Keeping Horses: Yay Or Neigh

Keeping horses can be very rewarding, and you'll have your favorite trail buddy right there, ready to go whenever you are. It can also be very expensive, since the general rule is 1 acre per fullsize horse, and you'll need grain/oats, salt licks, hay, and horses love a little alfalfa every now and again - it's like candy to a horse.

And that's just food, you'll also need tack, and depending on what discipline and maker you choose it can be anywhere from kind of expensive, to holy-crap-that's-expensive expensive. Whether you pick the English discipline or the Western discipline, there's basic tack that both require, like halters, lead ropes, lunge lines, fly masks - if you're new to horses and don't know what all this jargon means, have no fear, I'll explain it all in a bit.

And then of course, you need land, fencing and housing. Like I said, 1 acre per horse is the general rule but if you have a little less then that's okay too, as long as it's not less than .75 acre per. As far as fencing goes, some people like classic wooden fencing, personally I like electric tape fencing - it's easily movable, highly visible, cost effective and chances are good your horse won't try to escape it.

Housing will depend greatly on your individual horse and your needs. If you have several horses and want to make sure they all get to sleep under a cover, a stable with individual stalls may be your best bet.
If you have one or two, a three sided shed will work quite well, probably 24'x 12', as your horses can come and go as they please and still be inside at night if they so choose. And, here's another place where tape fencing comes in handy - if you want to keep them in at night, but let them choose in or out during the day, keep an extra line of fencing to run across the opening of their shed at night and remove it during the day. I don't even think you would have to run it to the electricity because they know that fence that looks like that will shock them.

Now, back to what I was saying earlier about tack. It can be very expensive depending on which discipline you ride. Discipline being either English or Western, and then there are sub-categories under each, and the main difference between the two is Western saddles have a horn and English saddles do not. Also, English saddles have a higher cantle (the back part of the saddle) to enable the rider to have a more secure seat, which is required for things like dressage and hunter/jumper courses.

But, I rode Western so for the sake of correctness I'll use that as the basis for this.

Let's start from the head down. Just basic equipment includes a halter, lead rope, lunge line, stable blanket (if you live in a really cold climate and/or you clip your horse). A halter is basically a bridle with no bit or reins, and it's usually made of nylon instead of leather. There are bit attachments for halters, but I prefer to use bridles because I seem to get a better response out of the horse than when I use a halter/bridle, even if I use identical bits.
Halters should only be used to lead a horse (here's where a lead rope comes in) or if you have a horse that's difficult to catch you can use a halter, but break-away halters are strongly recommended in case it gets tangled in a tree or something like that. The halters don't actually break, but they have velcro pieces designed to come apart when there is a lot of pressure applied - that way, a horse doesn't injure itself trying to untangle from a bush.
Fly masks are a good investment, as they keep those pesky flies off your horse's eyes. You should also invest in a good fly spray, those are a great thing for the summer when flies pester your poor horse.
Lunge lines are used for a number of things. Excercise when you don't have time to properly groom and tack up and ride, ground training for a green horse, introducing yourself to a new horse from the ground instead of just climbing into the saddle. Basically it's a long, flat lead rope. Mostly, you won't need these but it's always a good idea to have one.

Now that we've covered your basic tack, let's get to the fun part!
You'll need a bridle, bit, reins, saddle, girth, and saddle pad.
I'd suggest a basic bridle, one that as a chinstrap and a browband. This keeps your bridle on correctly and keeps it comfortable for your horse.
If you're riding Western, you'll probably be neck-reining (apply the rein to the neck to direct rather than pulling on the bit), and you have a good grip on your reins then split reins will work great. However, if you're prone to dropping the reins for whatever reason, roping reins are a better choice as they are one rein that connects to either side of the bit which is good because then if you drop it you can still pick it back up and keep going.

Speaking of bits, what is the right bit for you? Well, it's actually not what's best for you, it has much more to do with how your horse responds. If your horse is tendermouthed, all you really need is an Eggbutt Snaffle. Now, it is an English bit, but if you're not planning on showing your horse in complex events that require precise movements and the drop of a hat then you don't need a complex bit. However, if your horse is more headstrong then he may require a harder bit - stay in the snaffle family first because these are the gentlest of bits. If your horse isn't responding well to a snaffle then try one made of copper. This greatly encourages salivation and this is turn helps the pressure to be felt; kind of how you can't really feel your tongue when your mouth is really dry.
Also, if you don't have a good understanding of how to use a shank bit, which uses leverage to quickly apply more pressure, or how to use a port bit (usually the two are combined together into a port bit with shanks, this is what's usually known as a curb bit), you could ruin a horse's mouth.

Onward, to saddles and saddle pads.
If you're planning on mostly trail riding then you'll just need a trail saddle. All you'll have to decide on is color and material - pretty easy choice, you just have to choose between synthetic or leather, and dark or light or in between. You'll also need to make sure it's the right size for you.
Then you'll need a saddle blanket, which are also easy to choose, just make sure it's big enough for your saddle to sit on properly.

Don't forget the grooming tools!
You'll need combs to keep your horse's mane and tail tangle-free (you can buy them at tack shops but I'd just buy the cheap dollar store ones, it's the same thing), hoof picks to keep your horse's feet rock-and-mud free, rubber curry comb to loosen the dust, loose hairs, burrs and anything else that's not supposed to be there (you use the curry comb in a circular motion all over your horse except for the head), stiff bristle brush to remove everything that you just loosened with the curry comb, a soft bristle brush to follow that, and finally a soft rag to make your horse shine.

Like I said, keeping horses can be very expensive but it can be very relaxing to come home and go out and discuss the days problems with your horse and brush away your stress, then head off to the trails to escape for at least a little while.