Horses do better in pastures. The bigger the better. A strong, well-built lean-to, a few trees, no barbed wire, good solid fences, a large, easy-to-clean water supply, and good grazing is all you need to keep your horse happy. Depending on the weather, most horses don’t need rugs in the winter – if you don’t need to clip them, let them get as fuzzy as possible, and only rug if the horse is dropping weight. Feed in the winter is easy as well – as much hay as the horse can eat, and grain if the horse is working out. A salt lick is always a good idea.
Kalin is 20 now. He has equine piroplasmosis, or chronic piroplasmosis, so we keep an eye on him – we’re careful about his weight. He gets a treatment twice a year, and that seems to work wonders. We use homeopathic medicine made from artichokes for his liver. He gets one month treatment in the spring and fall – and so far so good.
He only wears a blanket if the temperature goes below freezing, and even then, only if there is rain or sleet as well. Dry cold doesn’t bother him. He’s barefoot, so he only gets a good trim every month or so, and once a week he gets filed if his hooves needs it.
In the winter, make sure the ice doesn’t form on the water trough – horses need to drink a lot, especially in hot or cold weather. We’ve never bothered with the ‘warming the icy water up’ – we break the ice, they drink it cold – Kalin doesn’t mind. Just make sure you break the ice. Some people put bundles of hay in the trough that keeps the water from freezing into thick, unbreakable sheets. We just go morning and evening and break the ice.
He was dead lame for two days this year – but after a couple days he was fine. He probably stepped on his own foot or over-reached and kicked himself. We left him in the pasture and let him walk it out. I figured that if he hurt, he wouldn’t walk on it. After three days he was galloping, so he was back under he saddle and working fine.
He’s been jumping well too, and looks great. Winter is over, his artichoke treatment is over, and now it’s time for vaccines, worming, and filing his teeth. Summer will be fly season – we will put a fly mask on him and keep him covered in fly spray as much as possible, (although for the past two or three years, there haven’t been as many flies as usual. Bad sign for humanity – but Kalin is more comfortable).
In the fall it’s the artichoke treatment again, another worming before winter sets in, and feet maintenance, as fall can be either very wet (soggy feet – not good – we use Norwegian tar) or very dry with a ground that’s hard as rock (dry feet – use grease – we use laurel grease, which works wonders on dry hooves and heels – don’t forget the heels!). Fall is also when we evaluate his condition for winter. We want him going into winter with some fat on him – it helps grow his coat and keeps him healthier/warmer. We start working him a little less and feeding him a little more – when winter comes, it starts with wet, cold weather, so we might rug at night if he hasn’t gotten his winter coat if the weather is particularly bad, but we prefer to let him get cold – it stimulates the growth and thickness of his winter coat. So far we’ve only done this once – usually we wait until January – February when a real storm rolls in before rugging him. This year, he only wore his rug for three days.
Fall is also when we clean and waterproof his rugs. As in the spring, we give his tack and blankets a thorough cleaning. Once or twice a year, we take everything apart and clean and grease the leather. Usually we do it on a sunny day, with a picnic lunch, and spend the day doing it. It’s a good idea to walk the fence-line as much as possible. A good idea to check the field for rabbit holes, downed branches, anything that could cause injury. As my father-in-law used to say: “A horse is an accident looking for a place to happen.”
Since he’s in a field, Julia doesn’t need to ride him every day. Usually he gets ridden three times a week, and for his age that’s probably enough. So, big pasture, good fence, nice grazing, lots of clean water – and that’s about it for the horse that’s kept in a field!