Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Horse Care: Why I Care

Due to some recent personal and equine journeys I have been dwelling a lot on horse care and horse ownership. Horses are intensely gracious creatures, and I feel that I run into more ignorance than I do knowledge.

My knowledge was gained at the hands of my trainer, a woman who, in her youth, rode with Olympic hopefuls and served as a working student to top trainers. Like her, so many years before, I absorbed my knowledge by working at her elbow, asking "why" when I was asked to do something, and most of all, being surrounded by people who taught me how to care for horses. I try to share my knowledge in the same way - offering up bits and tidbits. It's hard, because I am not Mary - I don't command respect or look like I know a hoof pick from a bale of hay.

I think of my horses like children. They have their needs, just like children. These things come automatically to me, but apparently not so much to others around me.

Horses need, first and foremost, attention. If you own horses, you need to be committed to being with them and making use of them. While I get frustrated with people who come each day and beautify their horse and never ride, I still applaud them for being a good horse parent.
While ideally, boarding stables would inspect each horse for injury or anything unusual each day, many don't. Call me suspicious, but I don't count on anyone to watch over my horse. I count on my barn to provide her food, and turn her out and bring her in, keep her stall clean, fill her water buckets - basic care. I don't expect them to notice she's lame, or not feeling herself, or has lost a shoe.

I have expectations of myself - I notice these things. I worm her regularly and manage her needs for grain and hay amounts with a critical eye. She gets regular foot trims, and is checked over each time I arrive at the barn. Her blankets and fly gear are kept (relatively) clean and in rotation so she isn't standing outside wet, or unable to see from a dirty fly mask. She gets regular vet care, where they check her teeth and do a fecal count to advise me on better worming programs. She gets all the vaccinations she needs, and when I can't handle an injury or don't know what to do, I call my vet out.

I guess you could call me an empowered horse owner. I'm independent of a trainer, knowledgeable barn manager or other leading person because I have gained knowledge and, for the most part, chronicle it here to share with others. I try to keep my mouth shut around others, but sometimes I can't resist. I want to help! And I don't want you to hurt your horse.

You're saying "So, Miss-Know-It-All... What are you saying, here?!"

I'm saying you need to learn. Every day.

Owning a horse means:

-Regular vet visits, teeth floating when needed and fecal exams. My vet rates body scores at this time as well, and I am PROUD to say my mare is a perfect 5 three years running. My vet comes 2-3 times a year to do vaccinations and usually does a separate visit to sedate my horse and float her teeth.
- Regular farrier visits for barefoot trims or shoes, depending on your horse's needs. These visits generally happen every 6-8 weeks.
- Regular de-worming on a rotational plan that treats all types of parasites. See my other blog posts about worming to get a sample schedule.
- Sand clear treatments when your horse's needs or environment indicates. Sandy paddock with hay fed on the ground? Treat monthly or bi-monthly. Sand levels a low concern? Perhaps do a sand test every few months and do a yearly preventative dose.
- Understanding a horse's feed needs. Every horse needs a diet that meets his mineral and nutrient needs - and no, a cattle mineral block does not meet those needs. Consult a vet or your local feed specialist (with a grain of sand when they recommend pet products) or ask me! Fat horses have nutritional needs just like average or skinny horses do, and often obesity can indicate that your horse needs different management to improve their health.
- Caring for your horse. Boarding makes life easy- someone else cares for your horse, but you should have your hands on your horse at least once a week. Horses, like dogs, need regular exercise and stimulation. I'm guessing everyone can think of a horse they have met who is "bored" - these horses harass you as you go to get your horse, develop bad habits and tend to be the first horse on the scene should anything remotely interesting happen. They often learn to intimidate humans and can be total menaces. Working your horse's brain and body keeps them happy and healthy (and does a lot to do the same for you!).

Care also includes grooming - removing dirt and checking for injuries, picking feet and removing debris/rocks from the feet and general handling can tell you a lot about your horse. Horses also need properly fitting tack, blankets if they get cold or have trouble maintaining weight in winter (I think every horse should have at least a sheet) and have their needs met. They deserve your love and attention - if they don't you should reconsider owning horses!

This list looks pretty exhausting (and doesn't include riding...) but many of these things come hand in hand with "Care" and will eventually come naturally to all of you new horse owners. The benefits list is even longer, I promise. 

Ash & Fox

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