Emily Weiss, Ph.D., CAAB, ASPCA Senior Director of Shelter Behavior Programs - November 7, 2008
Did you participate in our live horse chat on the ASPCA Online Community? If the answer is “neigh,” you can check out the full transcript of the discussion below. Dr. Emily Weiss, ASPCA Senior Director, Shelter Research and Development, answered questions on finding the right horse, horse care and horse behavior.
You can also read Dr. Weiss’s Horse Behavior Q & A, in which she answers readers’ equine related questions.
Dr. Weiss, is there a particular breed you would recommend for a first-time horse owner? And what age would you suggest the horse be? Would you recommend getting a rescue horse?
Great questions! While certain horse breeds have a tendency to be a bit more reactive than others, it is more important to focus on the individual horse, and the activity you plan to do with him or her. Are you planning on competing in jumping classes? Dressage? Riding the trails? Certain breeds of horses might be more likely to perform the task you are interested in. As for age, in most cases I would recommend a horse over six or seven years old for the first-time owner. I would certainly recommend looking into a rescue horse! In all cases, be sure to have a friend or trainer with you as you lookandbe sure to have a full vet exam!
I am moving to a house in New Mexico that has a horse corral. I have never cared for a horse, and would like to become better acquainted with them. How can I get hands-on experience?
One great way to gain experience is to volunteer at a facility that focuses on therapy programs for people with disabilities. These programs often have opportunities for assisting with grooming, cleaning stalls and general care of the horses used for therapy.
Do horses like having people ride them?
Unfortunately, I do not have a black-and-white answer. Determining whether a horse, or any other animal, “likes” something takes a bit of detective work. When you call your horse in from the pasture at riding time, does he choose to come? If so, this is a clue that he prefers the rides to hanging out in the pasture. What is his behavior like when you put a saddle on his back? When you get on to his back, what is his response? Are his ears forward? Body relaxed? Does he choose to walk toward the ring or riding path, or is he trying to get back to the area where he is untacked? No easy "yes" or "no" hereit depends on the individual animal and situation.
What's the difference between a horse, a pony and a mule?
In general, horses and ponies are the same speciesjust different sizes. A pony is under 14.2 handsand horses are over. A mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse.
Is it true that horses make good therapy animals?
Horses can be fantastic therapy animals. They have brought profound change for many with mobility challenges and even those with balance challenges. Horses have a soft coat to pat, and a pair of beautiful eyes to watch you.
I have always wanted to own a horse. I took lessons on basic riding and care, but do not feel confident enough that I know all I should to properly care for a horse. Before I invest in a horse, how can I gain enough horse care knowledge?
One option would be to co-own or co-lease a horse with another person who has more experience than you do. This would give you the opportunity to learn the "ins and outs" of horse ownership. Another option would be to offer your assistance as a groom at a boarding facility. This would both give you the opportunity to see how well the horses are taken care of at the facility, as well as learn about basic care. Of course, you should also go to your library and pick up some books on horse husbandry.
What's your opinion on children riding horses?
As a former child rider, I am all for it! Certainly safety gear is important, as well as finding appropriate trainers used to working with children. To work with a horse can build empathy and humane qualities that will stay with a child for a lifetime.
How do pet horses relate to each other? Can they become friends the way dogs or cats (maybe) would?
Absolutely! Horses can build strong and lasting bonds with one another. They are herd animals, and in the wild, they spend a good part of their day grooming one another, eating right next to one another and keeping in close contact. Horses should, whenever possible, always have a buddy to live with or next to.
How do horses adapt to changes in weather? Thanks!
Horses consume more calories in the fall, building fat and developing a thick coat for the winter. Some breeds of horses are bred for cooler climates and will grow much thicker coats than others.
Is a quarter horse a breed of horse? And is a “paint” or “palomino” just the color? If so, can a quarter horse also be a palomino?
Whew, Sheila, I knowcolors and breeds can be confusing! A quarter horse is a breed. A paint horse is also a breed. Palomino refers to the colorand yes, quarter horses can be palomino.
Hi! Who is or has been a special horse in your life?
I am lucky to have had some great horses in my life. I rode hunters and jumpers when I was younger, and now ride simply for pleasure. We have four horsesLuna, Triss, Walker and Virgil. All capture my heart, but Luna and Walker have the biggest pieces. I have known Walker literally from the moment he was born, and have known Luna since she was 3 months old. They help me experiment with positive reinforcement training for equines, and are always eager to assist testing a new enrichment device.
What is cribbing and how can it be stopped?
Cribbing, or wind sucking, describes the behavior of a horse who digs his front teeth into a piece of woodlike a barn door or fenceapplies pressure, and then gulps air. Often the horse will take a bite of the wood and chew as well. It can be a dangerous behavior, as there is a correlation between the behavior and colic. It can also be a very difficult behavior to stop. Adding significant enrichment (food dispensing toys, forage, social interaction) while you eliminate as many possible cribbing points as you can is a great place to start.
I always feel bad for the horses at the horseback riding stables that are open to the public. They seem so sad and unhappy. Do you think they are overworked? Do you think people should ride these horses?
This is another question where there is not a simple yes or no answer. There are some public riding stables where the horses are very well cared for, and the hours of riding are limited so that the time out is enriching for the animals. In many cases, the horses are taking the same trail over and overwhich is safe for the riders, but a bit tedious for the horsesso what you perceive as “sad” might simply be lack of interest. Those stables are often where many of us who love and advocate for horses first experienced these incredible animals.
I know it varies, but what is the approximate cost of feeding/grooming/keeping a horse for, say, a year?
Whewvery tough question to answer, as prices can vary so much from region to region! Farrier prices can vary from $50-$200 or more per visit (estimate eight visits a year), and vet care from $400 - #?? depending on the issue. Boarding costs are also very regional, and hay and feed prices vary. The best way to figure out pricing would be to contact local vendors in your area.
I know that the ASPCA sponsors shows like the Maclay Horse Show and the Hampton Classic, and I know that the ASPCA has come out against events like the Kentucky Derby. Can you explain the difference in events like these?
One of the big differences between events like these are the ages of the horses and the amount of training and conditioning that occur at an early age. Rarely will you see a horse under four competing in an over-fences class at an event like the Hampton Classic. Sometimes in the racing field, steroids and drugs are used to help young horses work harder and longer while their still-developing bones are not able to appropriately develop and strengthen.
Want more info on these incredible animals? Please visit the Horse Care section of our website! Also, check out our Equine Program to learn about the ASPCA’s work fighting cruelty against horses.