Basic horse care

Healthy horse in paddock Owning a horse can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Horses make wonderful companions and can be kept:

  • for pleasure riding
  • to enter competitions
  • as a pet.

Many important responsibilities are associated with owning a horse. Horse ownership:

  • is a long-term commitment
  • requires significant time and effort
  • is expensive.

It is your legal responsibility to make sure your horse is provided with the basic requirements to keep it healthy and happy.

Horse owners running horses on their own property and owners of properties where horses are agisted must also have a Property Identification Code (PIC).

These requirements include:

  • adequate and appropriate feed
  • water
  • shelter
  • space and exercise
  • company
  • health care
  • treatment of illness or injury.

Feeding your horse

Horses must have access to an adequate amount of good quality feed in the form of roughage (pasture, hay or chaff) to keep them in good body condition. A guide to the amount to feed is generally 1–2 kg per 100kg of bodyweight each day or:

  • Pony (measuring up to 13.5 hands, 200–350kg)
    feed 3–7kg each day
  • Galloway (measuring 13.5–15 hands, 350–500kg)
    feed 7–10kg each day
  • Horse (measuring 15–16.5 hands, 500–650kg)
    feed 10–13kg each day
  • Heavy Horse (measuring 16.5+ hands, 650+kg)
    feed 13+ kg each day

You may need to supplementary feed if:

  • a horse is being worked regularly
  • there is not enough pasture
  • the horse is losing body condition.

Provide a salt lick or mineral block in paddock. Check with your veterinarian about suitable supplementary feeds – grass clippings and many food scraps are not suitable feed as they can cause a horse to become ill.

Water for your horse

Clean water must always be available for your horse. A dam or self-filling trough is best and should be checked frequently. Bath tubs can be used but must be checked daily and re-filled if needed.

Buckets are not suitable as a permanent water supply (they can be tipped over).

If your water supply is not self-filling it must be checked daily.

As a guide, a horse may drink 25-45 litres per day in hot weather.

Shelter for your horse

Horses need shelter from sun, wind and rain. Suitable horse shelters include:

  • trees
  • a walk-in shed
  • a stable.

A waterproof rug can protect the horse from cold weather but check it daily to ensure it is not rubbing, slipping or leaking.

Exercise and space for your horse

Horses must have enough space to walk and run around, unless they are exercised daily. Stabled horses must have enough space to walk forward, turn around, lie down and roll. Sick horses may need to be confined under the directions of a veterinarian.

Horses must not be tethered long-term. It is only acceptable for short periods of time. Where tethered the following requirements must be met:

  • access to water at all times
  • exercise off tether daily
  • ability to lie down and stand without restriction
  • tether must be attached by a swivel to a collar or halter
  • twice daily inspection
  • access to shelter at all times, for horses this may be shelter from a tree as well as a physical shelter
  • be able to graze freely

Paddocks for your horse

To prevent injury and escape of horses:

  • keep fences in good repair
  • prevent threats such as loose wires
  • be aware of attractions such as a neighbouring horse
  • remove rubbish and weeds regularly

Horse general health care and maintenance

Feet care

Horse's hooves need to be trimmed every 6-8 weeks by a farrier. This prevents them chipping or becoming too long and uncomfortable for your horse. Shoes are needed if the horse is to be ridden on hard or rocky ground.

Teeth care

Horse's teeth need to be checked by a trained and competent equine dentist at least once a year for a horse kept in a paddock. Unchecked teeth can become sharp, causing pain and mouth injuries.

Horses under the age of 5, as well as grain fed horses, need a dental check at least once every 3 to 6 months.

Worming your horse

Worm your horse regularly to prevent build up of worms in the stomach and intestines. Many worming pastes require use every 6-8 weeks. Follow the directions on the product as dosage frequency and amounts vary.

Reducing the build-up of manure in your horse's paddock is a simple way to reduce worm contamination of pastures.

Horse vaccinations

Your veterinarian will advise what your horse should be vaccinated for and how often. They may recommend vaccination for diseases such as tetanus, viral respiratory disease and strangles.

Monitor your horse's body condition

Do not let your horse get too fat or too thin:

  • a horse is too thin if its ribs are showing (you should be able to feel, but not see, a horse's ribs)
  • a horse is too fat if it has a round rump, big belly and crested neck

A horse's body condition must not be allowed to become less than body condition score 2.

See Condition Scoring Horses for further information.

Laminitis

Some horses may develop laminitis, a very painful hoof condition. In some cases severe damage may develop that is untreatable and require the horse to be "put down".

Common causes of laminitis are obesity or too much green pasture or grain and ponies are particularly susceptible.

Always consult a vet if your horse appears lame, uncomfortable or stands in water for long periods. Further information about Laminitis.

Colic in horses

Colic refers to a range of digestive tract (gut) problems. Colic can be very painful and can have very serious consequences, including death.

If you suspect your horse has colic seek urgent veterinary attention. Symptoms in your horse include:

  • lying down or rolling frequently
  • teeth grinding
  • restlessness
  • repeatedly kicking
  • looking at their flanks or sides.

Notifiable diseases in horses

Horses can suffer from a variety of diseases, some of which are notifiable in Victoria.

Company of other horses

Horses are herd animals and need the company of other horses. This can be in the same paddock or a neighbouring paddock. Keeping a horse on its own may lead to behaviour problems in the paddock or when out riding.

Supervision and monitoring of your horse

Check your horse at least daily, ensuring it is not injured or ill and has adequate feed and water.

Consult a vet if the horse is injured or ill. Horses that are handled frequently are usually easier to manage for farrier, vet or dentist visits.

Stallions

Stallions are difficult to manage and are not suitable as companions. All colts and stallions should be desexed (gelded), by a veterinary practitioner, unless they are to be used for breeding. Geldings and mares are much more controllable companions than stallions.

Disposal of your horse

If you can no longer care for the horse, you must arrange for it to be cared for by someone else, sell it or have it euthanised. It is much kinder to have the horse humanely destroyed than let it suffer from neglect.

Selling a horse can be done privately such as through a friend or in the paper, or the horse can be taken to a saleyard for public auction.

Riding your horse

If you have little or no experience riding a horse you should:

  • seek professional training or lessons from a riding instructor
  • join a pony or adult horse club or a riding establishment.

This will help you to learn to ride properly and enjoy your time with the horse.

It is essential to use properly fitting riding equipment. This will ensure your safety and prevent injury to your horse. Consult your local saddlery or riding instructor for advice on appropriate equipment.

Breeding horses

Breeding horses should not be done indiscriminately and should only be done by experienced people (or with advice from experienced people), it is:

  • expensive
  • time consuming and
  • requires special facilities and knowledge.

Things to consider before buying a horse

Buying a horse is a big investment of time and money, you need to consider the following before purchasing a horse:

  • Can you provide all basic health and welfare requirements to keep your horse happy and healthy?
  • How much time do you have to spare? Keeping a horse requires a substantial time commitment.
  • Keeping a horse is expensive, do you have enough money to care for your horse?
  • Do you have a suitable property to keep the horse on?
  • Is your property appropriately fenced and suitable for catching and working the horse?
  • Is it close to home so you can visit your horse daily?
  • Do you have enough pasture or other feed for your horse?
  • Do you have enough money to feed the horse if the pasture becomes inadequate?

Can you afford to purchase gear and other items, including:

  • a saddle
  • saddle blanket
  • bridle
  • grooming gear
  • feed and water containers
  • riding clothes (including a suitable hard hat and riding boots)
  • costs to access to a pony club or riding lessons.

When buying a horse

  • Arrange an examination of the horse you are considering buying with your own vet. While expensive, this may save you from buying a horse that is unhealthy, lame or otherwise unsuitable.
  • Take a trusted horse expert with you to assist in selecting a suitable horse.
  • Arrange a trial period before buying the horse to find out if the horse is suited to you.

Emergency plan for your horse

Have a plan for your horse in an emergency. Have your horse microchipped and make sure your property has a Property Identification Code (PIC). This will help to identify your horse (and you and your property) in an emergency.

The emergency management arrangements for animals in Victoria are outlined in the Victorian Emergency Animal Welfare Plan.

Find out more managing horses and other animals in emergencies.

Further information about horse care

Page last updated: 25 Aug 2020