Tails Blog

Keeping a horse for a pet

Steve Coppell - Thursday, December 02, 2010

Keeping a horse for a pet


To live with horses on your own little piece of land is undeniably a most beautiful gift. Yet we have to be aware of the nature of these magnificent animals, and consider their needs carefully in order to create an invironment in which they feel comfortable.In the wild horses form herds and lead a nomadic lifestyle. They have evolved highly specialised behavior and strategies to survive. Once we keep them in a confined space, it is our task to provide them with everything they would otherwise find in nature.


Create a Herd

It is of utmost importance for a horse to have company. Horses are herd animals and become deeply depressed if left on their own. To be happy they need social interaction. The stimulation and excercise horses naturaly provide for each other through play and grooming one another cannot be subtituted.
However, it cannot be denied that horses are costly. So why not try and collaberate with a neighbour, who has horses as well? You could but your horses together and alternate the grazing on each others properties, or you could offer grazing for someone elses horse/s at your place, and subsidise your own horse related costs.


There are a few things to keep in mind when introducing a new horse to your property, or letting your horse join another group, to minimise the risk of injury.
Horses have a strict hierarchy and will need to sort out where each and every individual stands in the pecking order. A good precaution is to take their shoes off, if they arent barefoot, so that the impact of any kicking is lessened.
Put the horses into paddocks next to each other, so they can smell one another and slowly get used to each other for a few days, before putting them together. Safe and highly visible fencing is essential for horses at all times, but especially  for new members.
Its also a good idea to create spaces for horses to evade each other when being chased, so one horse cant be cornered by another. Any objects like trees, barrels and such in the middle of the paddock will do.

A Horses Home Range

Another significant issue for horses is some sort of shelter. It could be trees and shrubs, or a three sided run in shelter.
People argue that it is costly to put a shelter in every paddock, yet in the long run this actually saves you money. Since your horse is not exposed to extreme weather conditions like strong rain and harsh winds, its metabolism experiences less stress so he/she is less likely to fall ill, which in turn means less costly vet bills.
Its easier for your horse to stay warm, which means it will need less food to do so. Additionally, in summer your horse will be most grateful for the shade to save it from being scorched by the sun, it will get less sunburned, and wont be prone to dehydration as it would be in a bare paddock.

Paddock Care

Generally it pays to look after your paddock well as you will be rewarded with more productivity. Rotational grazing is a good way to give your grass time to regenerate.
Since horses are comparatively picky eaters, you should consider letting other animals like sheep, goats or cattle into the paddock after the horses have moved on to the next one. Sheep, goats and cattle will eat many weeds that horses will not touch, thereby keeping the overall weed population down.
Managing the droppings of your horses is also part of good pasture management. You can pick the droppings up and use them to make compost. Your garden will love you for it. If you dont have time to do this, at least try and break the droppings up by kicking and spreading them. In this way they wont burn the grass underneath so much, and you help prevent a parasitic worm infestation because you minimise their breeding grounds.
Its sensible to do regular faecal testing to make sure you keep the risk of parasites compromising a horses health as low as possible.

Treatment of Parasites found inside your horse

You can access a variety of ready made worming pastes through your vet. There is a wide range of products on offer, and its up to you to decide if you are happy with a chemical based product, or if you prefer natural products. The chemical version after going through your horses system and ending up in the droppings, may have negative effects on the non parasitic worms in your paddocks, possibly degrading the good worm life. However it may also be the only thing that can deal with a heavy parasite burden.
Faecal egg count reduction tests are important in preventing the overuse of chemical drenches so you can avoid populations of drench resistant parasites buiding up in pasture. By testing samples of your horses faeces your vet can tell with some accuracy whether drenching is actually required; for many years horse owners have been told to drench every 8 to 12 weeks but, properly managed, drenching can be put off for much longer.
There are a number of herbs and seeds  that when blended together, are claimed to assist in expelling parasites. Since some herbs can be toxic it is advisable to consult a qualified herbalist or vet doing alternative practise to determine what products can be administered. For example garlic is a natural antibiotic, anti microbial, anti fungal and anti bacterial, but the research is still out on its effectiveness as a vermifuge (drugs that expel parasitic worms from the body).

Treatment of Parasites found on the Outside of your horse 

 There are a number of easy to make natural fly sprays that can be used for external use, one of them being citronella oil diluted in water. If your horse is afraid of the sound of the spray bottle simply use a piece of cloth or a sponge to wipe the citronella water over them.
If using this mix on the face make sure it doesnt get anywhere near the sensitive skin around the eyes, mouth and nose.

Your Horses Diet

The diet of your horse is another vital component of its well being. Preferably a horse should be fed 2% of its bodyweight per day in fibrous feeds such as pasture, hay chaff, sugarbeet pulp, copra meal (be careful though, as its high oil levels and protein are fattening), soybean hulls, lupin hulls, oat hulls and sunflower seed hulls.
You should also consider adding some supplements into your horses hard feed. Many soils around New Zealand lack selenium, and it might be good to add some to the food. Then again, too much selenium is toxic and just as harmful as selenium deficiency- get your vet to take a blood test and determine on the bases of the results how much selenium you need to add if any.
Some other suppliments to inquire about are kelp, zink, magnesium and vegetable oils like linseed oil for example. Salt licks or mineral licks are another option for providing your horse with crucial vitamins and minerals if it is only in light work.
In spring, when the amount of mycotoxins in the grass increases, it might be sensible to include a toxin binder in the food.

Feet On The Ground

Last but not least, hoof care. In the wild, horses would naterally keep their hooves trimmed as they traveled over diverse ground. Nowdays, for a horse spending most its time on a block, the hooves need attention by a barefoot trimmer or farrier to stay in the right shape.
There are some interesting arguements against shoeing horses. One of the hooves main functions is to expand and contract, thereby pumping the blood back up the horses leg. This action supports the entire blood circulation in the horses body, and in this way has an influence on all of the horses organs. A shoe compromises the hoofs ability to expand and contract.
The wieght of the shoe is another concern. One shoe actually wieghs more than the whole hoof capsule, creating a cosiderable extra strain on the horses limbs. Yet if a horse does alot of road riding its hooves can wear down too quickly when left barefoot; in this case the barefoot horse can wear hoof boots.

Tips For The New Horse Owner

Wire fencing can be very dangerous for horses- barbed wire fences, in particular should be avoided.
When feeding out hay it is advisable to make several piles in different places, and not too close to each other. If a horse is driven away from its pile, it can simply find another pile to feed from.
Should a horse become sick, it becomes more vulnerable - it may be useful to seperate him/her from the herd for a short period of time so they can have a proper rest.
Horses do not gain immunity to parasites as they age, so care must be taken to monitor parasites using faecal egg counts, so you only drench as and when required. Good management means almost never having to drench.
Research has shown that removing dung reduces worm larve numbers to only 10-20% of the levels shown in pastures where dung was not removed. Infective larvae can develope in less than a week, so dung should be removed from paddocks at least twice a week if infection is to be prevented.

Horse Whispering

Simple and non violent codes of behavior and body language help us to attain the role as the leading animal and gain our horses trust and respect. This is essencial if we want to interact safley with our horse.
Horses have a strict hierarchy, with precisely defined roles and rules. Their pecking order shows the rank of each and every horse very clearly. In the wild there is usually an older more experienced mare at the top of the pecking order, (not a stallion as most people tend to think)
The job of the stallion is basically confined to reproduction, and to fending off other stallions. It is the mare who is the boss, and she defines the social life of the herd: where and when they graze, drink and rest.
It is also the leading mare who will rebuke a youngster who breaches the rules. She does that by driving the offender out of the herd using body language. She will square up to him and keep her eye locked on him for the period of time she wants him out of the herd. Generally a youngster is keenly aware of his vulnerability. He seems to know he is safe in the herd, and that on his own he is likely to fall victim to predators. This fact normally causes the youngster to start communicating to the mare that he has changed his mind. Through certain signals, like chewing and licking for instance, he will ask the mare if he can join the herd again. When the mare has accepted his inquiry, she will invite him back into the group by turning away from him.

How to Be A Leader

A very simple way of establishing clear boundries is consistancy and awareness. A horse that is higher in rank will move a horse that is lower in rank. The subordinate horse will always yield to the dominant one.
For us humans that translates into being concious when around horses and standing your ground. A very effective method is to only move if you really intend to move, and not as a result of a move your horse makes. It sounds easy, but it is easy to become distracted while talking to someone else or the like and just as easily and unconciously do the opposite.
The horse might be very subtle and gradule in its proceeding too. It might take only one step, then another and so on, until we often instinctly take a step back or to the side in order to avoid getting our toes stood on.
No big deal, and at the time it might even go completly unnoticed by us. However the message to your horse will be you are lower in rank than me. This in turn might tempt the horse to try more and more often to achieve the status of leading animal, and at some point to challange you in a more pushy manner.
It is advisable to prevent this sort of confrentation through clarity and proper demeanour. Make it a habit to calmly, but immediately ask your horse to step back every time it comes into your personal space uninvited. In this way you will establish natural dominance through competence.

Are You Accidentally Threatening Your Horse

There are some signals a horse may interpret as threatening because they remind the horse of typical predator behavior. For instance looking a horse in the eye, facing it square on with your shoulders and holding your hands open will potentially cause a horse to move away due to its similarity to the behavior shown by predators getting ready to hunt it, or one that is already chasing it.
Consequently it is advisable to look to the ground, on the chest of the horse or its forelegs when catching it, not in the eye.