Horse Care Guide: FAQs

family standing next to a brown horse

Are horses easy to care for? Horses can be rewarding companions, but they require a serious commitment of your time, money, and energy. If you’re thinking about adopting a horse, make sure you are fully informed about the maintenance involved. Here are some frequently asked questions about horse care.

What routine care do horses need?

The money needed to adopt or buy a horse is only the beginning. The real financial commitment comes once you bring your new horse home. Horses require very specific and often costly care.  

Here are some examples of the routine care that an average healthy horse will need:

Farrier care

Since horses’ hooves grow just like our fingernails do, they need to be tended to about every eight weeks. Severe lameness problems and even death can result from neglected feet. Some horses do well just having their feet trimmed and walking around barefoot; other horses may require shoeing.  

A farrier is a trained professional whose job it is to evaluate the needs of your horse’s hooves and maintain them accordingly. To get an inkling of how a horse with ill-fitting shoes feels, imagine walking around all day in shoes that don’t fit. Now imagine that your feet hurt, you weigh 1,000 pounds, and you can’t take those shoes off! There’s an old saying in the horse world: “No hoof equals no horse.”

Horse feed

How you feed your horse will vary greatly, depending on where your horse lives. Some horses are fortunate enough to live in large pastures where they can graze all day. But some horses can’t be left in a pasture due to problems like founder (aka laminitis — or inflammation within the hooves) and obesity.  

Most horses need to be fed by people every day. There's a wide variety of feeds available for horses: grass hays, alfalfa, cubes (hay that has been processed into tightly compacted cubes), grains, processed feeds, brans, and many more. Availability and price will vary with where you live. But as a rough estimate, you can figure that your horse will eat about three tons of hay per year. Plus, horses often need vitamin and mineral supplements, psyllium (to prevent colic), and other supplements for specific ailments.

Vet care

Like any pet, horses require routine veterinary care. For the average healthy horse, this will include vaccinations twice a year, a worming program, and dental work at least once a year. (Horses’ teeth grow throughout their lives and wear to very sharp points that can cut the tongue and cheeks if they are not routinely filed off.)  

Aside from routine vet care, there is always the possibility that your horse will require emergency care for problems like colic, lacerations, or lameness. Specialized veterinary care for a horse, especially if it involves boarding, is considerably more expensive than for a dog or a cat.


Providing a safe, healthy place for your horse to live can be one of the biggest challenges of owning a horse. You may own sufficient land to fence in a pasture for your horses, or you may need to board your horse with someone else. Either way, there are a few things to consider.  

Horses are herd animals and take comfort in having other horses to hang out with. They are also grazing animals who will walk on average 20 miles a day in the wild. Confining a solitary horse to a small area where they can’t move around and exercise can lead to many behavioral and health problems.  

Furthermore, there are several types of fencing used to enclose pastures and not all fences are right for all horses. At Best Friends, we never recommend barbed wire, but some horses have lived in it all their lives and know enough to stay out of it. Most horses do well with smooth wire fences, no-climb fences (wire that is woven into squares), wooden fences, electric fencing, vinyl fencing, or some combination thereof.  

With any type of fencing, you are going to have maintenance issues. Wire fences should be kept stretched tight with the posts stable. Wooden fences are very likely to be chewed up by the horses. Vinyl fences can break, especially in colder climates. And electric fences can short out.  

How long do horses live?

Horses who are well cared for can easily live into their 30s. All horses eventually reach an age when it’s best not to ride them. So before you get a horse, give some thought to whether you are willing and able to care for a horse who is no longer sound enough to ride — due to age or injury.  

No horse should ever be abandoned or sold for slaughter because they're no longer “useful.” Plan to give your faithful riding companion the retirement they deserve. Remember that even though taking a horse into your family is a long-term commitment, it’s a commitment that can be more rewarding with every year that passes.

How are horses different from other pets?

A horse is not a dog. This might sound like an obvious statement, but it’s very common for people new to horses to fall back on what they already have experience with — which often is dogs. Horses are prey animals whereas dogs are predators, and their responses to human interaction are completely different. If you’re going to have a horse, it is your responsibility to become well informed about their specific tendencies and needs.

How can I learn more about horses?

Before you make the commitment of adding a horse to your family, try to learn all you can about these wonderful animals and get some hands-on experience. Here are some suggestions:

Volunteer at Horse Haven or your local horse rescue group: You can meet a wide variety of horses and work with people who can teach you how to be around them safely. It’s also an opportunity to learn how to avoid many common problems that result in horses being relinquished to rescue groups.

Take lessons with a reputable instructor: Learning how to “speak horse” and understanding what they are trying to tell you (and what you might be unintentionally telling them) is a lifelong process. But having someone who already knows the language makes learning a lot easier.

Lease a horse: Sometimes this is a good precursor to buying or adopting a horse. You get some idea of what it’s like to own a horse without the final responsibility.

How do I choose the right horse to adopt?

If you decide you are ready to adopt a horse, make sure you get a horse who matches your abilities. With any pet, it’s important to get the right “fit,” but it’s especially crucial when selecting a horse because they are very large and potentially dangerous animals. Building a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship can’t happen if you’re scared to go near the horse.  

Find an experienced person who can help you pick out the right horse. Think about getting an older horse, especially if you’re a beginner; they can be some of the best teachers. On the flip side, younger horses will need to be taught many things as they grow up.