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Basic Horse Care: A Comprehensive Guide

Arabian horse in clean stall is cared for

If you're a new horse owner or planning to get an equine friend, you definitely need to know about basic horse care. There's no doubt horse ownership is enjoyable because horses can be really great friends to humans and they can even be therapeutic. Yet, they are a great responsibility. Horses are far bigger than pets like cats and dogs, and so comes the bigger responsibility. We have prepared a guide on basic horse care to help you gather all the information you need.

Basic Horse Care: How to take care of a horse?

This basic guide includes how to take care of horses. Horses of different breeds, temperaments and ages may need different requirements, so this guide will help you get started.

The first step is to decide if you will keep your horse on your property to manage all the care options or you if you will board your horse on another property for someone to look after. When looking for boarding, be sure to understand all the aspects how they care for your horse. Will you need to be on site when the vet comes? Will they be able to stand in your place? There are many questions to answer when boarding.

horses running in a pasture get exercise

Horses Need Space

Whenever you take a pet home, the first thing that matters is its space. And in case of the horse being a quite big pet, where to keep is very important. What actually matters most is how much space is appropriate for it.

On average, the best space you could provide a normal sized horse is about 2 acres with enough grass and hay. This much space with healthy amounts of grass is enough for an equine’s nutritional needs and exercise. If the seasons change or the grass availability lowers, you may need to add grain or extra hay to the horses diet. But a rule of thumb is that 2 acres of green pasture is enough.

However, it is not a necessity to provide 1-2 acres of land per horse. If you provide the extra nutritional needs for the horse, the lower amount of acres is okay. But, this also raises the question: is the horse getting enough exercise on the smaller amount of land? This is where you can add exercise, training, or regular riding to offer enough exercise for the horse. If the horse is in a daily lesson plan, then he probably is getting enough exercise to meet his physical needs.

Does your horse get stalled for parts of the day? If you are providing the extra exercise and nutrition for them, thats great! But remember, horses are herd animals and they like to have a social life too! They will even form a hierarchy within the herd when they are out on pasture. Socialization is important to these massive creatures.

Another important point here is to keep the space clean. Here are some tips for the maintenance of the barn.

clean barn with horse in isle
  • Keep the barn dry and remove any wet shavings and poop regularly. It will prevent the buildup of bacteria and reduce the amount of flies.

  • Remove wastes from the barn and dispose of it away from the barn. Maybe think about getting a manure spreader to fertilize your pastures or donate manure to local farms or student groups that can use it for raised gardens or other projects.

  • Make sure there is proper ventilation in the barn to prevent mold, keep your horse cool in the stall and reduce heat during the summer. You can install fans for each stall and ceiling fans for barn isles. It's also important to understand how your barn is built! Does your barn have ventilation in the roof?

  • If using feed storage stalls, keep them away from the water source to prevent contamination. Be sure to seal the feed bin lids to prevent pests from entering.

  • Pest proof the barn to avoid pests, especially rats from entering the barn. You can even adopt a barn cat or two!

Equine Diet and Nutrition

It's quite common to know that horses feed on pasture. But the main concern for you might be the amount of diet and what type of diet is best for your equine. A horse is either given hay, pasture, and/or grain. You may also combine these three while keeping a balance.

horse eating hay

Hay's for horses!

If you're serving hay regularly instead of free pasture, the amount of feed depends on the size, age, weight, or amount of work performed by the horse. According to horse nutritionists, a horse needs a roughage 1-2% of their body weight each day.

A pony that weighs almost 400 lbs to 600 lbs needs 6-15 pounds of hay each day. A horse weighing 1000 lbs to 1200 lbs needs 20-30 pounds of hay each day. Similarly, a heavier horse which weighs more than 1200 lbs needs 30-40 pounds of hay each day.

Feed your horse alfalfa and grass hay both as they need protein and poly nutrients. However, try to limit alfalfa and feed more grass hay. It will not only keep them busy eating all day but prevent boredom. Besides feeding them hay, make sure that they do have a salt lick in their stall to avoid electrolyte imbalance.


If your horse has access to irrigated pastureland, then he may need to graze 0.7-1.2 acres of land. On the other hand, his requirements may not be completed by dry pastureland as it can only produce approximately 500-2000 lbs of pasture per acre.

Grazing can also be limited in winter due to snow cover, so you can not only rely on pasture. Nor make your horse habitual of grazing pasture alone. To accompany this, limit the grazing hours of the horse and then provide him hay and/or grain.

horse grain and hay are nutritional diet


Grain is also necessary for your horse’s feed to meet his nutritional needs, but keep in mind that less is more here. Gradually increase the amount of grain in his diet and adjust it according to your horse needs. Each feed has its own guidelines of calculating the proper amount of feed for the size, weight, and breed of horse.

Grain can be supplemental food for your horse. Remember, if they are on good green pasture most of the time, they may have already met their daily requirements. If your horse is in heavy training, you may need to supplement with more feed by adding grain. You need to watch the horses body condition scoring to make sure he/she is the correct weight and adjust accordingly.

horse body condition score chart
Photo credit: Fox Valley Equine

Some horses may even need or benefit from supplements in their feed. You can add supplements for all sorts of things: hair & coat, hoof health, joint health, calming, muscle support, fly repellant (contains garlic), tendon support and so much more! You can also try adding herbal supplements for similar effects.


Water is another factor that you should take care of along with the diet and nutrition of the horse. On average, a horse needs 5-10 gallons or 25-45 liters of water each day. Make sure that the water is clean and fresh, otherwise, the horse will refuse to drink it.

flavored electrolyte for horses

Also, horses become used to the flavor of the water they drink daily and they may refuse the water if doesn't taste the same. For this, you should always pack some water from home whenever going on a trip or event. You can even buy flavored electrolytes to add to the water at home. So, when you go out of town, you can add the same flavor to the new water and it will tase the same!

In winter, you can use stock tank heaters to keep the water temperature optimum. If you do not have heaters, make sure to check on the water frequently. If you live in a place that is cold, the buckets and tubs of water can freeze daily. You need to break the ice to allow the horse to drink.

Equine Health Care

It is necessary to take care of the health of the horse to prevent disease development. Moreover, it is also essential for your horse to be active and look reasonable. Your horse is not healthy if it has palpable ribs or has a big round belly and rump.

horse vet does regular check ups and vaccines

Locate a vet nearby for regular checkups and in case of emergencies. Monitor the signs of illness in the horse regularly. Check for behavioral changes, lack of appetite, temperature, cough, activity, new wounds, etc. If you notice any sudden behavior changes or lameness, call your vet for further assessment.

Just like you, your horse also needs vaccination to prevent some diseases. Consult your vet for the correct vaccinations for your horse. It usually depends on the age of the horse or the location.

Another important health care you should consider is parasite control. As horses graze on pasture lands, they sometimes ingest eggs of parasites which can affect the health of horses. It can cause diarrhea, GI upset, and colic. The worms also interfere with the absorption of some nutrients, causing depletion. It is recommended to give deworming paste 4-6 times per year. While some suggest providing deworming paste in the feed every 4 to 8 weeks. So, consult your vet about the deworming process for your horse.

Here are a couple guides we have written for your knowledge.

You will undoubtedly be in a situation where you need to treat your horses wounds. After the vet has come out and assessed the horse, you will need to reapply bandages and clean the wound frequently. Here is a guide we wrote: Handling Horse Injuries and Wound Management.

You can also prevent some common health conditions in horses with holistic therapies. There are many types of complementary therapies out there for horses. But, we specialize in Acupressure and Red Light Therapy. These are both preventative and complementary to veterinary recommendations. The best thing you can do for your horse is to prevent any harm to come to him/her. Think about adding a complementary therapy to your horses regular care.


Grooming should be done on a daily basis to keep your horse free from harmful skin conditions, painful eating conditions and any lameness. The best part is, your horse will look presentable and healthy with routine grooming. Grooming includes dental care, hoof care, cleaning, and bath routine.

bathing horse with hose keeping him clean

Cleaning and Bathing

Horses should be cleaned every day such as removing dirt by brushing or currying. The tail and mane should also be brushed often to prevent tangles and dreads. While brushing, you can look for cuts, swelling, hot/cold spots and skin issues. Brushing allows you to be hands on for a closer look at your horse and create a better connection to your horse.

You can wash the coat with shampoo specifically made for equines. Bath him once or twice a week. A good time to give him a bath is if he is a muddy mess, dirty from a ride or if you just want to make his coat clean. Try to avoid bathing in winter as it is difficult to dry the body and he can catch a cold easily.

If you have just ridden and the horse is hot and sweaty, you need to cool off the horse slowly. Start by hosing down his lower legs and gradually work your way upwards to the top of his back. This prevents any sudden changes in body temperature and doesn't shock the horse. But be sure to read our article listed above on heatstroke for more information on how to prevent it from occurring.

Dental Care

Horses' teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. So, regular cleaning and filing is necessary. Monitor signs in your horse like changes in eating behavior, unable to chew, dropping food from the mouth, or bad breath. Their teeth need to be rasped as they are prone to getting sharp ends or hooks.

checking horses teeth for dental care

Did you know that looking at a horses teeth can give us an idea on the age of the horse? If you are looking to purchase a horse, be sure to go with someone who knows how to properly age the horse. Unfortunately, some people age the horse incorrectly and try to sell the horse younger than they really are.

Hoof care:

Cleaning hooves regularly is also a part of grooming. The hooves are prone to infections due to dust, manure, and stones. So, make sure to pick them up and remove the debris. It is ideal to pick the hooves before and after a ride as well.

farrier trimming a horses hoof

You also need to find a farrier that can come trim your horses hooves ever 4 to 6 weeks. Like our nails, the horses hooves constantly grow. A horse with too long or too short of toe can have lameness problems. Poor hoof care can also lead to laminitis and eventually founder. These are both things a horse owner never wants to hear. Horses who founder usually cannot come back from it.

You and your farrier can determine between barefoot trimming or shoes for your horse. Shoes can be good for horses who have sensitive feet or work on rough terrain. They can protect the hoof from chipping easily. However, shoes can also prevent the natural expansion of the hoof when it hits the ground. So, barefoot is the best option for horses who need more shock absorbers in the feet.

Equine Exercise

Lastly, don't forget to set an exercise routine for your horse. As they are eating all day, they need some sort of exercise. Just like us, they take time to build stamina. You need to start from 10-20 minutes’ walk daily, then gradually increase it to 30-60 minutes, and then move towards galloping.

If your horse is in shape, you can move towards conditioning different muscle groups. You have seen when humans miss leg day, right? Well, let's make sure our horses don't miss out on any groups of muscles! Here is a guide for exercises for horses in training.

If your horse is free in the pasture, then he should be good to go as he can exercise while grazing. On the other hand, if you have kept him in a stable, make sure to take him out for a walk. Choose a pasture where other horses do visit so the horse can interact with them. This helps mental stimulation and prevent boredom.

Final words:

Ask yourself a few questions before getting a horse: Do you have enough time to manage the nutrition, health, and exercise for the horse? Are you responsible or have someone who's able to meet his requirements on time? If your answers are yes, then you deserve to have an equine friend. Read this blog if you are interested in different equine disciplines.

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