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Guidelines for Responsible Horse Guardianship

Physical Health


       The foundation of good horsekeeping is basic husbandry and health care. All horse owners should know their horses, understand what is normal and abnormal, and establish a relationship with an equine veterinarian for everything from health maintenance to emergency care.

Emotional Health

       Horses evolved as social animals grazing on the open plains, ever watchful for danger. They need companionship. If your horse is alone most of the time, you should consider getting a second horse or other animal, such as a goat, for company. Horses in the wild may walk great distances and spend most of their time eating grass. Horses with insufficient opportunity to socialize, move, and graze are more likely to have behavioral problems, and there are health consequences as well. Given a choice, most horses prefer to be outside under most conditions, even when we’d be uncomfortable. Whenever possible, horses should be allowed on pasture with other horses every day.

Training & Handling


       Humane training is based on a thorough understanding of the nature of horses. By any name, it is not a recent discovery. The basic principles were espoused two thousand years ago in ancient Greece by Xenophon who explained that nothing graceful can be forced.

       A good deal of learning, experience or guidance is needed to be an effective teacher of horses. On a very fundamental level, it involves applying and releasing pressure to tell the horse what to do and if he is doing it. Too often, horses are punished for being frightened, confused, or unable to do what is asked, or because the human half of the partnership does not recognize that the horse is trying. The more refined the art, the more subtle the cues, corrections, and rewards.

      There is no place for fear, “flooding” the horse with stressful overstimulation, or physical punishment, except possibly to prevent a horse from injuring himself or someone else. Many horses, however, suffer not from punishment but excessive “rewards.” Spoiling your horse can have health and behavior consequences and turn him into a horse nobody can handle. Give your horse love, care, guidance, patience, and understanding for free. Save the treats for a purpose and use them wisely.

      It is irresponsible to have a completely untrained horse who can’t be handled if someone else will ever have to take care of him. Every horse should at least learn to accept being caught, haltered, led and loaded on a trailer. It may save his life.

Disabilities & Old Age

       Plan ahead for when your horse gets older, or otherwise becomes incapable of doing the things you once did together. He can be a valuable companion for another horse, yours or someone else’s. He can be a valued companion for you, and a reminder that we must follow through on our responsibilities. He still needs good care and attention, probably more than before, a diet appropriate to his age and condition, mental stimulation, and exercise.

Transfer of Ownership

Do not sell your horse at auction, or to a horse trader you don’t know well. There are alternatives. Be wary of people overly willing to take a “problem horse” off your hands. Be honest and forthcoming, ask a lot of questions, check references, and visit his potential new home if possible. Consider a contract giving you “right of first refusal” should the new owner be unable to keep him. Be realistic about the value someone else will place on your horse, and what his quality of life is likely to be.

End of Life Decisions

       In most cases, there is no easy answer to the question of when living on would be worse than a quick and painless death. Your horse’s veterinarian should explain the problems and prognosis, give you an idea of how much he may be suffering, and help you make a decision, but can not make it for you. It may be the hardest decision you have to make. Don’t become paralyzed waiting for the “right time” or worrying that you missed it. Horses live in the present, and that is your primary concern.

Article courtesy: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

 Printed with permission.


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