Owning a horse for recreation or labour places heavy emphasis on maintaining the horses’ health and wellbeing. Horses are infamously fragile animals despite their famed strength and a small injury can be life threatening if left untreated. Horses also have emotional and psychological needs that should be addressed to ensure that they are happy and healthy in their lives. There are several ways to assess the health needs of horses, and while physical needs may manifest in visible injuries, mental needs can result in changes in demeanour or behaviours which allow the caretaker of the horses to discern when something is wrong. Since horses are large animals and expend a lot of energy during work, they should be well fed and rested. Horse owners should ensure that the horses have adequate space to rest, eat, and that their stables are cleaned regularly to prevent hygiene issues.
Horses, as prey animals, have evolved to respond to danger by running away and will do so if they become agitated. Running in uneven ground in environments the horse is not used to can cause injuries. Horses should be shod to prevent their hooves from rapidly deteriorating. Similarly, horses who are being worked regularly, may find their hooves to require horseshoes much sooner than horses who work less. Special types of horseshoes such as plastic horseshoes may be prescribed to horses suffering from existing medical conditions such as issues in their gaits.
Horses should always have access to food and especially water. Overheating is a major concern for working horses and can be fatal if not cooled down at an appropriate timeframe. A horse drinks up to 45 litres of water per day in hot weather and eat over 5kg of wood depending on their body weight, size, and workload. Their body weight and shape should be monitored for any signs of eating disorders or other digestive problems. They may also develop worms in their stomachs which can be treated with deworming medication recommended by a healthcare professional.
Horses are social animals and prefer to be near other horses. If stabling horses together, it should allow horses free movement to socialise. They should also feel safe in their place of rest and undue stress during work or riding may cause them to become sick. Horses who are suffering from psychological distress can be identified by changes in eating habits, restlessness, or refusal to move or ride, although other behaviours may be present as well. They also require variety in activity which results in being locked in a stable for extended periods of time undesirable – if necessary, they can be presented with various toys they can interact with while in the stable to keep their minds occupied.
It is important that one considers all aspects of a horse’s needs to ensure that they can meet all of the requirements and care for the horse before making the decision to purchase a horse. A horse in insufficient care may be short lived and suffer from neglect.