Consider treats payment to your horse for a job well done! Riding is after all our idea!
When the temps are mild and the sky is clear there is an abundance of activities you can do with your equine partner. For many horse owners spending time at the barn is cathartic, but what about when the ground is frozen or too muddy to ride, the temperature and air quality soar into unsafe levels or the weather just won't cooperate? Even with an indoor riding arena horses and humans can get ring sour. There are still fun ways to interact with your horse that don't include riding in circles!
Give your horse a massage and muscle shake out!
Standing in a stall (or in a run in shed to stay out of the weather) can cause your horse to get stiff and sore. To start, check your horse for soreness with gentle palpation along the back. With your fingers four inches down from the spine, apply pressure on each side of the withers and run your fingers the full length of the spine. If your horse dips or moves away from the pressure that's an indication of soreness. Apply gentle pressure and rubbing to the muscles in the area, careful not to put direct pressure on the spine.
To loosen muscles in your horse haunches and shoulders, begin by lifting each leg one at a time. Hold the hoof from the toe low enough that there isn't pressure on the joints, but off the ground so that the horse doesn't lose their balance. With the other hand, gently shake the horses knee or hock side to side till your horse relaxes their upper muscles.
Stretching keeps them limber!
To further spoil and relax your horse, add some stretches! A great series to teach your horse which is great fun for them (treats!) and can be used later as a foundation for trick training are the Carrot Stretches. Ask your horse to keep their feet still and reach their neck and head around to reach a treat or clicker point back by their haunches. Most horses can't reach all the way to their tail at first, so reward your horse for a stretch that is as far as they are willing to go without assistance. Never pull your horses head further than they are willing to move it! After stretching towards their haunches on either side ask them to reach for a point down towards their hock. Lastly, hold a treat directly below the horses nose and over time move this treat between their legs and towards their belly. Be sure to do each stretch on both sides and reward your horse for effort.
Cleaning and checking the fit of your tack plus looking for weak points is another great rainy day activity!
Yielding the Haunches
If your horse needs some exercise and mental stimulation, teach them to yield their haunches.
In a herd the horse who is dominant is the one who can cause the other horses to move their feet. While teaching a horse to move their yield their haunches can be used to establish a working relationship with your horse, it's also a great stretch over their back. With a halter and long lead rope on your horse stand facing the side of your horse about halfway down their body. With the handle of a whip or even your fingers, start by pointing at your horses haunches and step towards them. If your horse doesn't move their rear end away from you help them understand by drawing their head towards you with the lead rope. You may have to start out by tapping your horse with the handle of the whip or poking them with your fingers while drawing their head towards you at first. Each time your horse yields away from you stop and reward them with strokes on the neck and kind words. Over time you will find that your horse will move away from a simple look and step toward their haunches!
Horses love to run and play in cold weather to keep warm!
Horses have been domesticated for over 6,000 yrs and bred for a large variety of purposes. Originally used for food and transportation, the horse is now used for many sports, games and competitions as well as still finding their place as a work animal in some cultures.
A mare's gestation period is around 11 months, after which a foal should stay with their mother for 5-6 months. Most male horses (colts) are gelded around 18 months of age, while females called fillies are generally left intact. The age at which a colt is gelded is often based on their temperament, as leaving a quiet and non-studish colt intact until they begin work under saddle can improve strength and muscle tone.
In the wild horses exhibit short bursts of activity followed by long periods of quiet grazing, socializing and gentle playfulness. Socializing is an important part of the herd dynamic, and can be fascinating to watch! Although often thought of as high spirited and with lots of presence, the horse is a prey animal who often communicates silently though body language. It is important to understand your horses language to keep yourself safe together, as well as to establish a healthy bond with your horse!
Whether as a companion or a sporting partner, a minimum of two acres of turnout area per horse is necessary. Any turnout area needs to have a shelter that the horses can access at will with three walls and a roof. A 12ft x 18 ft run in shed is adequate for 2-3 average sized horses if they get along quite well.
Horses need a mainly forage diet. Forage includes grass, hay, and beet pulp which may be added to high quality feed as a supplemental form of forage. Horses can be fed as much forage as they will eat, with care being given to limit the sugar intake from hays such as alfalfa. Supplemental cereal grains may be added up to 1/2 lb of grain per 100 lbs of horse.
As a social and herd animal, horses should be kept on the same property as other equines. Kept alone, a horse will develop depression and/or anxiety greatly dampening their quality of life and even their life span. They get along well with not just other horses but also ponies, donkeys and mules. Some highly anxious horses and those who can't be kept with other horses for special reasons (such as a stallion) even enjoy having a goat as a companion who can join them in the field, stall and away from home at competitions!
Animal Care Costs per Month
While keeping a companion horse at your own farm with ample grass will save a lot on board and extra hay, a horse in training or at a boarding facility will require a lot more to keep healthy and happy! A young or green (inexperienced) horse, or any horse who is being used for competition will need professional training either continually or as a tune up from time to time. Since riding is a sport in which your equine team mate can't verbally talk to you, it is recommended to always take lessons in riding and horsemanship no matter what your experience level. Even Olympic Dressage riders still take lessons from one another!
Horses require a high level of skill and knowledge to care for and shouldn't be taken on lightly. They can be very costly and have a longer life span than many other pets. Intelligent and social, horses form a strong bond with their herd mates including their human and thrive on routine and consistency. Many if not most behavioral problems leading to dangerous behavior can develop from the misunderstanding of equine language and the separation caused by buying, selling, and moving horses from farm to farm. A happy horse has the same owner for most or all of their life, with a stable long term herd at home. With appropriate time, research and work put in a horse can be a sport and adventure partner and companion like no other!
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!