Owning a horse is, for many horse enthusiasts, a dream come true. But keeping a horse on your property is a big investment — of both time and money. For those who are new to horse keeping, here are some suggestions of what you’ll need to keep your horse happy, healthy and safe.
Whether you’ll be riding or driving your horse, in addition to the basic equipment like brushes, halters, leads, saddles, bridles, harnesses and other tack, the barn and turnout area needs to be set up and ready long before your horse arrives.
With so many types of fencing on the market, from post and board, rail fence, electric wire/tape/roping and more, allow enough time to research which would work best in your situation. You’ll need gates and latches as well, an outdoor watering tank or waterer, hay feeding station, and possibly a run-in shed or roof overhang if your horse will be turned out for any length of time, for protection against the blazing sun or wind, rain and snow. Don’t forget to dedicate an area in which to pile up manure and bedding.
If you live in a country setting, you’ll probably already have the items you’ll need for keeping the barn and stalls clean — manure fork, wheelbarrow, shovel, push broom and hose. However, did you know that the average horse can produce 50 pounds of manure each day? Having the right equipment will make the job easier, and will keep your barn and turnout areas cleaner, with less flies, odor and mud/muck for your horse to contend with. Since you’ll be using these tools on a regular (daily) basis, be selective in which you choose:
You’ll want a wheelbarrow that is easy to maneuver in and out of your stalls and aisle, one that is large enough for the job but not so large as to be overly heavy and cumbersome when you are ready to empty it.
The manure fork you use should be sturdy enough to remove layers of wet hay/bedding especially during winter. It should have angled tines, which are designed for handling manure, rather than a straight hayfork, the tines of which might be too far apart to handle manure. The plastic-tined forks are fine for traveling (in a horse trailer), but we’ve broken more than one from using them in the barn.
If your horse will be confined to the stall for any length of time (such as overnight rather than just at feeding time) you’ll need to have bedding on hand, such as shavings, straw, pelleted sawdust.
Moving on to feeding — horses that are only being used occasionally or for ‘light duty’ can do just fine on pasture turnout during the warmer months; however you’ll need to stock up on hay for the colder months and be sure to have adequate storage. If you are able to purchase your whole winter’s supply of hay at baling time, you can save substantially. Many hay producers will charge a fee to deliver, but may negotiate that price if the hay is delivered to you “from the field” as opposed to from their barn, in which case they’d have to handle the hay twice. As long as you have adequate dry storage for curing and storing hay, you might consider purchasing your hay at a savings by having it delivered right from the field. However, you will enjoy the most substantial savings if you pick up the hay at the producer’s barn, and transport and stack the hay yourself.
If you are storing a large supply of hay in a loft, you will need a hay elevator and motor. As this equipment is generally put to use only a couple of times year, it’s important to take good care of it and keep it greased and in good repair to keep its ‘assembly line’ moving easily. The elevator will require a large storage space for itself; ideally out of the elements under an overhang but away from the horses to help prevent rust and weathering.
Feed your hay judiciously; by using feeders or haybags you will incur less waste. Check your bales by weight — and pay attention to how much hay your horse cleans up. You might find that feeding ‘a bale a day’ regardless of weight might result in using up more hay than your horse requires and having a bigger job disposing of the waste that he leaves.
Concentrated food, or ‘feed’ will require metal barrels or bins for storage with tight-fitting lids to keep out mice, rats and other vermin which can chew their way through plastic cans or wooden bins and into your feed. Keep all feed and supplements in a place that is not accessible to your horses — ideally a feed room that is locked and secure from aforementioned pests.
During the heat of summer, many barns will use fans to cool their horses. We’ve seen box fans used for individual stalls, however it is safest to use an agricultural fan made especially for use in barns. Good quality agricultural fans have fully enclosed motors with sealed ball bearings, while residential fans are vented. The motor parts are exposed to dust and dirt, which can build up in the electrical housing and cause a fire. A good quality agricultural fan has a thermal overload protector against overheating, which will automatically shut off, preventing heat buildup that may cause a fire. They should also have a UL507 certified motor for indoor/outdoor use that is designed for agricultural applications. This means that the electrical device is rated for outdoor use — it can get wet. These fans can safely be used in wash bays and can even be sprayed down to clean them off.
And in winter, having an electric waterer or individual electric warming buckets will ensure that your horse will be drinking enough water, which is so important to help him digest the hay and roughage he needs to consume in cold weather to keep his body warm. The buckets are relatively inexpensive, and have a false bottom over the wiring that will automatically turn on once the temperature of the water in the buckets goes below 40 degrees.
For safety’s sake — “No Smoking” signs should be posted at all exterior doorways. A fire extinguisher should be located by the entry and exit doors, in the middle of long aisles and near the electric panel box.
Emergency telephone and contact numbers should be prominently posted near the main door of the barn either on a chalkboard, bulletin board or poster in the case of fire or any other emergency. Be sure to include contact information for the local fire department, police, veterinarian, farrier, a neighbor and family members, including cell phones, in an area of the barn that is easily visible. Have a record of each horse’s feed, supplements, medications and health records available in case of injury, colic or other equine emergency.
Keep a first aid kit updated in a location that is safe and accessible. This should include a flashlight with extra batteries, a hoof pick, bandages, wound cleaner, vet wrap, stethoscope, thermometer and other necessities. Check dates on medical supplies and be sure that any liquid products do not freeze. Replace first-aid items as you use them.
Many resources are available for assistance with questions you may have on horse care, feeding and housing matters, such as the farmer’s cooperative or Cooperative Extension office, your veterinarian, the local tack and feed store. Planning well in advance of the day when your horse is scheduled to arrive will ensure that you are well prepared and will make a smooth transition for both you and your horse.