It’s not only humans that need to exercise regularly and do warm-ups, stretching, and cool-downs. In this post, we explain horses’ exercise requirements and different ways to help them meet their exercise needs.
Benefits of Exercise for Horses
Exercise can increase a horse’s stamina and endurance and improve its muscle tone and the functioning of its heart and lungs. It promotes mental alertness, disease resistance, bone and hoof development, and healthy blood circulation. With each step, a horse’s hoof pushes fluid up its leg.
Exercise also helps prevent common issues among horses that spend most of their time in a stall, like boredom, leg swelling, and constipation.
Horse Exercise Requirements
A horse’s exercise needs vary depending on factors like its age, breed, housing situation, health, and fitness level, as well as the climate. A racehorse will require more-intense workouts than a senior horse, for example.
Horses that are free to move around in a pasture should receive an additional 15 to 20 minutes of exercise daily. Stabled horses benefit from at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Super-fit horses need about 2 hours of exercise daily.
Horses with a low fitness level benefit from a gradual increase in exercise quantity and intensity. Regardless of the horse, consistency is key. Irregular exercise can lead to issues like muscle damage or incorrect feeding.
Warm-Up, Stretching, and Cool-Down for Horses
Just like you wouldn’t start running a marathon without warming up first, horses require a warm-up before exercising. Warm-up activities decrease the risk of injury, help the horse’s limbs move more freely, and increase the oxygen going to its muscles. Options include walking or trotting the horse at an easy pace for 10 to 15 minutes or lunging it (having it move in a circle at the end of a lunge line).
Stretching a horse increases its flexibility, improves its circulation, and helps relieve pain and inflammation. Stretch a horse’s legs by picking them up one at a time and gently extending them in each direction. Other possible exercises are having the horse turn in circles or stretch its neck forward and down.
For the cool-down, keep the horse moving at a relaxed pace for 10 to 15 minutes to allow its body temperature and heart rate to return to normal. Depending on the weather, the cool-down could include spraying or sponging the horse with cool water, drying it off with a towel, or applying a horse blanket. The animal can take little sips of water but should not eat until its body temperature has returned to normal to reduce the risk of colic.
Types of Exercise for Horses
Riding - whether at a walk, jog, lope, or gallop - is a classic way for both the horse and the rider to get exercise. Variations include riding the horse over ground poles, taking it over jumps, riding it up and down a hill, and ponying another horse behind it. Other ways to exercise a horse are putting it on a treadmill, taking it for a swim, having it do lunging or driving (pulling a cart), and taking it for a walk on a lead rope.
Being out in a pasture is its own form of exercise since groups of horses move around as they graze. Encourage physical activity by giving horse toys like giant balls or putting the hay and water at opposite ends of the field.
What would be your favourite way to exercise a horse? Let us know in the comments!
Although our activities and routines vary based on the time of year, we don’t necessarily notice any major changes in the way our bodies function. Horses, however, clearly adjust their bodies, behaviour, and needs based on environmental conditions like the amount of daylight. In this post, we explore seasonal changes in horses.
Fall and Winter
The fall is a good time to prepare horses for the coming winter, including adding more hay to their diet. In the fall, pasture plants start to store more sugars, which can cause digestive problems in horses. Fall pasture grass also has fewer nutrients.
Forage, such as hay, takes a long time for horses to digest. That provides heat over a longer period - ideal for the winter. Hay also gives the horse extra calories. Note that it’s essential to make changes to horses’ diet slowly, not all at once.
Depending on the horse, it can be a good idea to increase its body weight over the fall. Some horses lose weight over the winter since they’re burning calories to stay warm. Others gain weight due to reduced exercise.
Wild horses reduce their metabolism over the winter given the harsher environmental conditions. Although domestic horses have a more consistent food supply, there is some evidence that Shetland ponies, at least, also have a lower metabolic rate in the winter.
Although horses generally prefer drinking cold water, they also tend to drink less in the fall and winter. One issue can be freezing water, so insulated bucket covers and de-icers for water troughs are available.
A more obvious change when looking at a horse in the fall is that it starts growing its fuzzy winter coat in September. Throughout the cooler fall and winter, horse owners must ensure that their horses stay warm and dry.
Spring and Summer
Horses start shedding their winter coats in response to increasing daylight. The process starts in late December but only becomes noticeable in May. A horse tends to shed at the same time every year and often in the same pattern.
In the spring, horses may eat too much new grass too quickly, leading to health issues like colic and laminitis. Horse owners should limit their horses’ access to the pasture in the springtime, only gradually increasing it.
Mares are typically in heat on and off between April and October. With an 11-month gestation period, they give birth the following spring or summer.
Like humans, horses suffer in summer heat and humidity. It’s important to provide them with sufficient fresh, cool, clean water. Loose or block salt can also be beneficial, as can electrolytes if the horse is sweating a lot.
Horse owners and riders should limit horses’ activity to the cooler parts of the day if possible and ensure that the animals cool down properly, perhaps by misting or sponging them. Horses living outside should have access to shade or a shelter to escape the heat, while horses indoors enjoy having a fan running. Another part of horse summer care is applying sunscreen to vulnerable patches of skin.
Did you increase your understanding of how horses and horse care change over the course of the year? Let us know in the comments!
You may have heard that horses sleep standing up. That claim is only partly true, but the reality of horse sleep is just as fascinating. In this post, we dive into horses’ strange sleeping behaviour.
Stages of Horse Sleep
Besides wakefulness, horses have 3 stages in their sleep-wake cycle. In the state of drowsiness or deep restfulness, a horse is relaxed but still easily roused.
Next, the horse enters slow-wave sleep (SWS), in which its brain is less active, with slow, synchronized electrical waves. Horses stay standing for both deep restfulness and SWS.
However, the animal must lie down for the deep rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep so that its skeletal muscles can relax. REM sleep is also known as paradoxical sleep because, counterintuitively, the horse’s brain is just as active as when it’s awake. As the name suggests, horses in REM sleep display jerky eye movements (with closed eyelids) and rapid, chaotic brain waves.
REM sleep is essential for horses’ well-being, as well as for learning and the creation of new memories. It’s likely that horses dream during this stage. They may move their legs while dreaming and probably dream about experiences from their day.
Horse Sleeping Behaviour
As prey animals, horses do most of their dozing standing up so that it’s easier to flee if a predator appears. Like several other large land mammals, they have a feature known as the stay apparatus, a system of tendons and ligaments that lets them lock their leg joints while sleeping.
When horses are sleeping, they distribute their weight among 3 of their legs and rest the fourth one, normally a hind limb. They also close their eyes, relax their ears, and droop their head, neck, and lower lip.
Before lying down, a horse wakes up for a moment to check its environment. It then lies down - likely on its side - and enters REM sleep via deep restfulness and SWS. It cannot lie down for too long since its weight restricts blood flow and puts pressure on its internal organs.
Among horses living in a group, 1 or 2 horses will typically stay awake while the rest of the herd lies down. These guard horses get their own chance to sleep when other horses replace them. Horses are careful to sleep in sheltered locations, preferably with their head pointing toward the escape route.
Horse Sleep Requirements and Issues
Horses sleep for only a few minutes at a time, alternating between dozing, lying down, eating, and moving around. Sleeping may occur during the day or night, although the nighttime is more common, especially among horses that work during the day.
On average, horses sleep only 3 hours total over a 24-hour period. At least 30 minutes of that sleeping should be REM sleep. Foals sleep for about half the day until they’re 3 months old, at which point they start sleeping less.
Although a horse can survive for several days without REM sleep, sleep deprivation can cause crankiness, issues with metabolism and body temperature, and even collapsing. Reasons that a horse might not get enough deep sleep include pain or discomfort at lying down and feeling uncomfortable in its environment.
Horses may also suffer from narcolepsy, a neurological condition in which they enter deep sleep frequently yet unintentionally. Horses with narcolepsy enter REM sleep nearly instantly, causing them to collapse.
Do you have a favourite fact about horses and sleep? Let us know in the comments!
Though grooming may seem like one of those tasks that’s nice but not essential, it’s, in fact, an essential part of horse care. In this post, we’ll outline the steps for grooming so that, if nothing else, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on around the barn.
Horse Grooming - The Basics
Brushing encourages blood circulation and spreads a horse’s natural oils. It’s also a chance to check for injuries and irritations and bond with the horse.
Ideally, a horse should be groomed every day. As a minimum, it should be groomed before and after riding. If the horse is not ridden often, once a week may be enough.
If you’re ever involved with grooming, you’ll come across a few supplies that may be unfamiliar. A curry comb, for example, is an oval-shaped rubber or plastic tool with short teeth. You’ll also use several different brushes and cloths or sponges, as well as a hoof pick and perhaps a spray or two.
The grooming routine varies slightly depending on the person and on whether they’re giving the horse a quick or a more thorough treatment. In any case, however, you’d start by tying up the horse.
Currying and Brushing
Rub the curry comb in small circles to dislodge dirt and mud, starting at the horse’s neck and working toward its hindquarters. Do not curry a horse’s sensitive face, spine, or legs.
Next, use short, brisk strokes with a hard or dandy brush to remove the loosened dirt, again avoiding sensitive areas. Finish with long, smooth strokes with a soft or body brush, this time cleaning sensitive areas as well.
Cleaning the Face and Dock
Gently wipe the horse’s face and dock - around the tail - using two different cloths or sponges. Both of these areas can accumulate dirt and mucus.
Brushing the Mane and Tail
Run your fingers through the horse’s mane and tail to remove the worst knots, then brush small sections, starting at the bottom. Use detangling spray on a badly knotted mane or tail.
When brushing a horse’s tail, stand off to the side. Keep a hand on the horse if possible and talk to it so that it knows you’re there and will be less likely to kick you.
Picking the Hooves
Make the horse lift its hoof by leaning gently against its shoulder and running your hand down the back of its leg. Use a hoof pick to scrape toward the toe, removing dirt, rocks, and other debris. Do not dig deeply into the hoof’s grooves or scrape the frog, which is the sensitive V-shaped area.
Using Sprays and Creams
Other than detangling spray, you may apply a coat polish or a grooming spray, which protects the horse against the sun and makes its coat shine. You can also find equine sunscreen. Finally, fly spray is a good idea if flies are an issue.
Do you think you’d be able to groom a horse? Let us know in the comments!
It’s not only humans that need to visit the doctor and dentist. In this post, we’ll walk you through horses’ needs when it comes to both day-to-day care and regular medical check-ups and other procedures.
General Horse Care
Like other animals, horses have certain basic requirements for food, water, and shelter. They need to receive enough nutritious food and have access to clean water and somewhere to escape the heat or rain.
Ideally, a horse enjoys the company of other horses and has enough space to walk and run around. As a minimum, it should receive daily exercise.
Horses also require daily grooming. Besides making sure that the horse looks its best, this process is a chance to check its skin for damage and remove dirt, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
Daily grooming should include picking the horse’s hooves to remove dirt and stones. During the winter and rainy periods, horses benefit from an antifungal solution every 1 to 2 weeks to prevent thrush.
Regular Medical Care
Horses should see a veterinarian for an exam at least once a year. If the animal is 20 years old or older, seeing a vet at least twice a year is a good idea.
Horses require regular vaccines for diseases like tetanus and also, potentially, shots specific to their situation or region. It’s best to let a veterinarian or other trained individual give the vaccines.
Interestingly, foals enjoy the benefits of their mother’s vaccinations for up to 6 months after birth. To obtain this protection against diseases, the foal must drink its mother’s antibody-rich colostrum milk within its first 6 hours of life.
Horses should receive a dental check-up at least once a year, or more often if they’re young, elderly, or eat grain. Their teeth tend to wear down unevenly, leaving sharp edges that become uncomfortable unless a vet trims them.
Other Routine Horse Care
It’s not just a horse’s teeth that need trimming. Have a farrier or vet trim its hooves approximately every 6 weeks. Horseshoes may be a good idea if the animal will be walking on hard surfaces or has tender feet or other hoof issues or is lame.
Horses, especially young ones, often have issues with intestinal parasites like worms that they pick up while grazing or licking their body. It’s important to apply a deworming paste to a horse every 4 to 8 weeks or give it daily dewormer in its feed.
Flies and ticks can also bother a horse and even cause infections. Checking for nuisance insects is part of routine horse care. Thankfully, a variety of lotions and sprays are on the market to protect horses against these pests.
Did you get a better sense of the necessary steps for looking after a horse? Let us know in the comments!
Have you ever wondered what horses need to eat to make sure that they have enough energy and nutrients to take you for a ride? Maybe you picture a mare grazing in a field or reaching out to take a bite from an apple or carrot.
Horses are herbivores, so these are all good guesses. In this post, we’ll enter into horses’ diet in more detail, then we’ll finish by discussing how often to feed horses.
What Horses Eat
Grass is horses’ natural food source and passes smoothly through their digestive system. It also contains silica, which is essential for their dental health. Wild horses can nibble on grass for up to 17 hours a day.
Since it’s often not practical to leave horses out in a pasture all the time or for the whole year, hay or haylage is another option for meeting horses’ dietary requirements. Hay consists of completely dried grass that’s stored in bales. Haylage is semi-dried grass that’s wrapped in layers of plastic and conserves more nutrients than hay.
In their diet, horses need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Most carbohydrates should come from grass or hay, but it’s possible to supplement horses’ diet with grains like oats, either plain or mixed up as concentrates. Combining grains with other ingredients is a way to add extra vitamins and minerals.
It’s okay to feed horses a treat, such as an apple or carrot, every once in a while. Horses also enjoy licking salt blocks, especially in the summer. A salt-vitamin-mineral mix helps meet horses’ nutritional requirements while satisfying their salt craving.
There are certain foods that you should not feed to a horse, including sugary foods, bread, meat, and brans like wheat bran. Members of the cabbage family, such as turnips and broccoli, cause horses discomfort, while potatoes and tomatoes can be toxic for them.
On average, an adult horse should eat enough dry matter daily to be equivalent to about 1.5 to 3 percent of its body weight. The quantity of food and water that a horse requires varies depending on its age, mass, activity level, and metabolism.
Good doer or easy keeper horses easily maintain, and even gain, weight. Hard keeper horses, on the other hand, struggle to maintain an adequate weight.
How Often to Feed Horses
Horses like to eat small amounts of food frequently. They’re happy to just keep grazing all day. Ideally, they have constant access to grass or hay, as well as water.
If they’re inside a stable and that’s not possible, horses should be fed 2 to 3 times a day, with a maximum gap of 8 hours between every feeding. Horses prefer receiving food at the same time every day.
Horses need approximately 5 to 15 gallons of clean water per day. If they don’t have a steady supply available, they should be given water at least twice a day.
What did you learn about horses’ diet? Let us know in the comments!
Hello, My name is Shelby Gatti, and I am the owner of Shelby Ranch. I love being able to share my passion for animals with you and your family. At Shelby Ranch you can expect a ton of family adventure from horseback riding to mechanical bull riding & axe throwing.