Basic Horse Care

Paint Horse

Since we just welcomed Mia to our family, I thought we would do an article on basic horse care. We've been researching and learning a lot! There is a ton of helpful information that I found at the University of Minnesota. Check out all the info they have by clicking that link.

Feeding Your Horse:

At least 1% of your horse's diet should be made up of roughage (hay or pasture). For example, if your horse weighs 1000 pounds it should be eating at least 10 pounds of roughage per day. In contrast, your horse should consume NO MORE than 1% of its body weight in grain. This is because if a horse eats too much grain it gets digested too rapidly and can cause painful stomach upset (called colic). Horses drink around 10-12 gallons of water daily (up to 20 gallons in hot summer months). They should always have access to clean, fresh water.

Roughage can be fed in bales, cubes, or pellets. If bales are being fed, the hay should be high quality with lots of nutrients. The most common hay to feed horses is alfalfa. (Beware of painful blister beetles in the alfalfa. Ask the farmer you are buying it from about them.) Offering hay and pasture (or just hay) can be all your horse needs for food. If you are using your horse for work (work on the farm or riding), it is recommended that you supplement approximately 1-1.5 pounds of supplemental grain per 1 hour of work.

Complete feeds can also be fed by themselves (without bales, cubes, or pellets of hay). This is a feed that has all the nutrients required and INCLUDES roughage.

If your horse does no work (only gets light exercise grazing) then you could expect to feed approximately 20-25 pounds of hay per day (no grain). If your horse does around 1-2 hours of work per day you could expect to feed around 15-20 pounds of hay with a supplement of 1-3 pounds of grain daily.

Horses should be fed twice per day (or at more frequent intervals if necessary), because their stomachs are very small. If you plan to change the horse's diet, be sure to do so gradually over about 5 days to prevent stomach upset. Never feed moldy hay or lawn clippings to your horse.

Determining Weight and Body Score:

When a horse is overweight it can cause several problems including insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, poor thermoregulation, and decreased athletic ability. Overweight and obese horses are becoming more common. For these reasons, it is important to learn how to accurately judge your horse's body score and how to calculate your horse's actual and ideal body weight (without a scale).

To estimate your horse's body condition you can utilize the widely used Henneke Scoring System:

Body Condition Score Chart Horses Henneke

Body Score Chart Horses Henneke

The scoring system ranges from 1 (poor) - 9 (extremely fat). The following areas are palpated (felt with the hand) and each area is scored individually from 1-9: neck, withers, shoulders, ribs, back, and tailhead. Then, all the scores are averaged together for an overall body score. The photos above can be downloaded as a pdf through this link for part 1 and this link for part 2. A great video done by the University of Minnesota that explains the scoring system with a live horse can be found here.

The University of Minnesota has done some research to determine the most accurate way to calculate your horse's actual and ideal weight with equations. See that link here for more information. In their study they found that every handler and owner misjudged their horse's actual weight. You can use these calculations below to help determine what your horse likely weighs (without having scales) and what their goal weight should be. You'll need to measure these areas on your horse: girth, length, height, and neck. See the picture below to help you understand where the best places are to measure. N = neck, H = height, G = girth, and L = length. The calculations are different based on the breed of horse you have.

Where to measure to calculate your horse's weight University of Minnesota


Calculating actual bodyweight of horse University of Minnesota

Calculating ideal bodyweight of horse University of Minnesota


*If you don't want to use the calculations above try the one below.

Alternate Weight Calculation (simplified):

Girth x Girth x Length = Estimated Weight


If your horse is overweight or underweight the University of Minnesota has helpful information regarding that as well. Click the appropriate link below.

Overweight Horse Link

Underweight Horse Link

First Aid for Horses:

If you think your horse is acting differently than normal, looking at these four things can help determine what is going on: posture, appetite, water, and manure.

Posture: Stretching out may be normal, but it could also indicate colic (abdominal upset and pain) if the horse is doing it repeatedly. Shifting weight from leg to leg frequently could indicate pain and refusing to walk could indicate founder. Refusing to bear weight may indicate stone bruise, foot abscess, joint infection, or fracture.

Appetite: If your horse eats less than normal at one meal continue to monitor feed intake. Remember that someone else might be feeding the horse. Ask your family and neighbors about it. Notice which foods are not eaten. Consider stomach ulcers if the horse excitedly eats grain at first, but then quickly stops eating.

Water: Sometimes a little hay makes it into the water trough and is no cause for concern, but if there is a considerable amount of hay or grain in the water it could indicate the horse is having trouble chewing the hay and is trying to soften it with the water. Dental problems should be considered and evaluated for. 

Manure: Normally, a horse passes 8-10 piles per day. The manure should have defined fecal balls with enough moisture in it so that the pile stays stacked. Firm balls with mucus on them may indicate dehydration. Diarrhea may occur due to a change in feed, anxiety, gut irritation, or heat cycle in mares. Otherwise, diarrhea can indicate a serious problem and a veterinarian should be consulted.

Other common problems:

Colic is abdominal pain in a horse. Call your vet if the signs of colic last for more than a half hour or if they are severe or do not improve with walking. Signs of colic include: looking at the horse's flank, pawing, stretching, posturing to urinate, lying down, and rolling. Other reasons to call the vet with regards to colic are if the horse is not eating normally, if the horse has gotten into the grain storage, or if the horse is not passing enough manure or has dry fecal balls or diarrhea.

Wounds are a common issue in all livestock. Most minor injuries can be treated on the farm by keeping them clean and dry, but sometimes a vet is required. Call your vet if the wound: extends deeper than the skin or bleeds heavily, is over a structure that bends, is on the back side of a limb below the knee or hock, or is in the frog, over the chest or abdomen, or involves the penis or prepuce.

Preventative Care for Horses:

See this link for more detailed information regarding preventative care (info by the University of Minnesota).

Vaccines are almost always recommended for any livestock health program. Depending on your location the vaccines that are recommended for your horse might be different. Check with your vet for a list of the recommended vaccinations for your area.

Deworming your horse is also an important part of keeping your horse healthy. Along with dewormers other management practices, like rotational grazing, can be helpful in keeping parasite loads down in your horse. Learn more about deworming your horse here.

Teeth maintenance is sometimes needed annually. Check with your vet to see how often they would recommend floating/grinding your horse's teeth. If the horse's teeth become overgrown it can make it difficult or impossible to chew up their food. They will spit big hunks of hay out that they can't chew up, and it could lead to a reduction in the horse's body score.

Hooves also need trimmed regularly. Check with your local farrier to see how often they would recommend trimming your horse's hooves.

The University of Minnesota has SO much information regarding the care of horses. I've only summarized some of it in this article. If you are looking for more information check out their general home page here. They also have a lot of other information regarding different types of livestock.

We hope you have found the information above helpful! It made us feel more prepared and helped us to better understand what to look for when we are spending time with Mia.



Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and strongly advise you discuss any potential diagnoses and treatment options with your veterinarian first. This article is for informational purposes only. Riebel Farms LLC and its authors will not be held liable for any use of the information provided.

Links above are for your informational purposes and convenience only. We do not receive any credit or compensation for sending you to their websites. We hope you find them helpful!

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