Complete Guide for a New Horse Owner

November 22, 2022

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.

No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.


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If you are thinking about buying a horse, you may not know where to start. That’s why we put together this complete guide for a new horse owner. We are breaking down all the basics so you will be ready to welcome home your new companion!

Table of Contents

  1. Where will you keep your horse?
  2. Managing horse property as a new horse owner
  3. What to feed your horses
  4. Horse health and general care
  5. Spending time with your horses
  6. Necessary equipment for a new horse owner
  7. Things for a new horse owner to watch out for
New Horse Owner
Buying Horses: Guide For New Horse Owners

If you are a new horse owner, there’s a lot you have to learn. But, it doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. We’ve put together a complete guide of everything first-time horse owners need to consider before buying their first horse. Follow this guide so you’ll be prepared when you welcome your new companion home!

Where will you keep your horse?

First thing’s first. What will your first horse call home? Will you board your horse or house it on your own property? If you are boarding your horse, make sure you are legally protected. 

It is extremely important that you use a boarding contract, so that if anything unforeseen happens while boarding, you are legally protected. Whether you board your horse with a professional or a friend, a boarding contract will determine who is liable if your horse were to be injured, for example. You can read more about what needs to be in your boarding contract here.

What if you want to keep your new horse on your own property? This is a great option if you have the space. Though, determining the amount of acres you need depends on a few factors. A good rule of thumb is approximately 2 acres for your first horse, with 1-2 additional acres for each horse you add to the herd. However, no 2 acres are the same. We’ll talk more about managing your property for horses below.

You don’t even need a pinterest-worthy barn in order to keep a horse on your property. You could leave your horses outside all the time, so long as you have some sort of shelter. Shelter such as a run-in shed can help shield your horses from the elements. Just make sure that your run-ins face east-west instead of north-south. Read What Should You Do with Horses During a Storm? for more on shelters.

Property Management Tips for New Horse Owners

As we mentioned before, no two acres are the same. So how do you make sure your horse has the space it needs to roam and graze? Here’s a few things to consider when creating space for your new horses as a new horse owner.

How Much Space Do Horses Need?

As a caveat, a two acre “dry lot” and a two acre lush field of grass will provide very different results for your horse. Any examination of space should include an examination of your particular horse’s GI needs. However, keep in mind what horses do in the wild: they roam and graze throughout the day as herd animals. 

No matter their dietary needs, it is wise to give your horse a few acres to roam a day- or at least, supplement a lack of space with regular exercise. In addition, this doesn’t necessarily mean two acres per horse. This decision should be a balance of the horse’s GI needs and “legroom”. I.e., your two horses may have plenty of grazing space and space to stretch their legs on two acres together. 

Your Horse’s Dietary Needs

You first need to decide what feeding method you will be relying on. Are you actively riding, or do you have a horse that needs dietary supplements? You’ll probably need to employ a mixture of both grain/hay and grazing. 

Do you have a pony, a horse that is not getting much physical activity, or an older horse? Ponies in particular are more prone to every horse owner’s worst fear: colic, which can be directly tied to overeating. These types of horses may be on restricted diets, in which case an area with less grass is preferable. 

In addition, you should work closely with your vet to determine how much time they should have unrestricted access to grazing. The cornerstone of being an adequate horse owner is understanding your horse’s GI needs, as this will drive the majority of decisions you will make regarding their care. 

Management of Manure

Not the most pleasant to think about, but critical nonetheless: how are you going to manage waste? It is estimated that a 1,000-pound horse produces about 31 pounds of feces and 2.4 gallons of urine daily, which totals around 51 pounds of total raw waste per day. 

When planning out your horse facility, account for how you will manage such waste (ie, if your horse is intermittently in a stall, you will need to plan out a compost pile). 

What other structures will be on the property? 

To begin, horses should always have some sort of protection from elements, such as a run-in shed. But what about those other structures you may need? Consider where and how you will store hay (out of the elements), as well as space for a barn, if needed. 

Another important infrastructure element? Fencing. Make sure you have a secure fence along all perimeters of the paddock with lockable gates. You have a legal duty to contain your horses. When I was young and we first moved to our property, we weren’t aware that one of our horses was an escape artist who knew how to open gates. But legally, it was our responsibility to keep the horse in the paddock. If you are building a fence, make sure you familiarize yourself with setback laws that dictate where you can build.

When you think of horses, you probably think of them grazing on an open pasture right? Well, it might be surprising to know that this isn’t always the ideal environment for a horse. Your horse’s individual GI needs should be evaluated by a veterinarian to help you make informed grazing decisions for your horse. This is because the nutritional value of grass changes with grass types, time of year, and even the amount of sunshine on a given day. Check out our article about safe grazing to learn more.

If you are welcoming horses to your property, it’s very important that you check these areas for plants that could be toxic to your new companion. Not only will you need to check your pasture for these harmful plants, but you may want to consider freeing your entire property of especially noxious species. 

If you end up with a horse that’s an escape artist like my horse, you’ll have more peace of mind knowing that they won’t find a toxic snack if (more like when) they wander out of their fenced area and onto the rest of your property… Read up on what plants to watch out for as a new horse owner here.

The horse industry is seriously affected by  zoning laws. City-dwellers moving to the country to escape city life are not usually familiar with horses and other farm animals, and they don’t always appreciate having these as neighbors. This is typically where zoning conflicts begin and it can end up as a dispute at the local government level. 

To avoid these zoning conflicts and to be prepared if they do happen, anyone with farm animals on their property should get familiar with zoning laws. This might seem like a tall order, but we have broken down everything you need to know in this article.

In addition to brushing up on local zoning laws, you’ll probably be required to obtain certain permits before you become a horse owner. In Oklahoma, you can actually benefit from filing a farm tax exemption permit because you won’t have to pay sales tax on your farm supplies, equipment, or fuel purchased for use on the farm. A link to the exact form to fill out can be found here

You will also need warning signs on your property to reduce the risk of injury and associated liability. For example, if you have a horse that is prone to bite, it’s wise to have a sign outside his stall door. If your horses are near a lot of people, like in a neighborhood, it is smart to have signs telling people, especially children, that they can’t enter your property and ride your horse. These signs need to be in a prominent place, clearly visible, and easy to read. More tips for warning signs can be found here.

What Should You Feed Your Horse?

As stated, the cornerstone of equine health is proper management of their GI needs. Equine ulcers and colic are serious conditions that can arise quickly. A first-time horse owner must do their due diligence to ensure that they’re nourishing their horse properly.

The best course of action is to always discuss your horse’s best care with your veterinarian, as the needs of each horse will vary. For example, the alfalfa hay a heavy-performance horse may require to appropriately keep its energy levels up may very well colic your backyard friend.

Many horses, if ridden moderately, require a mixture of grain and hay (along with supplements). The majority of your horse’s nutritional needs will come from “roughage” (grass or hay), rather than the grain, as their digestive system is designed to utilize this form of nutrition. 

Allowing your horse to get too skinny or too overweight can quickly result in more serious problems, such as gastric ulcers, colic, and navicular problems. In general, keep the following rules of thumb in mind:

  1. Ensure that your horse has “roughage” to eat- grass, hay, etc.
  2. Do not feed immediately before or after exercise. When blood flow is diverted from the GI system, your risk of colic rises.
  3. If giving your horse grain, don’t give a day’s worth at once. Remember, wild horses get their nutrients from a day’s worth of grazing; your horse is the same, in a way. Giving your horse too much grain at once can inhibit their digestive system. 
  4. Keep seasonal factors in mind: in the winter, you may need to supplement more hay, as your horse will naturally not have as much grass to graze on. 
  5. If you need to change a food schedule/type, do so gradually. If switching grain, begin by switching 25% of the new grain with old every few days, so that their GI system has time to adjust. 
  6. Horses love routine. You’ll quickly find that your horse’s internal body clock is spot-on, and they will adopt regular daily routines. Try to feed within the same window of time each morning and night. While there’s no hard and fast rule on how much variance that window provides for, know that colic-prone horses won’t do well if their feeding schedule is completely sporadic. 

Finding the right community and professionals as a new horse owner

Surrounding yourself with a knowledgeable community will be incredibly useful to you as a new horse owner. Even if you aren’t actively riding your horse, your horse will still require daily attention….and they’re prone to test you from time to time. Finding a strong community can help you.

A Veterinarian

How do you find a good vet? If you have an instructor, ask him/her first, and then reach out to other horse owners you know. A knowledgeable vet will be your best friend as a new horse owner, and the first person you should hire. 

Aside from the GI concerns mentioned above, your horse will inevitably encounter injuries at some point, and you should have a go-to contact in those scenarios. In addition, your horse is going to require annual vaccinations from your veterinarian, as well as having their teeth floated every few years.  

Many first-time horse owners don’t know that horses need their teeth floated. This is when the sharp points of horses teeth are removed to avoid injury. But how often do horses need to have their teeth floated? Well, it depends on their age. For horses less than 5 years old, their teeth are erupting more quickly. This means they will need their teeth floated about every six months. 

Past 5 years, teeth floating once a year is generally enough. However, some could do with more or less, so ask your vet. For horses older than 20, you should have them checked for any dental problems every six months. For these older horses, floating is only necessary every so often as they will have fewer teeth left to erupt, about 2-3 years.

Do not buy a horse without performing a vet check first. This is an absolutely crucial step in ensuring you’re making a prudent decision.  Unfortunately, it’s all too common for some less than adequate horse owners to sell a horse, knowingly hiding health conditions. 

A vet will be able to detect health conditions that could manifest to bigger issues in the future, take care of necessary procedures such as your horse’s Coggins, and more. If you’re located in NE Oklahoma, I cannot recommend Tulsa Equine highly enough. 

An additional note: if you have a purebred horse, ask your veterinarian about getting them registered on their breed register. 

Finding a farrier

Horses’ hooves grow much like a human’s fingernails. In the wild, hooves are naturally filed down by running across rocks, etc, but in captivity, your horse will need regular hoof care. This will include regular trimmings (typically, every 6 weeks), and in some cases, shoes (required most often in horses who are being ridden actively, have sensitive feet, etc). 

If GI problems are the #1 concern of horse care, hoof care is a close second. A horse’s hoof is much more delicate than one would expect, considering how large horses are, and proper long term care of their feet will have a direct effect on their longevity. For example, in horses with navicular issues, ensuring that his/her heels are properly lifted could be the difference between them being able to walk, or becoming crippled.

Finding a trainer 

I’ve saved this professional for last simply because you must have a veterinarian and farrier in order to keep your horse healthy. But in order for you to maintain your equine knowledge, I cannot stress the importance of finding a trainer enough. Being a horse owner means you are constantly learning, and you should always attempt to widen your own knowledge; particularly if you are riding. Your trainer will become an invaluable resource not just for your own riding skills, but for horse ownership in general.

When looking for a good trainer, safety should always be the first priority. Ask equestrians in your community for recommendations, but don’t take the easy way out. For example, if you have a young child that wants to ride, finding a trainer who is willing to “overlook” laws regarding how young a child may start riding is an indicator that they are willing to cut corners. When it comes to owning horses, safety is paramount, and a wise trainer will be one of the best investments you can make. 

Professional Care Costs 

Note: all prices listed below are estimates based upon general market rates in Oklahoma

VetFarrierTrainer
General costs:General vaccinations:


Farm calls:


Suggested “rainy day” fund: 
General care: Will require trimming every 6-8 weeks (dependent upon how quickly hooves grow)
Trimming alone: appx. $30-$50 per horse.
Shoes: not necessary for every horse; more usual in performance horses, or those with sensitive feet.
Cost: appx. $50-$100 (for specialty shoes)
Expect lessons to cost anywhere from $50-$100 per lessons (not including boarding costs, or horse shows). Group lessons will typically be on the lower end ($50), while private lessons are typically double. Note: these prices will of course be extremely geographically dependent.
Total:Appx. _____Appx. based on 6 weeks:
Trimming: appx. $260-$430 annually per horse
Shoes: $430-$860 annually per horse
Total: $690-$1290 annually 
Weekly:  $2600-$5200 annually 
Bi-weekly: $5200-$10,400
Numbers based upon general lessons (not speciality); not inclusive of  horse show, etc

Equine Insurance

Speaking of health concerns, if you own your horse on your own property, highly consider equine insurance. For a small amount a year, you will be insured against those scenarios where someone may accidentally get hurt by your horse. It also protects you against those trespassers who may invite themselves onto your property unannounced and hurt themselves. This will provide incredibly important protection for you, your horse, and your family. Connaway & Associates, Inc., is a wonderful company I’ve used for years.

Your horse will inevitably get hurt or sick. Even first-time horse owners know that horse injuries can get expensive quickly, and insurance companies who deal primarily with equestrians are skilled in knowing exactly what to provide. Accidents are bound to happen and a strong insurance policy can protect you from having to pay out of pocket in the case of lawsuits or when an affected party’s insurance comes calling. Read Do You Need Equine Insurance? to find out what to look for in equine insurance as a new horse owner.

How much time should you spend with your horses?

A common question that comes up when purchasing a horse is, aside from daily care (feedings), how much time should you expect to allocate to your horse every day? 

A common misconception is that horses can be beautiful yard ornaments- which is true, to some extent. However, horses aren’t a “passive” pasture animal in the way, say, sheep may be. This will of course be fact-dependent on the horse itself-for example, a high-functioning sport horse will need different practices than a retired pony, of course. 

Horses need interaction daily-the less time you spend with your horse, the more this reinforces bad behavior, and undoes training. A good rule of thumb? Plan on spending extra time with your horse, mornings and evenings, during feeding times. This is also a great time to do a quick pasture check to catch any signs of illness. We detail the steps of a pasture check below.

Horses are herd animals. The best way to ascertain the horse’s needs is to take a look at how they interact with one another in a herd. Quick observation will show that horses are constantly communicating with one another- the dominant horse will correct those of lesser hierarchy, etc….

When it comes to “interacting”, your horse’s personality, training, and use will determine how often you should ride. For example, a well-trained leisure horse can get away with being ridden less frequently. The success of a green horse, on the other hand, will be directly tied to consistency. 

If you feel like your horse needs an additional companion, you could consider adding another animal into the mix. Equines are herd animals, but at the same time, they’re individuals. Some horses simply don’t get along well with other horses. But, if they don’t have any company, you will begin to see a deterioration in their attitude, depression and mental health as time goes on; the stress of which can directly impact their GI system. 

With that being said, horses are funny in that they have preferences on other animals they are with. For example, there are stories of some famous racehorses, such as Man O’War, who refused to ever be pastured with another horse, but adopted a goat or a chicken as a stall companion. 

One of my own horses has been historically difficult with others in his own breed, and has always chosen instead to spend his time with our dogs. In short, your horse shouldn’t be all alone. Even if you don’t have the capacity to bring on another horse, consider giving them access to a companion such as a dog, cat, sheep, etc. They’re herd animals by nature! 

As a final note, just going out to pet your horse for a minute or two each day probably won’t cut it. Every interaction with your horse is on some level, a negotiation. It’s an opportunity to gently course-correct, and to strengthen manners and training.

How to do a quick pasture check

As a first-time  horse owner, it’s critically important to train your eye for any potential problems. Seemingly small disruptions in your horse’s usual behavior can be indicative of a larger problem. For example, your horse laying down can be the first indicator of colic. Train your eye to do a quick wellness check accordingly:

Feet

As the saying goes, no feet, no horse. You should be checking your horse’s feet every day. For example, if your horse is standing in too much moisture for too long, without getting their hooves cleaned out, they can quickly develop abscesses, thrush, and the like. 

Tip: when cleaning out your horse’s feet, train yourself to run your hands up its ankles and lower legs as well. Keep an eye on any unusual warmth or swelling. Pretty soon, you’ll be so accustomed to what they normally feel like, you’ll be able to spot a discrepancy so quickly, you’ll likely be able to prevent it from progressing into an actual issue. 

Throat

Similar to feet, this is an area that you should be taking a look at every day. Without realizing it, I formed this habit years ago, after nearly losing a horse to strangles. As a quick aside, strangles is a rapidly-progressing virus similar to strep throat in people, but it can turn deadly very quickly, as swelling begins to cut off airways. 

One of the fastest ways to spot something like strangles is to get accustomed to giving your horse a chin scratch, and while you do so, take a feel of their lymph nodes in both their throat, and their chin. Any swelling will let you know their body is fighting off something; abscessing or draining is much more serious.

Ironically, at the time of writing this article, I was doing this exactly, without even realizing it, when I noticed that my horse’s throat felt a little odd. It was wintertime so he was fluffy anyways, and nothing was visible by sight. But, I had a funny feeling.

The next morning, I walked up to this when feeding:

2 hours later, the situation looked like this: 

The vet immediately came out, and to make a long story short, we were able to provide treatment quickly enough that all was well, and it did not progress further. 

Takeaway: make it a habit to run your hands down your horse’s throat when you greet them.

Legs

The longer you own your horse, the more you’ll be able to train your eye as to what their stride is supposed to look like. Keep an eye out for anything slightly unusual. For example, if you notice that the horse is jerking its head up each time he puts a foot down, that’s a sign that he’s sore, and is trying to keep weight off of that leg. 

Gut

This can be a tricky one, but, if “no feet, no horse” is the adage, the equine’s gastrointestinal  system is a close second. A horse has a foregut and a hindgut, which is why colic can be so very dangerous. If you notice your horse looking bloated, and hear a lot of noise or none at all when listening to their stomach, this is a sign that it’s GI system is under duress. 

Similarly, if you notice your horse biting at its stomach, or standing with its legs outstretched slightly, as if it’s trying to take pressure off of its abdomen, this is a sign that “things aren’t working right”. Keep a close eye, and if the horse stops going to the bathroom, or begins laying down and won’t get up, call your vet. 

Laying down

Many times, new horse owners will be alarmed when they see their horse laying down in their paddock, thinking that this means something is wrong. Do not worry; it is completely normal for your horse to lay down and nap, usually for an hour or two during the day (especially when the sun’s out!)

What is more important to note: if your horse is laying down, standing up, and laying back down repeatedly, he is in distress. This can be indicative of much more serious issues, such as colic, or the beginning of stroke. Call your vet if you observe this behavior 

Weird behavior 

Finally, like people, sometimes a horse will just seem… “off”; irritated, agitated or lethargic. Follow your intuition in such a case. This can be the first indication that something more serious is going on.

What basic equipment do new horse owners need?

Don’t make it complicated: it’s easy to blur the line between “need” and “want”. When you own a horse, you should start with the following bare minimum:

  1. General care: a hoof pick (you must clean your horse’s feet daily to prevent avoidable, but dangerous conditions), a halter, a lead rope, and a brush (you should regularly brush your horse, not just for bonding purposes, but to clean out dirt that could result in hot spots under a saddle). No, you don’t actually need the hoof polish, mane and tail brushes, etc that you may think you need- starting with the bare basics is key. 
  2. Tack: in other words, the equipment you need to ride your horse. First, is your horse trained in the western or English discipline? Your tack will be based accordingly. Plan on buying a saddle pad, saddle, bridle, and girth, as well as boots and helmets for yourself.  
  3. Miscellaneous: Again, talk to your vet about this, but if you are in a cold climate, you should absolutely consider having a proper blanket for your horse. Many factors play into when they need to be blanketed (i.e., age, breed), but in general, 30 degrees is a good rule of thumb when they do not have a place to shelter from the elements. In addition, consider getting a fly sheet and/or fly mask for your horse. In hot/summer climates, you’ll probably save yourself money and save your horse from the unnecessary misery of covering them up or relying on reapplying fly spray all day. 

What are the three main dangers to know about?

This question could likely cause great debate among horse owners, but if I had to narrow it down to three, it would be the following: 

  1. Colic. This is a heartbreaking, and heartbreakingly common ailment in horses. To be clear, sometimes, it is simply unavoidable…but many times, it is preventable by taking simple actions. Colic is a term that encapsulates abdominal pain in horses, including impaction, twisting of intestines, and more. This is a good article to read more about the condition. 
    1. If your horse seems “off”; if they are laying down and getting up repeatedly, or laying down and won’t get up, call your vet, as these are common early signs of colic. In many cases, quick actions can save the horse. While a myriad of factors can cause colic, common causes result from overeating. For example, I once had a horse nearly die from colic, because he got into a trailer full of nutrient-dense fescue grass clippings. He literally almost ate himself to death. 
  2. Hoof ailments: To have a healthy horse, he must have healthy feet. Many hoof ailments (such as abscesses, which can commonly form after standing on wet ground) look dramatic, but can heal quickly with good care. Other issues, such as navicular problems, can take longer to form, and be more difficult to detect, and unfortunately, can be fatal for the horse. Being a good horse owner means following your intuition when something feels “off”. Is your horse standing still more than normal, maybe resting by keeping weight off of one leg? Follow your gut. Navicular or heel problems in particular can be incredibly difficult, and expensive, to heal, if left untreated for too long. 
  3. Leg injuries: A catch-all, but leg injuries to horses can be fatal. You should continuously inspect your horse’s grounds to ensure there are no easy ways for them to hurt themselves. For example, if you have panel fencing on their stall, install a kickboard. Do not leave haywire laying around. If anything is on the ground a horse can stick their leg in, know that they are curious animals, and very well might do just that. A broken leg in a horse can be fatal. 

Conclusion

Buying a horse for the first time can be an overwhelming process. But, taking the time to work through each step outlined here will set you up for successful horse ownership. Being a horse owner is so fulfilling, so get ready for your new companion!

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