Learn. Love. Save Lives.
It’s no secret that there’s an industry-wide lack of resources surrounding adoption and care of non-typical horses. At OHR, we want to change that. Check out our educational archive to find trusted information and answers about caring for your equine partner. We offer resources on basic care for first-time horse owners, equine nutrition, injury rehabilitation, advancement in age, and much more. Whether you’ve had your partner for their whole life or have just found your heart horse, we’re here to help! Together— with a little education— we can make sure all horses find loving, capable homes.
First-time Horse Ownership: Is It Right for You?
Have you always wanted a horse but aren’t sure what to expect in terms of the commitment? Or, have you found the perfect horse but don’t know what the next step is? We can help! Here are some basic but important things to know about responsible horse ownership:
Horses live a long time. The average lifespan of a horse is 30 years, but it’s not uncommon anymore to see horses live 5-to-10 years beyond that. When you purchase a horse, you should consider ownership to be a long-term commitment. And like humans, most horses will need additional care and accommodations as they age. It’s your job to find a safe new home for your horse if at any point you find yourself unable to provide for him.
Your horse depends on you. When you own a horse, you are responsible for another life. You must provide, at minimum, adequate shelter, feed and water, exercise, and basic care daily for your equine partner. The horses will still need stalls mucked, hay thrown, and water buckets filled even if it’s Christmas or -20 degree outside! Some people choose to board their horses and this can help alleviate some of the daily responsibilities of care, but you must still be able to visit your horse and check in on his health and condition frequently, even if not riding.
There are lots of unforeseen costs. Besides providing for the basic daily care of your horse, you’ll need to find a farrier and reputable vet to keep your horse healthy. Farriers will trim your horse’s feet and shoe the horse if needed every 6-8 weeks. They help you keep your horse sound and comfortable. Expect to pay anywhere from $30-130 per horse per visit, depending on your horse’s needs. While farrier work and vet visits for vaccines or dental floats can be scheduled, injuries are less predictable. There are a million ways for a horse to hurt themselves— from abscesses to colic to impailment to tendon injuries— and there’s no real way to prepare for the cost of treatment. Some horse owners invest in equine insurance, but you must be financially ready to care for your horse.
Riding isn’t for everyone. While riding and training your own horse is an incredible way to grow your relationship with your equine partner, you don’t have to be a rider to own a horse! There are lots of ways to enjoy and bond with horses from the ground. Some like the Parelli natural horsemanship games, in-hand showmanship, or just keeping horses as pasture pets to feed treats and to groom, while others might trail ride, show jump, or event at three-day competitions. The most important thing to keep in mind is that whatever kind of horse ownership you engage in, it must be a good fit for both you and your horse.
Horses will change your life. The bond you develop with your horse is one that’s earned. It’s powerful and unconditional, but at times, it’s also challenging. Owning horses requires sacrifice and lots of hard, dirty work. It can mean early, freezing mornings and missing out on weekend trips or plans. But when your horse greets you with a quiet whinny and pushes his soft nose into your hand, you’ll treasure every second that lead you to having him.
Most people know that horses are grazers and will forage grass from their pastures and turnouts as a healthy part of their diet. In fact, horses are non-ruminant herbivores, and spend upwards of 16 hours a day grazing in the wild. But for today’s domesticated horses, pasture grazing likely isn’t meeting all their nutritional needs. For your horse to have a balanced diet, they need at minimum:
Ample access to fresh water. Provide large water troughs of clean water for horses in pasture and make sure to clean them often so algae and bacteria don’t build up. If your horse is stalled, hang buckets that are cleaned and replenished daily. Buckets allow you to monitor how much your horse drinks, which can be helpful in the colder, winter months when horses are more susceptible to dehydration and colic.
Forage. Providing turnout time for horses to move around and graze is an important part of keeping them healthy, but not all pastures have enough nutrient-dense grass to meet your horse’s needs. Aim to provide your horse with 1.5 to 2% of his body weight in pounds of feed per day. Common hay choices are valley grass, orchard grass, or alfalfa, and you can supplement your horse’s diet with grain, if needed, for a complete, well-balanced feeding plan. Consult with your vet about your horse’s nutritional needs and keep in mind that young horses, horses in heavy work or in foal, and senior horses may need additional feed to maintain their weight.
Minerals and Salt. Like people, horses require essential minerals in their diet. Salt is critically important to make sure your horse replaces the electrolytes lost as he sweats and stays properly hydrated. Try setting out a mineral salt block for your horse to lick freely— if this doesn’t do it for your horse, you can feed additional complete supplements like Horse Guard. Keep in mind that mineral deficiencies are linked with geographical locations. For example, grasses grown in Oregon are often deficient in selenium and Vitamin E, meaning horses won’t be getting enough of these minerals through their forage-based diet.
For additional resources on Equine Nutrition, see Carey A. Williams, Ph.D., “The Basics of Equine Nutrition,” Rutgers, April 2004.
Medical Resources: Putting Together An Equine First-Aid Kit
All horse owners should have certain items on hand to ensure they can adequately treat minor injuries and facilitate a safe response to emergency situations. You don’t want to have to call the vet every time your horse comes in from turnout with a new scrape and you don’t want to have to make a run to the nearest feed store if your horse needs time-sensitive treatment. Having some medical essentials set aside for equine first-aid will allow you to more effectively respond in the event of an emergency and keep your horse safe and healthy day-to-day.
We recommend designating a separate tote, storage box, or cabinet for medical supplies. Mark it obviously with “Medical” or “First Aid” or a cross so barn mates, farm sitters, etc. know where to find the needed supplies. If possible, keep the box indoors, off the floor, away from water, rodents, dirt, and other contaminants. Keep a checklist of items taped to the top of the box and mark the date when they’re replaced so you can keep track of the contents and expiration dates. It’s also a good idea to keep a list of your horses unique vitals and contact information for your vet, farrier, and a secondary contact in case you’re not around to handle the emergency.
In addition to basic items you likely already have, like a set of brushes, a hoof pick, and fly spray— which can all be useful in an emergency— below is a list of items we find especially helpful to have around for first-aid scenarios.
Our Essential First-Aid Items:
Povidone / Iodine / Betadine (solution not scrub) — sterilizing agents used to clean wounds and treat fungus
Chlorhexidine — disinfectant
Cetirizine — antihistamines used for allergic reactions and hives
Stethoscope — instrument used for establishing heartbeat, pulse, respiration rate and listening for gut sounds
Thermometer and lubricant — used to check for fever
Sterile syringes and needles of various gauges — used for administering drawn-up medications IM and IV
Sterile blunt scissors — used to cut through bandages and vet wrap
Standing wraps and quilts / pressure bandages — used to reduce swelling and inflammation, and protect leg injuries
Gauze pads and wrap — used for cleaning out wounds and on the inside of bandages
Vet wrap — used to secure a bandage and cover wounds
Elasticon/ Tape — versatile, but often used in place of or in addition to vet wrap on wounds in hard to wrap places
Clippers — used to trim hair covering an injury
Splint brace (or PVC) — used to brace a horse in the event of a severe injury to the leg
Soaking boots— used to soak a horse’s foot or lower leg due to bruising or inflammation
Medicated shampoo — used on a horse with an allergic reaction, dermatitis, or fungus
Blue Kote / Aluspray — a liquid bandage spray used on minor cuts and wounds
Corona cream — a cream used to treat skin irritation and minor wounds
Medi-Honey — antibacterial honey used to help speed up wound healing time
Epsom Salt — a salt, usually mixed with water, to help treat abscesses in hooves
Pink Eye spray — used for pink eye in horses, but gentle enough to use for eye irritation
Wonder Dust blood stopper — a coagulate powder that helps open wounds scab
Swat cream — a rub-on cream that keeps flies away from wounds
(Available through your vet)
Banamine (oral or paste) — used for colic, gastrointestinal issues, anti-inflammatory, and pain relief
Bute (powder or tablets) — used for pain relief associated with joints and bodily injury
Dormosedan gel / Ace — used for sedation
Dexamethasone — steroid used to treat inflammation (not advisable for Cushings or previously foundered horses)
NPB (Neomycin-Polymyxin B Sulfates-Bacitracin) — eye ointment used for treatment of optical injuries, swelling and irritation
Hydrocortisone — topical dermal cream used for irritated skin, allergic reactions, etc.
Always consult your veterinarian when unsure about how to treat your horse.
Those who are not experienced and trained in medicating and giving injections to horses should not administer pharmaceuticals.
Check the storage advice for pharmaceuticals; many equine drugs need to be kept refrigerated.
Wash your hands before and after treatment and keep your horse under quarantine if worried he or she may be contagious.
There may be many additional items you choose to add to this list, and we encourage you to find and make use of products that work well for you and your horse.
Continued Training: Tying, Tacking, and Handling Horses Safely
Basic Medical Treatments: Wound Care and Bandaging 101
Hoof Care and Identifying Lameness
Equine Illnesses and Injury: Understanding Signs and Symptoms
Winterizing: Shelter, Blanketing, and Managing Weight
Senior or Advanced Age Horses: Supplements, Dietary Needs, and Extra Care
Common Misconceptions about Adoption