Horses FAQ

What is the average life expectancy for a horse?

The expected life span of a horse or pony is approximately twenty to thirty years. Although according to the Guinness Book of Records Old Billy believed to a Cleveland Bay cross eastern horse foaled in 1760 and lived to the incredible age of 62.

How can horses sleep when standing?

Horses and ponies can sleep standing up because of an unusual stay apparatus in their patella (kneecap). A hook situated on the inside and bottom end of the thighbone, on its hind leg, cups the patella and the medial patella ligament, preventing the leg from bending.

What are the terms used to describe the gender of a horse or pony?

  • Filly – A female horse or pony not yet fully grown
  • Colt – A male horse or pony not yet fully grown or gelded (castrated)
  • Mare – A fully grown female horse or pony
  • Stallion – A fully grown male horse or pony that has not been gelded
  • Gelding – A male horse or pony that has been castrated

Should horses be kept apart from other horses?

No – horses are herd animals, they are used to living as part of a group and they feel secure in the company of other equines and familiar surroundings.

How can I tell what my horse is thinking?

Horses indicate their feelings in a number of ways and the ears are a good indication of what is going through a horse’s mind: Ears laid flat back against the neck shows the horse is unhappy or annoyed Ears pricked alert and facing forward indicate that the horse is happy and interested Ears lowered slightly to the sides show the horse is relaxed, bored or that it feels unwell Flickering ears indicate the horse is listening and attentive

How do you measure a horse?

Both horses and ponies are measured from the ground to the withers and are measures in “hands”. One hand is equal to 4 inches. When measuring them it is best to ensure they are stood squarely on solid ground, this will give the most accurate measurement.

What do horses eat?

Horses are grazing animals and forage feed is necessary for the proper functioning of their digestive system, as it is their most natural diet:

  • Apples – they are relished by all horses
  • Barley – this should be boiled or soaked for at least two hours before feeding as it swells when wet, which prevents it swelling in the horses stomach which can cause problems. It can be fed dry if rolled and crushed first
  • Bran – is easily digested
  • Chaff – adds bulk to food and prevents the horse from bolting down its good too quickly
  • Cod Liver Oil – is a useful supplement to help build up resistance to disease
  • Eggs – these are a good source of protein and one or two fed daily can be useful to a hard-working horse
  • Horse nuts or mixes – these are specially prepared foods, comprising many of the basic feeds, there are different types designed to meet the nutritional needs of various horses with different exercising routines
  • Linseed – is high in protein and only a handful should be fed with a feed. It is poisonous raw so MUST be cooked first
  • Maize – this should be flaked and cooked to make it easier to digest
  • Molichaff or Mollichop – is a mixture of chaff and molasses, used to add bulk to the food and the molasses makes it more appetising
  • Oats – they are easily digested if fed crushed, rolled or cooked. They are a high energy food and excessive feeding of oats can cause exuberance in some horses
  • Root vegetables – such as beetroot, carrots, parsnips, swedes and turnips can be fed but in small quantities. They should be cut into strips, rather than round pieces as they can become lodged in the throat
  • Salt – fed in small quantities in the feed helps to aid digestion
  • Seaweed – is good for young horses

Horses should be fed at regular times and should be given a few hours between a hard feed and carrying out strenuous exercise.

Water should always be available to both the grass kept and stabled horse or pony and it is particularly important that it is available prior to feeding.

Is grooming necessary?

Grooming is an important part of looking after a horse, not only does it maintain the horse’s coat but it acts as a means of massaging the horse. This help the circulation and also gives the opportunity to thoroughly check the horse for any scratches, wounds or minor skin conditions.

What equipment do I need to groom my horse?

Grooming Kit is the name given to the collection of brushes and combs that are needed to keep a horse clean, shining and healthy. Each brush or comb serves a different purpose and the most common items which form this kit are:

  • Body Brush – This usually has either a hard or soft, often leather, back and is used to remove the grease and dust from the coat, it can be used on sensitive areas such as the head. It needs to be rubbed over a curry comb regularly during grooming.
  • Cotton wool or Sponge – Used for cleaning eyes, nose and dock area as well as cleaning wounds. Dandy Brush – A brush with long stiff bristles, it is used for removing dry surface dirt out of the coat, it is usually used on the less sensitive parts of the horses body.
  • Hoof Pick – These are either metal or plastic and are used for removing dirt and stones packed into the underside of the horses hooves. It is worth tying a piece of baler twine on to it, to prevent losing it in bedding or the bottom of the grooming kit box.
  • Mane Comb – Sometimes plastic but mostly metal, they are used to comb the mane and tail of the horse. Short metal combs are also used to pull manes and there are special combs which can be used to cut the mane thinner.
  • Metal Curry Comb – These should never be used on the horse itself, they are used for removing dirt and dust from the Body Brush whilst grooming.
  • Rubber Curry Comb – are made specifically for the purpose of removing mud and loose hair from the horse.
  • Stable Rubber – Can be dampened and gently wiped over the body to give the horse a final polish.
  • Water Brush – These are used when applying water to the horses coat, mane or tail when dampening or washing.

What is the best way to deal with worms?

Worms can affect all types of horses whether stabled or at grass. If they are not controlled they can cause, colic, weight loss and in severe cases, death.

  • Do not overstock your pasture
  • Rest your pasture for six months if possible
  • Make sure your horse always has enough to eat and DO NOT feed him directly off the stable floor
  • Pick up droppings in the field regularly
  • Use a wormer

Which plants are poisonous to horses?

The following can be harmful to horses: Acorns, Alder Buckthorn, Black Bryony, Black Nightshade, Box, Bracken, Broom, Buckthorn, Buttercup, Greater Celandine, Charlock, Cherry Laurel, Chickweed, Clover, Columbine, Corncrockle, Comrockle, Cowbane, Cuckoo Pint, Damel, Deadly Nightshade, Foxglove, Ground Ivy, Groundsel, Hellebore, Hemlock, Hemlock Water-Dropwort, Hemp Nettle, Henbane, Herb Paris, Horse Radish, Horsetail, Iris, Laburnum, Larkspar, Lily of the Valley, Linseed, Lupin, Marsh Marigold, Meadow Saffron, Melilot, Mercury, Monk’s Hood, Oak, Pimpernel, Poppy, Potato, Privet, Ragwort, Rhubarb, Rodeondendron, Rush, St Johns Wort, Sorrel, Spurge, Thorn Apple, White Bryony, Wood Nightshade and Yew.

What is colic and how should I treat it?

Colic is a term used to describe abdominal pain. There are many different causes some of which may be mild but others can be life threatening. In the early stages it is difficult to tell the severity of the cause, so all cases should be treated seriously. Often the cause is not known but can include, irregularities in feeding, a sudden change of diet, indigestion, gas build up, gorging on grain, eating of a substance which expands when dampened, intestinal accident, blockage, contractions and inflammation. The risk of colic occurring is higher with carbohydrate diets and inadequate access to grass or hay. Stabled horses are often more prone to colic than grass kept horse.

A regular feeding schedule, access to clean water, adequate forage, an exercise routine and the avoidance of sudden changes in diet will all lower the risk of colic occurring.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • A high temperature
  • Pulse and respiration rate will increase
  • Sweating
  • Poor appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Kicking at the belly
  • Pawing the ground or rolling in an effort to disperse the pain
  • Lying down more than usual
  • Frequently standing outstretched as if to urinate
  • Turning the head towards the flank and curling of the upper lip

Veterinary advice should be sought immediately. Food should be removed and nibbling at bedding should be prevented until the Vet arrives. Walk the horse as this will distract from the pain and will also help prevent rolling. If it is not possible to stop the horse from rolling, place the horse in an area where it can inflict little damage to itself.

Recurring colic can be due to more serious causes such as tumours, ulcers and problems with one of the abdominal organs and should be investigated by a vet.

What are the symptoms of Influenza in horses?

Influenza in horses is very similar to flu in humans, the first symptoms are usually:

  • The horse seems lethargic
  • High temperature
  • A harsh cough
  • Nasal discharge
  • Lack of appetite

It is highly contagious, so any horse suffering should be isolated and rested with feed modified accordingly. A soft feed and soaked hay is preferable as this can be swallowed easier.

Vaccination against influenza is available and should be repeated annually.

What are Bots?

The botfly or Gasterophilus lays its eggs on the forelimbs, chest and head regions of horses between May and October, they can be seen as small yellow dots in the horse’s coat.

Horses find them particularly annoying and this causes them to lick and bite themselves. This action stimulates the eggs to hatch and the larvae then burrow into the mucous membranes of lips, gums, cheeks and tongue of the horse. Although this does not appear to cause the horse any discomfort, the larvae incubate for 3-4 weeks before migrating to the stomach where they grow and attach themselves to the stomach wall of the horse.

Large quantities of eggs in the stomach can cause loss of condition, a dry coat, increased temperature, restlessness, kicking at the belly and a lack of appetite. It can also cause intermittent diarrhoea or constipation. The larvae can cause gastritis, ulcers and in severe cases perforation of the stomach causing fatal peritonitis.

The larvae remain in the stomach until springtime when they pass with the faeces, pupating on the ground to emerge as adult flies one or two months later to repeat the cycle.

To control Botfly infestation it is necessary to work the horse regularly with a suitable wormer that will ensure that larvae in the stomach are killed.

Bot eggs should be removed from the horse’s coat daily either by hand or using a Bot knife.

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