It’s not unheard of to keep horses in your backyard. Provided you have the space and resources, it could be more beneficial and cost-efficient for you, with the added bonus of being able to spend more time with your horse.
However, there are some things you need to consider:
Do you have enough space?
Horses need space. At least one grazing acre per head. You need to determine whether your backyard is big enough for a dog or for a horse - which would entail that you lived in the suburbs because you can't get that kind of space in the city. It’s not healthy for horses to stand around all day physically and psychologically, so give your horse the space to move around all day.
Are you confident enough as a rider that you won’t be deterred by your horse’s occasional bad behavior?
A big part of your riding skill and housekeeping ability is the confidence you have in yourself when your horse exhibits bad behavior. They’re not dogs, you can’t just raise your voice at a horse and expect it to fix the problem. A horse’s temper depends on its breed and if you so happen to get a hot-headed horse, yelling at it could either spook it or cause it to act out in its stable. Worst case scenario, the barn door is wrecked open and you have a broken toe or two.
Do you have access to a good trainer and can you afford to send your companion off for a little re-schooling when needed?
Horse trainers, also known as equine trainers, work with horses to prepare them for riders, racers, trail work, and shows. Trainers help horses adapt to carrying saddles and bridles, develop essential riding commands, and correct behavior issues that stem from abuse or other forms of trauma. Equine trainers are expected to have expert riding skill and an extensive knowledge of horse management. Patience and a love of animals is also extremely beneficial to being a trainer.
Horse trainers practice various techniques to get horses to respond to them, such as handing them treats and other forms of positive reinforcement when the horses excel in their training session for the day. Horse trainers use their voices and physical contact to get the horses used to human connection. Trainers slowly bring in other people to assist the horse in becoming comfortable with responding to commands and obedience cues. Trainers analyze a horse's behavior to assess their disposition. They use this assessment to correct any behavior-related problems such as head tossing, kicking, biting, and overall dominance assertion. Other traits equine trainers could address are bolting, nervousness, and restlessness. The horses' personalities provide trainers with insight in determining the training capacities of your horse.
Because horses are easily spooked, trainers work on measures to counteract said tendency. Throughout the training period, trainers may possibly be thrown off the horse, stomped on, kicked, or even bitten.
What is your skill level as a rider?
It would be better for more advanced riders to keep horses in their backyard than for novice riders to do it — not that there’s anything wrong with being a novice rider. A rider’s skill level is normally correlated to their experience in dealing with horses. You’d know how they move, how they like to go about their day, what it takes to keep them happy and well-fed, etc. We suggest for novice riders to keep their horses in a barn where professionals can maintain them while they’re learning the how tos and what nots of owning a horse.
Do you have a good supplier of feed, hay and bedding, and can you afford to keep an adequate supply on hand at all times? Can you properly supply your horse with clean and running water?
It's critical to recognize that there are six basic nutrient categories that must be met: carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water when feeding horses. Often, feed companies will balance the first five nutrients in the feed they sell; however, it is critical not to forget about your horse’s water supply. A healthy horse will consume about five to fifteen, or sometimes even more gallons of water per day depending on the temperature, humidity, and your horse's activity level.
Clean water should be provided for your horse daily, and ideally, it should be available at all times of the day for the horse to drink when it's thirsty. If not possible, horses should be watered a minimum of twice a day and allowed at least ten minutes to drink each time they do. Horses that don't drink enough water are prone to conditions such as dehydration, constipation, and other forms of colic.
Do you have friends or neighbors to ride with? If not, how will you and your horse socialize?
Horses would very much prefer equine company and socialization over a human’s company — it can be considered an ethological need. Keeping horses in groups for the most part of the day is favored from a horse welfare aspect. A horse kept in isolation feels vulnerable because it naturally seeks safety in numbers, and studies show that horses are willing to perform 'work' to gain access to socialization. Socialization helps to shape innate behavior and social skills in horses. Young horses need to be turned out with at least one older horse that possesses such social skills. The older horse shapes the behavior of the younger horses, the same way that adult humans teach children their manners.
Socialization is all about horses learning to communicate with other horses. For younger horses, this continual learning activates and promotes brain function, which makes your horse more trainable later on. Think of socialization as pre-school for your horse. Social interaction with other horses is considered one of the most important aspects of training your horse. Even though horses are naturally highly adaptive to their environment, they too have limits to which they adapt to the conditions they are placed in. If certain behaviors and behavior patterns cannot be performed, their welfare is at stake, as very little of their species-specific behavior changed through years of domestication. Overall, horses need to see and hear other horses, see them, and make physical contact.
Incompatible social partners are a cause of chronic stress if housed nearby, such as in a barn, for instance, as horses have a complex social structure — as we've mentioned earlier. Some consideration is required on how turnout groups are formed and how horses are introduced into an existing group. Some horses may be challenging to turn out in groups as they do not have the necessary social skills, and therefore careful integration will be required.
If you do decide to keep your horse in your backyard, make sure you have access to other horses to satiate the socialization aspect of their day.
Do you have access to a large animal veterinarian and farrier services? Is regular or emergency care in your budget?
One of the essential aspects of keeping your horse in your backyard is having easy access to your veterinarian and maintaining a good relationship with your vet.
Whether the call to your veterinarian is for regular exams, vaccinations, or because of a sudden emergency due to injury or sickness, it's in the horse owner’s and horse's best interest to have an established, positive, on-going relationship with the veterinarian who treats the horse on the owner's premises.
Having a good relationship with the veterinarian in the community enables them to be a positive contributor to the better over-all health of your horse. In the case of an emergency, it makes it much easier for the veterinarian to determine if the horse owner can treat the sick or injured horse or if a visit to the horse is necessary.
Also, you, the horse owner, should be willing to help the veterinarian during a house call with any assistance they could give for when their horses need a procedure performed or treatment done promptly.
Do you have an emergency plan to get your horse(s) to safety in the event of a catastrophe?
We can't avoid natural disasters, so you need to consider the evacuation process involving your horse. Absolutely do not leave your horse behind during an unsafe circumstance. A situation that isn't safe for you isn't for your horse, either.
Evacuate right away. Do not evacuate at the last minute; emergency management officials may advise you that you to leave your horses behind. This will leave your horse unattended for days without food, water, and proper shelter.
The concept may seem strange but you know how humans practice for emergency drills? You should do the same with your horse. Get your horse used to high-pressure situations to lessen the chances of spooking. At least you’re all prepared to get out of the danger zone. Additionally, you need to create an emergency pack for your horse. Keep it somewhere accessible like the trailer you’ll put them in. Your pack should have food, water, and emergency medicine that should last a few days.
And finally the last thing you need to ask yourself is if this is really the best option for you and for your horse. If you have the means for it such as space, money, resources, and access to medical care by all means go for it. But you also need to check for state or city regulations and if your neighbors are alright with living near a horse. If you don’t tick off any of these boxes, it’s best that you keep your horse in a barn instead.
Assuming you’re a novice rider, we mentioned earlier in this article that you need to gain more experience with horses before you can start living with one. But it helps to live near people who also keep horses in their backyards. This will ease a young horse into living away from the barn and in a backyard.
Once you get the hang of it, it’s not all that difficult to prepare your house for an extra companion living with you. What you need to prepare for is the cost of maintenance and actually maintaining your horse in your backyard stable.