It’s unlikely that you will find a horse with a more ingrained American spirit than the American Quarter horse. This is the horse of the old cowboys, shaping the Wild West, of Indians running the pre-colonial era, and of Spanish conquistadors and explorers looking for new lands.
The early American Quarter horse was used for a variety of activities, all linked to the colonial life of the time. This included farm work, fieldwork, pulling carriages, hunting, and riding, among others. Their stocky, muscular, and agile bodies soon made them a valued asset in the military as well as speed racing.
The horse’s body is made for speed with its muscular chest, round and strong hindquarters, and wide neck. The American Quarter horse is built like a torpedo and is able to produce impressive speeds over short distances.
So, if this sounds appealing enough to convince you to get an American Quarter horse, here’s what to know about caring for one.
American Quarter Horse Housing
So many people focus on improving the horse’s diet and putting a roof over its head. Yet, they fail to acknowledge the importance of hygiene in the horse’s resting place. Here are several pointers to help you set the perfect living conditions for your horse:
- Setting the Barn Stall – You should set the barn at a minimum of 12 by 12 feet. This is just short of 4 meters, providing the horse with enough room to move around. A barn too claustrophobic will make your horse feel uncomfortable and cause visible distress. The horse will need constant access to clean water, so I suggest providing a five-gallon bucket of freshwater which you should replenish whenever necessary.
- Cleaning Manure – Horses are clean animals. They don’t drink dirty water, avoid soiled or spoiled food, and not rest in their filth. They also tend to poop a lot because they eat a lot. You need to clean the manure regularly to prevent the horse from experiencing any discomfort due to the smell and wetness coming with the manure piles.
- Bedding – The bedding is essential for your horse’s comfort. You need to make sure the bedding stays clean, warm, and dry and change it as soon as it gets wet or soiled. This will improve the horse’s comfort tenfold, allowing it to rest and relax.
And, since we’re talking about the American Quarter horse, an animal known for its high energy, I recommend taking it out regularly. The horse needs regular physical activity to remain healthy, energetic, and in shape. You might need to adapt the horse’s schedule to its temperament and personality since not all horses have the same requirements.
Feeding the American Quarter Horse
The American Quarter horse’s diet should include a healthy amount of carbs, protein, minerals, vitamins, and fats.
– Diet and Nutrition
It’s worth mentioning that the horse’s diet and nutritional requirements vary depending on several factors. These include:
The Horse’s Age
The horse will consume different amounts of food and different nutrients depending on its age.
In this sense, the foal will require its mother’s milk for up to 10-12 weeks since its birth. Once the foal switches to hay and grass, it will also require a different nutrient mix that is essential to its development.
This latter mix should go up to four pounds daily, depending on your foal’s food requirements.
The horse’s food necessities will grow with age and diminish gradually as the horse gets older. A senior horse will eat up to 40% less than a younger one.
The Horse’s Weight
A heavier American Quarter horse will consume more food than a lighter one. To figure out how much your horse should eat, just remember that a horse typically eats 1.5% to 2% of its body weight. With that in mind, a 1,000 lbs. horse will consume between 15 to 20 pounds of food daily.
The Physical Activity
The more active the horse is, the more energy it will spend, requiring more food and water as a result. There are four categories of workload that the horse may endure, defining the animal’s necessary nutrient intake:
- Light Workload – The horse will engage in light physical activity for one to three hours per week. Percentage-wise, the horse will engage in walking40% of the time, trotting for 50% of the time, and cantering for the remaining 10%. Riding your horse for fun occasionally falls under this category.
- Moderate Workload – This refers to moderate physical activity for three to five hours weekly. The horse will walk 30% of the time, trot 55% of the time, canter 10% of the time, and gallop for the remaining 5%. This section includes recreational riding and farm-related moderate activities.
- Heavy Workload – This includes four to five hours of intense workout weekly. The horse will walk for 20% of the time, trot for 50% of the time, and canter and gallop for 15% of the time each. This area includes horses engaging in polo, race training, and equine shows, among other demanding activities.
- Extra Heavy Workload – This is an area that will typically involve competition-ready horses. They will engage in six to 12 hours of intense physical activity weekly, boosting their nutrient intake consistently.
Ideally, you should adopt the horse’s diet to its workout schedule, preventing both starving the animal and overfeeding it.
The main diet should consist of hay and fresh grass with your occasional grains, treats, and nutritional supplements. The latter should only come into play at your veterinarian’s recommendations and only if necessary.
To make sure that your horse gets the optimal nutrient intake, you need to make sure that the hay is rich in nutrients. You can do that by testing it at a certified laboratory specializing in equine and cattle nutrition.
So, what should you do if the hay is nutrient-deficient? You have two options here:
- Concentrates – These are nutritional mixes that will complement your horse’s diet. Some of the most common natural concentrates include rolled oats, barley, beet pulp, pelleted concentrates, etc. The type and amount of concentrates necessary will depend on the nutrients your horse is missing and the horse’s age and physical activity. I suggest talking to your veterinarian about your horse’s nutritional needs before feeding your horse any product.
- Supplements – Supplements are nothing more than vitamins and minerals added to the horse’s diet. You can find out what your horse needs by assessing its nutrient intake and having the veterinary perform specific tests to see what your horse lacks. Salt and mineral blocks, for instance, are necessary for horses not getting enough sodium and magnesium from their regular hay food.
Your American Quarter horse will require fresh water daily, between 10 to 15 gallons or more. The horse’s water requirements depend on its age, physical activity, and weather. If you have a particularly active horse and live in a warm and more humid part of the globe, your horse’s water need may increase dramatically.
You should also pay attention to your horse’s sodium intake. Horses who sweat a lot tend to become sodium deficient, at which point you need to intervene. I recommend getting a Himalayan salt block for your horse to lick and replenish its mineral needs daily.
Your horse should enjoy its fair share of pasturing daily if possible. The horse will get a lot of its daily nutrients from fresh grass. To make sure your horse eats a lot of fresh grass, try changing the horse’s location occasionally to prevent it from chewing on the same area for too long.
– Avoid Overfeeding
The American Quarter horse is prone to obesity, which means you can easily overfeed it without even realizing it. You can avoid this by doing three simple things:
- Consider the weight-to-feed ratio – You should only feed your horse around 1% to 1.5% of its body weight every day. You can increase that to 2% of your horse is naturally more active and participates in regular physical activity. Your horse will rarely need more food than that.
- Avoid grains – It’s not to say you should avoid grains altogether, but minimize the intake. Your horse’s diet should have hay and grass making up 95% of the total nutrient intake. Grains, along with concentrates, and supplements should fill the rest of 5%.
- Be careful with supplementation – Supplementing your horse’s diet when not necessary can bring more problems than solutions. You should always discuss with the veterinarian before supplementing your horse’s diet with any product.
Overfeeding is always a problem since it can lead to health issues fast.
Quarter Horse Health Checkups
If you’re familiarized with the American Quarter horse, you probably already know that this breed is prone to a variety of health problems. The easier way to prevent any meaningful health issues would be to perform a genetic test and check the horse’s parents before purchasing. This will minimize the risk of getting a sick horse significantly.
– Dental Checkups
A 2020 study involving nearly 5,000 horse owners determined that over 70% of the horses in question showed behavior related to dental pain. Untreated, dental issues can quickly progress and cause more extensive health problems along the way.
This includes infections and feeding and digestive issues, as your horse cannot chew food properly anymore. The best method to handle the problem is by considering prevention.
Regular dental exams will keep your horse healthier and in better shape for longer. At least one dental exam is necessary every year to ensure your horse’s oral health. The exam typically lasts 30 minutes at most, with the veterinarian checking:
- The external structures of the horse’s head and mouth, including lips, cheeks, mandible, etc.
- The internal structures of the mouth, including the tongue, gums, cheeks, etc.
- The teeth
Such a complete exam will include using a full-mouth speculum, which may require sedation. It’s also worth mentioning that the frequency of the dental exams necessary will increase along with the horse’s age.
Working with a competent farrier is necessary to prevent hoof problems along the way. The American Quarter horse is a very active animal, prone to a lot of hoof and feet problems. I recommend calling a farrier if you suspect your horse may have developed a hoof issue.
Untreated hoof problems may lead to infections and will affect the horse’s balance and performance. This is that much bigger of an issue if you have a competition-ready American Quarter, in which case such an injury can be career-ending.
Quarter Horse Grooming
Many people believe that the act of grooming has more to do with esthetics. Yet, that’s not entirely true. Grooming your horse regularly will also allow you to bond with each other and keep the horse healthy. Here are two grooming techniques that every horse owner should know:
We can divide brushing into three phases:
- Brushing the coat – A hard and stiff flicking brush is ideal for grooming the coat and removing all the dirt that may accumulate throughout the day. This will keep the horse’s coat clean and healthy, as it will also remove any potential parasites and insects in the process. The horse will also be grateful for scratching and the massage.
- Brushing the face – This time, you need a softer brush to clean the horse’s fast in the direction of the hair. Follow the horse’s eye line, over the forehead, and down the nose for a clean and satisfying job.
- Brushing the mane and tail – You can use your hands to untangle the long hair and first remove big chunks of dirt and debris. A stiff brush is necessary to groom the horse’s mane and tail to remove dead hair and provide a bushy look in the process.
You should groom your horse two-three times per week or depending on the horse’s physical activity and living environment. It also doesn’t hurt to bathe your American Quarter horse once per week or whenever necessary.
– Hooves Cleaning
Cleaning the hooves is an absolute necessity, knowing the complications that may appear due to ignoring this aspect. There are two aspects worth mentioning here:
- Cleaning the hooves yourself – Ideally, you should have a farrier perform the job, especially if you’ve never done it. If, however, you want to get involved, at least make sure you do the job properly. Use your body weight to push against the horse to force it to move its weight from the hoof in question. Lift the horse’s hoof and bend it in its natural angle. Position yourself with your face towards the horse’s rear to prevent eating kicks, use a pick, and start at the heel. Remove all solid dirt and debris with care, not to hurt the frog.
- Calling in a farrier – This is the ideal scenario since farriers are trained and experienced in performing in-depth cleaning and identifying hoof problems in the incipient phase. A thorough cleaning is necessary once every four to six weeks, depending on the animal’s age, level of physical activity, habitat, and other factors.
I would even recommend combining the two methods. Groom your horse’s hooves once per week and call the farrier once every six weeks for an extra level of care. This should be enough to prevent any hoof-related problems along the way.
Just make sure to remember that senior horses may need extra care in this department and in general really.
Quarter Horse Exercise
If you’ve decided to participate in competitions, you have some work to do first. The most important job is getting your horse in a competition state, which implies a lot of training and conditioning.
The conditioning program will boost your horse’s physical performance considerably, increasing:
- Bone density and geometry
- Aerobic capacity via more fast-twitch high oxidative fibers increases the time to lactic acid accumulation responsible for muscle fatigue
- Muscular size and strength
- Oxygen uptake, boosting the aerobic performance during sustained physical activity, and decreasing ventilation
- Thermoregulation – allowing the horse’s body to self-regulate its temperature better to prevent over-heating
If you’ve decided this is the path to go for your American Quarter horse, you have two conditioning programs available:
- Slow-Speed Conditioning – The program begins slowly and takes the horse on cantering or trotting over long distances. The goal is to boost the production of ATP, responsible for higher energy outputs and improved endurance. This form of conditioning is also responsible for boosted aerobic capacity, improved limb strength, which the American Quarter horse desperately needs, and stronger skeletal muscles.
- High-Speed Conditioning – This method focuses on boosting the horse’s anaerobic abilities. The program will rely on short bursts of high speeds with two underlying goals – increasing the maximum speed and increasing the distance at maximum speed. There are numerous ways of training your horse in high-speed conditioning, with different trainers adopting different methods. These include:
- A 5% to 10% inclined treadmill will increase the horse’s anaerobic capacity without the need for maximum speed galloping
- Establish a standard distance and increase the speed with each run
- Increase the speed, then also increase the distance, etc.
The American Quarter horse is a fine beast with numerous qualities to show. It’s not the most recognizable American horse for nothing. If you’re ready to get one, you should be ready to care for it properly.
I hope this article has taught you the essentials of caring for your American Quarter horse. If you still have questions about grooming, feeding, or training the horse, you can check other articles I’ve written on the topic or leave a question in the comment section.Horse Care