How much time does it take to care for a horse?

One of the first questions people ask when they're thinking about owning a horse of their own is 'how much time does it take to look after them'? The answer, of course, is 'how long is a piece of string?'

That is to say - there is no limit to the amount of time good horse ownership can take, but there are some absolute minimum requirements that you need to be prepared to commit to before you contemplate adding a horse to your life. 

I didn't have the best insight into what horse ownership would be like before I purchased Penny, despite thinking that I did because I'd been riding for so long. The reality is, riding makes up a small percentage of the total amount of time I spend on my horses. 

Of course, a lot of it depends on where and how your horse lives. If you have full-care agistment, or your horse lives out 24/7 etc, you may have slightly less time spent on mucking out/turning out etc. But there are still maintenance tasks even if your horse isn't stabled. 

Having moved from a full-care agistment to owner care on a private property, I actually am really glad I care for both of my horses myself, because it's improved our bond and I've learned so much more about their care and needs. But I wouldn't change a thing about my first two years with Penny, when we were in full care with experienced stable managers and coaches. I would have been lost without that support, and I think for first time owners, it's really worth having at least some time with that level of help before striking out on your own. 

Here are three things that take up more time than I expected when it comes to horse ownership: 

Poo. There's a lot of it, and it needs to be picked up. 

Every day, I pick up/deal with about two wheelbarrows' worth of poo. I have two horses, a ridden mare and a yearling. Penny, my mare, is stabled overnight and paddocked during the day. Lola, my filly, is paddocked full time. 

I clean Penny's stable every day, and because it's got a turnout attached and she's generally pretty neat, it takes me about 10 minutes max. I also poo-pick Lola's paddock daily. The reason for that is because the paddock isn't massive, though it is quite large, and we want to retain the quality of the pasture. Heavy poo can prevent grass from growing, and also quickly crowds the paddock if it goes unpicked, so I take a load out every day. 

It's also good to poo pick for the health of your horses especially if they share paddocks - it can help reduce worms etc. I also poo pick the paddock Penny is turned out in a few times a week (it's rested overnight while she's stabled, so it doesn't get as filled with poo). 

I am intimately acquainted with the poo of both of my horses. I could pick their turds out from a lineup! 

The other side of poo, which is feed!

Feeding horses is much more complex than you might think, especially if you're trying to preserve pasture, ensure good gut health, manage their workload and maintain their joint and muscle health too. 

Penny gets two hard feeds and Lola gets one a day. As grass gets more abundant and summer sets in, Penny's feed is reduced a bit, and I'll be monitoring Lola as well. 

I make feeds daily, fill hay nets for Penny overnight, and then spend a decent amount of time each month buying, picking up and storing feed, chaff and hay. I also waste a lot of time researching supplements, but these days I have a pretty set supplement regime for Penny. 

I can't overstate the value of getting professional advice when it comes to feeding, and spending time reading and understanding how a horse's gut and digestive system works!

Bonding time

Like a lot of amateur riders, when I dreamed about my first horse, the main thing I thought of was riding. I pictured time in the saddle, and I didn't really think about how the best outcomes in the saddle are actually the result of time spent on the ground. 

Penny and I took a long time to bond, because she's a very stoic horse and doesn't trust or relax easily. Since starting to take care of her myself, our bond has drastically improved, because she now doesn't only associate me with riding her - she also gets to spend time with me just getting groomed and massaged more frequently regardless of if I'm riding, and we play games in the paddock and hang out more. 

This time together is so important and it's also forming the basis of my relationship with Lola too. 

How can I expect Penny to trust me and listen to me when I'm riding, if she doesn't know me and have a good relationship with me on the ground? I probably spend an hour of time on the ground for every 30 minutes I spend in the saddle, and I wouldn't change that for the world. 

There are so many amazing rewarding outcomes of having a horse, but I always say - no one is entitled to 'owning' any animal. Before you take the plunge, really assess what you can afford, how much time you have, and how patient you are - those are the three biggest factors to consider.