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by Kim and Kari Baker


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Routine Equine Care

by Kim and Kari Baker

The horse requires a considerable amount of special attention throughout the year. From grooming and bathing to vaccinations and dewormings, it seems like an awful lot of work. Even keeping track of just when each duty must be taken care of can be a headache. It all may make you wonder if you can possibly keep up with your equine friendís upkeep. But you can, the actual key to a happy, healthy horse is routine day to day attention with a small number of days set aside for scheduled procedures.

A Physical a Day

The immediate general impression you have of your horse when you first see it each day is a good gauge on how he is fairing. If turned out to pasture when you arrived, was he happily interacting with his pasture mates or was he standing alone? Was his reaction to you remote and apathetic when you greeted him? Did he readily eat his rations or show interest in the treat you offered him?

Take note of his posture and behavior while you sweep the dirt and grit from his coat. How does he respond to stimuli such as the stroke of the grooming tool? If any of his responses are out of the ordinary, it may indicate pain or illness. A certain amount of experience is required to correctly interpret the varied responses you might notice, but an owner that is thoroughly familiar with their horse should be able to read these fine nuances.

An intimate inspection done while grooming will likely tip you off to possibly serious conditions in time to arrange for prompt veterinary diagnosis and treatment. While grooming, be sure to clean around the eyes, ears and nose and examine each for any unusual appearance or discharge. This is an often-neglected area of routine grooming so be sure not to skip it. Youíll also want to work your way down each leg with bare-hands, examining each for slight swellings or irregularities that would have gone undetected when using only a grooming tool.

After youíve given him a good once-over, youíll want to do the same for his hooves. Examine the outer wall. Do they look dry and brittle as if chapped? This may indicate that his feet have been too wet and need to be kept drier. While picking out each hoof take a moment to examine it for wounds and bruising. Do you detect a foul odor symptomatic of thrush? Follow up with an application of hoof dressing or other treatment if determined necessary.

Once youíve given your horse a good brushing and his daily physical itís time to apply an insect repellent if needed, and devote some time to managed or free exercise. As a rule, a bare minimum of thirty minutes, three to four times a week is vital for the average pleasure or trail horse. Working horses will require more depending on fitness requirements. Additionally, allowing your horse plenty of turn out time is beneficial, especially for the young, growing horse.

Periodic Tasks

Aside from the regular daily tasks, you may every-so-often include other activities that only need to be done occasionally such as bathing, clipping, and mane pulling. Each week you could perhaps pick one to do so that you donít end up tackling too many periodic duties all at once.

The bath

The frequency of bathing will depend on a couple of factors. You will have to take into account the seasonal temperature as well as your horseís personal hygienic needs. Some horses require bathing on a regular basis, while others only occasionally. If your horse requires frequent baths be sure to use one of the gentler shampoos and follow with a conditioner or moisturizer. In colder weather, try a dry shampoo or spot clean.

Male horses build up smegma, an oily cheese-like matter secreted by the sebaceous glands located within the sheath. If this substance is not periodically removed, it can become a great source of irritation to the stallion or gelding. The cleaning frequency necessary will depend on the animal, but usually once or twice a year is sufficient. Many horses wonít ďdropĒ and stand quietly for a thorough cleaning, so you might want to include this undertaking with a scheduled task, when your veterinarian can assist you.

Mares certainly are easier in this respect, but it may surprise you to know that they also build up smegma. Their problem area is between the teats, so be sure to clean this area thoroughly whenever she requires a bath. If not removed, irritation may result, which often leads to tail rubbing.

Mane pulling and clipping

Clipping entails the removal of the muzzle whiskers, the longer guard hairs above and below the eye, as well as the fuzz poking out of the ears and along the jaw-line. If you arenít showing, you may not wish to remove hair from all of these areas but only from chosen sites. A clean quiet clipper that is sharp and properly oiled makes this chore much easier so be sure to carry out a clipper check before you start this task. A clipper inspection is required before tackling a full or partial body clip as well. A body clip is usually a one or two-time a year task, and only for those who are willing to accept the responsibility of daily blanketing.

Some breeds are shown with short manes, others prefer a long flowing mane. If the breed or discipline you are involved with prefers a short mane you will want to set aside some time over a period of several days to pull the mane. Mane pulling is best accomplished immediately following a workout when the pores are open and always use a grooming tool designed for pulling manes

Weight watching

You probably suspect that youíve been watching your horseís weight just by studying its appearance everyday, and you have too. If there were a sudden gain or drop in weight, you would certainly have seen it, but a slow change isnít quite so easy to spot. The use of a scale or weight tape is more accurate and makes it much easier to track slight weight fluctuations.

Scheduled Tasks

Scheduled tasks include vaccinations, deworming, trimming and shoeing, and dentistry care. Many of these you will not be able to manage on your own and will need to enlist the help of a veterinarian, farrier and possibly even a specialist such as an equine dentist. You do have the option of handling many of these tasks yourself if you have vast knowledge of the procedures and are aware of the requirements of each animal you own, as use and age of the horse will be important considerations as well as geographic location and climate.

Vaccination schedule

As warm weather increases, the probability of transmittable disease also intensifies, so youíll want to set up your vaccination schedule so that the horse receives its annual boosters in the early spring. For those states that require it, a coggins test for Equine Infectious Anemia can also be scheduled at the same time as the annual vaccinations.

A good vaccination program is very inexpensive compared to the treatment of the disease once the horse is infected. Tetanus Toxoid and Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis are the basic immunizations that should be given to all horses. In addition to these, you may want to inoculate against Venezuelan Encephalomyelitis, West Nile Encephalomyelitis, Influenza, Strangles, Rhinopneumonitis, Rabies, and Potomac Horse Fever. Talk to your vet to find out which vaccines are recommended for your area and circumstances.


A good persistent deworming program is based on the intelligent use of anthelmintics to control the internal parasite load in the horse and minimize reinfestation that will inevitably occur. The concentration of horses, their age and use, as well as the condition of the pasture or stable area where the horse is kept, climate, and results of fecal tests all have some impact on the frequency and type of anthelmintic is needed to reduce the parasite load. With the help of your veterinarian you can develop a schedule that will keep the parasite load to a minimum.

Hoof Care

Keeping the hooves trimmed properly year round is the best way to prevent hoof problems. The majority of trims and/or resets fit well into a six to eight week schedule, but all horses do not grow the same kind of hoof or perform the same kind of work.

Often young growing horses need a light trim every month to keep the hoof in balance to prevent strain on developing bone structure, while older barefoot horses turned out on large pastures may not need a trim for 9 weeks or more. With your farrierís assistance, you will be able to work out a schedule that is suitable for your horse.

Dental Care

Equine dentistry is often neglected but should be a vital part of your horseís health program. Your veterinarian or equine dentist should perform oral exams on a routine basis and when ever a dental problem is suspected.

Age of the horse affects the level of attention required and the frequency of dental visits. Horses aged two to five often require frequent oral exams due to dental maturation during this period. Horses in this age group should have their teeth examined at least twice a year whether they show signs of a problem or not. Mature horses need to have a thorough dental exam at least once a year for maintenance work, and geriatric horses should again have a visit with the dentist twice a year.

No matter how challenging horse ownership can be, with a little organization you can carry out all the day to day responsibilities, and in no time at all, youíll realize that youíve looked after all of your horseís special demands an entire year and are ready to do it again.

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