How to Keep a Horse Healthy and Safe on Your Farm

A blond woman in a white sweater walking her horse through a stable.
05/21/2019

As a farm owner, you love and cherish your horses. Whether you keep them for pleasure, rely on them to generate revenue or breed and market them, their well-being is likely a primary concern.

Equine farming can encompass a wide variety of activities. While horse insurance coverage is an important safeguard, the welfare of the animals is a top priority for farmers. Here's how to keep a horse healthy and safe through good stewardship of both land and animals — all while optimizing the profitability of your farm.

Fencing Finesse

The first requirement of a successful farmer is to maintain safe custody of horses and other livestock. Develop a sound knowledge of your property, including sensitive landscape areas such as wetlands and ravines. Make sure you locate stables, pastures and exercise areas away from potential hazards. Also install fencing that is suited to the area, which will keep the horses secure and provide protection against local wildlife.

Certain types of fencing aren't suitable for horses, though. These include anything with barbed wire or mesh with openings larger than a 3-inch square (which could trap a hoof easily). Fences should contain the horses safely, be at least 54 inches high and between six and eight inches off the ground. This prevents foals from rolling out of the pasture and adult horses from poking their heads underneath to graze.

While you can choose wood, mesh, steel pipe, PVC or electric fencing, woven wire is an inexpensive option that offers great visibility for both horses and humans. Once installed with a board running along the top, the fences are also easy for the horses to see and avoid running into.

Environmental Challenges

Farming with horses creates specific environmental issues that can endanger your animals and your livelihood. As explained by the Food and Agriculture Organization, poor pasture practices like inefficient manure management can lead to the contamination of the air, water and soil on the farm. This can cause illness among your herd, as well as reduce biodiversity.

Depending on your location, weather patterns could present some challenges. According to the University of Minnesota's Extension, horses that have the opportunity to acclimate to cold weather actually prefer being outside — provided they have the option to choose where to be and have adequate access to water, food, shelter and hoof care throughout the year. Horses that are clipped might need blanketing in winter to offset cold temperatures. In excessively warm regions, available shade helps horses avoid heat stress.

Poison Protections

Keeping your horses away from harmful substances, whether natural or chemical, is critical to their safety. Just like children, animals can't be expected to distinguish between good and bad materials. If it smells or looks intriguing, chances are they will ingest it.

According to The Horse, toxic plants such as yew, red maple and moldy corn can be fatal to horses, while access to herbicides, gasoline, rat poison or crushed blister beetles in their hay can make them seriously ill. Poisoning can happen by accident, so if a horse starts to show symptoms (such as weight loss, diarrhea, salivation or loss of appetite), contact an equine veterinarian and check to see if it had access to any of these common culprits.

Knowing how to keep a horse healthy is a prime consideration for any farmer who owns horses. Whether the horses are for you and your family to ride for leisure, or even for breeding or commercial purposes, no amount of insurance coverage can make up for providing poor quality care.