Urban Horses

Horses living in the city, who would have ever thought? Where would they graze? What would you do with the manure? Where would you ride? Well, confining horses to a barn, paddock, or small acreage within the city limits has become an everyday occurrence. Caring for them in an altered environment is best accomplished with the help of your veterinarian. Understanding the horse's natural instinct and trying to best suit it is the goal.

I will give you a few pointers on making an urban horse feel more at home.

First, the horse's health is paramount. Remember that they are grazing animals, and this grazing keeps their digestive systems running smoothly. Their natural instinct is to graze 14-18 hours a day. If there is no pasture available, then we must give them the roughage to keep their digestive tracts in healthy working condition, let alone keep them in good weight. And it is important to provide enough roughage for your horses for their mental status as well as weight.

Also, when they graze, they do not stand still very long. Their very nature is to graze and walk, so even if you have a small grass paddock (one acre or less) for your horse, the grass will soon be gone. Not from grazing, but from walking and grazing.

If you have small acreage, soil sampling and fertilizing will help keep the pasture in grass rather than weeds. Irrigation might be needed as well. Your local agriculture extension agency can help you with pasture management. Also, limiting your horse's time on pasture will keep grass growing and prevent over-grazing.

If your hay is lacking in nutrients, grain supplementation is necessary. You should check with your veterinarian on your horses' particular nutritional requirements depending on their activity level.

Parasite control is a challenge in an urban environment, because horses constantly graze where manure is left. Therefore, a daily to weekly removal of manure in your paddocks or small acreage is necessary and should be treated no differently than a stall. A more aggressive deworming program might be required. Again, check with your veterinarian for details.

Disposal of manure is another problem. Piling it up behind the barn will not only draw complaints from neighbors on the smell, but it will draw flies and other pests. These pests can cause more harm by carrying disease or aggravating your horse. Usually the best way of disposing manure is not by spreading it over your paddock, but by bagging it and putting it out with the trash.

Exercising the horse is another problem. If you do not have an arena or riding area, you might have to trailer your horse to a nearby park or stable for exercise. Daily or weekly lessons will help your horse stay healthy and keep him active. Some horses need a "job"--daily work is necessary to keep them occupied.

A few other items must be mentioned, such as water availability, fencing, and weather protection. A clean water supply is necessary for a healthy horse. That might mean you have to scrub out your troughs and buckets daily or weekly. Confining horses is not natural to them; therefore, a safe fence is recommended. Barbed wire does not work well with horses, and rounded corners in your paddocks or pastures allow the lowest horse in the pecking order an escape route. Finally, some sort of weather protection is needed, such as a lean-to, barn, or even a good line of trees on the side of the pasture from which your weather most often comes.

Understanding the basic habits of the horse can help you provide a pleasant environment for you, your horse, and your neighbors.

About the Author

Erin Denney-Jones, DVM

Erin Denney-Jones, DVM, is an FEI veterinarian and owner of Florida Equine Veterinary Services, in Clermont, Florida. Her interests and practice areas include chiropractic care, sport horse medicine, reproduction, general medicine and surgery, and preventive care including wellness programs, vaccinations, parasite control, and dentistry.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More