The Secret Lives…of Horses

By Dawn Aerts

In Rodeo, New Mexico, I adopted my first horse and then a second one.

The first was a ‘cowboy’s horse’, well trained, great temperament, reliable and ready to circle barrels at the slight tug of the rein.  Our second horse, rescued from a mostly abandoned stall in Arizona, was what they termed a thoroughbred.  This one, mostly unpredictable, was quick to panic, but beautiful to watch and care for.

Though horses may no longer plow a field or drag a wagon, they continue to fascinate and engage us, from wise breeding and rodeo competitions, to the occasional trail ride or for show.  In the book “How to Think as a Horse,” author Cherry Hill shares her thoughts on what every owner needs to know to keep a horse happy and healthy.  

For her, it is all about understanding the nature and culture of the horse with an owner who observes, listens, and responds to their needs.  As with people, Hill describes family bonds among horses and sometimes, individual preference to spend time together.  In the horse world, relationships can change:  friendships come and go, foals leave, and male-female bonds may continue for years, or end.

Here are seven essentials to keep your horse(s) healthy and content:

Water and the right food matters… ALL horses or ponies should have sufficient grass and hay available to them, along with fresh water 24 hours a day.  Yes, apples or carrot slices are major treats.  In colder weather (as here in Utah), owners are urged to give a horse added nutrients to protect them from harsh climates.  In Utah, water tubs need filling every day or two.

Exercise please…A horse should never be ‘stuck’ in a cramped stable or kept in small, confined spaces for long periods of time.  Would you want to live out your days in a large closet?  In other words, a horse should be ridden once or more each week preferably in a field that’s in fair to stable condition.  The freedom to move is essential for you and your horse.

Parasite, tick checks…The body of a horse is susceptible and should be checked (smoothed over by hand) regularly for abnormality.  Moving your hands around and under the horse’s frame, under the stomach, inside and over legs on a regular basis to detect issues — or call a vet or someone experienced to show you the process.

Hoof care… In the wild, horses can unclog their hooves on rocky or rough terrain.  But stall horses standing on plain ground (in muck or mud) need regular trimming and attention by a qualified farrier.  If hooves are left unattended, the walls can break and become painful and infections become life-threatening.  Experts recommend farrier attention every 6 to 8 weeks.

Grooming, and clean spaces…In the summer months grooming is essential, removing sweat, dry mud, and brushing the body to prevent infections from forming.  A good groom will remove the mud, old hairs and particles to avoid health problems and irritations called thrush.  Horse owners should also look for abnormal spots, minor cuts and deep bruises.

Companion rides… If you can’t ride your horse, or give your horse the roomy space the need for day to day exercise, consider finding a friend who is comfortable with horses and who can at least give them a walk about with a halter and rope.

Shady spaces… Not everyone can provide a tree-lined acre or covered barn and stall, but horse owners in Utah should consider creating available shade when temperatures go above 90 degrees in the sun.  Tarps, an extended roof, or planting two small trees will give your horse some protection from summer heat.

That said, horses much like people deserve and require attention, good care and treatment.

You Can Be a Hero by providing a safe and caring home to a homeless dog, cat, or horse.  For adoptions contact the Enoch or Cedar City Animal Shelters at 435-586-8791 or 435-586-2960.  In support of local animal shelters and rescues.


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