Last week I presented a tongue in cheek view of keeping horses on your own property – this week I will present the serious side of this dream of many.
Most townships do have minimum requirements for the keeping of livestock and horses so please do start with your town clerk before sketching out plans for your dream barn. Once you have ascertained that you do indeed have enough land to keep horses consider the following.
Horses are herd animals and do not like being by themselves. Two horses present a different complication – they will most likely form a strong bond which may create separation issues for those times you wish to take one from the other. Three horses that get along well enough to be kept in the same pasture is the ideal and usually cures the above issues so this is where we will begin your planning. Please note that there are exceptional horses that do fine being alone with you as their only companion or that have no issues separating from their pasture buddy but they are far and few between so take this caution seriously.
No matter where you live you must provide shelter from the elements – be that sun, snow, wind or rain. Depending upon your specific locale build your barn, arena and/or simple run-in shelter with the open side(s) facing away from the prevailing winds. Also make sure that there is sufficient drainage away from all areas that will contain your horses – this will help prevent flooding as well as reduce the inevitable mud that horses are so very good at creating.
Enclosed barns should provide adequate light and ventilation and be situated on your property so that you have access to water and electric. Barns by my definition are a place that will house your horses in individual stalls. This is my preference as it makes it much easier to feed their individual grain meals. In your barn provide a securely locked room for grain and hay storage and all implements and tack. Horses are curious and very good at using their lips like fingers. Many an industrious horse has found a way out of her stall and into the grain bags. The repercussions of such gorging are many and serious – colic, laminitis and founder are all common ailments of over-eating and can be avoided by simple precautions. The same can be said of encounters with pitchforks, boxes of nails and all the many tools of the trade – expect that if you leave them out a horse will find his way into trouble.
Run-in sheds are great as long as your horses are well suited for 24-hour turnout in all sorts of weather. It has been my experience, living in the northeast, that thin-skinned, lightly coated horses, such as Thoroughbreds, rarely do well without an enclosed barn during the cold weather months as well as the very hot days of summer – of course with fans blowing to keep them cool. There are however many breeds of horses that do very well with such an arrangement but even with a shed I would suggest creating a space where the horses can be fed individually as well as confined if so necessary – as for recovery time from an injury. Sheds should also have electric if possible and of course a water supply that works all year long. A note – horses do not get enough hydration from eating snow so please take the supply of water very seriously – this will save you from many stressful nights dealing with impaction colics that are a common condition when horses are not properly hydrated.
The time required to maintain your barn, horses and property greatly varies depending upon the size of your farm. Those that have a great deal of pasture and weather that permits grazing most of the year will have less of a time commitment than those that do not have such access to grazing. Horses can accommodate some length of time between feedings but you must realize that they are grazing animals and as such are meant to eat small portions of forage – grass or hay – all day long. The longer between feedings the more you set up the horses for problems – health problems such as ulcers and behavior problems from boredom.
Because horses are grazers they are always producing stomach acid. Stomach acid can lead to erosion of the stomach lining if the acid has nothing else to break down – this is the beginning of ulcers. Boredom and all the destruction – broken boards, fights, escapees, to name a few things that happen when horses are bored – can be minimized with proper attention to a horse’s natural order – most of which concerns eating.
Working a full time job makes it difficult to feed small portions of hay many times a day. If you are gone during the day for six hours (the absolute maximum time horses should go without eating) or more you must find a way to get the horses fed during that time. The suggested time between feedings is two hours but you can place small bits of hay here and there throughout the pasture rather than tossing it all into one big pile in order to buy you some time in between. The other really super option is to keep a friend or neighbor’s horse in exchange for some chores and daily horse sitting. This will also give you a chance for a vacation every so often. Having back up is an absolute must for the sake of your sanity when taking on a task that is so very 24/7.
Keeping horses at your farm is a great deal of work but can be highly rewarding if you recognize it as the labor of love it is. After 26 years in the horse world I have yet to discover that money tree but I have discovered the intelligence and generosity of the horse and just how much a horse at home can enrich your soul.
Happy horse keeping and see ya ‘round the barnyard.