The most important thing to realise before buying a horse is the commitment of time and money required. They are big animals, so they need space. They are sensitive and intelligent, so they also need company and stimulation.
“Having the privilege to work with, ride or own a horse is not something someone should decide in one day; it is usually a lifetime of continuous learning,” says Dr Mariana da Silva Miranda, Associate Veterinarian, Dubai Equine Hospital. “Horsemanship is not valued enough, especially in the UAE, where it’s easy for everyone to get expensive things, which horses are.”
Buying a horse
If you’re in the market to buy a horse, riding trainer Dara Blackney recommends going through a professional. “You should be riding and training with a qualified trainer, and to buy a horse you should go via your trainer in order that they may match a horse to your ability and style of riding. Obviously horses have personalities and it’s about ensuring the match is correct.”
She adds that getting a veterinary examination to check the basic soundness of a horse, including a lameness examination, flexion of the joints, trotting up to ensure they don’t have an uneven gait, and possibly ultrasounds and X-rays to see if there’s been any prior injury.
Where to keep it
There are many options for stables, from basic to full service, according to Alix Harris, a graduate in Equine Science from Nottingham Trent University. However, she cautions that the easiest option might not be the most rewarding for horse or owner.
“There are many stables across Dubai that provide livery, when you stable your horse in someone else’s yard, and most even provide half or full board, which means they feed and look after it so essentially all you have to do is ride and exercise your horse,” says Harris. “However I am far more of the opinion that if you’re going to own a horse you should be doing everything for it.”
Basic stable fees in Dubai can range from Dh2,000-Dh4,000 a month, says Blackney. “In addition to this you would have to pay for a monthly farrier, every six months to a year for the teeth to be checked by a dentist and then obviously there are veterinary fees, tack and sundry consumables such as shampoo and fly sprays, and there are plenty of shops around Dubai to buy these things.”
And buying the right equipment is important. “If a saddle is incorrectly fit, for example, it can cause a lot of damage that might even be irreversible if not corrected quickly,” says Harris.
Learn the ropes
Riding lessons are a minimum to learn how to ride a horse that is walking, trotting and cantering. This can take longer than you’d imagine, so the earlier one starts the better. “Children learn much quicker than adults because children have a natural rhythm and we as adults tend to go with our brains rather than our bodies when it comes to these things and that can interfere,” says Blackney.
After that, serious riders could choose an equestrian event to train and compete in such as showjumping, dressage and endurance. Horse welfare and management skills are also important for riders and owners. “Proper training of the owner in respect to the horse’s needs, behaviour, handling and care is of most importance,” says Dr Miranda.
The Middle East doesn’t offer the same level of accreditation in horse management as other regions, nor demand it from competitors.
“In order to compete in Europe you need to have done all of these accreditations up to a certain level or you’re not allowed to compete,” says Blackney, who received her accreditation in Germany. Both Blackney and Harris recommend British Horse Society courses in basic care or stable management, which are available through the Emirates Equestrian Centre.
For a healthy non-competing horse, Dr Miranda says the basics include a yearly vaccination; deworming at least twice a year with different dewormers to prevent resistance; having the horse’s teeth checked and filed, preferably twice a year; and making sure the hooves are cleaned, trimmed and, if needed, properly shod.
She adds that preventative care is very important to avoid emergencies. Colic can be managed by making sure the horse has small amounts of hay throughout the entire day.
“In Dubai specifically it’s important to recognise the significance of preventing sand colics by supplementing horses with psyllium and trying to [house] them in the most sand-free environment possible,” says Dr Miranda.
Experts agree horses need a minimum hour of exercise each day, mixed up with riding, lunging and hacks, to keep them stimulated, as well as paddock time.
“In the wild they would be walking for a minimum of 16 hours a day, grazing constantly on the move,” says Blackney. “Obviously we’ve domesticated them and they live in a boxed environment, so in order to compensate for this a horse would also require one to three hours, or even a full night of turnout in a paddock to allow them to have a roam around and have a bit more natural behavioural display.”
For those who are passionate about horses, the commitment to their wellbeing will be its own reward.