So you got a horse for Christmas… now what? Part 1


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Two horses looking over a fence after Christmas

 If there is a Christmas present that could garner more squeals of delight than a brand new horse or pony under the tree (well, ok, maybe not literally under the tree), I can’t imagine what it could be.

 If this is what you or your child’s Christmas looked like this year, you have the potential for an amazing new hobby that will enrich your family’s life in more ways than you could dreamed possible… or a total disaster. I’m talking horses that end up dead, riders that end up hurt, thousands of dollars in veterinary care, broken hearts… the works.

 Now that I’ve completely terrified you, we’re going to start doing what it takes to make sure that the bad stuff doesn’t happen and the good stuff does.

 This post is the first in a series on finding happiness with your new horse or pony. (Incidentally, most of this information will apply to donkeys and mules as well. That being said, make sure you get in touch with the American Donkey and Mule Society. Their book, The Definitive Donkey, is a must read for owners of longears.)

 So, how much horse knowledge do you have?

 Have you owned one before?

 Did that story end happily?

I’m here to help make sure this experience is a good one.  Here’s how to start:

Finding information

 If you have anything less than several years of experience successfully caring for a horse day in and day out (“I rode my grandpa’s horse for a week every other summer as a kid” won’t cut it!), you’ll probably want to enlist some help from help from a trainer or riding instructor.

 It’s also a good idea to start doing some research on basic horse care and handling. There are a number of fantastic books available for first time horse owners. I would recommend Cherry Hill as an author that writes very well on the subject of horse care. Horses by J. Warren Evans is a fantastic resource, but I will warn you, it isn’t a light read!

 You can also contact your local 4H, FFA, or Pony Club. Your kids can learn a TON through them, and have a blast doing it. I got my start in 4H and I’d recommend it to anyone.

 Now let’s make sure your new critter is safe and secure while you gather up the help and knowledge that you’re going to need.

Your horse’s new home

 Let’s talk about housing and feeding. We need to get you safely through the next few days while you get your bearings.

 First let’s talk about where you’ll keep your horse. What kind of fence is there? Without getting too fancy, sturdy post and rail higher than the horse’s chest will serve you well. Electric fence is ok for most horses. Electric tape is much safer than electric wire. Horses don’t always leave the fence alone like we wish they would. The grass is always greener on the other side, right?

 If they get too close and get tangled up in the fence, most will start fighting and thrashing. Therefore, any fence that can cut into flesh is a really bad idea. Really bad. Really really bad.

 Go see War Horse if you have any doubts. It just came out in theaters yesterday.

 Barbed wire and smooth wire (non-electric) are extremely dangerous. Here in Texas, you see barbed wire everywhere but that has a whole lot more to do with tradition and economy than safety. I promise you, the vet bill will ensure that you didn’t save any money by skimping on fencing.

 Your horse will also need some sort of shelter from the elements. An empty barn, shed, or lean-to will do as long as it is sturdy, has a large entrance, plenty of head clearance, and ample room inside for the horse to turn around.

 The condition of your facilities is very important as well. Look for loose wire, nails sticking out, broken boards, etc. Basically, get rid of anything that can cut, tear, poke, or tangle. Rusty old farm equipment is a definite no.

 One more important point to bear in mind is that horses are herd animals and do best with others of their own kind.

 If your horse’s home is unsafe in any of the ways just described, you may want to consider keeping him elsewhere. There are boarding stables to fit every need and budget if you do your homework.  Most have full care although you will run into some that offer self care which means you provide the food and do all the work and the stable just lets you keep your horse there.  It’s kind of like a storage facility for horse.  If you can afford full care, it’s a much better choice for the new horseperson.

 A boarding situation is actually a great way to get your feet wet. You’ll have ample opportunities to learn more about horse ownership while knowing that your horse will be safe and well cared for while you gain needed experience. Many stables have a full time riding instructor on safe and regular lessons are pretty much a necessity for the beginner.


 The one thing you really need to know about feeding for the first few days is not to make drastic changes. Find out what kind of feed and in what amount your horse is used to and stick to it for right now. Moving to a new home is stressful enough without adding major feed changes into the mix. If you need to change his diet, do it gradually after he’s had a little bit of time to settle into his new home.

Unlike pets you may be used to, horses need multiple small meals, so plan on feeding at least twice a day.

 A good quality forage is essential. Grass hays such as Coastal or Timothy are hard to go wrong with.(Alfalfa is not a grass hay and unless you’re horse is already used to eating it, don’t go there for right now.) Make sure that the hay you buy is green, leafy, dry, and free of mold or dust. Exactly how much hay depends on the individual, but it’s a fairly safe feed and you’re unlikely to overfeed with it.

 If you have feeding questions, call a veterinarian who specializes in horses and ask. Most will be more than willing to fill you in on what is and is not safe.

 This should go without saying, but make sure you’ve got a bucket of fresh water always available. You’ll be amazed at how much a horse can drink, so keep a close eye on the water level.

 That’s it for today!

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about assembling your support team.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.