Caring for your Horse or Pony

While parts of this information are intended for children, much of it is of necessity, intended for parents. We therefore suggest you go through it and discuss the contents together.

Riding itself is an excellent exercise, promoting general fitness, co-ordination, and the myriad benefits of spending hours in the outdoors in an often strenuous activity.

The relationship between horse and rider is a very special one, relying for its success on mutual trust, interdependence, and understanding. Provided the young rider is taught the proper skills, and the right way of caring for the mount and equipment that goes with it, the process of becoming a competent rider involves many disciplines – disciplines which (for once!) are acquired willingly. It is important that expert advice is sought right from the start.

Your pony club or riding school instructor can be an excellent contact in finding a mount that is of suitable temperament and in keeping with your youngsters level of ability.

Ownership of a horse or pony is not to be undertaken lightly, and there are many important facts to take into account before coming to a decision – considerations such as initial outlay, on-going costs of grazing, food and veterinary care, the farrier, provision of suitable facilities – lots of time, and the fact that your horse or pony will require these things for many years. Will the novelty wear off? If the answer is no, read on…

Pony Clubs: Is there a Pony Club handy? Find out about this as soon as possible. Pony Club instructors are knowledgeable people and you and your child will learn all the right ways of doing things through the Pony Club.

The Paddock: You will need a well-fenced, secure paddock as near home as possible. A fresh water supply and suitable shelter are both essential. A loose-box stable with paddock grazing is ideal, but failing that there must be a good windbreak. A hedge and/or trees, will suffice. A shed in which to store feed and gear is also desirable.

Food: Your horse will require plenty of good hay, and also a rack to keep it in. If left on the ground it will be trampled upon and become inedible. Maize, lucerne chaff and bran are good additions to the winter diet. A mash of bran, pollard and a good dollop of molasses is usually welcomed.

Equipment: This involves considerable financial layout. You will need a suitable saddle, bridle, and a warm, lined cover. Also riding boots and a hard hat are essentials for your child.

Shoeing: Your horse or pony will need to be shod. A man who fits shoes to horses and ponies is called a farrier.

Grooming: Your horse must be kept clean, and good grooming gear is expensive, but a scrubbing brush or an old clothes brush will do, with some old rags to polish with. A hoof pick is a MUST to keep the bottom of the hoof around the frog clean. (The frog is the v-shaped piece of hard tissue which runs forward from the rear of the hoof.)

General Health Care: It is important to make early contact with your local veterinarian, who will take care of colds, cuts, kicks and bruises. He will also advise when tonics and worm drenches are necessary. He is a very important person to know.

Worms: Worming is a priority, and can generally be carried out either by, or under the direction of your veterinarian. Worm infestation is serious and can result in severe colic, intestinal blockages, perforation of the gut, plus damage to internal organs. Even when such extreme problems do not result, a horse with worm infestation will not be a good “doer” and can suffer chronic symptoms such as diarrhoea and anaemia.

Because worm cycles vary according to local weather conditions, your vet will be the best person to advise on timing for specific parasite worming in your area. Where a number of horses are paddocked together, it is a good policy to join with other owners to have the animals regularly drenched at the same time, so breaking the infestation cycle.

Pasture Hygiene: The horse owner can do a great deal to protect the animal from worms by following a system of pasture hygiene, which minimises its contamination with worm eggs and larvae. Here are some hints to give your horses the best chance of staying relatively free of parasites:

  • All horses paddocked together should be wormed on the same day. After worming, move horses to a clean, spelled paddock if possible.
  • Where possible, harrowing or slashing to spread out manure heaps is recommended as soon as the horses have been shifted from the pasture.
  • Ideally, paddocks should be spelled for a minimum of two to three weeks in hot summer conditions, five to six weeks in cold weather, or three to four months in Autumn/Spring.
  • Any new horse being introduced into an area grazed by others should be wormed on arrival and if possible, kept “quarantined” in a separate yard for 24 hours to allow the emptying out process to be completed.

Teeth: Ask your veterinarian to check your horses teeth at the time of drenching for worms.

Tetanus: All horses and ponies should be vaccinated against tetanus, with booster shots as prescribed by your vet. On purchasing an animal, check with the previous owner when the last vaccination was given. As with humans, puncture wounds are the most dangerous. Humans need tetanus shots too! Keep up the boosters for anyone who is around horses – and don’t go barefoot.

Hoof Care: In general, your vet and farrier will be the people to refer to for correction of any major hoof problems. Follow their instructions carefully.

Tying-up (or cramp): This affects the rump and back leg muscles, causing swelling, stiffness and soreness. The most severe form of this affliction, “azoturia” is complete muscle lock-up and can be fatal in acute cases. Very nervous and heavily muscled horses seem more prone. Call a vet immediately.

Colic: Colic, or abdominal pain, can vary from apparently mild discomfort to severe pain. In its milder form, the horse should be watched closely for indications of acute or spasmodic colic. Observe passing of urine or faeces, so that you can give details to the vet. Walking the horse may clear minor obstructions or gas from the large bowel, but if the condition persists, or shows any sign of worsening, call veterinary help without delay. Colic can generally be prevented by good management of the animal.

Some golden rules are:

  • Regular drenching; (most colic are worm related)
  • Regular teeth checks
  • Good quality feed
  • Ensure the animal has no access to toxic plants
  • Never work your horse hard on a full stomach
  • Never allow the animal to drink cold water straight after working

In the case of a horse or pony which is particularly prone to the ailment, your veterinarian may recommend some changes to basic diet and routine.

General Care: Horses and ponies need quiet, firm discipline and soft commands. Never forget to show your appreciation with a firm pat and a titbit from your pocket.

When returning to your paddock, always walk the last half mile to let your horse or pony cool off before you rub him down and put his cover on. Before you leave him, make sure he has sufficient, clean water, and hay. In the summer, if you have a paddock with good grazing, he may not need much extra food, but a small bucket of chaff is a good thank you for a wonderful ride.

In most cases, the average pleasure hack or pony club animal should enjoy good health provided it is kept in a hygienic state, is ridden regularly – not worked to excess, and has normal attention paid to its well-being.

Summary of points to remember:

  • Always keep calm around your pony and be kind to him
  • Always have some titbits in your pocket
  • Never allow your horse too much water when he is hot
  • Never allow strangers to ride him, unless they are experienced
  • Never gallop him unless in a paddock and under supervision
  • Remember that tethering is not considered as a suitable method of keeping/containing a horse, except for very short periods of time and then under close supervision

Love your Pony: Talk to him kindly, spend as much of your spare time as possible with him. Remember that horses in their natural state are herd animals. They love company, and in most cases, they love human company.

Reading Matter: For comprehensive information on horse/pony care see the Code of Recommendation & Minimum Standards for Welfare of Horses available from MAF P.O.Box 2526 Wellington. Pony Club Manual # No.1 is essential reading. Pony Club Manual # No.2 will also be helpful.