There are many things that you should never do as a horse owner. This article is a list of a few of those that the staff at MEA has brain stormed. You might think of more. If so, email me at the address at the end of this article, and it looks like your never never idea would interest others, I’ll include it in a subsequent article.
Never make abrupt feed changes. Horses, being herbivores, depend on bacteria for healthy digestion. Each bacterium has a narrow range of conditions in which it lives and functions. When you have been feeding a certain grain or hay and then the next meal you change the feed to something entirely different, huge numbers of bacteria in the intestine will die. The lag time between the die off and a new type of beneficial bacteria taking over is not immediate. This can mean undigested food and a potential colic. Introducing a new grain? Some horse nutrition experts suggest a change of about 10% a day for a smooth transition. Going from first to second cut hay? Just a little bit of second cut the first time, and then slowly replace the first cut.
“My horse’s eye looks a little cloudy. Maybe I’ll wait a few days to see if it clears on its own.” It might, but then again, it may get worse. Horses are only issued two eyes, and waiting those few days before having your vet come out could mean the loss of one. Call your vet and describe the eye or text a photo of it. Most eye problems, if noticed early on can be corrected. Never use the eye ointment you have in the barn from the last horse. It may not help, and it might be the wrong medicine and cause a bigger problem.
Let’s say you are lunging your horse. You want him out there at the end of your line on the circle, but he keeps coming in. You realize that you need a lunge whip, and there is no one around to bring you one. You reason, “well, he already has the lunge line snapped on to his halter. I’ll just tie the other end of the line to that fence post and he can graze while I go get the whip.” Don’t do it. It doesn’t take long for a tethered horse to get a lunge line wrapped around a pastern. As the horse moves, the line tightens and he may start kicking or running to get free. A nylon lunge line can saw through skin right down to the bone in just a few minutes. I have seen a number of leg wounds from people staking out or tethering their horses. The tissue is often such a mess that the wound can’t be sutured. Healing time is typically months. Never tie a horse with a long line to anything and walk away for even a few minutes.
After the summer barbeque, resist the urge to throw corn cobs to your horse. Horses enjoy them, and after they pick off the remaining kernels, some will try to eat the cob itself. We were called out to see a horse that had choked because he didn’t chew the cob well and swallowed one of those short cobs. The two inch long cob wedged so tightly half way down his throat that there was no way we could budge it. In this case surgery was not an option, and after a very frustrating attempt to move the cob, we had to put him down.
Never let a horse go in a stall, paddock, or pasture without removing his halter. Halters can and do get snagged when horses scratch their heads or necks on hooks or fence posts. In the panic that follows, necks can get broken. It takes 5 seconds to take a halter off and 10 to put it back on. Take the time.
Buy the horse. Never buy the story. A seller anxious for the sale will exaggerate the good qualities and forget to tell you the bad ones. Take all horse histories with skepticism. There is an old story about the horse dealer who sold a horse to a first time horse buyer. The horse was returned to the dealer a few days later: “You didn’t tell me he was blind!” The dealer answered: “Well, I did tell you he didn’t look so good.” Your best plan is to take the horse on trial and see for yourself what is true and what isn’t. This may require a big deposit and you buying interim insurance. Great investment! I also strongly recommend an equine veterinary pre- purchase exam. Its not all about price, but vets often find problems that can markedly drop the price of a horse.
Never think that there is a fortune to be made in boarding horses. Board horses because you love to have a barn full, and your boarders share your ideas on feed, turn out, and other management issues. Sit down with a pencil and paper and run the numbers, all the numbers it takes to run a barn. If you include everything, you will see that boarding is not and has never been, an easy way to make money. It’s also tough when you’d like to take a vacation.
This is an old one, and I have written about it several times, but here it is again. Never turn out horses in paddocks or pastures where there is any barb wire, either strung or just sitting around in a roll. Barb wire was designed for cows and works well to keep them in. Many have found that keeping horses in with barb wire is a mistake. Getting caught up in it and then trying to kick free can produce some terrible wounds.
Last one. Never fail to control your tongue. It’s easy to gossip, and, for sure, can be fascinating to listen to. I visit hundreds of barns every year, and am amazed at how quickly rumors spread and then remain as gospel. Our horse community is small, and careless talk spreads like wildfire. As much as possible, keep your conversation focused on your shared interest, the horse. I believe that the damage done by careless talk to impress others causes as much damage and pain as Lyme disease.
–David A. Jefferson, DVM