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On this page:

Choosing a Horse  |  Feeding Your Horse  |  Horse Health Care 

Tips for Winter Horse Care  |  Riding and Rules of the Road

Unwanted Horse Coalition materials on their website:
The Problem of the Unwanted Horse
Best Practices: How Your Organization Can Help Unwanted Horses
Own Responsibly: Guidance for Current and Potential Horse Owners
Preventing Unwanted Horses: Geld and Spay
2009 Unwanted Horse Survey

The following are available as pdf files:

The Overweight Horse  

USHJA Horse Welfare Guide

AHC White Paper - Legal Status of Horses

  Much of the information on this page is in the New Mexico Horse Care brochure.
This 8 1/2 x 14 brochure can be printed from the followning pdf files.

Horse Care (front)     Horse Care (back)

Things to consider in choosing a horse:
(It is best to have a horse expert & veterinarian help you with these decisions)
*Breed of horse 
     * Age of horse 
          *Temperament of horse 
               * Styles of riding and horse's training
                    *Horse's overall health 
                         * Experience of rider 
                              * Any previous injury to horse
You may want to consider leasing a horse before purchasing one to make sure that owning a horse is the correct decision. You may also want to examine the option of boarding the horse.

You have purchased a horse and want to take it home.  What now? 

Legalities: New Mexico requires a Bill of Sale, Registration papers or a New Mexico Permanent Horse Transportation Permit as proof of ownership. Also, a Permanent Horse Transportation permit is needed if a horse is transported within New Mexico or when leaving the state. A Negative Coggins test and Health Certificate are required when entering New Mexico or traveling to other states. Contact the New Mexico Livestock Board for more information. 

Equine Liability: Equine liability signs are required for commercial operators, and a good idea for any horse owner.  They are available from the New Mexico Horse Council.  Click here to read the law or order a sign.

Space & Shelter: Horses need a large exercise area, such as a corral or Pasture. They also need natural or man-made shelter from the elements, both summer and winter. This can vary from a protective stand of trees to a 3-sided shed or a complete stable with box stalls. A man-made shelter should be clean and well ventilated and free of drafts. Minimum space requirements for a box stall are 10 to 12 feet square, and at least 8 feet high.  The preferred floor is clay dirt.

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. Electric fence should ONLY be used as an interior fence and never as a major exterior fence. Do not use barbed wire!

Manure: You must have a plan for manure removal and 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 lbs. will eat approximately 20 lbs. 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 additional information on feeding your horse

This information available in a pdf file here.

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Feeding Your Horse

Pasture:  The major component of a horse's diet is good forage, such as hay or pasture. A horse weighing 1000 lbs. will eat about 600 lbs. of forage each month. How much land will you need to feed one horse for a year?
     Keeping a horse on dry land (non-irrigated) pasture, use the following formula to determine how many acres your horse will need per year:
     1 animal unit (1 horse) per inch of annual rain (for the region) per section of land (640 ac.) example: 640 acres divided by 8 inches of rain = 80 acres per 1 horse.
     To keep pasture grass healthy, DO NOT let the horse overgraze the land so that the 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.   Mange your pasture as a crop by testing soil, fertilizing, clipping weeds and managing manure.
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 a 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.

Read more about maintaining a healthy pasture at TheHorse.com.

Hay:  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 acreage. 
     A small rectangular bale of hay can weigh between 45 and 85 lbs.  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 higher quality. It is best to have your hay analyzed to determine nutrient value.  An average 1000-lb. horse will eat 20 lbs. of medium quality hay per day. 
     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. 
     In New Mexico, alfalfa is cut up to six times per year. Later cuttings may have higher protein content. Do not switch diets abruptly between grass and alfalfa.  Hays in your region will vary in type and cost.  Consult your veterinarian as to What is best for your horse. 
     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.  How do you determine how much hay to buy?  Use this formula and fill in the blanks with your own numbers:
____ Number of days to feed hay x 20 lbs. hay per day divided by ____lbs. of weight per bale = number of bales needed.
Example: 365 days x 20 lbs. hay per day divided by 50 lbs. per bale = 146 bales needed for one year for one horse.

Grain:  A grain mix (usually oats and corn) should be added to the diet when you increase the horse's training, work or activity.   Young and old horses may also need grain.
     This chart shows how much grain to feed an average 1000-lb. horse:
No Work, No Grain
Light Work (1-2 hours per day) 1to1 1/2 lbs. grain per hour of work 
Medium Work (2-4 hours per day) 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. grain per hour of work 
Heavy Work (4 or more hours per day) 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lbs. grain per hour of work 

Water: Your horse must have plenty of clean, fresh water available at ALL times. A horse will drink 10 to 12 gallons of water each day, depending on temperature, humidity levels, ration content work load.  In the winter months, stock tank heaters will help stop ice buildup so that water is always accessible to the horse.

This information available in a pdf file here.

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Horse Health Care

Develop a relationship with a veterinarian who knows you and your horses.

YOU NEED TO KNOW - If you do not know how, work with your veterinarian to learn:

  • How to use a twitch and other restraints 
  • How to give oral medicine, give an intramuscular injection and an intravenous injection 
  • How to take a horse's temperature, pulse, respiratory rate, and assess gut sounds (click here for a quick HOW TO)
  • How to bandage properly 
  • The parts of your horse including the bones 
  • Pulse rate: 30-45 beats per minute 
  • Respiratory rate: 8-20 breaths per minute 
  • Rectal temperature: 99.5-101.5. 
  • Capillary refill time: 2 seconds 
  • Skin pliability is tested by pinching or folding a flap of neck skin and releasing. It should immediately snap back into place. 
  • Color of the mucous membranes, nostrils, conjunctiva (inner eye tissue), and inner lips of vulva should be pink. Bright red, pale pink to white, or bluish-purple coloring may indicate problems. 
  • Color, consistency, and volume of feces and urine should be typical of that individual's usual excretions. Straining or failure to excrete should be noted. 
  • Signs of distress, anxiety or discomfort. 
  • Lethargy, depression or anorexia. 
  • Presence or absence of gut sounds. 
  • Evidence of lameness such as head-bobbing, reluctance to move, odd stance, pain, unwillingness to rise. 
  • Bleeding, swelling, evidence of pain 
  • Seizures, paralysis or "tying-up: 
Consult your veterinarian for your horse's routine and preventive health care.

Vaccinations:  All horses should be vaccinated at least once a 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.

Internal Parasite Control: Your horse needs to be de-wormed several times each year.  The frequency of treatment varies with your horse's management.

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

First Aid:  Consult your veterinarian about an appropriate first-aid kit to have on hand at all times.  Click here for a suggested list of things to start with.  Contact a veterinarian any time your horse appears sick or disoriented, or has been injured.

Foot Care:  You need to engage the services of a qualified farrier (horseshoer) to assist you in the proper care and maintenance of your horse's hooves. Hooves should be trimmed regularly.  The need for hoof care varies with the use and age of your horse.  Consult your farrier for specific recommendations for your horse and your style of riding.  Clean out hooves before and after each ride.  Examine them regularly for problems. 

For additional information, see the Ask The Vet information on the website of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, www.aaep.org/ask_the_vet.php.  Monthly columns go back to 2005, and cover a wide variety of topics.

This information available in a pdf file here.

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Tips for Winter Horse Care

As the weather turns cold, many horses are ridden less and less. It is easy to become relaxed in a horse's daily care since they are not being used as often. However, horses still require much care and attention throughout the winter. Here are just a few of the points to think about when caring for your horses during those frigid winter months. 

  • For a horse to be an "easy keeper" during the winter he needs to be free of parasites, in good flesh, and properly immunized going into the winter. We tend to think that if we are cold, our horses must be cold. Not necessarily so. Preconditioning horses before the onset of cold temperatures helps to reduce the effect of cold weather on the horse and will reduce his nutritional needs to maintain weight. A horse shouldn't lose weight in the winter. In fact, a little extra layer of fat to fend off the cold won't hurt. Fat cover acts as an insulator and provides energy reserves during stress. Altering your feeding program for the upcoming winter by providing some extra calories will allow horses to lay down an insulating layer of fat under the skin. 
  • The winter coat is a horse's first defense from the cold. When allowed to grow, a horse's natural coat acts as a thermal blanket. A winter coat is also naturally greasy, which helps repel snow, ice and sleet. Horses that are to be maintained outside should be allowed to grow long hair coat, plus the hair within the ears and around the fetlocks should not be clipped throughout the winter months. Stabled horses may need blanketing when they are turned out during the day, but the best blanket for an outside horse is his own full winter coat. 
  • Falling temperatures, wind and wet conditions cause a tremendous demand on the horse's body for heat production. As with all warm-blooded animals, horses must maintain their body temperature to survive. The environmental temperature and the heat produced within the body determine the extent to which heat must be conserved. The body does little to regulate heat generation and heat loss when the environmental temperatures are within ranges of the animal's comfort zone or the "thermal neutral zone." As environmental temperatures fall below the minimal temperature of the comfort zone or "critical temperature," heat production is increased by the body by speeding up chemical reactions which produce heat. 
  • The combination of cold wind and rain or sleet is probably the worst case scenario for a horse. Under those conditions, without shelter, he can quickly become chilled. Older horses, in particular, tend to have difficulty maintaining their internal temperatures in such circumstances. The effects of falling temperatures, wind and wet conditions will put a enormous requirement on the horse's body for heat production. How much body condition a horse loses depends on the severity and duration of the cold season and the amount of energy the horse receives from its feed. 
  • Know in advance what you are going to feed during the winter months. When first frost kills your summer pasture is not the time to decide on a winter feeding program and it can be detrimental to your horse. When the temperatures dip, the best heat source for your horse is extra hay. During the cold weather it is best to increase the amount of hay, not concentrated feeds. Hay is digested in the cecum and colon which results in heat production by bacterial fermentation. 
  • Without water, nothing in your horse's body will function. Water should be available at all times. Water should be maintained between 45-65 degrees F and any ice crystals should be removed. If you are in an area that has regular freezing, check the water supply twice daily as horses will drink 8 to 12 gallons a day. 
  • Stalling is not necessary for all horses but protection from the winter elements is necessary. Horses acclimate to winter conditions extremely well but need to be able to escape the bitter winds and moisture. A small, three sided run in shed or timberline to provide escape from strong winds and snow or ice is often all that is necessary for pastured horses. Horses provided shelter will require less feed, can more easily maintain body weight and are less stressed. These effects make the cost of sheds and windbreaks more attractive by reducing feed bills and reducing stress related sickness. 
  • Care should be taken when leaving younger, less experienced horses on winter pasture. Running an older horse as a "baby sitter" can help teach the youngsters how to find shelter, food and water. 
Consult your local equine veterinarian when you have questions or concerns about your horses health and well-being. Create and maintain a proper winter management plan for your horses and they will respond by coming out of winter fit and ready for the new year.

This information available in a pdf file here.

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Riding and Rules of the Road

     "When you venture out you won't always ride in remote areas. You may find that most of your trail riding requires you to use roads designed for motor vehicles. Just reaching the peace of an unimproved roadway might mean a half-hour's ride beside a busy thoroughfare. 
     As you ride on or alongside roads, you will realize that the public sees your horse as an unusual, nostalgic form of transportation. You must ride defensively, ready to cope with the unexpected. 
     First, observe all state and local traffic laws that apply to equestrians. Like other travelers you have certain rights on public roads. Some states give equestrians the right of way, or they require you to ride on the right, with traffic. All expect you to obey regulatory signs and signals. Ignoring laws endangers you and your horse, and you are not exempt from receiving a traffic citation. 
     Probably most drivers are unaware of the laws regarding equestrian traffic. On roadways keep your horse as far from pavements as possible. Just seeing a horse makes some drivers act silly. It's hoped that you'll never encounter one who purposely honks his horn just to see your horse jump, but these clowns do exist. 
     Anticipate traffic hazards that might impede your progress. Try to avoid roads under construction, major bridges, and commuters' favorite shortcuts. Besides staying alert for motorized traffic, watch out for other forms of transport. Keep a safe distance from bicyclists and skateboarders. Respect pedestrians encountered along the way." 

The above excerpt reprinted with permission by author Charlene Strickland of Los Lunas, NM from The Basics of Western Riding, Storey Books, Pownall, Vermont (1998). 

This information available in a pdf file here.

Watch a short video, Do's and Don't of Trail Riding, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVP3xwkeS2M

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New Mexico Horse Council
     P.O. Box 10206, Albuquerque, NM  87184 
505-917-2134   email:  nmhc@swcp.com
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