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Raising horses: Caring for horses on the ranch is simple with proper planning

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Riverton – With proper consideration and planning, caring for working and recreational horses can be fairly simple, according to Fremont County Extension Educator Alex Malcolm. 

Malcolm and his fellow Extension educators presented a variety of educational sessions at the annual Fremont County Farm and Ranch days held in Riverton on Feb. 6-7, and one session focused on working horses. 


Horses can be kept in a variety of enclosures depending on personal preference and availability of resources. 

“Like anything else, there are pros and cons to any type of housing we choose to provide for a horse,” Malcolm said. 

He pointed out horses on pasture will typically experience fewer disease and behavioral problems. 

“Stocking rate on pastures depends on whether the land is dry or irrigated,” Malcolm said. “For drylands, a single horse will need between five and 10 acres, but an irrigated pasture can support a horse on just two acres.”


Malcolm noted, regardless of the pasture size and situation, a shelter is necessary. 

He pointed out shelters should provide protection from the elements and include 100 square feet per horse. The open side of the shed should also face away from the prevailing wind to provide a windbreak. 

“Shelters should have good drainage,” Malcolm noted. “Standing water can cause a variety of health issues, especially with a horse’s feet.”

“Fencing is another factor horse owners need to consider,” said Malcolm. “Materials depend on personal budget, and we need to remember there’s always a chance of having a jumper in the herd.”


Malcolm said the key to feeding horses is realizing, as grazers, they are meant to eat small amounts throughout the day. 

“Horses should have free choice roughages all the time,” according to Malcolm. “Their digestive system is best suited to process small amounts of feed over a period of time.”

“Horse owners choosing to stall their horses should be feeding their horses at least twice per day,” Malcolm noted. “Stalled horses need to be eating at least two percent of their body weight in hay per day.” 

Stalled and pastured horses alike need access to good quality hay and clean water. 

“Hay should be green, leafy and free of mold or dust,” Malcolm commented. “If the hay has a musty smell, it should be thrown out.”

Feeding requirements for horses also depend on the current weather conditions, activity and age. The horse’s energy and feeding requirements change as the temperature drops, requirements continue to increase if the horse does not have access to shelter.


“I always tell my 4-H kids if they wouldn’t take a drink out of their horses’ water, it’s not clean enough,” Malcolm stated. 

He mentioned horses’ water intake can affect how much they eat. 

“Even if we offer quality feed, horses will consume less if they aren’t drinking enough water,” said Malcolm. “A lack of water in cold weather can also increase their risk of impaction colic.” 

“A horse won’t develop an impaction colic in a single day, but over the course of several days or weeks of poor water intake, their fecal moisture level will decrease and an impaction can occur,” according to Malcolm.

He noted during the summer, a lush pasture can be up to 80 percent moisture and contribute to some but not all of a horse’s water requirements. 

“Dry winter feeds such as grain and hay provide less moisture, at about 15 percent,” Malcolm commented. 

He suggested increasing horses’ salt intake to improve their water consumption. 

“Adult horses should consume one to two ounces of salt daily,” he said. “Salt blocks can be found at most feed stores and are relatively inexpensive.”

Health care 

“Colic is the leading medical cause of death in horses,” Malcolm said. “This condition refers to a number of issues causing pain in the horse’s abdomen and typically reflect condition of the colon.” 

He noted colic can include simple blockage or impaction, colon spasms, gas build up and digestive system torsions. The majority of these issues are considered idiopathic. 

“Causes of colic include indigested starches reaching the hindgut, spoiled feed, poor water intake or changing feeds too quickly.”

Spreading disease

He suggested, to minimize the risk of spreading infectious diseases, new horses should be quarantined for a 30-day period upon introduction to a new herd. Sick horses should also be quarantined to decrease the risk of getting other horses sick. 

“Some of the more common infectious diseases among horses include eastern and western encephalomyelitis, West Nile Virus as well as Equine Herpes Virus 1 and Equine Herpes Virus 4,” Malcolm noted. 

“Some of these diseases don’t have a specific treatment but can be controlled or prevented by proper housing, feeding and use of vaccinations,” he stressed. “Horses that are exhibiting decreased appetite, coughing, fever and discharge from the nose or eyes should be taken to the vet immediately.”

“Horses are accident prone creatures,” Malcolm commented. “It’s also very important to keep a first aid kit on hand and the local veterinarian’s number on speed dial.” 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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