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Q: We have just been given a horse. This is the first horse that we have owned and want to do the best that we possibly can for her. She is about 10-12 years old and has not had the best of care. I was told that at one time she was a race horse because she has a tattoo inside of her upper lip. The person that we got her from (not the recent neglectful owner) said she appears to be about 300 lbs underweight. She is friendly and does allow me to inspect her ears, legs, etc and does respond to her name. I am concerned about her feet, especially the front feet. Her left hoof is somewhat misshapen and growing to the outside. Is this something that can be corrected by trimming? Her right hoof seems to be shaped normal but there is a crack about an inch long in the front . I have not tried to lift her legs yet to inspect her feet. I will as soon as we get her home. Also, we plan to keep her in a grass field and a stall in the barn. The grass is mostly "canary grass" and the barn has a concrete floor. Should we put a wood floor over the concrete (or some other type of padding) or will sawdust or hay be enough? One more question!!! Can you recommend any good books on taking care of a horse? We were planning on being more prepared before we got a horse but this horse came up and needed a home!

A: The cheapest part of owning a horse is the purchase price.

Usually when a horse is given to you, someone is dumping their problem on you. I will now assume that you are a loving and caring person rather than a practical person. A practical person would not have accepted the horse to begin with. Since you have, you must be prepared to invest MUCH time and money to try and bring the poor horse around.

Now that you have the mare, lets tackle some of her problems. 300 pounds underweight: have a veterinarian check her teeth, her worm status (checked by examining a stool sample under a microscope), and make sure she has had all her vaccinations. The vet can help you determine the best diet for the horse, when she can start to be ridden, and many other considerations that will be apparent to a professional horseman but not to a novice.

Ask 3 veterinarians to recommend a farrier. Keep a list of those names and choose the name that comes up the most to be the guy to work on her feet. You need a professional to care for her feet and you need it soon. The subject of how to select a farrier is discussed in several Q&As on my web site including How to Choose a Farrier.

You can also educate yourself about your horse's foot care by reading the Q&As and articles on my web site. This will not make a shoer of you. Do not try to be a do-it-yourselfer. Get professional help but use your new knowledge to help you understand what would be correct so that you will know that your horse's needs are being met.

As far as flooring is concerned, I do not like concrete. You can and should put down rubber stall mats and use either straw or wood shavings (not sawdust as it is not good for the horse's lungs) about 4 inches deep for bedding. All manure and urine needs to be cleaned out at least daily and soiled bedding replaced.

There are literally hundreds of good books on basic care. A "must have" book is "How to be Your Own Veterinarian (sometimes)" by Ruth B. James, DVM. It is an excellent horseman's guide.

I also recommend that at least one person in your family take horsemanship lessons from a professional instructor. This is not just to learn to ride, but how to handle the horse from the ground in a manner that is safe for both the horse and humans. You wouldn't believe how much horses suffer from well intentioned but ignorant owners.

I applaud you for taking on such a demanding responsibility. It is only work if you would rather be doing something else. It is true, as stated by Sir Winston Churchill, that there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of man.

Good luck!

Geronimo Bayard
The American Blacksmith
Oakland, Oregon

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This entire web site is copyright protected.  1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard,  2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.