Even if you do everything right, your horse may someday get sick. But the better you treat your horse every day, the less likely that is to happen. Here are the top ten things that you need to do to keep your horse happy and in good health.

Minimize stress

Horses are watchful creatures, and some are downright nervous. Consequently, horses are more prone to more stress than a lot of other creatures.

Too much stress can cause diarrhea, ulcers, bad behavior, depression, and even a compromised immune system in your horse. Keeping stress completely out of your horse's life is almost impossible, but you can keep it to a minimum. Here are a few pointers to keep your horse relaxed and happy:

  • Don't ask her to live without another horse companion; if you can't afford more than one horse, consider boarding a friend's horse on your property.

  • Be patient when you're riding or training her, and seek professional help if necessary.

  • Try to see the world from her perspective (such as understanding that horses are prey and herd animals).

  • Prepare her for new experiences by slowly introducing her to them.

  • Let her be a horse. Give her time to unwind and just hang out, doing what horses like to do: grazing, being around other horses, rolling, and running loose in a big paddock or pasture.

Schedule an annual vet exam

When money is tight, the first thing that horse owners often give up is having a well-horse exam every year. After all, if your horse is feeling fine, why have the vet come out?

Just like humans need to have an annual checkup, horses need to see the vet every year. Your horse may seem healthy, but your vet can determine whether a problem is lurking undetected.

Have your horse vaccinated annually

Horses need to be vaccinated against the following diseases:

  • Equine encephalomyelitis

  • Influenza/rhinopneumonitis

  • Tetanus

  • West Nile virus

Your veterinarian may recommend others specific to your area of the country and your horse's circumstances.

Feed quality food

Horses need roughage (hay or pasture) to stay healthy. It can be frustrating to spend your money on hay or to slave over your pasture and see it vanish so quickly, but resist the urge to buy cheap hay or purchase low-end grain or commercial feed. You are what you eat, even if you're a horse. Feed your horse quality food and you have a healthier horse.

File your horse's teeth regularly

In the wild, horses wear down their teeth evenly as they chew because of the varied plant life they ingest. When living with humans and eating the same type of feed over and over, however, horse teeth wear unevenly.

Have your vet file down the points of your horse's teeth as often as necessary. Vets are also trained to examine the horse's mouth for other issues, such an abscessed or loose tooth.

Take care of your horse's hooves

You may not be able to ride your horse, or even to use her as a pasture ornament, if she doesn't have healthy hooves and legs. Since your horse is built to stand almost all the time, you are obligated to keep those hooves and legs in good condition. Provide quality hoof care regularly. As with feed, this isn't an area to skimp on. Find a good farrier and stick to the hoof-care schedule that he or she gives you.

Deworm regularly

Internal parasites can wreak havoc with a horse's internal organs. Deworming is easy to do thanks to inexpensive, easy-to-administer deworming products now available at your local tack and feed store, from mail order catalogs, or from the Internet.

Exercise your horse daily

Horses were designed to move all day long, taking little steps as they graze. When kept in stalls, they just stand around.

By getting your horse out of his stall or paddock every day, you're letting him move his legs and keeping them healthy. You're also helping your horse's circulation and stimulating his digestive system. Daily exercise also does wonders for a horse's attitude.

Keep your horse at an optimum weight

Nothing is sadder than seeing a noble horse that's grossly underweight, bones protruding. But just as sad is seeing a horse who's overweight. The owners of fat horses mean well, but they are putting unnecessary stress on the horse's legs and joints.

Keep a close eye on your horse's weight. If he's getting too thin, ask your veterinarian how to increase his dietary intake. If he's getting too fat, reduce his grain intake and/or increase his exercise.

Use joint nutraceuticals

Anecdotal evidence shows that joint nutraceuticals containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) may help a horse's joints stay healthy. You can find a vast array of products containing these ingredients in tack stores, catalogs, and online.

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