All About The Horse

HORSES, Beginners and First Time Buyers… Things To Know.

Are you thinking about a first time purchase or adoption of a horse? Do you know what you don't know?

Well, here are some of the things that should help you get on the right track...

Most people know that you need to put gas in a vehicle... but they either forget, don't know, or don't care about oil changes, water in the radiator, air in the tires, filter changes, tire rotations and so on. In the same fashion most people know a horse needs food and water, but what about the rest of the things you should know? ...Especially if you’re about to purchase your first one!

People that have been given a free horse can tell you that, there is no such thing as a "Free Horse". The free part only covers the initial purchase. After you have gotten the horse home or settled comfortably at a local horse facility, that's where the spending and responsibility starts, sometimes referred to as, "A Black Hole for Money", or, "The Money Pit". Hay costs about $20 per bale at time of this writing, in the western US states. Some places in the mid-west or east coast may have lower prices. An average horse should eat about 21 lbs of hay per day. Therefore, you can expect a 100-110lb. bale of hay to last about 4-5 days for 1 horse. If you use these figures and multiple this out you can probably figure on spending an approximate minimum of $1500 per horse, per year. This is if you are not purchasing any extra supplements or have a giant ranch with pasture land for your horse to graze on. Each situation will vary depending on your choices and availabilities. This is just a starting point or guideline for feeding a 1000 to 1500 pound horse. You will still need to watch your horse and observe changes in their weight. This is not that difficult. If your horse looks thin, feed a little more. If your horse looks fat, feed a little less. After some time and as you gain experience, you will get the hang of what does best for your horse. Horses are like people in the fact that some will need more or less food to obtain an optimum weight and health. A good way to gauge how well you are doing with your feeding is to use the following… Number 3 is the goal.

1. Emaciated- ribs clearly visible with protruding hip bones.

2. On the thin side- ribs clearly visible.

3. Optimum Weight- you can feel ribs but not see ribs.

4. On the heavy side- can't see ribs and barely feel ribs.

5. Obese- can't see ribs and cannot feel ribs.

As a back up to using the scale, ask your vet to evaluate your horse when they are around. They can confirm that you are on track or may have some suggestions to modify what you are doing to get better results.

Photo of a young horse.
This is Cloudy. He was severely emaciated rescue horse. It's amazing how a horse can recover with proper diet and exercise.
If you have an underweight horse and you want to put some weight on it. It is really important that you do not do this too fast. If a horse is fed too much or given a food really high in calories, sometimes referred to as "Hot Foods", a horse can suffer from what is called “Founder". If you have a horse in a somewhat advanced underweight condition, it would be to your benefit to consult a professional such as your vet to help you with a feeding schedule. They will probably have you increase feed slowly and graduate amounts and types of food over time.

If you decide to board your horse at a facility, the person in charge will usually take care of feeding and may or may not get involved with some of the other things mentioned. The facility may sponsor teeth and shot clinics with a vet once or twice a year where you can get some of these things taken care of at the same time. If they don't offer these options, it will all be up to you. In any case, it doesn't hurt to understand the above concepts. If you are relying on a facility to care for your new buddy, you'll want to be able to tell if they are doing a good job or not. If they are not, and you can't get good care for your horse where you are, you should start interviewing other facilities and seriously consider moving.

Have an idea of what you want to do with your horse prior to the purchase. Do you have any favorite events already? Have you been to a horse show or a rodeo, and you’ve seen something that looks fun? Do you have a friend that has a horse activity that they are trying you to get involved in? Knowing what you expect to do with your horse later is the best place to start. Just remember, that most horses regardless of color or breed can do most things. Some horses will just be better built for a specific job. You should never, as a first time horse owner, go out and purchase a horse just because of a color, or, because it is cute. Your decision should be based on personality, confirmation, training, experience, age and past accomplishments.

When you go out to meet a perspective horse for purchase, have an "Experienced" horse owner or a "Well Known" trainer with a "Good Reputation" in your community go with you, not just someone that has had a horse standing in their back yard for the last 25 years. That is not a testimony to knowing a whole lot of anything. Be willing to pay for their time to evaluate the horse. Find out what they will charge, what they will do for you and what they will look for during the evaluation. Anytime I call about something that is unknown to me, I always talk to at least 3 people or places. Keep calling until you run out of people, or until you find someone you like. I would handle the conversation just like a job interview. You are considering hiring them, right? ...Even if you don't plan to hire them for long term training… yet! I would not even hesitate to let them know your intent and goals and let them know you are interviewing other trainers. The ones that really know their stuff will not be offended by this. You will be able to tell which ones have the better answers and who sounds the most experienced even if you don't know everything yet. Find out what they will do for you during an evaluation. A good trainer should be able to point out things in the horses "Confirmation", the way the horses’ body structure is put together, that will either work to your advantage or work against you. They should be able to tell you if the horse is "Sound", if the horse has leg issues, or not, and they should be able to ride the horse for you and evaluate what kind of training it may or may not have. If for some reason you don't take an experienced person with you. Have the owner ride the horse first. If they won't get on and let you see them ride the horse, I don't care what the excuse is, "DO NOT GET ON THAT HORSE!". You're probably only asking to get hurt. Trainers sometimes take what they call a "Calculated Risk". This means that they are betting on their experience to avoid, or get them through a possible wreck. As a first time owner, you do not have this experience working for you. Two things to remember. Do not get yourself hurt! Do not get your horse hurt!

If everything looks good at this point and the trainer agrees that all looks good so far, the next thing to do is to get a "Vet Check" on the horse. This is where a veterinarian gives the horse an examination. It may include blood tests, urine tests and fecal tests. The vet will check the horses' joints for freedom of movement and check for soundness (the way the horse carries itself and walks, trots and cantors). Some of these things can overlap with a trainer, but it's a good way to have a second opinion.

News Flash! Not all people in this world are honest... Surprise! The last thing you need is to purchase a horse that someone else already knows has medical issues or problems that they are trying to pawn off on you! The problems can be physical, mental or both. Sometimes sellers will drug a horse prior to an appointment with a buyer, this way the horse will not show any signs of illness in front of you. You may only discover the problem after you get home, and sometimes it may take days or weeks to show up depending on what has been masked. There are some things you can do to minimize these risks. The first one is to ask if you can stop by unannounced in a few days, after your initial appointment. This will not allow the sellers to know when the horse needs to be drugged in advance of a visit. The second one is to ask if you can take the horse for a trial period, for maybe a week or two. You need to have a place to keep it obviously. If you have the horse, you will know it hasn't been drugged during the time you have had it, and if it was drugged, the drugs will have time to leave the system. Not all sellers will go for this, but it has worked for me in the past. There needs to be some mutual trust between the parties and I suggest some sort of mutual agreement in writing also. The agreement can cover items such as, if the horse gets sick or injured while in your care, who will pay the vet bill? ...or, do you now just pay for the damaged goods and you bought the horse, it is now yours regardless of condition, and at what price? It may include an address where the horse will be kept during this time and the terms of which it will be returned and how that will be carried out. I am not a lawyer; if you need that kind of help, consult one. These are just some ideas and you can add your own twist on it between buyer and seller. The main idea here is to protect both parties with a prior written agreement. Keep the wording simple and in plain English or whatever language you both speak... Lol! Don't try to use big fancy legal word and terms. Another advantage to this option is that you have more than an hour or so to make a buying decision on an animal that you may have for the next 30 years. You get the chance to see what the horse is really made of and if your personalities are a good match. Yes, horses have personalities just as individual as human beings have. I have had horse owners with plenty of horse experience tell me, "do not try to attach human attributes to a horse". A person can talk until they are blue in the face. They are not going to convince me of anything different than what I know and believe. You will form your own opinion about this over time...

A Third option is to lease the horse for a time, 3mo, 6mo, a year and so on. The obvious advantage is that you have more time to evaluate the horse as discussed in option two. The seller gets paid and you get use a horse without having to own it or be stuck with it if it is physically or mentally sick. Again, you should have some sort of contract that spells out what you have agreed on as lessee and lessor. It should include all of the things mentioned above, it may also include an option to purchase, length of time, how the horse will be returned, who is responsible for feed, board and vet bills. Again, seek legal advice if you’re not sure what you are doing. You might even find some sort of generic written contract that has been pre-written by a lawyer somewhere and all you have to do is fill in the blanks.

Horse colors and breeds are great, neat and cool, but do your best not to purchase a horse for color. You should purchase a horse for its training and experience. Find out what has been schooled for, what it has accomplished and if the horse has ever been entered in any shows or contests. If it has, it will probably have a show record and points earned during various events. These things can be helpful while making your decision as to what the horse is capable of and weather it will fit into your future interests. If you find a great, well trained, "bombproof/safe" horse with a cool bread and or color, then so be it. Get some experience under your belt before you try purchasing one for color. I've heard it said, and I agree that, "it is nice to have 15 years of combined riding experience between horse and rider". What this means is that, if you have a horse with one year of riding experience under "Under Saddle", then, the rider should have 14 years of riding experience and vice versa. One makes up for the lack of experience for the other.

Photo of a young horse.
Young horses are cute, but not always the best choice.
I have met people that have a young child and they want to buy a young horse or pony for them, so that they can grow up together. This is a "No No" in my book. Another thing that I hear is that people want to get a pony for their child because it is small. A pony for a small child is not always a good match. Don't get me wrong, I am not putting down ponies or any horse breeds for that matter, but, ponies have been known to be cranky on occasion. People think the size better fits their child. Children grow much faster than people plan on. When your child outgrows the size of their pony, you now have a decision to make. Do you sell off a family member, or do you continue to feed and care for it for the rest of its life, when it’s no longer usable by your family? Ponies can live into their 40's. Think about it... I mentioned ponies being cranky, my personal opinion is that, a small child on a full-sized, well trained horse is a better match, and even a horse 15- 20 years of age. Now the caveat here is that you don't want to purchase a 15 or 20 year old horse and start training from scratch. The purpose of buying a horse of that age is to take advantage of its years of riding experience. If it has no experience, it won't fit into your plans.

Some sellers advertise 30, 60 or 90 days under saddle... This is still a baby horse mentally and it is just "starting training". You will still need to finish or hire a good trainer to complete the training and in the horsemanship style that you plan to ride. It is advantageous to purchase a horse that has already been trained in the event and style you plan to ride. Training is expensive. People outgrow the capabilities of some horses in their events. These are perfect "Stepping Stone" horses. You will probably come out ahead to pay a little more for a well-trained, experienced horse that someone else has paid for the expensive training on, than buying training yourself. Now, you only need training for yourself, not for both you and the horse. Horse training can drag out for long periods of time. You can be riding and enjoying your event much faster if your horse has already finished its schooling, rather than waiting for it to graduate. Even if a horse is 10 or 20 years old, it is not uncommon for that horse to have been a "Lawn Ornament" its whole life. This means that it has never been asked to do anything or taught anything as long as the people have owned it. It just stands around looks pretty and eats food, also referred to as a "Hay Burner". Just imagine having a human child that has never been taught anything, nothing about bathing, taught no language, no manners, no eating skills such as using eating utensils, or socialized in any way for that matter... What kind of mess would you be in if you decided to adopt this child at 18years old?! Ya Right! ...and to make things worse, this horse may have been kept alone the whole time. Now the problem has been compounded because, not only has it not been trained but, it has not even been socialized by other horses. Other horses in a herd will teach younger horses manners and socialization. If they are loners, they have now missed out on this training too. I will now go out on a limb and assume that the people that have owned the horse have made no positive contribution to this being a "Good/Well behaved horse", or it would not have been a "Lawn Ornament" in the first place. Everyone is training their horse at all times, whether they are making the attempt to or not. What I mean by this is that, we are all teaching our horses to either be good, or, we are teaching our horses to be bad. If you don't know how to teach a horse the correct way, guess what you will probably contributing to? The result of bad, or no training at all is usually a spoiled and overbearing horse that may even bite or kick out of a lack of respect for its owner. "Lack of respect" is a whole other subject that I will probably write an article on in the future. For right now, I will only advise that you consult a good trainer if you’re up against this situation. The good thing here is that with proper training, I believe 99 out of 100 spoiled horses, maybe more, can be corrected and fairly quickly with proper guidance.

Know how to use and why you are using a piece of equipment, otherwise known as "Tack". So many times I see a piece of tack on a horse and when I ask why the rider has decided to use it, they reply, "because I saw it on someone else's' horse", or, "so and so told me to get one". These people have no idea what it is for or how to use it, and a lot of the time, the person that told them to use it has no clue either. If asked, they would answer with the same answers as above. Using a piece of equipment improperly on a horse is worse than not having it at all. It creates frustration in the horse, improper training and problems for you that will eventually need to be fixed. As simple as the following items seem to be to a beginner, I see them misused all of the time just because of lack of knowledge; bits, tie downs, breast collars, reigns, halters and rear cinches, not to mention saddles. An improper fitting saddle can force you to sit in the wrong position or might pinch the horse and create bucking issues. If you have to make a choice, fit the horse first! I could spend all day on this subject, so, just remember to ask a person with good experience and training for help before you create a bad training experience for you and your horse.

There are a few subjects that I will lightly touch on just to make you aware of them.

Horse Shoes... horses are "Shod" and this is done by a "Ferrier". All horses’ feet grow at different rates of speed and usually faster in the summer months. An average timeframe between appointments is 6 to 8 weeks. This will vary depending on you, your horse and the Ferrier. Horses can wear shoes or go barefoot depending on their use.

"Geldings", a male horse that has been castrated and "Mares" a female horse, will both need special cleaning and attention periodically. The gelding needs what is called a “Sheath Cleaning”. This is a cleansing of the skin that surrounds the penis. You can learn to do this yourself or it can be done by a vet at the time of annual or semi-annual shot or teeth clinics. Some geldings will tolerate the cleaning and some others will need sedation by a vet to accomplish the job. The mares need to be cleaned around their teats. You can do this yourself during a bath or rinse off.

Worming, horses will get worms from things they ingest, hay, grain, especially fesses from other animals. You will need to give them an oral paste several times a year depending on your area and their opportunity for contamination. Some people feed "Food Grade" "Diatomaceous Earth" in their daily feed as a wormer and as a passive fly control. I live in a dessert area and have had great results with this method. The advantage here is that you are not introducing any poisons onto your horses' system. Consult your vet for options and schedules.

Teeth should be checked and adjusted periodically. This is called "Floating". Floating is usually recommended to be done every 6 months up to 1 and 1/2years. Consult your vet for a schedule. Floating will help you horse chew properly and insure it is getting the most nutrition possible out of its food.

Shots need to be given at least annually and maybe more depending on your area. These may include, rabies, tetanus, flu, rhino, West Nile and possibly more. Consult your vet's recommendation for types and frequency of inoculations.

Shade, if you are in a hot desert climate, it is imperative that your horse has plenty of shade and water. When the desert temperatures reach 110-120 degrees it can be deadly. In the wild, horses can find ways to cool themselves and find water. When they are confined to a stall they are completely at your mercy for their survival. Please, please, be a responsible owner! Even while you are riding, if you need water, your horse probably does too. They are doing most of the work, right? Just try and remember this every time you need a drink. If you take care of your horse, they will be in good shape when you are counting on them to take care of you.

Exercise, horses need this on a regular basis. Horses left to stand in their stall day after day will become cranky, spoiled and their muscles will start to deteriorate. I personally don't like to see a horse with less than 3 days of exercise a week. Please do at least this much or more for your horse. This should not be a chore if you are enjoying your new hobby.

This article is designed to bring things to your attention that all horse owners should be aware of. This is not an “all inclusive manual” and it is not designed to scare you out of horse ownership. Horses are beautiful creatures. They are noble beasts with feelings and social hierarchies within their heard. They will love you and talk to you, if you take the time learn to speak their language. When I say "speak their language", there is nothing magical about this. They communicate with each other with body language, and they will speak to you in the same way. If you pay attention you will understand what they are trying to tell you. Horses can be great loving friends and even great therapy for people with handicaps. I've had some really great conversations with my horses. I rarely get any back talk and I always get the last word in. LOL!

Anyway, I hope that this article can help at least one person get ready for their new companion. If you know someone that can benefit from this article, please feel free to share it. The information in this article has been posted for free. However, if you have found anything that is of benefit or if it may have helped you in any way, saved you; time, future headache or even hard earned money… Please feel free to make a contribution to help perpetuate this website into the future. Think about what the information is worth to you and decide how much you would like to contribute. If you are unsure, even 1 dollar would be appreciated. Thank you for stopping by and participating!

This is Mark Hinds, wishing you all… "Happy Horses!" :-)

Photo by: Mary Sue Harris Kunz

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