Barns, Blankets and Basic Care


freeimage-144227When I first started submitting my horse stories for critiques and contests, I discovered many people had interesting misconceptions about how horses are cared for. I learned to include comments in my tales about how not all horses live in stables, and that it was often better for them to be out in pasture, even in a storm. These mistaken ideas surprised me given the images of wild horses on the plains and domesticated horses in large green pastures. So today I thought I’d talk a little about basic horse care.

First off, horses are grazing animals designed to move around and eat small amounts continually. Large pastures with plenty of feed are the healthiest choice. Of course, nowadays that kind of land is hard to come by and can be pretty expensive, so most people have to make compromises. Some use large fenced turnouts and provide free choice grass hay for the horses to munch on all day. You can do this with grass hay because it’s lower in protein and nutrients and close to real grass. Some feed small amounts of higher protein hay several times a day. While not ideal, this is closer to what nature intended and is easier for the small equine stomach to deal with. But most people feed larger amounts of highly concentrated hay twice a day, which fits best with human schedules, but is harder on equine digestion and makes them vulnerable to colic, the most common horse killer.

Because horses develop warm winter coats they really don’t need to be inside even in winter weather. They generally do just fine in snow and cold. Their hair fluffs up allowing air in to form insulating layers. In a herd, they huddle together and combine their body heat. The one time some sort of shelter is necessary is when they have to deal with wind and rain. Either by itself if okay, but if their coats get soaked, the hairs can’t fluff and provide insulation against a cold wind. Then they need some protection

Even though pastures and large turnouts that allow horses to roam and exercise are healthiest, they have some small__598978125disadvantages, mainly for the owners and riders. Number one, the horses get a lot dirtier and take more work to groom and get looking nice. They also develop heavier winter coats, which are harder to deal with, particularly if the animals get sweaty and wet. So, in general, it’s easier if they are kept in a stable or barn. Hopefully the stable will have large, airy stalls with plenty of ventilation and paddocks that allow the horses move around and go outside. Bad air from a closed up barn can cause serious respiratory problems.

Of course we all love our horses and want them to be warm and comfy. In addition to keeping them in a stable, many people put blankets on their equine buddies, something many horses don’t like. We used to blanket my daughter’s white Arab to try to keep her clean in our wet winters, but Duchess had different ideas. The minute it rained, she’d find a puddle and turn into sloppy, muddy mess. She was one of the reasons we had a water heater for our grooming stall. While our other horses didn’t usually wallow, they did often prefer to stand out in the rain, rather than be inside. Waterproof blankets-R-US.

What kind of things to you do for your animal friends that are really more for you than them? And how do they react?


photo credit: <a href=””>CharlesFred</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Categories: barns, horse care, Horses, nature, outdoors, riding, stables, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Barns, Blankets and Basic Care

  1. Nice article, Kate. I’m surprised by how often people are confused about horses, too.

  2. My Friesian doesn’t wear shoes and is never blanketed. When I moved into a less “frou-frou” barn people asked me why he had shoes. I said I didn’t know. It was just something everyone told me to do. Well, he’s been barefoot for eight years now and never had a problem. Same with winter blanketing. Since he lives in the mild climate of the Oakland hills on the coast of California, there’s really no need to blanket him in the winter since he came from Holland. There are a lot of “should’s” with horses and many other things in life and we just have to wade through them and do what we think best.
    Good article, Kate. I’ll enjoy this part of your blog series the best!

    • That’s cool that Max can go without shoes. Initially we only blanketed our “white” horses to try to keep them cleaner. It used to be really hard to find light-weight waterproof blankets. When I got Glory, she was used to being in a show barn and blanketed, so I continued that until I stopped showing. Her first winter without a blanket was somewhat difficult for her.
      Hope you enjoy the series.

  3. Well, this is certainly timely. I’m revising a mystery where the murder takes place in a stable on a dude ranch. Although I have the body moved because the smell is bothering the horses, I hadn’t thought about other things I might have gotten wrong. I’ve been relying on my memory from 10 weeks of horseback riding lessons when I was 13 and going to a local dude–or guest, as they prefer to be called now–ranch for a company dinner. I’m thinking I might have to make a few phone calls before I finalize this manuscript.

    • Glad you found it helpful. Feel free to contact me and ask questions. My first book Wyoming Escape is set on a Wyoming dude ranch, so I might be able to assist there too.

  4. Because the heroine in my novel, The Chamomile, published in 2011, makes a 250-mile journey on horseback from Charleston, SC, to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I emailed the International Long Riders’ Guild with about 25 questions. Their founder, CuChullaine O’Reilly graciously answered all my questions and then asked if I’d help them by creating “A Writer’s Guide to Horses” to help authors get it right about horses in their works. I worked with the Guild’s Academic Foundation and with Doug Preston and Jeremy James (famous authors and long riders) and we came up with a guide. We developed a vocabulary for “horse people” for both American West and British. Check out “A Writer’s Guide to Horses” at Hopefully, this will help also and become another resource.

  5. marsharwest

    Fascinating info for this city gal, Kate. I do think we as adults do things for our pets that make it easier for us rather than our four footed friends. I’d never heard that explanation for why horses get colic as it relates to how often they eat. My pups always wanted to eat any time I did. As a result, Scout, our Jack Russel started to gain wait, and we put her on low calorie food and sliced baby carrots whenever we were eating or snacking. Her favorite snack was popcorn. She could match me kernal for kernal. (That appears to not be spelled correctly. LOL) Thanks for sharing such an informative post.

    • The eating timing, itself,doesn’t usually cause colic, but because their stomachs are being stressed by an unnatural situation, horses are less able to handle bad food or other negative events. They really are surprisingly fragile in our human environment.

  6. I love horses! Would love to have one…but I don’t think he would be comfortable in a city row house (smile). So, I guess I’ll just have to settle for the picture of Secretariat that I have hanging on my wall.
    Thanks for the post.

  7. Fabulous blog Kate! I guess we’re a little like horse-sisters, as I realized the writing community seemed a bit shy on horse knowledge and good book were getting thrown at the wall just because of incorrect details. I recently started teaching an on-line workshop about horses, and I’m just getting my blog and other stuff started up too. Now I’ll be sure to also send my students your way for more information 🙂

    I’ll be looking forward to your Wednesday posts.!

    • I like that term, horse sisters. Good luck with your workshops! I do think it’s important to try to correct misconceptions and keep books from hitting the wall. 🙂

  8. Ana Morgan

    We bought a horse for our daughters growing up on our farm. Charmin was a Palomino, very gentle, a perfect kid horse. In retirement, Charmin grazed with the cows on rotational pasture summer and fall, up by the barn in winter and spring. She often tended the calves while their mothers were grazing. Northern Minnesota is cold, and she developed a thick coat each winter to stay warm. She passed away in her sleep at the age of 38.
    All that said, I have two stories that feature horses, and I am sure I have errors in riding and horse -rider communication. Your blog will be a great resource, Kate. Thanks!

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