Horses For Dummies
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Horses have a charm and beauty unique in the animal kingdom. Horses can’t sit in your lap; on the other hand, you can’t go for a gallop on a kitten! Like any animal, horses need daily care and regular grooming. If you’re buying a horse, you need to know the right questions to ask, and if you own a horse, you need to be able to recognize when your horse is experiencing a health emergency. Horses are a big responsibility, but they are worth it!

horse grooming © Anastasija Popova/

Questions to ask as you shop for a horse

Buying a horse is a big deal. It’s a process that deserves and needs some thought and preparation. When you set off on your horse-shopping adventure, arm yourself with the following questions for the seller:

  • How much are you asking for the horse? Is this price negotiable?

  • How old is the horse?

  • How big is the horse? (How many hands?)

  • What is the horse’s gender and size?

  • In which discipline is the horse ridden?

  • Has the horse ever had professional training?

  • Is the horse suitable for a beginning rider?

  • Is the horse suitable for children (if you have kids who will ride the horse)?

  • Does the horse load into a trailer?

  • Does the horse have any bad habits such as cribbing (biting a fence while sucking in air), weaving (shifting back and forth repeatedly from front leg to front leg), or pulling back when tied?

  • Does the horse have any medical problems or a history of medical problems like colic, lameness, or allergies?

  • Why are you selling the horse?

Daily horse-tending tasks

Taking care of a horse is a major responsibility, and you have to tend to your equine friend every day. The following list describes the tasks you need to accomplish each day for your horse:

  • Feed your horse two to three times
  • Check your horse’s water supply
  • Examine your horse for any signs of health troubles
  • Exercise your horse
  • Clean out your horse’s stall once or twice
  • Groom your horse and clean their hooves

Horse grooming supplies and tools

Keeping your horse clean and looking good is an essential part of horse ownership, and besides, it can be fun! The following is a list of grooming tools you need to have handy:

  • Rubber currycomb

  • Stiff brush

  • Soft brush

  • Shedding blade

  • Cloth

  • Mane and tail brush

  • Mane and tail detangler

  • Hoof pick

  • Hoof brush

  • Bathing supplies (such as shampoo, conditioner, and sponges)

  • Clippers

How to respond to horse emergencies

Your horse, like you and every other animal, is susceptible to health troubles. The problems in the symptom column in the following table are ones that merit immediate attention and a call to the veterinarian.

Symptom(s) Possible Cause Steps to Perform
Bleeding Injury Apply pressure; call vet
Blood in urine Severe infection or bladder injury Call vet immediately
Coughing and salivating with head down as food exits the
Choking Horse can breathe, but call vet immediately
Inability to stand; staggering Severe sickness Call vet immediately
Liquid, foul-smelling excrement Diarrhea Call vet immediately
Profuse sweating, lying down and getting up, pawing ground,
biting abdomen
Colic Remove food; call vet immediately
Rapid breathing, raspy breathing, heavy coughing Illness or infection Call vet immediately
Refusal to eat Serious illness or mild colic Call vet immediately
Severe pain Injury or illness Call vet immediately
Straining to defecate or urinate Intestinal or urethral blockage Call vet immediately
Swelling or body part that’s hot to the touch Injury Call vet immediately
Teary eye; closed eye; red eye; cloudy eye Eye injury or infection Call vet immediately
Temperature significantly above or below
Fever Call vet immediately

Understanding a horse's senses

To see things from the horse’s perspective, you need to know — literally — how the horse takes in the world. Humans evolved to be hunters and gatherers, chasing down prey and finding appropriate plants to eat. Horses, on the other hand, are built to avoid hunters and eat nearly everything that grows around them. Given these fundamental distinctions, the horse’s senses are bound to have nuances that are somewhat different from those of a human.


Sight is the most important equine sense. For a prey animal like the horse, in the wild, good eyesight means the difference between life and death. Literally seeing trouble coming is the best way the horse has to make it to safety before a predator gets too close.

Because horses have long, narrow heads with eyes on either side, they have the ability to take in more of the view than humans do. When their heads are facing forward, horses have a nearly 180-degree field of vision. They can see in front of and almost all the way around their bodies, though they do have some blind spots.

One of a horse’s blind spots is directly behind, so you should never approach a horse from the back unless the horse already knows you’re there.

No one knows for sure how far horses can see, mainly because horses have trouble pronouncing the letters on eye tests. Scientists who have done experiments in this field have made some educated guesses that horses can see pretty darn far, in the realm of at least hundreds of yards away. Horses can distinguish patterns, which means they’re able to take in fine details. They can also perceive depth well.

Horses also have much better night vision than humans. Many a rider has been out on a dark, moonless trail, dumbfounded by his or her horses’ ability to see where the pair are going despite the incredibly dim light.

Scientists know far less about horses’ color vision than they do about other areas of equine sight, but they’re certain that horses see many of the same colors that we see, with two exceptions: red and green. In fact, they believe that horses have the same color vision as humans who suffer from red-green color blindness. That said, horses are still able to pick out the greenest grass in a field!


A species that survives by getting a head start on marauding predators needs a pretty good sense of hearing. The fact that horses have survived all the way to modern times is testimony to their incredible hearing, which is considerably better than a human’s.

If you look at the shape of the horse’s ear, you can see that it’s built sort of like a funnel. With this design, the ear can capture sound in its outer part and channel it down into the ear canal. The broad outer part of the horse’s ear very adequately takes in the slightest sound in the horse’s environment.

Using very mobile ears, horses constantly monitor the world around them. Just imagine trying to pay complete attention to different sounds coming in to either ear at the same time. Impossible for a human, yet the horse does this on a steady basis. A horse can take in the sounds of a car driving by, children playing, a bird chirping and a human approaching, all at once, from different places in the environment. The horse then processes that information and makes split second decisions about whether to react — all while picking out the best blades of pasture grass or meandering down a rocky trail. The process really is mind-blowing.

Loud, unfamiliar noises can send a relaxed horse into a tizzy. On the other hand, a placid, reassuring sound can ease a horse’s worries. It’s amazing to see how a frightened horse can be comforted by a soft, gentle voice from a calm and confident human. Keep this fact in mind when handling your horse in a particularly noisy or frightening environment.


Like most non-human animals, horses have an acute sense of smell that they regularly employ to provide them with information on what is going on around them. Horses use their sense of smell in a number of different and important ways.

Nature equipped the equine with a strong olfactory sense that can tell the animal whether a predator is near. All it takes is a strong upwind breeze to bring a dangerous scent to the attention of a wild herd. After getting a whiff of the predator, the herd literally high-tails it (their tails stick way up in the air as they flee) out of there in a flash.

Horses also use smell as part of their complicated social structure. Horses typically greet each other nose to nose, each taking in the odor of the other. Horses also come to recognize each other by scent as well as by sight. Mares and foals quickly memorize each other’s scents and use this information to help locate each other in a crowd of horses.

Most horses also greet humans in the same way. When you introduce yourself to a horse for the first time, notice how the horse reaches out his muzzle to sniff you. Given this, the most polite way to approach a horse is with the back of your hand extended so the horse may take in your personal scent. Letting a horse breathe in your scent tells the animal that you are a fellow herdmate (not a predator), and usually makes the horse more agreeable to being handled.


The equine sense of touch is an important (although often overlooked) element to the horse. Although many people think that horses have a tough hide, they really don’t. Their skin is tougher than our human epidermis, but it is still rich with nerve endings.

If you sit on a pasture fence and watch a herd of horses for a few hours, you’ll see plenty of evidence of how horses use touch to communicate with each other. Mothers reassure their babies with a brush of the muzzle; comrades scratch each other’s itches with their teeth. Whenever a message needs to be sent from one horse to another, visual cues and touch — or the threat of it — are nearly always used.

Humans can also use touch to convey messages to the horse. A gentle rub down, a pat on the shoulder, a vigorous massage in just the right place — these are all ways of saying, “I’m your friend” to a horse. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a similar tactile message in return.

Equine resources

Check out the following resources as your appetite for equine (horse) knowledge increases.

Breed registries

Appaloosa Horse Club
2720 W. Pullman Rd.
Moscow, ID 83843-0903
(208) 882-5578

International Colored Appaloosa Association
4610 New Mexico 206
Milnesand, NM 88125
(547) 238-4280

Arabian Horse Association
10805 E. Bethany Dr.
Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 696-4500

American Miniature Horse Association
5601 South IH 35W
Alvarado, TX 76009
(817) 783-5600

American Morgan Horse Association
4066 Shelburne Rd., Suite 5
Shelburne, VT 05482-0960
(802) 985-4944

American Paint Horse Association
P.O. Box 961023
Fort Worth, TX 76161-0023
(817) 834-2742

American Quarter Horse Association
1600 Quarter Horse Dr.
Amarillo, TX 79104
(806) 376-4811

Racking Horse Breeders Association of America
67 Horse Center Rd., Suite B
Decatur, AL 35603-9735
(256) 353-7225

American Saddlebred Horse Association
4083 Iron Works Pkwy.
Lexington, KY 40511-8434
(859) 259-2742

United States Trotting Association (Standardbreds)
6130 S. Sunbury Rd.
Westerville, OH 43081-9309
(877) 800-8782

Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association
P. O. Box 286
Lewisburg, TN 37091-0286
(931) 359-1574

The Jockey Club (Thoroughbreds)
821 Corporate Dr.
Lexington, KY 40503-2794
(859) 224-2700

Educational organizations

American Horse CouncilDocument1
1616 H Street NW, 7th Floor
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 296-4031

CHA (Certified Horsemanship Association)
1795 Alysheba Way, Suite 7102
Lexington, KY 40509
(859) 259-3399

United States Pony Clubs, Inc.
4041 Iron Works Pkwy.
Lexington, KY 40511-8462
(859) 254-7669

Equine rescue groups

American Standardbred Adoption Program
745 S Main St.
Viroqua, WI 54665
(608) 689-2399

Standardbred Retirement Foundation
42 Arneytown-Hornerstown Rd.
Cream Ridge, NJ 08514
(609) 738-3255

The Horse Protection League
P. O. Box 741089
Arvada, CO 80006
(303) 216-0141

Equine equipment

Dover Saddlery, Inc.
525 Great Rd.
Littleton, MA 01460
(800) 406-8204

Jeffers Equine
P.O. Box 100
Dothan, AL 36302
(800) 533-3377

Logan Coach Trailers
2990 S. 800 W.
Nibley, UT 84321
(800) 742-7047

MD Barns
720 E. Locust Street
Ontario, CA 91761
(800) 343-2276

Morton Buildings, Inc.
P.O. Box 399
Morton, IL 61550-0399
(800) 447-7436

State Line Tack
395 Oak Hill Rd., Suite 210
Mountain Top, PA 18707
(888) 839-9640

Sundowner Trailers, Inc.
9805 OK Hwy, 48 South
Coleman, OK 73432-8523
(800) 438-4294

Equine slaughter information

American Association of Equine Practitioners
4033 Iron Works Pkwy.
Lexington, KY 40511
(859) 233-0147

Equine Advocates, Inc.
P.O. Box 354
Chatham, NY 12037-0354
(518) 245-1599

Equine Protection Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 232
Friedensburg, PA 17933

Humane Society of the United States
1255 23rd Street NW, Suite 450
Washington, DC 20037
(866) 720-2676

Equine retirement facilities

Apple River Ranch Equine Retirement
415 Jackson St., Box 358
Hanover, IL 61041
(815) 591-3819

The P.E.I. Equine Retirement Society
Milburn, O’Leary RR#2
Prince Edward Island, C0B-1V0
(902) 859-3116

Heavenly Horse Haven
P.O. Box 391998
Anza, CA 92539-1998
(951) 551-3561

Pet loss hotlines

ASPCA Grief Counseling Hotline
(877) 474-3310

Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine (Massachusetts)
(508) 839-7966

Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
(540) 231-8038

Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine
(517) 432-2696

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
(866) 266-8635

Activity organizations

American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC)
P.O. Box 6027
Auburn, CA 95604
(866) 271-2372

Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association
P.O. Box 157
Roswell, NM 88202
(888) 960-0003

National Reined Cow Horse Association
1017 N. Hwy. 377
Pilot Point, TX 76258
(940) 488-1500

North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC)
P.O. Box 969
Beatrice, NE 68310
(303) 688-1677

Ride & Tie Association
P.O. Box 2750
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067

United States Dressage Federation
4051 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington, KY 40511
(859) 971-2277

United States Equestrian Federation
4047 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington, KY 40511
(859) 258-2472

Western Dressage Association of America
P.O. Box 2349
Parker, CO 80134
(720) 662-4584

Other equine organizations

American Farriers Association
4059 Iron Works Pkwy., Suite 1
Lexington, KY 40511-8434
(859) 233-7411

American Riding Instructors Association
28801 Trenton Ct.
Bonita Springs, FL 34134-3337
(239) 948-3232

The Equine Connection National AAEP Locator Service (Horse vets)

North American Riding for the Handicapped
P.O. Box 33150
Denver, CO 80233
(800) 369-RIDE (800-369-7433)

Horse information Websites

The International Museum of the Horse

Horse publications

(800) 829-5910

Horse & Rider
(877) 717-8928

Horse Illustrated
(844) 330-6373

Practical Horseman
(877) 717-8929

Western Horseman
(817) 737-6397

Young Rider
(844) 330-6373

Recommended reading

The following books can help you learn more about different aspects of horse care and horsemanship or help you become a better rider by getting you into shape.

  • Bryant, Jennifer O., USDF Guide to Dressage, Storey Publishing, 2005.
  • Dennis, Dianna Robin, The Rider’s Fitness Program, Storey Publishing, 2004
  • Payne, Larry, Yoga For Dummies, Wiley, 2014.
  • Hendricks, Bonnie L., International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds, University of Oklahoma Press,
  • Herman, Ellie, Pilates For Dummies, Wiley, 2002.
  • Pavia, Audrey, Horseback Riding For Dummies, Wiley, 2020.
  • Pavia, Audrey, Horse Health & Nutrition For Dummies, Wiley, 2008
  • Pavia, Audrey, Trail Riding: A Complete Guide, Wiley, 2005.
  • Kauffmann, Susan & Cline, Christina, The Essential Hoof Book, Trafalgar Square Books, 2017
  • Swift, Sally, Centered Riding, Trafalgar Square, 1985.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Connie Isbell is a former editor and writer atAudobon magazine, as well as the editor of numerous pet books. Audrey Pavia is the author of many books on pets and animals, including the bestselling Horses For Dummies and The Rabbit: An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet. She has been a frequent contributor to numerous pet publications, editor-in -chief of Horse Illustrated, and senior editor of The AKC Gazette.

Audrey Pavia is the former editor of Horse Illustrated magazine and an award-winning writer of numerous articles on equine subjects. The author of seven books about horses, she has also contributed to Thoroughbred Times, Horse & Rider, and many other animal magazines.

Janice Posnikoff, DVM, is a highly respected equine veterinarian with over 20 years experience. She is a graduate of the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

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