Real life

What no one tells you about owning a horse

23 May 2020

9:00 AM

23 May 2020

9:00 AM

When people ask me what I did during lockdown, I would like to give an inspiring answer, apart from growing vegetables.

I thought I would write The Real Life Guide to Keeping a Horse, with all the stuff other books won’t tell you.

Chapter One, ‘You Will Need’, will give the most realistic list ever published of the items you should assemble before bringing home your new equine friend.

Number one item: gaffer tape. I know you’re thinking the farrier comes every six weeks. But in practice most farriers are harder to get hold of than O. J. Simpson on the San Diego Freeway.

Thoroughbreds reign supreme in the art of shedding shoes, then demolishing their feet by galloping round their field. Even a farrier who says he shoes the Queen’s horses — and they all say that — will have to resort to advanced engineering processes more complicated than redocking the lunar module to reattach a shoe to a crumbling hoof.

The moment your horse throws a shoe, therefore, bandage the foot in ‘vet wrap’ and a quarter of a roll of gaffer tape — even if your farrier promises to come just as soon as he’s shod the household cavalry.

Next, barrier cream. Before completing the purchase of your dream horse, buy shares in the company that makes Sudocrem. You are going to be using so much of it you will want to claw back some of your outlay.

In winter, you will slather it on your horse to treat mud fever, which will strike despite everything you do to prevent it, including encasing your gee-gee’s legs in turn-out wraps like knee socks.

You might go for years without mud fever, then one day, when the moon is in Taurus, a puddle he has walked through will infect him with strange, crunchy lumps.

By the way, once you enter the horse world, opinion will always divide into two extremes: whatever you ask, one person will say to do one thing while the next person will advise the exact opposite. So the knee socks will delight and appal in equal measure.

You will need a full DIY kit in the back of your car. If you think there are any sharp edges that can’t harm your robust-looking cob, you need to buck your ideas up: a horse can injure itself just looking at a nail that is not banged in by a millimetre, or indeed a piece of wood he has chewed loose and now endeavours to scratch his face against in the night, if possible slicing an eyelid or nostril so it can’t be stitched up quite right, reducing the vet to tears so you have to comfort him.

But no matter how handy you are, you cannot completely proof against creative equine injury-making in even the squarest, most immaculately maintained field. So use old rugs to wrap structures such as field shelter posts before your new horse finds something he can spend weeks surreptitiously honing into a weapon with which to self-harm. Don’t skimp on electric tape and fence posts either. Tape off everything your horse can touch except grass, water and air.

When he does succeed in his mission, you will need Hibiscrub, which is not as jolly as it sounds. With wounds, the more invisible to the naked eye, the more deadly, is the rule. A slashed vein pumping blood like a fountain can be no bother at all once the vet gets there, while a tiny puncture is usually an unmitigated nightmare that drags on for months. Iodine will become your best friend.

As well as disinfectant, your first-aid kit must contain Epsom salts for ‘hot-tubbing’ foot abscesses, but did you know it will also end up featuring Golden Eye, Milk of Magnesia, Buscopan and Avon Skin So Soft?

Lastly: Bute. I can’t say that word enough. Bute. Bute. Bute. Also known as phenylbutazone. A Pocketful of Bute should be the title of this book.

Don’t think of Bute as an anti-inflammatory painkiller so much as the legal drug by which you, the demented horse owner, are going to stay off illegal drugs yourself.

Any good vet will issue you an online prescription for a box of Bute sachets so you can avoid about 90 per cent of all call-outs, costing hundreds of pounds a time.

Of course, don’t overuse Bute any more than a responsible mother would overdose her baby with Calpol. But a horse runs into bother so often that if you are hoping to go organic you need to get a grip.

You can buy an alleged painkiller made of devil’s claw, and some deluded souls dose their dobbins with sticky weed or turmeric.

But please be assured, when the vet gets there, they are going to give the horse Bute, so you may as well get used to it.

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