Horse Buying Decisions Time to go home - What do you need? Feeding and Watering Your Horse
Minimum Health Care Requirements Important Phone Numbers

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It is best to have a horse expert and veterinarian help you with these decisions.

Know what breed of horse you want.

Know what age of horse you are seeking

The temperament of the horse you want is very important

Know your experience (riding) level and what you plan to do.

Know the horse's experience (training) level and whether it has any training in your chosen activity.

Find out about the horse's overall health including vaccination, worming, and hoof care histories.

Find out about any past illnesses and/or injuries (and look for lumps and scars - a seller may not be 100% truthful, sad to say).

Ask the owner for a 30-day trial period to be sure that you and the horse are a good match and to be certain that there are no medical or behavioral problems that may have been concealed when you first visited the horse.

Before ownership, you may want to consider leasing a horse first to make sure that purchasing a horse is the correct decision. You may also want to examine the option of boarding the horse.

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Legalities: By Colorado law a brand inspection certificate is needed as proof of ownership at the time of sale. Also, a brand inspection certificate is needed if the horse is transported more than 75 miles from home or if it is leaving the state.

Space and Shelter: Horses need a large area for exercise such as a corral or pasture. They also need natural or man-made shelter from the elements (both hot and cold). This can vary from a protective stand of trees to a 3-sided shed to a complete stable with box stalls. A man-made shelter should be clean and well-ventilated with no drafts. Minimum space requirements for a box stall are: 10-12 ft. wide X 10-12 ft. deep X at least 8 feet high. The door should be 4 ft. wide X 8 ft. high.

Fencing: Whether using a traditional board fence, a rail fence, or electric wire fencing (wide ribbon wire is best), the most important thing is that the fence must be VISIBLE to the horse. This keeps the horse from becoming tangled in the fence or from running through the fence and onto the highway. Electric fencing should only be used as an interior fence and never as a major exterior fence. Barbed wire is NOT RECOMMENDED for horse pasture fencing. Click here for a good guide to fencing.

Manure: You must have a plan for manure disposal or use. You may want to start a composting project to convert manure and yard waste into organic fertilizer. You will also need a plan to control flies and other insects.

Feeding: An average saddle horse that weighs 1,000 pounds will eat approximately 17 to 22 pounds of feed per day (total ration). The total ration is a combination of hay, grain and pasture. Salt should always be available to the horse. See below for more information on feeding your horse.

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Pasture: The major component of a horse's diet is good forage, such as hay (see below for information about hay) or pasture. A horse weighing 1000 pounds will eat about 500 pounds of forage every month. Another way of thinking about it is that the average horse will eat 1.5-2.0% of its body weight per day in forage! This is not an exact science -- you should monitor your horse's body condition and increase or decrease its feed intake accordingly. How much land will you need to feed one horse for one year?

If this is the only source of forage, your horse will need about 28 acres of dryland (non-irrigated) pasture a year. To keep pasture grass healthy, DO NOT let the horse overgraze the land so that grass will no longer grow. Overgrazed dryland pasture may never recover.

Irrigated pastures with adequate moisture will grow more forage than dryland pasture so less acreage is needed. The amount of land needed for one horse ranges from 3/4 to 1 1/4 acres. The horse will not eat grass that has been trampled or has manure on it. Overgrazing will also damage irrigated pastures. For good quality regrowth, leave about 1/3 of the grass uneaten. Manage your pasture as a crop by soil testing, fertilizing, clipping weeds and managing manure.

CAUTION: Before turning a horse out to pasture for the first time you must condition it to a change in diet. Turning the horse out on green lush pasture is DANGEROUS and can result in sickness or death. Start out slowly by letting the horse graze for a few minutes each day and gradually increase to a few hours each day.

Your horse must have access to plenty of clean, fresh water at ALL times. A horse will drink 10 to 12 gallons of water per day, depending on temperature, humidity levels, ration content and work load. In the winter months, stock tank heaters should be used to prevent ice buildup so that water is ALWAYS accessible to the horse.

A grain mix (usually oats and corn) should be added to the diet when you increase the horse's training, work or activity. Young, old and pregnant or lactating horses may also need grain. The chart below shows how much grain to feed an average 1000 pound horse; if your horse weighs more or less, the amounts will need to be changed:

No work = No grain
Light work (1-2 hours per day) = 1 - 1 1/2 pounds grain per hour of work
Moderate work (2-4 hours per day) = 1 1/2 - 2 pounds grain per hour of work
Heavy work (4 or more hourse per day) = 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 pound grain per hour of work

Your horse will need supplemental hay during periods of snow cover or other times when pasture forage is not available. Feeding hay will also extend the grazing season on properties with small acerage. A small rectangular bale of hay can weigh between 45 and 85 pounds. How much hay to buy and feed to your horse should be based upon the weight of the bales and the nutrient value of the hay. You can feed less hay if it is of higher quality. It is best to have your hay analyzed to determine the nutrient value.
An average 1000 pound horse will eat 20 pounds of medium quality hay per day. How do you determine how much hay to buy? Use this formula and fill in the lanks with your own numbers:

____ Number of days to feed hay x 20 pounds hay per day/____ pounds per bale = # bales needed.
ex. 365 days x 20 pounds per day/50 pounds per bale = 146 bales needed for one year for one horse.

Quick facts about hay:
Legume (alfalfa and clover) hay is higher in protein than grass hay so you need to feed less (weight) legume hay than grass hay. Grass hay will keep the horse busy eating longer and prevent boredom.

Hay that is cut pre-bloom (before seed heads or flowers appear)are higher in protein and energy (calories) than later cuttings. Horses only need 10-12% protein in their feed. Second and pre-bloom alfalfa hay averages 18-24% protein which is more than the horse needs. This hay may also be more expensive.

Hay for horses must be mold and dust free

Weeds have limited nutritional value. Weed seeds can be passed through the manure and infest your pasture. Buy hay that is free of weeds as some weeds are poisonous to horses.

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It is critical to develop a partnership with a veterinarian prior to an emergency situation. This can be done by consulting your veterinarian for your horse's routine and preventive health care.

Dental Care:
Teeth should be checked by a veterinarian at least once a year. The teeth may need to be floated (filed) due to uneven wear caused by the grinding motion used while your horse eats.

All horses should be vaccinated at least once a year, usually in spring. A vaccination program is determined by age, use and overall health of your horse. Time of year influences the risk of infectious diseases. Contact your veterinarian for recommendations. Click here for more information on vaccinations.

Internal Parasite Control:
Your horse needs to be de-wormed several times each year. The frequency of treatment varies with your horse's management. Click here for more information about worming.

First Aid:
Consult your veterinarian about an appropriate first aid kit. It should contain bandage material, a thermometer, ointments and other related items. Contact a vet any time your horse appears sick or disoriented, or has been injured.

Foot Care:
Clean out hooves before and after you ride. Examine them regularly for problems (at least once per day is recommended!). Hooves should be trimmed regularly. The need for hoof care vaires with the use and age of your horse. Contact a qualified farrier (horseshoer) for recommendations for your horse.

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Colorado Veterinary Medical Association
1780 S. Belaire, Ste. 103
Denver, CO 80222
(303) 759-1251
**office hours 9:00 am - 5:00 pm M-F**

American Association of Equine Practitioners
(800) 438-2386

Rocky Mountain Farriers Association
(303) 646-2548
Click here for the American Farriers Association directory -- use the drag-down menu to find a farrier in your state.

Colorado Horse Council
Colorado Horse Development Board
220 Livestock Exchange Building
4701 Marion St.
Denver, CO 80216
(303) 292-4981

Colorado State Brand Inspection Office
201 Livestock Exchange Building
4701 Marion St.
Denver, CO 80216
(303) 294-0895
Colorado Department of Agriculture - Brand Inspection Division
Colorado Department of Agriculture - Animal Division

Colorado State County Extension Agent and/or 4-H Youth Program
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
1 Administration Building
Fort Collins, CO 80523-4040
(970) 491-6281

Colorado State Equine Extension Specialist
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
Animal Sciences Department
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1171
(970) 491-6271
Colorado Equine Extension

Information courtesy of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension and the Colorado Horse Development Board.

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