Disclaimer: I don’t know everything there is to know about horses. I do not consider myself a professional. I do however work on a modest sized horse ranch. As such, I have learned a thing or two.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about horses is that raising horses takes work. They need to have access to food every day. You need to check their water every day. You need to shovel their shit on a regular basis, depending on the size of their stall, pasture, and where they shit. Unless you hire someone, you aren’t going to have any days off. Imagine if you depended on someone else to bring you food. You would probably be pretty annoyed if they were late.
Before working on a horse ranch I was terrified of horses. They are over 800 pounds of dense bone and muscle. Not
to mention that they literally have steel shoes. One solid kick from a horse and you are a goner. Horses are also a prey animal, which means that they are easily spooked. With that said, I quickly lost my fear of horses and found out that they can be quite sweet (Although sometimes I feel as though I work at a daycare full of fussy children).
The first thing I learned while on the ranch was how not to get kicked. Mares tend to kick with their hind legs, whereas stallions tend to kick with their front legs. If you have to walk behind a horse, it is best to make sure that the horse knows where you are so that you don’t spook it. One should also keep in mind that horses need just the right amount of distance in order to kick you. If you are in a confined area with a horse, it may be advisable to stand close enough that they can’t kick. With that said, I have spent a great amount of time around horses and I have never been kicked.
Soon after becoming a ranch hand I learned that each horse has its own personality. Some horses are social, while others are more aloof. Some horses get impatient and demanding when it comes to feeding and others are quite patient. When it comes to training, it’s about rewarding good behavior and discouraging bad behavior. It should go without saying that one should never beat or harm their horse. For one thing, they are bigger than you. It also goes without saying that it’s just a shitty thing to do.
If you are thinking of getting a horse, it’s important to understand that there is no such thing as a free horse. You have to get equipment, feed, vet, pasture, and cover. You also need to keep your horse around other horses. It’s important to understand that horses are pack animals. They aren’t naturally solitary creatures. Horses will often take turns napping. When it a group there will always be at least on horse keeping watch while the others lay down.
The first thing a horse needs is a good sized water trougth. Horses are big animals and need lots of water. A small 5 gallon bucket isn’t going to cut it. This is especially true during the summer months. The ranch I work on has relatively small water bowls. However, the bowls automatically fill themselves when they run low, and are heated in order to keep them from freezing in the winter.
Horses don’t need a lot when it comes to shelter. The most important thing is for the shelter to be sturdy. Horse are large animals and like to itch themselves on whatever’s handy. As such, an adequate shelter needs to be able to withstand a horse leaning against it.
Where to get a horse:
There are many ways to find the horse of your dreams. One should never simply go off of photos and a description of the horse. The horse in question may have issues that you can only be aware of by visiting it. Auctions can be a crapshoot. This is because auctions are known for being a place where people offload troubled horses. Auctions at
ranches that are simply looking to downsize or closing their doors can be a good place to find a horse. Your best bet however is word of mouth. You can find a lot of great horses through the grapevine that you wouldn’t find out about otherwise.
You may also find it advantageous to show up a little early to check out the horse. The reason for this is that sometimes the sneaky seller will try running the horse to wear it down before you get there in an attempt to make the horse seem calmer. You want to see how the horse behaves from the moment it’s caught to the moment it’s ridden. If the horse isn’t good for its owner, then it won’t be good for you. Don’t buy a horse that the owner won’t even ride. This is a major red flag. A horse is an investment. As such, you can’t be too careful.
Basic Horse Terminology:
This basic terminology may sound like common sense to everyone, but why not mention it? A mare is a female horse. A stallion is an uncastrated male horse. A gelding is a male horse that has been castrated.
Again this may seem like common sense, but it’s something that I found of some interest and importance. When I first started out I was talking to a horse owner about their favorite horse. And by favorite, I am talking about a horse they wouldn’t ever consider selling; a horse that they proudly referred to as “a once in a lifetime horse.” The aforementioned horse was a Gelding.
I then asked why the heck they would castrate a once in a lifetime horse. Considering that “a once in a lifetime horse,” sounds like the perfect horse to breed. They informed that that the last thing you want to do is to ride a stallion when it comes into contact with a mare in heat. After spending some time around horses I saw their point. Stallions will go nuts around mares and the last thing you want to do is get between them.
With that said, even geldings can get wild around mares. As such, you don’t want to put a mare in with two or more geldings, especially if the geldings were castrated later in life. The geldings will beat the hell out of each other, and as many horse owners can attest, vets are expensive.
Horses can be bullies, and when they fight, the vet bills can add up. Stallions will fight over mares and mares will fight over food (so will stallions and geldings). The issue is that the dominant horse will dominate the hay/grain and starve the horses who are lower on in the pecking order. This isn’t true in all cases, but I have seen it in many cases. This can be easily solved by placing the hay in several piles. The more horses there are, the more piles you will need.
It’s important to note that not all horse ruffery is the same. There is a difference between playful sparing and a full on death-match. The difference it pretty easy to spot. The last thing you want is your horse to get repeatedly kicked in the face by a massive hoof with a steal shoe.
Boarding your Horse:
More often than not people choose to board their horse at a stable. This is understandable considering that horses can take a lot of time and land. However, you don’t want to just drop off your horse anywhere. As such, there are some things you need to look out for when choosing a stable.
When looking at stables there are several indicators to look out for. The most important being cleanliness. The stalls should be mucked (cleaned) every day. The overall look of the ranch should be clean and orderly. You will also want to make sure that the stalls are clear of any sharp objects that could harm your horse. You will obviously want to look at their water source and make sure that it’s clean and free of algae.
You will also want to ask about pasture. Will your horse be let out into the pasture daily, boarded in the pasture, or stall boarded. You will also want to check and see if there is any kind of shelter in the pasture to protect your horse from the elements. You will also want to see if there is grass in the pasture and drainage.
Ask about veterinary care, farrier, and whether they offer training for your horse. The cost of boarding can vary widely depending on the area and services that are offered. It will obviously cost more if your horse needs training.
The final thing to look for is how much time the owner has. If they don’t have enough time to show you around the facility and answer your questions, than they may not have enough time to properly look after your horse.
Side note: I know of a horse ranch (not the one I work on) that sells high end horses. They made the mistake of keeping a bunch of used farm equipment scattered around their property. Another couple bought a horse from them online and sent a friend down to pick up the horse. Upon seeing the state of the ranch, the friend simply turned around and left. This is because an unkempt ranch can be a sign on unkempt horses. If you’re buying a horse it’s important to check out the ranch and make sure that everything is in good order.