Care for your stock horse

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

  • The herdsman and his horse is an important cogs in the livestock enterprise machine.
  • Good hooves and legs are self-evident. In this regard the expression “no hooves, no horse” is apt.
  • The importance of a stock horse’s temperament is often discounted. Stock horses work long hours and often remain stationary for as many hours while their riders mend fences and perform other tasks.
  • To give the horse a fair chance to do its work properly, its management can be divided into three basic categories, namely feed, rest and equipment.
  • There is a vast array of substandard saddles on the market that are not at all suitable for the long work hours of a stock horse. Even so, producers agree that the most important factor in preventing saddle sores is the condition of the horse.

The herdsman and his horse is an important cogs in the livestock enterprise machine. There are, in fact, many South African farms on which stock horses are an absolute necessity. Yet this faithful work horse often does not get the attention it deserves and must do its work under difficult circumstances.

But before we delve deeper into the management of stock horses, there are certain characteristics to take note of that will make managing them a lot easier. Four in particular stand out, namely good hooves, good legs, correct temperament and size.

On physiology and temperament

Good hooves and legs are self-evident. In this regard the expression “no hooves, no horse” is apt. If a horse is to do its work as well as possible for as many years as possible, its hooves and legs must be functional.

The importance of a stock horse’s temperament is often discounted. Stock horses work long hours and often remain stationary for as many hours while their riders mend fences and perform other tasks. Then, the next minute, they may need to chase after an animal that is running off in the wrong direction. Once the situation is under control, the horse must then go about its work at a less brisk pace. An animal that does not have a calm temperament will not cut it as a good stock horse.

In terms of size, smaller is usually more practical than bigger. A horse of around 14 hands is ideal. It does not require as much feed and is usually better at maintaining their condition than large horses. The average herdsman in South Africa rarely weighs more than 65kg, which makes using a large horse unnecessary. Smaller horses are also good at traversing mountainous terrain.

Another factor is that a herdsman must get on and off his horse many times during a working day. Doing this is much easier with a smaller horse.

Feed, rest and equipment

To give the horse a fair chance to do its work properly, its management can be divided into three basic categories, namely feed, rest and equipment.

Enough feed and water are first on the list; you cannot expect a horse to perform without meeting its basic nutritional requirements. This means you must at the very least provide some sort of concentrate if there is a shortage of quality pasture. To maintain condition, horses need access to good quality hay and concentrates, especially in winter. In summer ample veld will usually suffice.

Horses need to be rested regularly. Herdsmen should have at least two, but preferably three, horses that are rotated daily. The average stock horse is under saddle for around seven hours a day, which means the time available for grazing is limited. However, if they rest for the next two days, it will not be a problem.

The third category to pay attention to is equipment. In this regard, the saddle with which the horses are ridden is of particular interest.

There is a vast array of substandard saddles on the market that are not at all suitable for the long work hours of a stock horse. Even so, producers agree that the most important factor in preventing saddle sores is the condition of the horse. Fat horses are usually less prone to saddle sores than lean horses.

There are saddle makers who focus specifically on manufacturing high-quality, affordable herder saddles, but the price of saddles has not been kind to producers’ pockets in recent years. Nevertheless, if you want to get many years of service out of your stock horse, a saddle that does not create pressure points on the back, combined with good condition, are essential. – By Izak Hofmeyr, Stockfarm

Read more about equine genetics through the ages.

Contact the author at izak@plaasmedia.co.za for more information.