Sign-up for our newsletter to receive news, updates and more from Nanette Levin!

Horse Care

Quick Tips for budget conscience horse care

Today’s economy is making it tough own a horse. There are some easy ways you can cut costs and still keep your equine companion happy. Think about how you can reduce expenses with a sound strategy to keep your horse healthy.

Graze your horse
Even if you don’t have the land or the boarding facility to put your horse out to rich pasture, you can let him eat grass. This is healthy and natural and can be one of the most effective ways of putting weight on a horse. Consider spending daily time (starting in ½ hour increments) holding a lead rope and letting your horse enjoy the greenery. Let him cut your lawn, enjoy a spot that’s weedy or wander off the property (with permission) to help a neighbor control overgrowth. Do pick up deposits left, though, or you’re likely to be unwelcome in the future.

Feed more hay and reduce grain
Roughage is a horse’s natural intake and sometimes more grain leads to more weight loss. We had a mare here that we struggled to get weight on for years. Our blacksmith suggested cutting her grain substantially (she was a picky hay eater) and within two months, we added about 150 pounds to her 16.2 frame as she learned to enjoy hay and had less grain making her hyper.

Do fecal samples twice annually
Instead of worming every six to eight weeks, consider an alternative approach that identifies if there are any worm concerns (often there are not) and what needs to be addressed. You may find you save a ton on wormer tubes and do your part in reducing parasite resistance.

Pick stalls in the morning
You can save a ton on bedding costs (and time cleaning your horse) if you take a few minutes first thing in the morning to remove manure piles from the stall. Most horses learn quickly to handle this with ease, if guided through the expectations, and the reduction in churn not only saves money but also a ton of time when you really get serious about stall cleaning.

Learn how to assess and address medical issues
Not every injury or colic case requires a vet call. Learn from others how to ascertain the severity of a situation, doctor wounds, do a proper injection when appropriate and monitor your horse for signs of improvement and/or peril. Most medical emergencies are easy to deal with if you know what to do and you’ll likely save your horse pain and problems if you can react immediately vs. spending time waiting for a vet to arrive. We always call our vet to alert them to an issue and a possible emergency call later, and she is wonderful about providing advice over the phone on immediate treatment remedies and signs to look for that will require a visit.

Horse feed costs out of control? Consider grazing.

It took me a long time to realize that it’s not cruel to put domesticated horses out on grass. Silly, I know, but grain and hay ration precepts were drilled into my head from an early age. Insight from others, including a good number of vets, made me realize good pasture is a whole lot better for horses than what we humans have manufactured.

This year, we fenced in twenty-six acres. The horses have never looked better – and are happier to be able to enjoy a herd and feeding situation that is much more natural.

Feed and Familiarization
Sure, the broodmares, babies and performance athletes still need grain to help supplement their high energy drain, but the rest of the gang is fine eating for sixteen hours, then getting a daily handful of grain when they come into their stalls when called.

It’s important to ensure you acclimate your equines to grazing slowly. You don’t want to risk founder or colic. Start a horse that hasn’t been on grass with about ½ hour the first day. You can increase pasture time ½ hour per day until you build up to six hours. After that, they should be OK for 24/7 turnout.

Horses need shelter, interestingly more so in the summer than winter. Bugs and the sun are more troubling than cold, rain or snow (although protection from high winds is essential in frigid temperatures).

You can build a run-in shed, or order one (or more, depending on the size of your herd). Woodtex ( offers an affordable and sturdy structure with customized specifications. The only problem we found with these structures is they use pine for the exterior (although oak interior kickboards are included in their standard product), so chewing damage can be an issue. Of course, you’ll probably need to be in the NE USA unless you’re willing to pay huge shipping fees, but we’ve found this company to be outstanding to work with (and get no kickback for mentioning them).

Water is critical, and it needs to be fresh. If you can’t run water to the paddocks, see if there is a nearby town that sells water. We discovered water three miles away that fills our 325-gallon tank for $1.50. Even with the $300 or so investment in the tank and the gas to power the truck for water pick up, we figure to recoup quickly given the energy costs to power the pump and water system, along with minimizing the drain on the well. Plus, we can easily drive the pickup to each paddock to dump water in the tanks (we affixed a heavy duty water release on/off handle and attached a three-inch hose for quick flow from the tank into the tubs).

Know Your Horse
Of course, for some breeds and health issues with particular horses, grass feed is a bad idea, but for most, quality pasture forage is a cost-effective alternative that makes for a happier, healthier horse.

Quick Tips on Horses and Wood

Having trouble with your horse chewing on wood? Depending on where the problem is, there may be some things you can try.

In the stall, consider adding a ball or a jug hung from the ceiling. He may be bored. Sometimes a solution of cayenne pepper diluted in water on the offending areas can serve as a deterrent.

If your horses are tearing down fence board faster than you can replace it, a hot wire will get his attention away from the vice. Don’t be afraid to run a second string of electric fence on bottom boards if the creative critters move to lower targets.

Check with your vet too, as sometimes this behavior is due to a nutrient deficiency.

Mending Fences
If you’re trying to hang board alone it’s always a challenge to hold a board while trying to get the first end started. Try securing a screw just under where you want the board to sit on the opposite post. Rest one side on top of the screw while you work on fastening the first end. This becomes the easy second pair of hands you crave – without the attitude.

Run in sheds
Are the doorways and corners of your run in shed turning to splinters because of equine beavers? Try buying some 1 ½ – 2-inch PVC pipe (depending on the width of the wood you are covering) and cutting a slit to form a wrap around the wood. It’s an inexpensive and easy way to preserve building investments. This works for barn corners and surfaces too.

Want to encourage your horses to leave the run in shed to relieve themselves? Keep it clean. Often, if you spend the first few weeks removing manure several times a day, horses will naturally choose to follow your lead and maintain a neat environment. Of course, if you don’t maintain a cleanly area for shelter, you can ruin a horse for life with resulting feet problems, so there’s more good reason to commit to proper care regimens.

Top Ten horse health care items to spend your money on:

10. A thermometer
9. Betadine® Scrub
8. Novalsan® cream
7. Properly fitting tack for riding horses
6. A good blacksmith
5. A hoof pick
4. Annual fecals
3. Good quality hay and/or grass
2. A good equine vet

And the number one item any horse owner of any means can afford and implement to prevent so may other problems that can destroy the foundation of their horse:

1. A pitch fork – and the commitment to use it daily in run-in sheds too!

What to do about worming?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about worming. Concern is mounting that prior regular and constant worming protocols are creating scavengers that are resistant to parasite control products.

Today, most vets that are keeping current are recommending horse owners invest in fecal exams. These should be preformed two times a year – in the spring (April in Western New York) and as winter sets in (November in this area). This has more to do with worm gestation cycles than horse habits, something that might come as a surprise to many.

Given the research findings and input from respected professionals we’ve consulted, we’ve decided to perform fecal exams on all horses on the property twice a year and forego our prior aggressive worming practices (in most years, we have a lot of horses coming in and out of the Halcyon Acres facility, so infestation is a bigger concern than would be the case in the standard home-based facility). We’ll treat horses individually, based on findings with specific products that address the worms discovered, retest the identified cases as prescribed by the vet, and stop our prior practice of regular, identical and timed worming treatments for all horses on the property. In the long run, we believe this will actually save clients and the farm a good deal of money and improve the health of the horses by reducing costs associated with buying wormer products and instead, individually identifying a particular horse’s treatment needs with precision.

What have you found to be an effective worming protocol?

Quick Tips – Horse Care

Stone Bruises? Try using a 10% Iodine solution on the soles of the feet. It’s best to wear gloves as this will stain and some find it to be irritating to the skin. Apply twice a day for the first four days or so and you should see a much more comfortable horse. You can back off to once a day once improvement begins. This will help draw out any infection while toughening the feet.

Infection troubles: If you’ve done everything to try and draw out a nasty infection to no avail (and yes, a vet should be consulted for any issue that is a concern), try applying rolled cotton (the cheap kind that doesn’t adhere to the drainage area) directly to wound under your standard bandage. In some cases, this will draw out a difficult infection without sticking to the affected area.

Foot Abscess? Try mixing Betadine® and sugar into a paste and pack it in to the area. Infant diapers secured with VetWrap® and reinforced with an outer layer of duct tape make for a pretty secure and easy to apply bandage. If your horse won’t stand in a tub, they make an Epsom salt poltice (that smells great too) that can be applied to the foot and bandaged in a similar fashion.

Quick Horse Tips

The bugs have been terrible this season. Any horse that it is outside during daylight hours is likely a magnet for the insect brigade. Even well protected horses seem to be more bothered this year than most by rashes, itches and flaking. Here are a couple of ideas that may save you some money and save your horse a lot of irritation:

Homemade insect repellent:
Mix half and half cider vinegar with Pine-Sol® (the Pin-Sol® makes it stick) and apply it from a sprayer bottle. Don’t put it on too thick and keep it off nursing mares. This will last for an hour or two, which is about as long as we’ve found any commercial equine product to be effective. Plus, a gallon of this brew also goes a lot further for a lot less money than products labeled horse fly sprays.

Are your horses literally tearing out their hair?
With the bugs and the weird weather we’ve had this year, a lot of horses are rubbing manes and tails raw. If you’re looking for an inexpensive treatment that is remarkably effective, try oatmeal shampoo. This is not sold as an equine product, but you can find it in any dog section of your feed store or at pet stores for about $12 a bottle. Massage it deep into the tail (or mane, depending on where your issue is). Leave it on for about twenty minutes and then rinse thoroughly. We’ve found treating twice a day clears up the itch by day three when nothing else was effective.