Horses are beautiful, elegant animals. They are mostly kept by people for riding and competition purposes but even today some are used as traditional working animals – on farms for work in the fields and also in woodland for clearing trees.
Their ability to work in areas where it would be difficult to use machinery makes them invaluable. Horses have been around for more than 60 million years and the first evidence of a horse known as ‘eohippus’ originated in North America. The first horses had three ‘toes’ rather than hooves which changed as they evolved through the centuries.
Horses and ponies are not easy to care for and depending upon their breed/type, age and health their needs vary greatly. In their natural habitat horses and ponies have lived outside all of the time – many growing long, thick and waterproof coats to protect them during the winter months. These days many horses will spend time stabled but they will always benefit from being turned out in a field.
Being a herd animal they do require the company of other horses and ponies although some also form bonds with other animals such as goats and donkeys.
Fields should always be well fenced with the provision of either natural or man-made shelter to protect them from cold, wet weather in the winter months and to provide them with shade from the hot sun during the summer. It is important that the fields are kept free of poisonous plants and weeds – ragwort, a bright yellow plant is highly dangerous to horses and can be fatal in some cases. Even buttercups can make horses unwell!
Food and drink
Horses are herbivores and should have access to suitable grazing during the summer and this should be supplemented in winter with hay or haylage and for some the provision of hard feed such as pony nuts to maintain their weight and condition. Some horses and ponies can suffer from a condition called laminitis, which is caused by too much food and lush grass in the summer months. This is a painful condition which affects the hooves and needs immediate treatment and provision of painkillers from a veterinary surgeon. For horses and ponies that are prone to laminitis it is necessary to restrict the amount of food that is made available to them.
Horses can drink up to 50 litres of water a day and it is important that they have a supply of clean fresh water.
· Horses can sleep both lying down and standing up.
· Their big dreamy eyes are the largest of any other land mammal.
· Horses have developed hooves over millions of years to protect their feet against hard surfaces. Pretty clever huh?!
So if you would like some more advice on how to care for a pony, take a look at our website.
Are you thinking of getting a pony, why not check out a selection of RSPCA ponies looking for a loving new home, whether it’s temporary or permanent.