth or towel, then apply saddle dressing, wiping off any excess. Check everything for wear, especially any stitching. You can remove saddle soap and dressing from eye holes using a matchhead or similar object.

Put any washable girths through the washing machine but you can minimize damaging your Mum’s machine by enclosing the girth in a pillowcase first!

The most important items to keep clean are bits, saddleblankets and girths. Run your hand over a saddleblanket that has dried sweat on it. Notice how hard and rough it feels? Imagine this chafing the horse’s skin on your next ride!

Do all horses have to wear rugs and boots?

Horses don’t need to wear boots at all in the paddock. They do when travelling in a float or truck, to help protect their legs. Some horses also need to wear brushing boots when being ridden as they can sometimes hit their own legs with their hooves, causing injury. A horse doesn’t necessarily need depends on the breed. Most ponies grow thick shaggy Winter coats which keep them warm but as explained previously, some breeds have finer coats and benefit from being rugged during colder months.

How often do horses need a vet check?

It’s a good idea to have your horse checked by a vet before you buy him. After that, then he doesn’t really need to be seen by a vet unless he injures himself. Horses should have their teeth checked by a horse dentist at least once a year though...this is very important! The way horses chew food means their teeth wear unevenly, leaving sharp ridges which can cut into their gums, causing all sorts of problems eating and also when there’s a bit in their mouth. You can suspect your horse’s teeth need these sharp edges filed smooth by a horse dentist if he drops a lot of food from his mouth when he’s eating, if he’s losing condition, if there’s undigested food being passed in manure and if your horse seems fussy with his mouth when being ridden.

Compare the two horse skulls above...the top shows a horse skull with very bad teeth which have sharp edges while the bottom shows even teeth.

Do all horses need to be clipped?

No, only horses who grow thick woolly coats and are being ridden regularly during Winter might benefit from clipping. Most get by with a ‘trace’ clip, which is where only the belly and under the neck are clipped; or a ‘blanket’ clip where the legs, belly and neck are clipped, leaving a blanket of thicker hair on the back and quarters. If a horse is being stabled, he can be clipped all over but will require two or more rugs including a neckrug or hood to retain warmth.

How much space do you need to keep a horse?

The general rule is a minimum of 1.5 hectares per horse (although the bigger the better). It’s possible to get by with less space if you provide extra feed by way of grass hay. Remember, it’s very important the horse have access to bulk food to keep his digestion working continuously. It’s also important you pick up manure regularly, as this not only spoils the grazing, it’s also how worms are spread.

How often do you need to change a horse’s shoes?

Horses need to be shod every 6-8 weeks. Even if your horse isn’t being ridden and doesn’t need shoeing, his feet will still need regular trimming.

What is hoof oil and grease used for?

Hoof oil or grease is applied with a paint brush to the hooves and can even be applied under the hoof including the sole and frog. It helps keep the hooves hydrated and prevents them from drying out and developing cracks. It’s used more during warmer, dry weather and most horse-owners paint it on their horse’s hooves daily.

How often do horses need worming?

It’s very important you worm your horse every 6-8 weeks, changing brands regularly to avoid chemical resistance and also include a wormer that contains a boticide to worm for bot fly larvae during summer. You can get worm paste from the saddle shop or feed merchant. By the way, make sure you remove any bot fly eggs from your horse's legs as soon as you spot them.

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